Barker seemed unsurprised to see Giles coming back towards him. Dressed in a t-shirt exchanged for his bloodied shirt, he looked almost normal – like a man out for a nice stroll in the countryside. Behind the putrid, indignant expression of hatred, he relaxed a little – the tension left his arms and a little warmth seemed to return to his face. He even managed a small smile as Giles stepped up alongside the escorting officers and asked them to give them a moment.
As the guard backed away, the two stared at each other – their poker faces holding strong against the desire to break first.
To Giles’ surprise, it was Barker who spoke first:
‘Detective Sergeant Giles,’ he crooned. ‘It is a pleasure to finally meet you.’
‘The feeling isn’t mutual.’
‘And yet I’ll wager you won’t regret it by the end of today.’
‘I highly doubt that.’
Barker smirked, his eyes flickering to her silk scarf. His eyes glazed over with curiosity before he remembered that he was under close scrutiny.
‘I imagine you have many questions for me.’
‘Not really,’ she replied, folding her arms. ‘I already know you killed that man in cold blood.’
‘Oh, do you?’
Barker’s eyebrow rose, not in fear as Giles expected, but with a hint of playfulness.
‘There was a dog leash in the victim’s pocket. This place is well known for its dog walkers. His boots were muddied, despite it being a nice day, and the woman who found you bent over his body swears that she’d seen him around here before. He had no wallet on him. Nor did he have phone or keys. I think when the local team have finished their canvassing of the area, they will find that the man you shot was just a man out walking his dog.’
‘I see. So you want to know why I killed some random dog walker, is that is?’
Giles allowed herself to smile. ‘No. I couldn’t care less about that. It’s not my case.’
‘Ah…’ Barker rubbed his left eye, plucking an invisible hair from his eyelashes that he flicked casually into the breeze. ‘You want to know why you’re here.’
Giles dropped the smile, staring coldly straight at the man in front of him.
‘You’re not my informant.’
‘And you’re not the detective I thought you were, but we all make mistakes.’ Barker glanced around to check for anyone listening. ’I must admit, I didn’t do my research thoroughly enough. I knew enough to know that I couldn’t trust your DI with the information, but Giles seemed like a good, strong English name that I never imagined it might belong to a chink…’ He eyed her curiously. ‘Your father’s?’
‘Yes, of course,’ he replied, glancing down at her wedding ring. ‘It was a mistake that I will not be lightly making again. However, you are who you are – neither of us can help that. And, as it happens, you seem to be rather a capable detective and, more importantly, you are the one I have been dealing with up until now…’
‘You’re fishing…’ Giles muttered, shaking her head knowingly.
‘And so are you,’ Barker replied.
He stared at her for a moment, his eyes flickering back to Giles’ scarf. Giles shuffled uncomfortably, the shiver once again running down her spine. Barker saw it at once and took immense pleasure in it. He stepped a little further forward, pacing slowly and powerfully into Giles’ personal space. The discomfort grew - Giles struggled to think – but she didn’t back away. To back away would have been to show weakness…
I’m not giving him the satisfaction.
‘You have seen the scrap of paper, I take it?’ Barker asked, leaning in a little closer.
‘I saw it.’
‘As did I.’
Barker smiled. ‘When I was checking the dead man’s pockets,’ he replied matter-of-factly. Something in Giles’ expression gave her away for his eyebrows flickered with satisfaction. ‘I see you have already spoken to Miss Larken. Yes, she found me bent over his body, with my hands rather unceremoniously shoved inside his pockets. Like your colleagues, I was all too eager to discover his identity. I was hoping for a wallet or something of that fashion – or a phone at the very least – but instead I found that scrap of paper.’
‘And nothing else?’
‘Nothing else. I handed the scrap to the first officer who arrived.’
‘Because it was evidence,’ he replied curtly. ‘That scrap of paper tells us everything we need to know about this little incident. You and I are on somebody’s list, Detective Sergeant Giles. It would be most unwise of us to ignore it.’
