The train glided quietly into the station, whispering as it slowed. It continued to slide along until each carriage had found its place along the platform. Only then did the sleek, green snake of smooth metal finally stutter to a halt.
A sharp beeping filled the entire carriage and the green exit buttons flashed with sickening, yet rhythmical, yellow lights. The doors gently hissed and dropped imperceptibly before sliding open allowing a rush of cool air to sweep through the carriage.
Giles was on her feet in seconds pulling Barker up behind her and darting towards the nearest door. She stopped short of the open doorway and peered out of the windows as a multitude of passengers hustled and bustled their way on and off the train. She felt Barker take a deep breath to speak but she silenced him with a gently nudge in the ribs.
Watching carefully, Giles edged closer towards the doorway, her ears straining for her signal. On the platform, a man with blonde dreadlocks, a scraggily beard and a tattered, red-chequered jacket, stepped up to the doorway and seemed to peer inside at Giles and Barker as they stood. He gave an inquisitive look at Barker for a long time and, beside her, Giles felt her companion’s fist clench in his pocket. The man continued to stare for a good few moments, pausing intermittently to glance up and down the platform. When they returned to the carriage, his eyes seemed to glare straight past Giles towards Barker and, for the briefest moment he let loose a singular yet unmistakable snarl.
The sharp beeping returned and the green buttons flashed yellow once again. The man took one last look up the train and closed his eyes in contemplation as he stepped on to the train.
Giles took her chance.
She grabbed hold of Barker’s hand and pulled him forcefully off the train. As they clattered on to the platform, the doors slid silently closed behind them and the train began to move away.
She didn’t wait to see what became of the dreadlocked man. From the way he was dressed he was probably just some hippie that had as much disliking for Barker’s policies as Giles did. But she didn’t want to take the chance. Giles strode straight towards the exit ramp and within minutes the two of them were moving along the concourse towards the exit barriers.
Giles hesitated. The barriers were closed.
‘Do you have a ticket?’ she asked, turning to Barker, her eyes deep with concern. She slowly pulled out her warrant card and nodded apologetically towards the barriers. ‘I can probably blag my way through, but two of us might draw too much attention…’
She looked around as the other passengers passed them by. Already some of them were throwing glances in their direction: some excitable, others in disgust. A slow rise of admiration intertwined with discontent began to slowly bubble up as more people became aware of the politician walking in amongst them. A couple up ahead, hearing the commotion, had even stopped to grab their camera phones to take some selfies of themselves with Barker in the background.
This is getting dangerous…
Giles turned back to Barker. He nervously glanced around at the parade of curious onlookers before turning his gaze back on to Giles. He seemed confused for a moment but, as his eyes focussed on the ticket barrier up ahead, they brightened in an instant and his face began to glow, courtesy of a self-assured smile. He shoved his hands into his pocket and searched for something but, after a moment or two, he paused - slowly retrieving his empty hands as he gazed sheepishly up at Giles.
‘We didn’t have time,’ he said. ‘I’ve never…’
‘No time for that. We’ll just have to improvise.’
She pressed him forward towards the barriers, ignoring the couple as they giggled when Barker passed them by. Giles directed Barker along the line of barriers to where the disabled access was located. She sighed with relief as her eyes settled on the attendant, grateful that, for once, she could find a station employee when she needed one. She approached the barrier, flashing her warrant card as she stopped at the gate.
‘Good afternoon,’ she said, her smile doing well to mask her anxiety. ‘Detective Sergeant Giles. I’m transporting a witness to the local station, but I’m afraid…’ she glanced awkwardly back at Barker. ‘… We were in a rush and didn’t purchase our tickets. I don’t suppose you would mind…?’
The attendant looked at the warrant card and back up at Giles. His bored expression and heavy bags under his eyes told the whole story. He leant on the barrier and shot a half-hearted smile.
‘I’m sorry, I can’t let you through without a ticket.’
Giles stared hard at the man. ‘I’ll be going straight to the ticket office…’
‘That’s neither here nor there,’ replied the attendant, slapping his lips together and smirking the expression of a big fish in a small pond. ‘I’ve got a job to do and rules are rules. If I start letting you through without a ticket, I’ll have every kid and granny from here to London wanting to get through for free. It’s not worth my job to…’
The speech had been well rehearsed up until that point, almost as though he had been waiting for the moment to exert his authority for a long time. But he stopped short of finishing as his eyes travelled over Giles’ shoulder and settled on the awkward man behind her. A flash of recognition flew across his face and, in that same instant, the bags disappeared and his expression lit up with such excitement that he looked as though he might explode with delight.
