Barker and Giles stared at each other in complete silence. Neither one of them moved or even seemed to breathe. For a good half a minute or so, the only movement came from the slow blinking of their eyes and the wisps of hair fluttering in the breeze.
The fundamental rules of their association had always been that they should never meet and that Giles should never know Max’s identity. From their very first conversation, these had been the golden rules that should never be broken. The penalty for breaching this arrangement had always been made abundantly clear by Max and, now that she had finally met him, her mind flitted quickly back to that first message sent from an anonymous email account.
’… These are my two conditions. If you attempt to find me, I will know. If you ever insist on meeting me, I will disappear…’
Now that the rules had been broken, neither party were quite sure how to react. They were in uncharted and dangerous territory now and, like predators prowling through an unknown land, both were eagle-eyed and vigilant to all that was happening around them.
Finally, as though a danger had passed, both broke eye contact and seemed to relax a little, although the uneasy silence continued for another minute. It was only as Barker retrieved his cigarette packet that the silence was broken by Giles’ excited and quivering voice.
‘Do you have another one of those?’
It took a moment or so before Barker had realised what she meant and a few seconds longer for him to decide for himself whether he really wanted to part with them for Giles’ benefit. With an ungracious scowl, he slowly reached inside and produced a lone cigarette that he passed to Giles and lit for her. Giles inhaled deeply, tasting the same smoke that she had identified in the bunker as it cascaded down her throat. Pondering the smoking cigarette she finally turned to her suspect.
‘This wasn’t supposed to happen,’ she said awkwardly. ‘We agreed this couldn’t happen.’
Barker looked very uneasy. As though unsure of himself, he gave an unconvincing nod. ‘Desperate times.’
Giles laughed. ‘You know I hated you. All that time when you were running for election, I wanted nothing more than to see you and your pathetic party fail. When they didn’t vote you in to your own constituency, I practically danced around the room, I was so happy.’
‘I can understand that. My party didn’t exactly appeal to people like you.’
‘And now you’re here, on the brink of being sent down for murder. I couldn’t be happier…’ Giles took a long drag on the cigarette. ‘Why did you turn out to be my informant? What kind of idiotic joke is that?’
Barker nodded his agreement.
‘I didn’t kill that man, not intentionally at any rate. And I make no mystery about it, I don’t like people like you. And yet I find myself in the delicate position of needing your help. We both need help from the person we despise most. The only question is, are you ready to put aside your irrational hatred for the greater good?’
Giles’ jaw dropped open. ‘Irrational hatred?’ With an air of vindictiveness, she flicked the half smoked cigarette towards the nearby bushes, pulled out her own packet and lit one from the selection. ‘Do you have any idea how stupid you sound?’
She turned her back on him and walked away, heading straight past Harris in the direction of a small clump of trees at the far side of the field, searching for some time to think. Searching for some solitude.
How dare he!
The investigation was over and the SOCO team were long since gone when Harris finally found Giles. She had perched herself on a steep section of the riverbank, quietly watching the water flow past on its way to Edenbridge.
Harris had no idea what Barker had said to her, but whatever it was had practically reduced Giles to a quivering wreck. He hadn’t tried to stop her as she marched by; he figured she would come back in time. But as the team dispersed and made their final preparations to transfer Barker back to the station, Harris felt an overwhelming compunction to find her and bring her back to the fold.
As he spotted her from the top of the bank, he called out and, when he got no response, carefully planted his feet in the dry ground and made his way down to her. The smell of tobacco smoke hung about her like a musky veil and Giles, as though sensing Harris’ discomfort, flicked the remainder of her cigarette into the river.
‘I thought you should know,’ he announced, shuffling forward to perch on the ground next to her. ‘We did another sweep of the bunker. Underneath a mouldy crisp packet we found three cigarette butts. They match the cigarettes that Barker smokes…’
Giles forced a smile before turning back to the flowing water. Harris squirmed awkwardly beside her.
‘Alongside the bullet casing - I guess that makes a pretty strong case against Barker…’
‘I guess…’ Giles shrugged, stretching her neck from side to side.