For the first time, a moment of fear passed across Barker’s face. As it did, he stepped back a little, finally relieving Giles of his nearness, wringing his hands in each other like a young, terrified schoolboy. Giles peered at him cautiously. Her mind, now given space to breathe, reengaged a little and the small voice in the back of her head spoke up with confidence.
Giles nodded. ‘We already know that’s a lie, Mr Barker.’
The look of fear quickly morphed into that of spite. Like a snarling animal, Barker bared his teeth and scrunched up his nose.
’You already think that is a lie,’ he retorted. ‘That is not the same thing.’
‘If you think I’m going to just accept you on your word, you have another thing coming,’ Giles replied, turning away from him, back towards the footpath. ‘You’ve given me nothing…’
She took two steps before Barker’s voice brought her to a stop:
‘He had a dog lead in his hand,’ he said. ’He was calling out a name as he came towards me. ‘Charlie’, I think it was. I assumed, as you did, that he was just another dog walker. Dogs run away all the time, so I wasn’t surprised he’d lost his. He looked the type. It was only when I got closer to him that I saw him put the lead back in his pocket and pull out the gun.’
Giles turned around. ‘And why were you here?’
Barker swallowed. ‘I’m looking to buy a house around here. London has got so awfully cynical since…’ He eyed her viciously. ‘I’m sure you enjoy the irony.’
‘A little bit…’
Barker nodded. ‘I wanted to get a feel for the place. I enjoy walking so I thought I would take a stroll – try to work out where I am in the world.’
‘Did you visit any of the local estate agents? Is there anyone who verify your story?’
Barker shook his head solemnly. ‘I know how it looks. But why would I kill some random guy with a dog?’
‘Why would he have our names on a piece of paper?’
Barker’s face lit up a little. ‘Exactly. Your evidence goes both ways, Giles. A local dog walker might not have a wallet or any other method of identification on him. A dog walker might have been seen out and about once or twice, scouring the area. But so might a hired assassin.’
‘You’re living in a fantasy…’
‘Someone wanted to make sure I wouldn’t talk, Giles,’ Barker said, waggling an elongated finger from side to side. ‘And if they can’t get to me, what’s to stop them from going for you instead?’
In a flash, Barker’s hand dropped by his side and his face paled as he stared off at a point close behind Giles. She turned around just as Harris came to a stop beside her, his hair looking rather windswept and his coat pulled tightly around himself to protect from the strengthening breeze.
‘Are we ready to talk yet?’ he asked briskly.
Barker seemed to retreat into himself. His eyes drew further back into his skull, hiding beneath the shadow of his arched eye sockets, and his chin tucked down towards his t-shirt.
‘I told you,’ he growled. ‘I’ll only talk to Giles. No one else.’
‘Well, we don’t always get what we want do we…’
Giles placed a gentle hand on Harris’ arm. ‘It’s alright. I think I’ve heard enough.’
As she walked away, she threw a glance over her shoulder. The effect was remarkable. Still rooted to the spot, Barker’s eyes had widened with horror and he pranced back and forth between his feet as though debating calling out to her as she headed back towards the path. Something was important enough that it make Barker confident enough to play games, but something was holding him back from actually playing his card…
Something to do with Harris?
‘So? Is he lying?’
Giles turned to Harris who walked awkwardly beside her. ‘It’s hard to say. He hasn’t given me anything to dispute what we’ve already found, although he did make one good point…’
‘Motive,’ she replied. ‘He had no reason to kill some random dog walker.’
‘Maybe he wasn’t a random dog walker, then?’
‘That’s exactly what Barker is thinking…’
‘Hmmm…’ Harris nodded, placing his hands on his hips like a man desperately wanting to look like he is control. He stared around at the scenery for some inspiration before he finally asked: ‘So, what next?’
Giles already had the answer.
‘I need to talk to the first officer on scene. The one who Barker handed the paper scrap to.’
‘Ted Bright,’ Harris replied instantly. ‘The one who was with Miss Larken.’
Giles nodded. ‘PC Bright it is then.’