‘You…’ he whispered, a grin spreading rapidly across his face as his pudgy fingers pointed in Barker’s direction. ‘Oh my Lord, it’s you. Daniel What’s-his-face…’
The attendants voice was getting louder with the excitement. All about the ticket barriers, passengers and rail workers alike were stopping in their tracks to see what the commotion was about. Glancing around anxiously, Giles did her best to quieten the man but her efforts only seemed to confirm his suspicions.
‘It is you,’ he exclaimed, clapping his hands together with glee. ‘You’re famous, you are. You know I voted you. Well, not for you obviously, you’re not my MP. But I voted for the other guy…’
Barker nodded graciously and, for the first time, Giles felt as though she detected a note of embarrassment behind the politicians’ feeble smile.
The attendant stepped up to the barrier, thrusting his arm over the top to shake Barker’s hand. Barker glanced warily at Giles before slowly giving his hand to accept the gesture, much to the attendant’s delight.
‘It’s such an honour to meet you in person,’ he said, shaking Barker’s hand with vigour. ‘What you’ve done, I mean what your party is going to do, make such a difference to men like me. My son, bright kid you know, studied English as university. He went for a job as a teacher not long ago. He didn’t get it. You know why?’
Barker shook his head, his eyes glancing around nervously.
The attendant nodded knowingly. ‘Because they hired some Chinese guy. Something about having to fulfil their quota of ethnic minorities. I mean, what is the world coming to?’
His hand slapped down on the barrier just as his eyes glanced over at Giles with a hint of smugness.
‘What is the world coming to, I say? When my boy can’t even get a job teaching English because he is white and English? So, when your lot came along, of course, I voted for you. And my boy too…’
Giles stepped smartly up to the barrier. Although her hands caused no real pressure as she placed them on the attendant’s, he felt something of the tension in her muscles that brought his rambling to an abrupt end.
‘Mr Barker is the witness to a grave miscarriage of justice that may have national implications. We need to get him to safety as soon as possible. Will you please let us through?’
‘National implications, eh? More MPs fiddling expenses, are they?’
Barker flashed that sheepish look once again.
‘Something like that.’
The attendant nodded and knowingly tapped his finger against his nose. ‘There politicians, they’re all the same.’ He turned back to Giles, his face falling to a more professional manner. ‘But I’m afraid I have my duties. I can’t let you past without approval from my supervisor.’
‘We don’t have time…’
‘I’m sorry, lady, those are the rules…’
‘It’s all been taken care of.’
A voice sounded out from amongst the crowd. A flurry of movement could be seen behind the watching passengers as the occasional flashes of grey flittered amongst the waiting commuters. A hand reached out from the crowd, gently pressing one of the bodies out of the way to reveal the two suited men who stared out towards the barrier. The suits stepped out of the ranks of the waiting crowd and headed straight towards the disabled access, marching with the confident air of real authority.
Both men were tall and athletic-looking – the kind that you wouldn’t necessarily think much of to look at them, but you knew that underneath their pristine, expensive shirts their bodies were toned to high-heaven. They came to a stop in front of the confused attendant, their perfectly waxed shoes snapping hard against the solid, white floor.
The man ahead peered at the attendant with brown eyes that hid beneath an over-extended brow and a shock of blonde hair, whilst his companion loitered behind, his own eyes hidden behind dark, designer sunglasses. He reached into his pocket and produced a warrant card that he flashed briefly in front of the attendant’s nose:
‘Detective Sergeant Doyle, Metropolitan Police.’ He quickly dropped the card back into his jacket pocket and nodded towards Giles and Barker. ‘Myself and my colleague are here to escort Mr Barker to Croydon Police Station.’
The attendant shook his head. ‘I’ll tell you what I told her, I can’t let them through without a ticket…’
‘It’s already been cleared with you superior. Call up if you like.’
There was something in Doyle’s expression that suggested this was not the time to try his patience. For a brief moment, the attendant stood his ground as he clung to his little bit of authority, staring defiantly at the four people stood around him. Finally, the smug smile disappeared and, with his peeved eyes glued to the floor, he reluctantly reached into his pocket, pulled out a swiped card and opened the gates.
