Chapter 20 The Detective
He sat behind the small neat desk his shirt tight across a barrel chest looking at his assistant come secretary come confident. Although pushing 40 years of age he looked 10 years younger due solely to the benevolence of mother nature. In fact all his life he had looked much younger than his age which in his teens had been a problem in many walks of life but now it was a blessing.
However, today he felt anything but blessed. Standing on the other side of desk his assistant Mo looked apprehensive has she pushed a brown envelope towards him.
“This came in the post.” She announced as if she had scrapped it off the pavement in a black bag with ties.
Taking one look he recoiled.
“You open it” he said then slide it back towards her.
“Coward.” She muttered raising the envelope to study it closely.
“Definitely Inland Revenue” she pronounced and made to hand it back to him.
In reply he pushed on his chair so that he scooted backwards some two feet.
“Give it to me straight,” he smiled, “I am man enough.”
“Coward” she repeated the accusation only more forcefully this time, then ripped the envelope apart as if dismembering an enemy.
Mo or Morag was in her early fifties and like her employer wore thick glasses. Like her employer she was almost blind without spectacles for that his how they met. A dark night, a lady in distress, gallant male to the rescue taking on two muggers. In the commotion both lost their glasses to find, to their utter amazement then to their immense amusement that neither could see the other. That was nearly 8 years ago and for the last 7 she had worked for him in his detective agency.
She liked the man, his ginger hair, now fading with age, his neat no nonesense appearance and sometimes the way he would look out for her. For her part she sometimes mothered him, sometimes they had ‘words’ like an old married couple. There was also the bonus of the work.
She found the work varied and entertaining if on occasion the financial reward was uncertain. Luckily she had a small private income from her late husband. Now their main work was for solicitors and great deal of it concerning claims against the medical profession. Unfortunately people who make their living from upholding the law appeared to think paying bills of no relevance to the law.
Hence she read the letter before her with a great deal of discomfort.
“Bastards.” She blurted out.
“That bad?” he quizzed with an uncertain grin. “How big is the bad?”
“Nearly 5 grand of bad” she said bluntly.
He looked at her somewhat amazed, speechless in fact until he pulled himself together.
“Better book an appointment with that useless accountant.” He seemed resigned to his fate.
“More bad news ” she said as if to shield him from a disease.
“In what way?” he asked thinking she was still on the page with the Inland Revenue.
“Olivetti” she said the one word as if it explained everything.
“What about him, we have nothing from him for say... 5 years.” He appeared puzzled.
“We have now. “she collected the brown envelope and its dismal contents, turning to leave his office she said over her shoulder, “Two of his goons to see you.”
The two ‘goons’ turned out to be anything but. The man was smartly dress in a casual two piece with an impressive cut shirt covering what the detective guessed was a muscular torso use to living in between the weights and the rowing machine. His companion was small ,sporting a very precisely manufactured body decked out in short skirt, jacket which looked expensive and covered he guessed naked flesh. ′ Nothing as common as a blouse’ for her, he thought. From years of experience his gut reaction was she was wearing the absolute minimum under this outer shell. His gut reaction again was that he had met this petite creature before but where?
“My name is Carlo” the man said “and this is Sultry”
Has he shook their hands the detective followed up his gut reaction.
“We have met before somewhere?” he asked of the woman called Sultry.
“I use to strip” she said in a matter of fact tone as if she use to teach 5 year olds for a living.
He looked her up and down then acknowledge with a mocking grin, “oh yes , now I remember.”
When they were seated he waited for them to make the first move. The female was studying him intently and again his gut instinct kicked in, ‘She is probably very bright.’ He thought ‘watch yourself my boy’. His brain working in tandem with gut told him this was no ordinary stripper.
Carlo opened the batting, “Our solicitor friends tell us you are rather good at getting information out of hospitals, especially the kind of information they would like to keep secret.”
The detective nodded, “I do work in the medical field.”
Both looked at him in silence clearly assessing him. He decided to play rabbit and froze giving nothing away.
Now the female took up the baton, “We need to find a nurse. We do not know her name but we do have a description and where she was on a certain date, which..” she paused pulling a folded paper from her jacket which had nestled between her breasts.
