He was turning into a sad old stick, but so were many of his colleagues. Working through another weekend, attacking the pile of evidence that continued to amass, following every lead, conducting hundreds of interviews, searching more addresses, cross-referencing more names and numbers with the databases of other agencies, both British and foreign.
Two hundred and eleven suspects had been remanded in custody, over one hundred and sixty already charged, this number rising by the day with more charges being added. More suspects had had their passports confiscated, told not to leave their homes without first notifying the authorities and more were being swept up all the time, along with a veritable arsenal of military weapons, mainly Kalashnikov variants, grenades and explosives.
His colleagues were cock-a-hoop, but the mood was fragile, a stratum of fear lying close to the surface, the other investigations into those almost certainly responsible for the breakthroughs had been effectively put on ice, resources diverted elsewhere. They were pretty much counting on the DNA they had recovered from that warzone in the Chilterns; the bullets had told them nothing they didn’t know already. If that gave them a match, they would at least be able to open another line of enquiry. Perhaps it were better it didn’t: the culprits seemed to have shut up shop as if, having broken the investigation for the authorities, they felt that their work had been done, at least for now.
George Edward came over to him carrying a sheet of paper.
“Thought you should see this boss. The head of the civil service in the Home Office never made it home last night, left the office as usual, got off the train at his normal station and simply vanished; name’s Sir Kenneth McCloud.”
“I’m not sure that’s got anything to do with us, that’s for the uniformed boys surely, just a missing person enquiry? Perhaps he’s shacked up with his mistress, wouldn’t be the first time.”
“I’m not sure the Home Sec sees it like that. They want a full team on it; they think it may be connected to this case, a terrorist angle. No demands made or anything like that yet, but it’s still very early.”
“We’re at full stretch; we’ve got no one to put on it now, perhaps on Monday…”
The younger man looked with sympathy at his boss. He was driving himself too hard, powered by the fear of an empty home, determined to achieve a successful conclusion in one facet of his life as if in compensation, almost obsessional with it, resenting any distraction or impediment to reaching the goal.
“Tell you what boss; let me deal with it until Monday, okay? Just make the usual enquiries, that sort of thing, liaise with uniform, keep them happy?”
“Thanks a lot George, you’re a star.”
Sam had kept an eye on Miss Helena, as he still insisted on calling her, all day. She was tired, uncommunicative and clearly hadn’t slept; he had thought he heard the sounds of crying during the night, hadn’t known what to do. Hardly surprising, she must be in shock, wasn’t trained for this sort of thing, hadn’t really prepared herself.
They had spent the morning burning everything the dead man might have touched, methodically, piece by piece, in a metal dustbin. They’d bagged the ashes up, cleaned the bedroom, stairs and landing, the rest could wait until they returned. She had driven them to the farm on autopilot, hadn’t even left the car when they arrived. The others had helped, of course. They had tried to persuade him, but not too hard, and had let them go when he explained who she was.
The body would go the way of that of the terrorist previously disposed of; nothing would be left by dinner time tonight. They had driven back to her cottage, neither saying a word, cleaned the car out thoroughly, then the garage and other rooms, made and ate some dinner.
She hadn’t wanted to go to bed, even though she looked exhausted. He tried to talk to her about it but got nowhere, it was just something she needed to get through herself. He talked to her about him with more success, asking her about him, how they knew one another, why she was helping him, but the deeper his questions, the shallower her answers became. They were friends, nothing more, best friends she supposed, but there was lots she didn’t understand about him, she just helped him because, well, he had asked her to, she couldn’t say no to him, that’s all there was to it. He needed help, couldn’t do it all himself even though he tried to pretend he could.
Sam had given up shortly afterwards; he wasn’t much of a skilled conversationalist at the best of times, but knew when he was getting nowhere fast.
Eventually she had had to let him go to bed, had tried to stay up, watch some late-night television, gave up after ten minutes, not worth the licence fee these days, can’t concentrate anyway. Now she was just lying here, fearful of sleeping but her body compelling it against the wishes of her mind. The hand returning, larger than before, more demanding of her, more insistent, paralysing her and then there he was again, shielding her, placing his body in the way, that poor broken form, wrestling with the hand, slowly losing. She couldn’t move to help, was distraught, failing him again, calling for somebody, anybody, to help him, he was almost on the ground now, at its mercy and then someone else was there, a man she didn’t recognise, didn’t know at all. He was forcing the hand away, his back to her, pushing it into the distant darkness until they both faded from view, as did he, leaving her alone, crying for him, wishing he had never met her, no, never that, rather that she had made different choices.
In another bedroom at the other end of the little landing, someone else was talking to Sam in his dreams, burning through the darkness with the flaming light of hope.
