Barker’s throat was stiff and sore from the constant barrage of cigarettes. He smoked another anyway. He had come out that morning with two full packs of twenty and he was damned if they were going to be confiscated by some nicotine happy desk sergeant. His heart was racing and his legs were subtly limbering up to run. The circle of officers had tightened around him since Giles’ departure and, every so often, he caught sight of the sly glances between them that told him that his time was limited.
He didn’t much fancy his chances of successfully fleeing but, then again, his life expectancy in a police cell wasn’t exactly going to be long. As he flicked his latest cigarette away towards the bushes, his eyes fell on the smoking remnants of the one Giles had tossed away. She had been his only bridge, his only life-line, and he with his callous manner had burned it before he’d even had the opportunity to use the leverage he held. He had information that Giles wanted, and that was what was going to keep him alive…
Had he not spurned her…
Women can be so unreasonable.
In the distance, Giles and Harris emerged from the treeline, speaking animatedly - occasionally glancing in his direction. Giles had out aside her disliking of him – Barker was sure of it. Her face was pulsing with nervous energy, her hands were fluttering up and down and her eyes and voice were pleading to Harris with the manipulative prowess that only a woman can achieve.
He wondered what favours she was promising him – what pleasures she would be parting with to allow Barker free. Was she tempting Harris with a night of passion that he would never forget? Was she describing the indulgence of her skin against his, her tongue gently caressing…
Barker caught himself out. He wiped the smile off his face and tired his best to replace the energetic feeling in his loins with his usual demeanour of distaste…
He thrust his hands into his pocket and adjusted himself. His jeans were tight against his skin, but not so tight that he could hope to conceal himself from someone looking and without his jacket safe in police custody he had no way of hiding the bulging mass in his trousers.
It was nothing more than a slight hope that Giles could convince Harris to let him go free. If he were even half-decent at his job, Barker would find himself in a police cell within the hour. Guilty or not, Harris would want to keep a close eye on him whilst keeping him safe behind closed doors. But no doors were ever truly closed and Barker would be as good as on display in a public gallery. He’d be right where the Bluebell Killer wants him…
But he had hope.
As repugnant as it was, Giles was his one chance – his one chance of reaching the end of today.
She would want something in return, of course.
He would give her something to chew on. Something important enough for her to let him go. After all, the gorillas in their white shirts and stab-proof vests had already searched him today; she wouldn’t expect him to produce the evidence immediately. Would she?
Barker watched the spirited discussion taking place between the two detectives, hearing nothing of it but imagining the toing and froing all the same.
’He is a witness to a much bigger crime…’
’And you can have him when we’re through with him.’
’But by then it might be too late. You saw the paper. It’s not just my life on the line. They want him dead as well...’
Yes, it would be too late.
Time was not on Barker’s side and the thought of the restricted, small concrete police cell filled him with more dread than a death warrant. He wouldn’t be sage until he was far away from here – out of the reach of Harris of his cronies, out of sight from the public and the do-gooders…
Somewhere where the Bluebell Killer couldn’t find him.
Far from everything…
The debate had come to a close.
Harris turned his back on Giles and marched straight towards Barker, his eyes set and sure, his true emotions hidden behind a mask of professionalism.
As the detective drew closer, Barker’s legs once again swelled with pumping blood as they readied to push off and run. He would wait until he was sure they were taking him in. He didn’t want to have to run unless it was absolutely necessary.
Harris stopped a metre or so away from him, stared hard at Barker for a moment and gestured to the officers around him. Barker braced himself to run but found, to his surprise, that the officers walked straight past him, heading in the direction of the pillbox and the wooden bridge beyond.
With the most strained smile that Barker had ever seen, Harris gave a slight nod and said: ‘Thank you, Mister Barker.’
He span on his heels and followed the retreating officers. He didn’t utter a sound as he passed by Giles who slowly approached Barker, his face glowing with triumph yet tinted with concern.
For the first time in his life, Barker found himself absolutely speechless. He took a victorious deep breath and placed his hands on his hips as he stared about at the Kentish countryside, taking in the view as though he were a newborn experiencing the world for the first time.
