This is fiction. Any resemblance to any persons living or dead is coincidental. The events outlined have never to my knowledge occurred. Some of the locations are real.
Detective Inspector Hope couldn’t park at Banbury Police Station and had to leave his car in a nearby multi-storey car park. The police station was a modern 1980s building on the same side of the Warwick Road and the Magistrates Court. He was directed to the major incident team’s room and was introduced to DCI Reid, who was polite but not exactly hail fellow, well met. It would appear that Hope’s reputation had preceded him. Which indeed it had. The previous Wednesday afternoon phone call had gone along the lines of:
“Look sir, I know we’re a bit thin on the ground here, but I don’t want Forlorn Hope, just because he said something a bit naughty to DCI Parry’s little friend.”
“You said to your Super that you need help, so we’re giving it to you. Hope has years of experience and you need good coppers to do the donkey work.”
“Except he isn’t a very good copper, is he, sir?”
“He can be. He’s more or less solved the Ruger-on-Thames shootings, except he can’t prove it and DCI Parry is too arrogant to let him.”
“Then take her off the bloody case.”
“You know as well as I do, that you don’t take anyone with ovaries off a case.”
DCI Reid could see he had been presented with a fait accompli, “All right then, sir. We’ll have him, but if he pisses-off any members of my team, then his feet won’t touch.”
However Andy Reid had made sure a space had been cleared for Hope in the team room and had arranged all the logistical niceties such as computer log-ins and a parking space. He introduced hope to the rest of the team, as well as the two DIs there were two DSs and two DCs with a probationer. They were a 75/25 split male/female and all were under thirty-five. They looked at their new colleague with a mixture of curiosity and bemusement.
“OK, Charles. That’s the team. Come into my office and I’ll bring you up to speed.”
Over a coffee Hope was given the case files to read and stark reading it made. Two local taxi drivers had been killed on the outskirts of Banbury within a week of each other. A Mr Abuukar Warsime was found dead in the driving seat of his taxi pulled off Wykham Lane in a wood, just off the A361. Mr Warsime had been garrotted from the rear passenger seat, with a device that the pathologist regarded to be something made from thin piano wire. The garrotte had torn through the internal and external carotid arteries and the larynx. Mr Warsami had been slumped in a pool of his own blood. There were a number of photographs of the body, which were not for the feint hearted.
Three days later, Mr Ilyaas Koshin was found dead in the driving seat of his taxi in a lane near Cherwell Edge Golf Club. He had been killed with a single stab wound to his left ear, which had penetrated his brain, killing him instantly. The pathologist estimated that the wound could have been caused by a marlin spike, a tent peg or a stiletto. In both cases money was untouched but no trace of the victims’ mobile phones were found. On the passengers’ seat of each vehicle, there was a brown envelope full of good quality monochrome photographs. These showed taxis picking up young girls and despite having been taken at night, the exposure and clarity was perfect. There were photographs of a hotel belonging to a well-known budget hotel chain and the girls being led into the building. Each envelope contained the number plates of various cars in a car park. There was a single printed piece of paper in the envelope, written in Ariel 20 point:
DO YOUR FUCKING JOB YOU USELESS BASTARDS!
“The hotel’s in Bristol in case you’re wondering,”
Hope put the files down and looked at Reid, “Jesus Christ.
He had so many questions that he didn’t know where to start. Reid poured them another coffee from the machine on the filing cabinet.
“Not so easy now is it?” he said to Hope.
“Right, so these two murders have been categorised as a “hate crime” I take it?
“Right from the start. That was a directive that came from the Chief’s office.
Hope stirred a sachet of sugar into his coffee. He had managed to wean himself from three down to one sugar under his new health drive.
“These murders don’t feel like the stunts that knuckle-draggers from England Free Corps would pull,” he observed thoughtfully.
“Plus the goading of us with those printed messages.”
Hope thought about it but decided to keep quiet, because he wasn’t convinced that whoever had left the photographs was inviting the police to catch them.
“Do you know much about Banbury, Charles?”
“Not really, Guv. I’ve not been here since they built the M40. I come from the Aylesbury/Wycombe area and Oxford of course.”