Giles gave him a short smile as she stepped through the barrier, feeling Barker fall in closely behind her. She heard him mutter a word of thanks to the unhappy attendant before turning to face the new arrivals.
Doyle held out his hand for Giles to shake. As she did so, she was acutely aware that his eyes never left Barker who hovered awkwardly behind her left shoulder. Doyle flashed a smile, revealing a perfectly formed layer of pearly white teeth:
‘DS Giles,’ he announced. ‘We’ve had a call from your DI.’
Doyle gave a single, jutting nod.
‘Yes, ma’am. He was informed immediately after you…’ he shot a sideways glance at Barker. ‘… liberated Mr Barker. It seems when he spoke to the officer in charge, there was some idea that Mr Barker here may have information pertinent to a case you guys were investigating. He also suggested that your lives might be in danger…’
‘Well, the jury isn’t out on that one yet, but it’s a definitely possibility.’ Giles allowed herself a little nervous laugh. ‘DI Jacobs spoke to Harris?’
‘DI Jacobs has instructed us to escort you to our station and then on to West End Central where the Chief Constable will personally oversee an immunity agreement for Mr Barker in exchange for what he knows about the matter you are investigating.’
‘Jacobs said that?’
Doyle nodded again, giving a brief smile.
Giles considered him for a moment before returning the smile. ‘Thank you DS Doyle, your assistance would be most welcome.’
‘Wait a minute,’ Barker stepped forward defiantly. ‘This is not what we agreed.’
Doyle’s eyes flickered and his lips twitched. ‘It’s a pretty good deal, Mr Barker, for both of you. We could always have you both arrested, if you’d prefer.’
‘That won’t be necessary,’ replied Giles, cutting off Barker before he had the chance to speak. ‘Lead the way.’
Doyle gave a small bow and turned towards the exit, leading the way through the crowds whilst his partner followed in tow. As soon as their backs had turned, Giles’ face sank. She fell back a little, allowing Barker to come alongside her before leaning subtly over to him.
‘Get ready,’ she whispered.
‘Just be ready.’
They followed the two detectives outside where they started moving across the busy roads towards a large multi-storey car park located just a short distance from the station. As they turned into the car park, Giles quickened her pace to join Doyle at the head of the group.
‘You Croydon boys are efficient,’ she said casually. ‘I’ve always found Jacobs to be a nightmare to get hold of in a hurry.’
‘The station is only around the corner,’ he replied, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a set of keys.
‘Still, you had to be up and out fairly sharpish…’
‘Jacobs said it was an emergency. We don’t take urgent requests lightly down here.’
Continuing inside the car park, the group moved through the structure seemingly heading towards a dark Ford that was parked up at the far end. Doyle gestured up ahead:
‘It’s just parked up there,’ he said, turning his head slightly to look back behind him. ‘So, are you based in West End Central?’
‘Not at the moment,’ replied Giles. ‘My team has been based out of Camden for the past year or so…’
‘Ah,’ Doyle replied. ‘I thought I recognised you. The Bluebell Killer, right?’
‘I was part of that team, yes…’
‘From what I heard, you practically solved the thing single-handedly.’
‘Do you always believe everything you hear?’
Doyle laughed, reaching into his pocket and producing a key fob. The Ford was only a few feet away and Doyle’s pace slowed to a standstill as he fumbled with the small device.
‘Must’ve been hard, though,’ he continued. ‘I don’t know if I could jump back on the horse after everything that happened…’
His eyes darted to the scarf on Giles’ neck.
‘You must be very brave…’
He raised his key fob, pressed the button and grunted in satisfaction as the Ford’s lights flashed and the car unlocked. Doyle gestured towards the car. ‘Please.’
Giles followed his outstretched hand and moved towards the back door of the car. As she came to a stop she saw Barker hesitate and glance towards the opening out on to the street before being ushered towards the car by Doyle’s associate. Giles waited patiently as Doyle moved around her and pulled open the back door for her. Taking a deep breath, Giles made a step closer towards the door.
Doyle didn’t react in time.
Giles had given no warning.
Her hands darted up and gripped a firm hold of Doyle’s. With a burst of strength, she jerked him forward and reached forward to grab the back of his neck.
His voice was silenced in a second as Giles thrust his head hard against the dull edge of the open car door. Doyle gave a quiet grunt of surprise as his head connected with the metal before his body went limp. Cowering in pain and grasping hold of his injured face, he fell to the ground with a dull thud.