As her neck cracked and released the tension in her muscles, Harris’ took a moment to examine his newest colleague. Although clearly Asian in descent, Giles spoke with a clipped British accent. Her velvet, black hair was short, barely reaching her shoulders. About her neck, barely visible beneath her silk scarf, a singular scar stretched out around her neck barely a few centimetres long.
As his eyes drifted down to her left hand, he caught sight of the wedding ring that sat neatly there and thought it such a pity that she wasn’t available. He would have liked to spend his life with someone like this.
‘So who is he then?’ he asked, giving an encouraging smile. ‘Who is Daniel Barker to you?’
‘I’ve never met Daniel Barker before in my life,’ Giles began, tightening the scarf around her neck. ‘But I’ve had dealings with him. Or rather, I’ve had dealings with a man who called himself Max.’
Giles nodded. ‘Until a few months ago, Max was little more than a voice on the end of a telephone. At the time, I was deep in a murder investigation…’
‘The Bluebell Killer,’ Harris interrupted. ‘I read about it…’
Giles’ eyes narrowed.
‘Over six months, the Bluebell Killer murdered over a dozen men and women. Most were successful types: bankers, web designers and entrepreneurs. At each killing he left a small bunch of bluebells on their bodies somewhere – a sort sign to mark his territory. But each killing was different. Each unique. It was like he was trying to challenge himself to come up with as many different ways of killing someone…’
Harris smiled. ‘But you got him.’
Giles nodded. ‘Yes, thanks to Max.’ She glanced back over shoulder in the direction of Barker. ’Max was an informant. He called shortly after the Bluebell Killer struck three times in the space of a week. He encouraged me to follow a money trail that I’d stumbled upon and, when I did, I discovered that some of the victims had received large pay-outs from an anonymous bank shortly before their deaths. The money turned out to be a dead end but it showed that at least some of the victims were connected in some way.
‘After that, I started to trust Max’s instincts. He would give me information and, in return, I had him paid as a police informant. He’d pass me titbits of information. Some would lead somewhere significant, others turned out to be cold trails. He claimed he knew the identity of the killer but he refused to tell me, claiming that he would never be able to risk exposing his involvement at trial.’
‘But he did give you something?’ asked Harris.
Giles nodded. ‘The day the last victim was killed - Max called and gave me information that led us right to the killer.’ She laughed to herself. ‘It’s funny, Max was always so sure that there was some giant conspiracy that protected the Bluebell Killer from being identified. It never occurred to him that it was just some nutty kid living in his grandmother’s spare room…’
Harris sniffed. ‘But that was three months ago. What’s that got to do with this mess? Why would someone want to kill him now?’
Giles reached into her pocket and pulled out her phone.
‘I didn’t hear anything from Max since the take down.’ She tapped on her phone a few times. ‘And then, three days ago, I received this…’
She handed the phone over to Harris who stared down at it thoughtfully. The screen showed a text message from a number identified as ‘Max’.
’The Bluebell Killer is alive and I can prove it. I have the evidence you need. Keep an eye on your mail box.’
Harris looked up. ‘And what did he send you?’
Giles shook her head. ‘Nothing so far.’
‘And you think Barker is your informant?’
‘Max and I were the only people who knew he existed. The only other person who could have known would have been the killer himself…’
‘And he’s dead,’ finished Harris. ‘And I imagine, even if he wasn’t, he would probably work quickly to make sure Max was silenced…’
The thought had dawned on Harris in exactly the same way that it had on Giles. With his mouth dropping open, he stared down at the text message before looking back at her.
‘And Barker said that the man had tried to kill him.’
Giles nodded. ‘A man dressed perfectly for his environment. Even carries a dog leash around with him to make it look like he’s just some guy who has lost his dog. He doesn’t carry any ID or anything else that might identify him barring his train ticket and the names of his targets. Sounds like it could be a professional hit to me.’
Harris thought for a moment before violently shaking his head. ‘But that doesn’t make sense. We’ve just proven that Barker was the one who fired the shot from inside the bunker. That’s premeditated murder.’