Reid pointed at a wall of his office, which was covered in OS Maps, one area that was current and the other covered with a number of Cassini reproductions of OS maps from the beginning of the 20th century.
“I’ve got a bit of a thing for maps,” he told Hope, “And I think you can learn a lot about a town and its area from studying old maps. Banbury used to be a market town with connections to the railways. In the past hundred years the town has almost tripled in size and it is spreading. Now we have some high-tech industries and we used to have very low unemployment levels. But the town is becoming an overspill for London and Oxford, and with that comes its own problems.
“We have a sizable immigrant community in the town and tensions have been rising. The very last thing that we need is some right-wing nutter going around, murdering members of the Asian community.”
“I thought the victims’ names sounded more African to me, Guv. Somalian perhaps?”
“You know what I mean.”
Yes, Hope knew perfectly well what he meant. They were Muslims, regardless of from whence they came and the Thames Valley Police Service had difficulty in articulating that. As did every other police service in the country.
“So what leads have we got? Regarding right wing nutters that is?”
Reid frowned irritably, “Precious few I’m afraid, Charles. The Counter Terrorism people give us names and addresses of internet warriors they get from GCHQ every month or so. Most of our resident wannabee Einsatzgruppen are as thick as mince, incapable of stringing a sentence together, let alone conducting a violent and bloody murder without leaving any forensic of any kind. In the main they spout off on social media, the really dangerous ones leave rashers of bacon in the back of taxis.”
“Why would they do that, Guv?”
Reid looked at him sharply, “Come on, Charles. I’m told you can be quite sharp sometimes.”
Hope smiled faintly, knowing quite well when he was being damned with faint praise, “Sorry, but I don’t know this town. I’m trying frame to the crimes to understand their context.”
“We’ve had all our known Nazi agitators in and interviewed them. Some just make comments on Twatter or attend England Free Corps rallies in Birmingham, where there’s plenty of our cameras to keep tabs on them. There is a worrying rise in tension between the white, what is laughably referred to as “working class” community and people from different ethnic backgrounds. We have been able to find absolutely nothing tied to the murders. Like most sizeable towns, Asians mainly run the taxi firms.”
“Hence the bacon?”
“Yes, Charles, hence the bacon.”
“So who sent the photographs?”
“I’m just guessing here, but perhaps it could have been the person who killed the two… Er…”
“Somalians?” Hope offered helpfully, “Perhaps we should be looking for an Ethiopian?”
Reid looked at Hope with annoyance, “This isn’t a cause for levity, Charles.”
“Sorry, Guv. It wasn’t my attention to sound flippant,” but like most things he said when trying to “think outside the box,” Hope’s comments were often taken the wrong way with added, extra offence.
“And the annoying thing is that we’ve heard nothing. The kind of people who go around killing innocent taxi drivers just wouldn’t be able to keep quiet about it. Not a peep on social media. No talk from the local touts.”
“But you do have the photographs, Guv.”
“Yeah, useless. A list of car number plates that we’ve traced to vehicles belonging to local and prominent businessmen.”
Hope decided that this probably wouldn’t be a good time to enquire as to the ethnicity of these local businessmen, these pillars of the community. Hope was beginning to wonder if Reid was being wilfully stupid or if he was being leaned on by his superiors. What did they call it? Maintaining social cohesion.
“So what is it you want me to do? Where do you want me to start?”
“I’d like you to partner up with Alice Warboys and start to go through the numbers that have called into the taxi firms. Start with Joe’s the Taxi, because both the murdered men worked for that outfit. See what you can find. Obviously most will be from mobile numbers, so we can discount landlines. Even our resident knuckle-draggers wouldn’t be stupid enough to use a land line.”
“Alice being the probationer.” Hope observed non-committally
“Yeah, that’s right, Charles. She would benefit enormously from your experience and it would be a great opportunity for her. She’s a bright kid.”
Hope smiled. He knew when bullshit was being heaped upon him. If he had any doubts about the veracity of this investigation, they had been dispelled, “OK, Guv. I’d like to get to know the area. Do you mind if Alice shows me round the local area before we talk to Joe’s the Taxi.