The other detective had more time to react, but the speed of it all had left him frozen to the spot. As Giles darted round the car towards him, he could do little more than watch her barrel towards him. Too late, he reached inside his pocket for something as Giles tackled him by the midsection. The silenced gun went sprawling out of his hand and clattered across the ground as Giles used all her weight to bring the detective down on to the floor at Barker’s feet.
He groaned in shock as his head crashed against the concrete – but Giles wasn’t done yet.
Hooping her leg over his body, Giles positioned herself on top of him. Her hand reached out for his hair, her fingers looping, tightly in amongst the individual strands and, with the last of her energy, she slammed his loose head repeated against the hard floor.
He groaned once more and his body relaxed.
Giles released hold of his hair and leapt to her feet, looking up at Barker, who stood frozen to the spot – wide-eyed and horrified. Giles pointed down at the unconscious man at her feet and said:
‘Keep an eye on him.’
She turned on her heels and moved back around the car where Doyle was slowly coming to, a trickle of blood dripping down his face from a cut above his right eyebrow. Bending down to him, Giles placed her right hand against his neck and slammed him viciously against the car as her left searched his pockets for another gun. Inside she found nothing but his warrant card and his phone.
‘You bitch,’ he grunted as his eyes tried to focus on her.
Giles smiled as she tossed his phone aside and examined Doyle’s warrant card once again. True enough it was the warrant card of a detective sergeant and the picture on the identification was most definitely Doyle’s. As with the phone, she threw it aside and moved in closer to her victim.
‘Who are you working for, Doyle?’ she asked, squeezing his neck slightly as she leaned forward. ‘It certainly isn’t the police force.’
‘I work here. I’m based at Croydon Police Station…’
‘Yes, we both know that’s true. But that’s not who you are working for today. Who sent you to pick me and Barker up?’
Doyle chuckled, raising his hands to nurse the injury on his face. ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about…’
His hand returned to the ground with a loud thump as Giles smacked it out of the way. Her grip on his neck tightened until he struggled to breathe and his eyes began to bulge in their sockets.
‘Come now, Doyle. The expensive shirts, designer sunglasses, high-end shoes – someone is paying you a small fortune and I doubt very much it’s the Metropolitan Police…’
Doyle gargled as a small trickle of blood appeared in the corner of his mouth.
‘I had an aunt who died recently,’ he whispered. ‘Inheritance…’
Giles slammed his head against the car door again.
‘Don’t treat me like an idiot, Doyle. I’ve been playing you a lot better than you were me; it’s the oldest trick in the book. Are you really that stupid to get fooled by it?’ She leant in a little closer with a wry smile on her face. ‘There is no Detective Inspector Jacobs. I made him up. And you obviously never spoke to my DI as he would want to be here himself. But given that you clearly are who you say you are, that leaves us with a bit of a conundrum. So, one last time, who are you working for?’
Doyle’s face broke into a wheezy laugh and he shook his head from side to side. ‘He really hasn’t told you anything, has he? You have no idea what you’re up against.’
‘Why don’t you tell me?’
‘He’s a honourable man, you know. If you do a favour for him, I’m sure you’d be rewarded in no time. Hand Barker over to me and, I assure you, you won’t regret it. He pays a very good price.’
Giles’ grip tightened once more causing Doyle to start choking. ‘I don’t sell my honour.’
‘Do me a favour…’ Doyle whispered through his strained breath. ‘Everyone has a price, even the murderer you are quite happily protecting.’
Doyle’s eyebrows fluttered up and down as he looked at the point where Barker had been. Giles’ allowed herself to turn slightly to glance behind her.
Barker was gone – as was the gun.
Doyle chuckled cynically.
‘See, he’s not worth your trouble,’ Doyle whispered. ‘Just you go home and let us deal with him. I promise you’ll be well paid for it.’
Giles looked around frantically. Barker was long gone…
Unconsciously, she let her grip on Doyle’s neck go ever so slightly allowing him to breathe normally once again.
‘It’s not like we won’t find him before you anyway. He’s as good as dead.’ He shuffled himself a little further upright and removed his hand from under Giles’ to nurse his aching face. ‘You just leave it to us. Go and enjoy the rest of your Bank Holiday with Jason…’
Doyle had no idea that Giles had hit him until it was too late. His head slammed against the side of the car…
… and all turned to black.