She continued, “here is the location , a picture of the bridge from Google map and a description of the vehicle she was driving.”
The paper was still warm when he took it from the woman and it distracted him.
Eventually he got the details in his head and thought the job could be done.
“She was out on a call?” he asked.
“We think so.” Answered the woman a sly smile crept across her features.
Clocking this the detective was tempted to ask the most obvious question but thought better of it.
“On a case like this my services are not cheap.” He now opened the serious part of the negotiation.
With one smooth movement the man produced a brown envelope from his inside pocket and placed it on the desk.
‘How many brown envelopes do I get in one day?’ The detective thought to himself.
“2k now , plus expenses and 5 k when you complete your mission.” The man’s voice was a no nonsense take the offer or you are mad.
Hunter Trent, for that was the name of this detective, could only think of his other brown envelope then pushed is luck. “expenses are 250 a day plus extras like informant fees.” He said this with the same tone the man Carlo had used. ‘Take it or leave it’ it said to anyone listening.
To his utter amazement the woman answered, “Agreed” she said in the very assertive voice.
‘They must want this nurse very badly ’ he thought.
“You have a week” the man stated and rose.
Slowly the female rose , put both hands on his desk and asked in a low voice,
“Are not going to ask why we want this nurse?”
Hunter noted her cleavage and thought this was deliberate but instead ,looked her steadily in the eye, casually he replied, “None of my business.”
Nodding slightly her approval and rising to her full height she started to leave stopping to ask, “I would like to see you without your spectacles. Do you ever take them off?”
“Only in bed.” he replied with a knowing flirtatious smile.
“In that case I would definitely l like to see you without them.” She said as a parting gift.
Ahmed, a Muslim was what he called a ‘convenient’ Muslim. When it suited him he was devote, when it did not suit him he was not, a Muslim. On this occasion it was not at all convenient for he was sitting in a church pew, a Roman Catholic pew to be precise having just finished his night shift.
Being tired he bowed his head as if in prayer his whole body bent almost double for he was falling asleep.
“Ahmed” came the voice behind him. His name was delivered in a forceful whisper.
“Mr Trent?” he said in a low foreign accent.
“Who else?” came the reply to which Ahmed leaned back to peer at the ceiling as if in contemplation of at least one sin, but did not look round to clock the voice.
The voice continued, “Have you anything on this nurse?” the voice had an urgent pleading tone to it. Ahmed knew the voice to be Mr Trent but he was still hesitant in answering.
It was sometime before he answered,
“Yes and No Mr Tent.”
“Just give me the yes bit.” the voice said.
“No, No ” went on Ahmed quickly, “There are....“he paused ” aspects... you may say of this enquiry ..which... trouble me. Indeed they do very trouble.”
Mr Trent cursed quietly under his breath “I knew this was not going to be easy” he said at last.
Ahmed was the best contact the detective had in the hospital. He had this particular Asian computer man on a piece of string to which neither ever referred for Ahmed was an illegal immigrant of long standing. Ever since he came to study here but never went back, a common story, a fact Mr Trent did not exploit directly but more by implication. Neither man spoke about Ahmed’s status.
Instead the detective made the piece of string which held Ahmed a lucrative one whilst in the background his immigration status was discretely held aloft. With two children and a ‘wife’ to support the threat of exposure was real but he felt sure not from Mr Trent. Between the twin planets of Fear and Greed Ahmed was held in a tight and stable orbit.
But now an external force came into play for he was worried, his equilibrium disturbed.
“I must tell you by what process I came by what little information I have.”
“Must you?” a weary voice asked.
“Yes Mr Trent,” his informant insisted, “so you can judge, serious nature of this business.”
There was a long pause during which both men went through the motions of prayer for the church was not empty. Here and there, mainly elderly people came and went to kneel and pay homage to their God. Two elderly women with floral headscarves were lighting candles not far away.
“As you know...” Ahmed started in hushed tones, ” all emergency calls for ambulances are logged. ...what you may not know that all other emergency call outs, be it doctors or nurses are also logged.”
“I knew that.” Interceded Mr Trent, “I have made a living out of helping people sue the NHS remember.”