“No, It’s a good idea. You can get to know each other.”
Later that afternoon they were in a car whilst Alice Warboys showed him around Banbury, which to all intents and purposes was a relatively affluent market town… In the main. Areas around the railway station were quite run down and one of the estates that sprawled to the south seemed to be indicative of expansion estates the country over. It could have been Blackbird Leys, Chalgrove, or Southcourt. Areas of so-called deprivation where a small minority made life a living hell for the majority.
“I’m sorry that you’ve been lumbered with me, Alice. If you’re as keen as mustard, perhaps partnering up with me for a bit could do you some good. I could be a role model for how not to do modern policing.”
She was driving and glanced at him sharply. She saw that he was smiling and she grinned ruefully. Hope was pleased. “Let’s not have any pretensions. You know I’m under investigation, you’ve been told I’m crap and because you’re the most junior, you’re going to have to put up with me. I ask only two favours of you, Alice.”
“What’s that, sir?”
“One: you will call me ‘Charles or Guv,’ when DCI Reid is not present. Two: if I say anything that affects your delicate sensitivities, should you have them, please tell me in as blunt and as forthright terms as possible. I would prefer that you didn’t go running to DCI Reid with tittle-tattle, because frankly, I’m in enough trouble as it is.”
Alice kept looking ahead, but she was grinning, “Well then, you’ll just have to behave yourself, Charles.”
“Could you take me to where Mr Warsime’s body and taxi was discovered and I’d like to go via the town centre where the taxi company is. Then I’d like to do the same for the site on the golf course where Mr Koshin’s body was found.”
At Wykham Lane they both got out of the car and went into the woods where the car had been found.
“It was just over there.”
Hope looked around and noted the tyre tracks of the taxi and the heavier tracks of the recovery vehicle.
“I notice the ground is quite soft. Any decent footprints?”
“Just a single one of the sole of a cleated boot. Like a walking boot. Very common pattern, the second most popular in the country.”
“No blood? The driver must have been spurting the stuff after he had been garrotted.”
“Not a trace. Somebody had forensically swept the area before we pitched up. They The SOCO found traces of latex and fullers earth on the door handles. Whoever killed Mr Warsime probably wore surgical gloves.”
Hope stared at her, “Mr Reid didn’t tell me that.”
“I can show you the forensic reports for the two murders when we get back, if you like, si… Guv.”
“Does that sound like the MO of a right-wing Twatter warrior to you, Alice?”
“Do you have confidence in the direction of travel of this investigation?”
“Mr Hope, that’s not fair,” she said and bit her lip.
“Sorry, Alice. You’re right. It was meant to be a rhetorical question, but it put you in an awkward position. Right, take me to the golf course and then we’ll get some late lunch, my treat.”
There was little to be gained at the golf club site as well.
“The taxi was on half on the road and the two nearside wheels were on the grass verge. No additional tyre tracks. Again there were traces of latex and fullers earth inside the vehicle and on the left-hand-side passengers’ doors. No murder weapons, no prints, no DNA, nothing.”
“OK, thank you for showing me around, Alice. Where’s the best pub to get a late lunch round here?”
She shook her head, “Sorry, Guv. I live in Bicester.”
And that encapsulated one of the problems of the police service. They had no local ownership of the district that they were supposed to police. In the end they had a light meal at the George and Dragon pub and very good it was too. Hope had a half of bitter while Alice stuck to coke. Hope was in no hurry to get back to the police station.
“Why do you want to be a detective, Alice?”
She smiled at the blunt directness of his question, “Because I’m sick and tired of being puked on and abused by drunks, on Friday and Saturday nights. Because I’m sick of having to stand in for lazy bastards who have thrown a sickie because they’re scared of doing their jobs. Because I get no support from my team or my boss and I’m sick to the back teeth of being a social worker for the people of Banbury who have the intellectual capacity of a toddler.”
“Tell me about the photographs found in the envelopes in the two taxies. Were they identical?”
She nodded, “Traces of latex on the envelope, no DNA. Photos printed on good quality paper, probably a Canon printer. Same with the ‘do your fucking job you useless bastards’ note.”