SUNDAY, FORTNIGHT AFTER EASTER
‘I’m not sure why I’m doing this,’ George Edward thought to himself, seated alone in a little cubicle scrolling through video tapes and digital memory sticks of security and traffic cameras in the vicinity of the disappearance. The locals were knocking on doors, interviewing transport workers, family, friends, while he and one of his junior colleagues were all that could be spared on a Sunday morning for humdrum duties like reviewing hours of camera footage.
They had an approximate time: the station camera showed him leaving the platform at seven-oh-two, so he should have been home by seven-fifteen. There were no signs of him visiting any of the local shops, nor of him dropping into a pub or bar for a drink; he wasn’t the type anyway, people said. Sometimes, when you read the transcripts of people interviewed about someone to whom something terrible may have happened, you just got the impression that they weren’t liked, not hated, just left people cold. No one was saying anything bad about him, they rarely did in such situations, it’s just that their statements were somehow measured, trying not to say anything disparaging, but not able to say anything that was heartfelt.
So here he was, trudging through hours of footage for anything, but the footage from the residential streets was generally a blank, few cameras, none on most: they were largely confined to the main commercial streets which he would have left behind in a minute or two. Again, they were generally poor quality, low resolution at night time, flared by the street lamps’ stabbing fluorescence, not continuous, more single frame shots every second or two. His colleague had found an external camera shot from a shop with the missing man walking by, seeming to turn into a residential side street, the quickest way home. Helpful. He took those cameras on the direct route home for himself, leaving his assistant to look at those in the various side streets that branched off. He only had three to review himself, one digital memory, and two tapes. The digital hard drive one was on the man’s home’s front wall, covering a thirty yard stretch of the road. There was very little to see in the ten or fifteen minute period: a few cars, impossible to read plates even with enhancement, a couple of groups, largely younger by the look of it, heading out for the night. He printed them out for subsequent identification and interview, but they were very thin pickings. The next camera along from his house, near an intersection one hundred yards away was an equal bust, some of the same groups moving along, vehicles too, but less, some must have turned off in between.
Then the last tape, meant to cover the little side street, almost an alley really, but wasn’t set up right so part of its field of view covered the pavement immediately in front of the house, but not the road itself, so no moving vehicles.
Hopeless really, he thought, but for the sake of thoroughness…
No one at all, no, wait, what looked like a young woman, hard to make out in the faint black-and-white image blurred by the street lamps’ glare. What looked like a shoulder bag under her arm, skirt, coat, well dressed, looking ahead at the pavement, must be walking quickly, only in two frames, but going in the right direction to meet him if he was coming home the direct route.
He glanced at the street plan; this street was the darkest, the narrowest, a pinch point: if he were going to kidnap someone, it would be here. He looked back at the woman’s image, no face really, looked like fair hair, white, well dressed, professional, alone, her manner suggesting someone on the way to do something, not just out for the night. His intuition was ringing bells now, no evidence, just gut feel. He scrolled on through, nothing at all, returned to those frames, but only one would have any value, the other was of her disappearing back.
He reached for the print button, the duplication button, but his hand pulled away almost on its own volition. Think. Pause. Think. Add it up. If you’re right, what does it come to: a white woman, well dressed, skirt, probably not a loony then. So, who, the others? They’re British, pretty sure of it, probably some shadowy state element, must be. So why pick on him, a pillar of the establishment, someone very senior in the Home Office? Well someone senior had betrayed those five security people with deadly effect. Andy knew one of them, liked him.
Sure, a payroll clerk had disappeared, but everyone seemed to think someone much further up the chain had been involved, had passed their details on to the loonies, so sympathetic to the enemy. A traitor maybe, possibly even a murderer. Then he disappears, no trace, no fuss, on a short ten minute walk home in the very spot he would have chosen himself.
Experts then, professionals.
Might be entirely wrong, probably am, but what if I’m not, just one frame really? What did Andy say, talk to him first before reporting anything? Yes, he felt the same way, things were bad, terrible, someone was doing something about it at last; there were hundreds of them running around, they needed to be stopped and someone was trying. So, whose side are we, am I, on? I know that already. So, don’t tell the boss, he’s enough on his plate.
Eject the tape. The frame’s exposed. Just a small cassette, fits easily into my pocket. Evidence tapes go missing all the time; it just turned up in a bag with all the others, not even inventoried properly, someone taking short cuts, result of over-tiredness. Time for a breath of air, get a sandwich, take it apart in my pocket bit by bit, some in bins, some in drains, all gone. Hope I know what I’m doing. Those rooms aren’t monitored, pretty sure of that, anyway, too late now.
Good luck whoever you are.
© 1642again 2018