The train had been gone for over ten minutes now, and yet Harris’ heart was still racing. He could feel the blood pulsing through his wrists and, despite the care that he took to dab at his face with his overused handkerchief, sweat still cascaded through his pores. At least his breathing had normalised though:
Small mercies, he thought.
The race across Edenbridge had taken a lot out of him.
A little way up the platform, Parsons strolled out of the ticket office looking as fresh as ever. He gave a cursory glance up the train tracks and stepped up to join his superior. Giving him a sympathetic smile, Harris clapped him supportively on the shoulders and, without a single word of reproach, returned his gaze to the ticking clock on the board.
If Harris was ever known in the force for anything, it was for being fair. And this occasion was no different.
It had been he who had given Giles the opportunity to break Barker out. He had invited Giles down in the first place. And he had hardly proven his own athletic prowess in his failed attempt to keep up with the chase.
If blame were to be exacted, it would be upon him and no one else.
Parsons, following Harris’ gaze, glanced up at the departure board and cleared his throat.
‘The guy at the ticket booth reckons they got the fast train,’ he announced, his voice tinted with an air of bitterness and disgrace. ‘It has only one stop at East Croydon and then straight on into London. They should be there in about half an hour or so.’
Parsons shuffled awkwardly.
‘I’ve contacted the London boys,’ he continued. ‘They should have enough time to get into position by the time the train arrives. Transport Police have been informed as well. They’re monitoring the train in case they try to pull any emergency stops.’ He gave a small, satisfied smile. ‘I think we have them about cornered.’
Harris didn’t reply.
He renewed his pacing, this time venturing a little further up the platform. Parsons watched silently as Harris span back around and retraced his steps towards him seeming, in one moment, to open his mouth to say something but immediately stopping himself in the next. He span back around and walked away again.
‘You may as well rest, sir,’ Parsons said. ‘By the time the next train arrives, they’ll be coming into London. If I call for a patrol car, we could be there not long after…’
Harris wasn’t listening anymore.
Deep inside his pocket, his phone buzzed twice before falling silent. His hands dived into his pocket and retrieved the phone. With practiced agility, he unlocked the device with a quick stroke of his finger and raised it up to his eyes so that he could read the message it brought.
His eyes widened. The faintest hint of a smile adorned his face. He lowered the phone, shoved it back into his pocket and proceeded to stroll past the waiting detective in the direction of the ticket office.
‘Shall I call for that car, sir?’
‘I don’t think so, John,’ Harris replied as he reached the door. ‘I have a feeling the train will do just as well.’
Alison Carew’s phone flickered once more. The text she had sent was gone now and her screen returned to the message she had sent to Detective Inspector Harris.
’Giles reported heading for Borough Market. Intercept her there.’
She locked her phone and shoved it back in her pocket before marching confidently out of the kitchen and back to her desk. All around her, the rest of the team were busy co-ordinating the search for Giles and the fugitive, Barker, and not a single one of them so much as looked up as she sidled back to her desk and got back to work. Not even Lawrence, with his cunning eye and boyish mischievous nature could be distracted as he frantically spoke with the Transport Police.
‘No. We know it only stops at East Croydon,’ he said urgently, gripping tightly to the microphone on his headset. ‘We just need to know if it stops again.’
Carefully, Alison placed her own headset on and waited for the first rush of radio signals to be put through. Glancing around, she felt a genuine thrill at what was going on around her. The room was full of dispatchers frantically trying to piece together Giles’ motives in releasing Barker and here was Alison with all the completed puzzle. She sat back smugly in her chair as she tried her best to recall the text message she had received from Giles.
They had been school friends when they were growing up and remained close ever since but this had been, to her knowledge, the first time Evelyn Giles had ever asked her for a favour.
It was just a shame that she was helping Barker…
She had forwarded the message on to her contact and had texted Harris as instructed. Now it was just a matter of waiting it out to see what happened.
Oh, Evelyn. What have you done now?