“Who were the girls in the pictures?”
“Mainly local, most of them known to the social services. Some being fostered, some supposed to be in care, some are just feral.”
Hope finished his ham Panini, “Now tell me about the photos of the number plates. I’m guessing here, but I reckon that you had to check them out being the most junior.”
“That’s right,” she agreed, “Mainly local, some from Northampton and the Midlands.”
“Now Alice, where do you think the photos of the number plates were taken?
She shrugged and nibbled a few of the crisps that had come with her sandwiches.
“Could have been the car park of that hotel in Bristol?”
Alice thought about it, “It’s possible. There was a bit of hedge on some of the pictures like the one at the side of the hotel. Privet I would say.”
OK, Alice. Now comes the difficult bit, but please be professional and remember that the note told us to do our fucking job. What is the ethnicity of the owners of those number plates?”
He saw her eyes flinch imperceptibly and knew beyond any certainty that she was afraid, “You don’t have to answer that. You’ve told me everything I need to know.”
As they got up to leave, he hit her with a supplementary question: “Is the reason your team’s DI has gone off sick with stress, is because he asked the same questions that I have?
Alice Warboys declined to answer. She was very quiet as they drove back to Banbury, so he didn’t pressurise her.
“Thanks for the lunch, Guv. Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I really desperately want to be a detective and I have to work here and DCI Reid will be doing my reports. You’re coming to the….”
Hope held up his hand to silence her, “I’m coming to the end of my career. I can’t go any further and I’ve already pissed a lot of people off. So you don’t want me to drag you down when I go. Does that sound about right?”
“I wouldn’t have put it quite as bluntly as that, but yes. Sorry Mr Hope.”
“I understand, Alice and I hope that you will understand that I intend to do my job without fear or favour, because I’m thick, pig-headed and don’t know when to shut up and because I remember how policing in this country used to be. And I will keep you out of the beaten zone if I can, but I intend to find out who killed those men in the taxies and more importantly, why. I would be grateful if DCI Reid is not party to what we have discussed.”
Joe’s the Taxi was run from a Portakabin on the edge of a car dealership. When Alice pulled up, a couple of East African guys were outside smoking. Hope got out of the car and showed them his warrant card, instantly recognising them as Somalis.
“Good afternoon. Could I speak with the owner if he’s around?”
One of the men went in the Portakabin and returned with a middle aged Asian man of Pakistani heritage. He was wearing a suit and smiled at Hope.
“Police again. I have told you all that I know, but come inside both of you.”
“Are you Mr Mahtam?” Hope asked inside the overly warm interior of the Portakabin.
“Indeed. How may I help you? As I have said, I’ve already told your colleagues everything they need to know.”
Hope thought that was rather an interesting way of putting it.
“Mr Mahtam, I’m so sorry to bother you but I’m new to the case. I have visited the crime scenes, but I’d like a bit more background on the nights of the murders. Do you keep recordings of people who ring in for a taxi?”
“Alas, no. There was nothing remarkable that my controller reported on any of the two nights. And there is no certainty the killer phoned in. He may have asked the driver directly for a trip during the nights of the murders.”
“Would the driver not have reported that to the control room?” Hope asked.
“Not necessarily. Most of my drivers are Somali, not necessarily the sharpest tools in the box. It takes me all my time to stop them chewing khat.”
Hope wondered how long it would be before he received a diversity course if he opined such a view, but then it was established police policy that only white men are racist.
“So it would be fair to say, and please don’t let me put words in your mouth, that some of your drivers can be a little difficult to keep tabs on?”
“Indeed, but most of them are hard-working.”
And cheap, Hope thought. He produced a photograph from his jacket pocket that he had lifted from one of the files. Alice stared at him with a mixture of surprise and annoyance.
“Could that be why one of your drivers was photographed outside an hotel in Bristol. The number plate is quite readable. It is one of your cars isn’t it, Mr Mahtam?”
Mahtam shrugged, “It may be one of my cars, or at least one of my drivers. Many are freelance and use their own vehicles.”
“And there would be no reason why one of your drivers would be in Bristol on company business?”