PC Bright glanced from Giles to Harris who nodded in approval. He shrugged his shoulders and leaned back against an ash tree trunk as he gestured towards the direction of the bunker.
‘I saw Miss Larken first,’ he explained. ‘She was keeping look out for me and she waved me over when I came over the bridge. She directed me over to bunker where our dead friend was lying against the wall. I checked his vitals but there was no way he was alive by the time I got there…’
‘And Barker?’ Giles asked.
‘He was over by the river. According to Miss Larken, he hadn’t moved from that spot since they found the body. When I went over to talk to him, he told me that he fired the shot and that he needed protection.’
‘Did he say from what?’
Bright glanced over at Harris. ‘No, sir. Just that the dead man had tried to kill him and that he believed someone else would try again. When the rest of the team arrived, he insisted on having four or five of us with him to keep him safe. If you ask me, I think he was terrified of something…’
‘And when did he hand you the scrap of paper?’
Bright didn’t hesitate. ‘Straight away. It was the first thing he did. He handed me that scrap and told me to call Detective Sergeant Evelyn Giles from the Met. He seemed to think you would understand why.’
‘And he said nothing else?’
‘Nothing of importance,’ Bright replied. ‘He was in shock, I think. He kept muttering about needing to defend himself and then he said something the bluebells that just didn’t make any sense at all…’
Giles froze. Her heart pumped hard in her chest but her mind seemed to drain of all thoughts and ideas. She felt her mouth drop open and, instinctively, she reached forward and grasped hold of PC Bright’s shoulder.
‘What about the bluebells?’
Bright stared in confusion between Harris and Giles. ‘Nothing really. He was just rambling…’
‘Yes, but what sort of rambling?’
‘I don’t know,’ Bright replied, pushing himself off from the tree trunk. ‘I don’t really remember…’
Harris stepped forward: ‘Is that significant?’
Giles didn’t stop to answer the question. With a kick in her heels, she moved swiftly down the river path, passing by the pillbox without so much as a second glance as she made her way through to the next field. With a bark of command, she sent the uniformed officers back a few steps and grabbed hold of Barker’s arm.
The moment of pure disgust in his face was replaced very quickly with a look of relief as she spoke:
Barker nodded. ‘Bluebells.’
‘What do you know?’
Barker glanced over Giles’ shoulder. A short distance away, Harris was marching up the field, his eyes wide in confusion as he made his way through the confused looking officers. He moved his head in close to Giles’, speaking quietly and swiftly:
‘I don’t have time. Get this little matter cleared up. When I’m free of all charges and safely in a safe house, I will tell you everything you need to know…’
‘I need something more…’
Barker glanced at Harris once again. He was no more than twenty metres away now.
‘How close are you, Evelyn?’ he asked coolly, pulling her in closer. ‘He leaves a bunch of bluebells on their chest but his method changes every time. Not many people know it’s not the same man…’
He let Giles go, taking a step back as Harris arrived beside them. Flustered and confused, he turned from Giles to Barker, breathing heavily as his suspicious eyes flickered between them.
‘What the hell is going on?’
Giles didn’t reply. Neither did Barker.
The two simply stared at each other.
The mist of confusion subsided. Giles forgot about the body by the pillbox. She forgot about Harris’ investigation. She forgot about the last month of uncertainty as the members of the Britain’s Own Party paraded obscenely through the streets of Britain – celebrating the beginning of a new age where racism and discrimination would become common place.
Instead she pictured a dozen dead bodies. She remembered months of fruitless paperwork. She recalled so many lost hours chasing an unknown shadow through the streets of London.
And, through it all, her mind settled on a mental image of a man.
A man creeping silently through the dark.
A man making furtive phone calls and delivering secretive packages.
A man completely unknown to her – and yet he was her closest ally in the hunt for a murderer.
The man she imagined looked nothing like Daniel Barker. He didn’t even sound like him or speak with the same calculated intelligence. There was nothing about him that related to the vile excuse of a man stood before her.
Everything she knew, or thought she knew, of this man shattered into a thousand pieces. Everything she assumed was gone save one thing…
A single, fake name.