“Yes, yes, Mr Tent, you have.” Ahmed stalled again and crossed himself. “That file is closed and backed up every night at midnight or just before. Three copies in fact. A new file started for each day. After finding that no ordinary nurse, district nurse for example had a visit in that area around December 12 I searched the emergency log file for that date in December last year. Nothing Mr Trent.”
The detective let out an audible sigh then said something inaudible. A blasphemous remark may have been capture by the church and crushed , a remark known only to the Church and Trent.
“But there was something wrong with the file, the date and time stamp were wrong by 2 minutes.”
“That all?” asked the detective.
“No, No Mr Tent, that is very significant for it means either the person on that night was negligent or the file had been tampered with.”
“We..., all humans make mistakes.”
“No , not IT people” insisted Ahmed proudly.
This brought a broad smile to the detective’s face.
“Go on” he said.
“What very few know is that we back up files in two ways, one virtual to another server, in the cloud you might say, the other physical, a removable drive we take and store in another building. In case of fire and flood , yes. More of a custom than a necessity these days.”
“I understand” the voice behind assured him.
“Well having retrieved that back up from the store unit, it turns out there was a record on the file not on the main file and the date time stamp was correct, 2 minutes to midnight.”
“Do you know who was on the missing record?” Trent was now intent on one thing, the name.
“Yes Mr Trent, or rather I cross matched the files with my own program and it showed a ES666765 was sent out to an urgent diabetes patient in that very area you are interest in on one of the days in question.
“Excellent” chimed the detective his hopes high “and who is ES666765?”
“That is where things get frightening for ES666765 had been removed from all data bases, she , if it is a she, does not exist.”
The implications of this ran through the detective like a sword. ‘Hell’ he thought then said , “who could do such and thing and why?”
“In my opinion Mr Trent, only a government could do such a thing. It was no Mr Hacker, they go in like burglars, turning everything over, making a mess. This was professional.”
The informant paused then said with such gravity it shook Mr Trent, “I said a government, it may not be ours.”
Both men knelt down as if in prayer, crossing themselves as they rose to their seats, perhaps crossing themselves with more fervour than ever.
“So that is it?” asked the detective very disappointed.
“Yes and No Mr Trent.” Ahmed sounded reluctant to talk.
Mr Trent remained quiet waiting to see what his informant wanted.
“If this turns... , unfortunate... in any way, you will keep me out of it Mr Trent, you know my position.”
“If it turns ‘unfortunate’ Ahmed I will try to keep everyone out of it, especially myself .”
A reverent silence folded itself around the men, the kind of silence only found in Holy places before Ahmed spoke again.
“When I was a small boy,” Ahmed sounded far away as if thinking of a forgotton land, “my father would say to me after it had rained, Ahmed do not step into puddles for one day you will step into one with no bottom. Is this such a puddle Mr Trent?”
“I hope not Ahmed,” said Mr Trent then added, “I sincerely hope not”
Ahmed appeared reassured or at least resigned.
“Her name is Eva Songster.” said Ahmed as if pulling a dead cat out of the hat, triumphalism without the glee, “they can wipe a digital record, try wiping the human memory.”
“How do you know?” Trent was both delighted but also puzzled.
“I went out of my office, to Casualty and spoke to the sister on Aand E that day. She remembered sending one of her staff out on an insulin emergency who did not return until the following day due to the terrible weather. Remember the heavy snow. The nurse was qualified to assess then try and stabilise the patient for there were no ambulances available. I have no address but she was divorced.”
“Eva Songster” Hunter Trent rolled the name off his tongue, crossed himself and departed leaving a brown envelope on the pew seat under the cushion.
Outside the church he phoned the mobile number left by Sultry.
“I have a name.” He said to the phone
“How interesting, very good Mr Trent.” The phone answered.
“I am going out to the scene of the crime, if you pardon the expression.”
“There is nothing there now. ” the phone sounded alarmed at such a suggestion.
“I need to get a feel for this something is not quite right.”
“In what way?” now the phone was puzzled.
“Can you come to my office tonight say 7pm and I will tell you what I know.”
There was silence as the phone clearly consulted someone higher.