Giles turned her body towards Harris and leant forward, her mind once again skipping with the scent of an unsolved mystery.
‘Yes, but what was it you said about the bunkers?’ she asked excitedly. ‘You said they were used as defensive structures, right?’
‘So what if Barker saw our victim coming, recognised him for what he was and took shelter in the bunker.’ Her eyes glistened and a curious smile spread across her face. ‘What if he was using it to defend himself?’
‘Wouldn’t there be two guns in that scenario?’ Harris shot back. ‘One for Barker to defend himself and one for our killer…’
‘He had a dog leash,’ Giles corrected. ‘A dog leash with a choke chain. It would be a truly unique way to commit a murder…’
Harris grasped at the bridge of his nose. His head was beginning to ache and Giles’ renewed enthusiasm was doing little to help unravel the environment that they found themselves in.
‘This is madness,’ he said, a note of exasperation in his voice. ‘All the evidence points to premeditated murder. Even if what you’re saying is true, that was not the story Barker told…’
‘I know it’s far-fetched…’
‘No,’ interrupted Harris, finally releasing the bridge of his nose and staring at Giles with a look of anguish and irritation. ‘That’s not even the far-fetched part. The part that I am struggling to get to grips with is Barker. If he really is your informant, what information could he possibly have about a serial killer? The man is a politician, and not a particularly nice one at that. The idea that he is some vigilante informant is just beyond belief…’
Giles’ mouth twitched. ‘A few moments ago you were sure he committed this murder. Before today, I would have said that was beyond belief…’
‘And another thing,’ Harris continued, climbing to his feet. ‘Why would Daniel Barker, the former leader of the Britain’s Own party, the man whose policies verged on racial cleansing, come to you, a woman of Chinese descent, for help?’ He paused for a moment to regain the breath he had lost from his verbal exertions. ‘What, he suddenly decided that a pure-blooded British person couldn’t do the job as well as an immigrant?’
Harris stopped in his tracks, his eyes widening with shameful realisation at what he had just said. Turning his back on Giles, he walked a few steps before turning back towards her with an apologetic look on his face. Giles, for her part, slowly climbed back to her feet and took a few steps towards him.
‘Maybe he didn’t know,’ she said, giving a slight shrug. ‘Not a lot of Chinese people with my surname.’
Harris let out a quick breath of forced laughter. ‘Your father’s, right?’
Giles nodded. ‘I didn’t fancy taking my husband’s name…’
‘Is it that bad?’
Giles eyed him cheekily. ‘You have no idea.’
This time Harris let his laughter fester a little before he tried to suppress it. Giles joined in and, for a moment, the tension eased as the two detectives stared off across the field in the direction of the bunker.
Along the river, a bright blue dragonfly skimmed over the water and rose up the bank to hover just above Giles’ knee. A moment later, it shot off towards the long grass and flew swiftly along the pathway before disappearing into the sea of bluebells that lay before. Giles watched the point where it had disappeared for a long while before the swath of purple hovering over the green grass became too much for her eyes and she turned back towards the river once more.
Harris watched her as she stared out at the water, once again twisting her wedding ring on her finger as her face frowned at some distant thought. He knew that something was bothering her, but he didn’t want to ask – he had already intruded on her day off, he wasn’t about to impose of her personal life as well. It was almost certainly her marriage that was bothering her at that moment - that he could see plainly. But it wasn’t his place to intervene.
‘You know I can’t release him,’ he said. ‘The evidence says he’s a murderer. I have to take him in.’
‘And if he’s telling even the slightest bit of truth, that could have implications on you as much as him. I can’t allow you to move around without adequate protection. With him in custody, you could may well become the next target…’
Giles nodded. ‘The best thing would be for both of us to be locked down in your station until this thing gets sorted out.’
The dragonfly was back again, shooting out of the mass of bluebells and swerving in between reeds and grass stalks as it made its way back towards the river. As it flew by Giles, a curious smile appeared on her face and her eyes tracked its progress once again as it disappeared upstream.
A moment of silence passed before Harris spoke again.
‘So, how would you like to play this?’