‘I knew I could count on you,’ he whispered, smiling gratefully and, for the first time, honestly to his saviour.
Giles peered cautiously over her shoulder. Harris had stopped to converse with another detective. Both were shooting sly glances in their direction. She tilted her head towards the ground and lowered her voice to an almost indistinct murmur.
‘Listen very carefully. We don’t have much time.’
Giles kept her voice low and she and Barker slowly dawdled towards the bridge. Beside her, Barker walked with the air of a man being sent to the gallows; his eyes darted about anxiously beneath the seasoned features of a confident politician. Up ahead, Harris and the other detective had already reached the bridge where they stopped to check on Giles’ progress before crossing the stream into the playing fields on the other side.
Barker walked at a leisurely pace, his legs skipping more with calmness as the pillbox and the crime scene fell farther back behind them. As they moved down the path, Barker seemed at peace, as though the burdens of the crime were nothing more than a remote dream. However, as they approached the footbridge, the cracks began to appear – he practically jumped out of his skin when something large darted through a nearby bush, rustling the twigs and leaves as it moved unseen through the bracken.
He was not the only one.
Giles worked hard to control her breathing as her heart pounded ferociously inside her chest. She had been given a finite time. She had the length of the walk back to the cars to get what she needed from Barker – after that she would have to wait her turn. Beyond the footbridge, she knew she had two hundred metres – two hundred metres of rugby and football pitches – before she would have to hand him over. They would walk across the fields, avoiding the games being played by the Bank Holiday crowd, and head across to the clubhouse where the fleet of police vehicles would wait in readiness.
She allowed Barker to step ahead of her on to the bridge. Her hands trembled with trepidation as they gripped the wooden handrail. This would be her chance – she knew it all too well. Harris would never allow Barker to simply go free – she knew that as well. If Barker didn’t talk now, if he didn’t tell her what she knew, she might never get another chance. He might sulk in silence, clinging on to his last trump card – never playing it as long as he was locked away from the world…
Then all this would have been for nothing…
Her mind flitted back to Jason, his face contorted with anger as he ranted about how her job was taking over her life. He had known she was a career woman when he married her, but something had changed in the past few months. All of his friends now had bouncing babies, families - and Jason had become more than a little broody.
But he knew the deal. Giles would work ten years on the force before she stopped to have children, and there were still three more to go…
‘If you want my help, you’re going to have to give me something,’ she said, pausing on the bridge to watch the stream trickle quietly below.
The water of the weir crashed loudly a short distance away. The easterly wind whipped up through the trees, causing them to sway and creak and rustle. Barker stopped to ponder the nature as well. Standing side by side the two were in perfect isolation – no one could hear them speak or catch them off guard. And yet, despite their remoteness, Giles couldn’t help shaking the feeling that they were being observed.
‘You get me out of this and I’ll tell you everything you need to know.’
‘You know I can’t do that.’
‘Well, you’re going to have to,’ replied Barker, taking on the air of the party leader once more. ‘If I end up in a police cell, I will be dead before sunrise tomorrow morning.’
‘I can assure you, you will be perfectly safe.’
Barker scoffed. ‘You don’t even know who you are protecting me from.’
‘Then tell me.’
‘I told you, when I’m safely away from here and out of police custody.’
‘Harris’ team are more than capable of protecting you…’
‘And you trust Harris?’
In the distance, Harris stopped and looked back at them, almost as though he’d been beckoned by his own name. He stood watching them for a moment until Giles finally gave Barker a slight nudge and the two descended off the footbridge onto to the perfectly cut grass of the recreation field. The police cordon had long since been removed and already several dog walkers were pacing purposefully across the field in the direction of the wooden bridge.
Barker eyed a Jack Russell suspiciously as it bounded past them, ignoring the curious glances of recognition from its owner. Up ahead, Harris turned again and continued walking, although he continued to throw the occasional glance back at the meandering pair.
‘They have evidence that you committed a murder, Mr Barker. They’re not just going to let me walk you out of here.’
‘Then you have two problems…’
‘So, tell me what I want to know and I will have you in protective custody in a matter of hours.’