“No, not possible. Too far and we don’t do airport runs.”
“I thought that was the case,” Hope said, but he couldn’t help but noticing how uncomfortable the taxi company owner seemed, “So I won’t take up any more of your time. Thank you for your cooperation, Mr Mahtam.”
Back in Alice’s car, she rounded on him, “You took that bloody photo from the file. You know it isn’t allowed!”
Hope smiled, “It was loose and I picked it up from the floor. I’ll put it back in the file back at the nick. Did you see that whiteboard in his office, the one with the drivers’ names and number plates?”
“Would you run a check on the owner of this vehicle?” he wrote the number plate on a piece of scrap paper and handed it to her, “See if the registered owner has any connection with, or reason to visit Bristol.”
He could tell that Alice Warboys was cross with him, and part of Hope’s cussed nature found it rather amusing. He decided to break the silence.
“Joe’s the Taxi. Quite clever don’t you think?”
She stared at him with annoyance.
“Joe le taxi. She was fourteen when she recorded that song.”
“Vanessa Paradis. I wonder if there’s a subliminal connection.”
Hope spent the rest of the afternoon going through the case files and surreptitiously copying details from folders, photographing some of the images with his mobile phone. He left with everyone else at 17:30 and Reid had a quick chat with him in the car park.
“Don’t envy you on the Oxford ring-road this evening, Charles.”
“It’s OK, Guv, I’m staying locally tonight to get in early tomorrow. Just until I know how long the commute is going to take.”
“Thanks, Charles. I appreciate that. Could you let me have the number of your mobile in case I need to keep in touch?”
Hope wrote down the number and handed it to him.
“”I’ll send you a text so you’ll have mine.” Hope reached his car and was getting in when Alice Warboys ran up to him.
“Mr Hope, I traced that car. It belongs to a Mr Musse Hussen, a local man. He works in a fast food chicken shop, and also part time for Joe’s the Taxi. He has a caution for exposing himself to young women in Bristol and assaulting a man who tried to apprehend him at Temple Meades railway station. He moved from Bristol to Banbury the year before last.”
“Interesting, thank you Alice. See you tomorrow. By the way, why wasn’t the number plate traced earlier?”
She shrugged, “Night, Mr Hope.”
Hope had decided to stay in a budget hotel in the outskirts of Banbury, rather than risk the commute until he found out what the battle rhythm of the department was. He had a shower and phoned his wife. She unloaded the latest saga of his son’s divorce proceedings and ground his teeth as he listened to how his son’s ex-wife, Cafcass and the courts were conspiring to destroy his life. But he was just one of many men, whom the state destroys and impoverishes every year.
“Yes, dear, I will get a proper meal tonight. No I haven’t smoked anything. Yet. And I will get an early night. No I haven’t upset anyone, at least not yet.”
That evening Hope decided to walk into the town centre and get a meal in conjunction with some exercise. He had a meal of grilled chicken in a Bangladeshi restaurant, which was rather good. He decided to look round before going to back to the hotel, as it was getting late. The change in atmosphere and demographics was totally different to that of a daytime market town. Taxis with clumps of youngsters round them seemed to dominate the town centre. Groups of louche taxi drivers picked up giggling and clearly underage girls from near the park on the fringes of the fast food joints and seedy pubs.
Hope couldn’t help speculating that it was a pity that DS Reid didn’t spent a little less time naval-gazing at old OS Maps and a little more time in actually walking the streets he was supposed to be policing. On the way back to the hotel, he noticed a single police van well north of the town centre, its occupants ensconced with portable electronic devices. He photographed the van with his phone and none of the occupants paid the slightest attention to him.
Back in the hotel he decided to get a drink at the bar before turning in. As he walked towards the doors, he didn’t notice the car that had been following him all night, from the time he left the hotel. He failed to notice the vehicle’s passenger photographing him through a large zoom lens as he went into the hotel. He may have seen but not registered the nondescript man with the longish hair, tinted glasses and Viva Zapata moustache who slipped in after him and sat reading a paper in the foyer, where he could watch the bar. By the time Hope went up to his room, he had gone.
© Blown Periphery 2018