Giles finished scribbling her notes and glanced up at Barker. He now sat quite still, his eyes closed and his fingers pressed tightly together as though he was trying to recall some distant memory. His lips and eyes opened as one when he finally latched on to the answer Giles was looking for.
’He was only a few feet away when I knew something was wrong, he explained. ‘I thought little of him at first – just some athletic type taking a dog for a walk. Then I realised he was following me…’
He paused, eying Giles closely.
Giles stared quietly back at him, giving him a quiet nod of encouragement.
‘Then I saw the gun. I only had a moment to make my choice: fight or flight. I was never much of a one for running and I’m not exactly known for backing away from confrontations…’
He paused again, nervously rubbing the back of his neck.
‘So I leapt at him – dived at him before he had a chance to shoot me. It was a fair fight at first, but he was so strong and in control. I’m not sure why but my legs gave way and I ended up collapsing into him. I don’t think he was expecting it. As we fell to the ground, he smacked his head on the ground…’
‘Was he unconscious?’
‘I have no idea. I didn’t wait to find out.’
‘But you took his gun?’
‘I ran to the nearest place I could find to hide.’
‘Why the nearest?’
‘I didn’t know how long he’d be out for,’ he replied. ‘I didn’t know if he was even out. I figured I had a better chance of evading him if I hid myself quickly than trying to run across open ground. The bunker was right there; I wouldn’t have to run far. Those things were designed to defend people and I had his gun should I need it so I…’
He paused for breath, his eyes flickering over to the window as the train sped through another station.
‘I don’t know how he knew. I guess he was more with it than I thought. I was barely inside for a second or more before I saw him marching towards me. He was reaching into his other pocket – you have to believe me, I thought he had another gun…’ His voice stuttered and broke. ‘I only meant to fire a warning shot.’
Giles glanced up at him, her eyes staring hard through his. ‘Why did you move the body?’
Barker sighed. ‘I may have been acting in self-defence, but I knew it would look like murder at first glance. I was a man hidden in a bunker shooting at a man outside – no jury alive would believe it wasn’t premeditated. And then when I searched his pockets and found he didn’t have a gun I… Well, I panicked.’
‘But you thought he was armed?’
Barker nodded. ‘Once I got him over to the bunker and out of sight, I decided to search the rest of him. My first thought was that he might something on him that could explain why he should attack me…’
‘Hence why our witness saw you going through his pockets.’
‘Exactly. I saw her straight away of course. I told her to call the police – I figured that if I was going to be arrested for murder, I may as well have someone about who could witness that I was trying to do the right thing. When she went off, I had a chance to look through his possessions before your colleagues arrived…’
‘And you found nothing on him at all? No way of identifying him?’
Giles finished her notes and leant back, tapping her pen against her teeth.
‘So what is the significance of the dog leash, I wonder?’
Barker’s eyes narrowed slightly. ‘I told you, he was trying to blend in.’
‘But clearly he didn’t have a dog with him,’ Giles explained, leaning a little further forward. ‘And there’s only so long a person can walk around with a dog leash but no dog before he starts to look out of place. Plenty of people use that pathway, not just dog walkers, so why bother at all? And say this was all part of some intricate hit on you, why go through this charade of walking after you when he could just hide in the pillbox himself and wait for you to go past. No risk of being identified. No risk at all that you would sense something was wrong before he had a chance to strike.’
Barker shrugged. ‘Perhaps they were sending a message. Maybe it was referring to me.’
‘But out of the two of you, you were the one sensible enough to chose a decent place to attack from. He was the one sent to do the hit, but you were the one who succeeded…’
Maybe that was the point…
Giles shook her head and dropped the notepad down on the seat next to her. He eyes slowly turned upon Daniel Barker.
Perhaps they were sending a message…
At that instant, the train sped through a tunnel and they were plunged into the semi-darkness of the dimly lit carriage. The two gazed at each other as the sound of the train echoed loudly about them, finally subsiding as it emerged out of the other end of the tunnel.
‘I think you had better tell me what this is all about.’