Barker laughed again. ‘I spent years relying on other people to protect me. All it ever got me was one great, big, colossal failure on the largest stage in Britain.’ His voice hissed with bitterness:
‘Do you what they told me during the election? They said there was no need to focus on my own constituency – they said it was a sure thing. The public were back us to the hilt and all I had to do was focus on discrediting the government.’
Giles shrugged. ‘You needed better advisors…’
Barker scowled. ’Then, on results day, it was my constituency that didn’t fall into line – my voters that left me out in the cold. So, I think I’m right in saying that I’ve learnt the hard that relying on other people leads to nothing but failure. And, when my life is the stake I’m playing for, I don’t much relish the idea of putting my faith of success in someone else’s hands – especially yours…’
‘You don’t really understand your position, do you?’
‘Quid pro quo, Giles,’ he shot back. ‘You need to think of another way to get me out of this mess, because if I’m in a police cell you won’t get what you want. If I’m locked away, my information is locked away with me...’
‘The Bluebell Killer.’
Barker gave her a cold, hard look. ‘You know what, when you killed that boy, he laughed. He was so pleased with himself. He’d played you like a fucking fiddle – and there you were, basking in the triumph of it all…’
‘If you’re telling me the truth then who is he?’ Giles shot back, her teeth gritting with determination. ‘Who is the Bluebell Killer?’
A curious smile crept over Barker’s face. His hand emerged from his right trouser pocket and he waggled a lone finger at the detective, tutting playfully as he did so. ‘Quid pro quo. You don’t have much time.’
Giles slowed her pace a little more. The two finally came to a stop. In the middle of the playing field, Giles and Barker stared long and hard at each other. Her hair and scarf fluttered in the breeze whilst he remained perfectly still – unmovable against the elements.
‘You’re not even bothering to proclaim your innocence anymore.’
‘It wouldn’t make any difference if I did. Your situation will still be the same.’ A slight smile crept across his face as his eyes flickered across Giles’ face. ’They say you Chinese types are good with numbers. Let’s see what odds you can come up with for a successful escape. Tick-tock.’
Harris came to a halt next to his car and turned back to look across the playing fields. Nearby, a football match had just finished. The players and supporters cheered and applauded each other whilst the two distant figures of Giles and Barker finally began to saunter back towards the clubhouse.
Harris felt Detective Constable Parsons slide into the spot next to him.
‘They’re taking their time,’ he observed. ‘Any slower and they’d look like they were starting a funeral conga line.’
Harris turned to his colleague. Parsons was still relatively inexperienced, but his keen eyes breathed in his surrounding with the air of one who had seen it all. His trimmed muscles bulged beneath his cotton shirt and his neat, short hair spoke of a time before the police force.
Once a soldier…
‘DS Giles is attempting to extract some information from the suspect before he take him in.’
‘Is that wise, sir?’ Parsons’ face brimmed with worry masked by his icy glare. ‘Anything she gets wouldn’t stand in court.’
‘It’s to do with another case. Giles asked for some time alone with him before he gets lost in a sea of paperwork. I figured it was the least we could do after her work in the pillbox…’
‘We would have found it eventually, sir.’ Parsons’ eyes narrowed on the pair as they once again made a slight turn towards the bushes at the side of the playing field to lengthen their journey. ‘I don’t like it.’
Harris could see what Parsons meant. The distance between them and Barker was still substantial enough that if he considered making a run for it, they’d be hard pressed to catch up before he disappeared into the wild and overgrown woodland and meadow that ran alongside the river. Harris turned to the rest of the team, mostly uniformed officers now, who tried to loiter causally by their patrol cars.
‘Get the rest of the team out of here,’ he ordered. ‘We don’t want Barker clocking our reception committee.’
Parsons barked some clipped orders and the officers clambered into their cars. In a moment, the engines roared into life and the cars disappeared up the lane towards the centre of town. Giles and Harris were still a fair distance away when Parsons returned.
‘How long has Giles got?’
Harris seemed to ignore the question. The footballers were making their preparations to leave the pitch, chanting and singing, clapping and excitedly recalling their own personal highlights.
But, for Harris, the game wasn’t over yet.