There was a brief silence in which Barker seemed to carefully consider his position before nodding reluctantly and shifting in his seat once again. His new posture lacked the power and casual nature of his previous demeanour replacing it with a rather distinct look of vulnerability that, despite his fading smile, he was unable to hide.
‘I don’t need to tell you who I am,’ he began. ‘Without sounding too arrogant, you know why I’m special…’
Special? That’s a unique way of describing yourself.
‘I don’t think there is anyone in the country who hasn’t heard your story and laughed, Mr Barker,’ Giles replied, flashing a sarcastically sympathetic grin. ‘There hasn’t been a party leader in living memory who has managed to win an election but failed to keep his own seat.’
‘Never in history,’ Barker corrected. ’It’s a statistical impossibility. People are stupid and vote for the party leader they like the most. If people vote for my party, they are voting for me. The Party itself make it a sure thing by giving the leader a seat that is guaranteed to win come election time.
‘Before this election, everyone expected a coalition government in Downing Street and I was the man who held all the keys. The only way one of the major parties could win was if my party joined them in coalition.’ A slight smile sprang across his face as he recalled the previous year. ‘I was arguably the most powerful man in Britain. But even so, nobody expected us to actually win, let alone outright. Nobody thought the British people would vote for a party that, well let’s face it, was extreme to say the least…’
The smile faded from his face, replaced by a vague look of pain.
’The election was a shock to everyone. Nobody predicted the outcome. And that was because the vast majority didn’t vote for us at all. Not even the majority of the majority voted for us. It was all staged. The volunteers who counted the ballots were all stooges. The officials were bought off. The MPs who lost their seats were threatened or paid off to keep them quiet and the newspapers didn’t bat an eyelid. That was the agreement I had with Him. He would see to it that my party won the election and in return he would have unlimited influence on the government of this country.’
Giles shook her head, her mouth dropping open. ‘This is absurd…’
‘Absurd?’ Barker repeated. ‘‘No more absurd than a far-right party coming out of left field to win by a landslide at the polls. No more absurd that the British people voting for a party that would deport skilled workers just to keep the country pure. No more absurd than…’ he paused, considering his next words carefully. ‘No more absurd than a brilliant detective committing a crime for the sake of a man who, for all she knows, might be a murderer.’
Giles stopped writing. As she glanced up, Barker gave a small nod of appreciation and the slightest hint of a smile.
‘Of course, the one thing I neglected to include into the bargain was that I should still hold on to my own seat when the dust had settled. Now, I am without my seat and my party, and at any moment I could be called on to do any manner of devilish things for this man who betrayed me by virtue of omission.’
At this point, Barker glared around the carriage once again as though hunting for any of the occupants who might be listening. He shifted himself a little closer to Giles so that his face was barely inches away from her own and stared intently into her eyes.
‘That is why I want to help you, DS Giles. I am afraid of what he might ask me to do. And I don’t deny that a small part of me seeks vengeance against him.’
‘But what has this got to do with the Bluebell Killer?’
‘Don’t you remember, Giles?’ he asked. ‘Don’t you remember how incredibly easy it was for you to track him in the end? After months of nothing the solution just landed in your lap – do you really think that was just luck? The whole thing was staged from the beginning. You were getting too close, so you were fed a killer to get you to back off. The man who manipulated your investigation is the same man who has manipulated the whole country. He conned you and betrayed me – and you can’t touch him without my help.’
Barker retreated back into himself, hunching his shoulders over as though he wanted nothing more than to melt into the seat behind him. His tired, fearful eyes glanced back around the carriage and he almost jumped out of his skin as a loud clatter rang out as the train trundled over a points junction.
Giles leaned in a little closer.
‘Who is he, Mr. Barker?’ she asked in hushed tones. ‘Who is it that has you so afraid?’
Barker swallowed hard. ‘You get me safely into London and to a safe house. When I am there, I will tell you everything you wish to know.’
Giles wanted desperately to argue but she knew there was little point. As she sank back into her seat, she felt the train slow beneath her and, at some distant part of the carriage, a speaker crackled into life.
’Next stop East Croydon. East Croydon, next stop.’