“I will be there, see you soon.” The phone sounded mildly seductive.
Hunter Trent sat there thinking he did not deserve this as he rolled his tongue around his mouth. He felt the slog of the day had been worthwhile just for this.
“Excellent” he said to his host, a rotund middle aged lady resplendent in a floral pinafore.
“The best apple and blackberry pie I have ever tasted.” He was not saying this to curry favour but out of pure honesty.
“Thank you” she responded, “Here is my husband.
A man and his dog entered from the farmyard, the dog, an English border collie, growled at the interloper.
“Stinker” the man said pointing to a blanket at the far end of the huge kitchen.
Stinker retreated immediately taking up a position on his blanket staring at the man at the table.
The farmer was round, square set of shoulders with a red healthy glow to his cheeks.
“You be the journalist?” he asked washing his hands at the stone sink.
“Yes, ” responded the journalist, “The name is Blake , I am strictly freelance so I try my best to get a crumb of a story here and another there.”
“Very uncertain living.” Observed the farmer drying his hands.
“Precarious” the fake journalist agreed.
“You want to know about “The shooting” as folks around here now call it, back-end of last year like?”
“That I do, ”
The farmer took a seat at the end of the long table, while his spouse deposited herself next to him.
“More tea?” she enquired and without waiting for a reply, “I was away to see my sister that weekend. Harrogate”
“I see.” said the journalist,” so Mr Penny you were here by yourself?”
The man placed his flat hand over his mug to show he did not want anymore tea.
“That I was, me and Stinker.”
The journalist waited for the man to continue which he did eventually after gathering some thoughts come recollections. Like most farmers who wait on nature he could not be hurried.
“The police were not in the least interested, yobs or farmers boys letting off a shotgun they said.
Looked at me as if I were daft, soft in the head like. But I know what I saw.”
The man seemed wounded, as if his reputation had been trashed.
“How did you meet the young Nurse?” the journalist prompted his subject. There was a long pause as if he were accessing a distant memory or assessing how much he should tell.
“She came to ask for some eggs and milk, so I gave her what I could without payment even though she offered, like.”
“How did she seem?”
“A bit tense , self absorbed , confused a little is the best way I can describe it, I put it down to the awful weather, stuck in snow in the middle of nowhere is no joke see.”
“Yes, of course ” the man settle back in his seat, biding his time. He knew how to get the best out of such honest folk.
“There was two in camper” prompted his wife.
“Well, Em, I never saw the second person, an old woman the nurse said. She said the old woman was a bit malnourished.
“After I gave her the food, about 50 minutes roughly, I was looking out from the half landing window that overlooks the yard and I can see ¾ of the bridge. Well I see this big Range Rover thing with four people, stopped. At first I thought they be stuck but that thing could handle that weather quite easy I figured. They got out and I could see they had guns.
Well that got my attention, I can tell you.”
“Mr Penny, ” said is wife in a headmistress voice, “How stupid it was to go out to face 4 strangers who are armed.”
“Stupid I know but when I saw the nurse walking very slowly to confront them, I knew I had to do something. Calling the police was plain stupid, they would take an hour or more to get here.”
“So you picked up your trusty 12 bore and strode out alone like the town sheriff.” Scowled his wife.
“I had stinker” retorted the farmer
“So you did” snapped his wife.
“Now Em you were not there so don’t judge me, I would do the same again.”
His better half tut-tutted in disgust.
“I think you were very brave.” Assured their guest.
“Stupid” put in the farmer’s wife adding, “you men stick together.”
“I am not sure” continued Mr Penny, “but as I approached two people left the camper, mind you I was concentrating on those in front of me and I had eased the safety off so the last thing I wanted was to slip and fire of a cartridge by accident. I might have hit Stinker”
“You meant business then?” queried the journalist.
“Luckily I have been around a few years, and I knew the four facing me were no scary boys, they meant business. Did I tell you one was a woman? She was behind the open door of the car.”
“That is interesting,” said the journalists, quietly almost to himself for he had an idea who she was.
“Well the big fella in front was shouting something to the nurse about handing over the old woman.”
The nurse debated it ..,then was having none of it, then she let fly.”
“You mean she was armed?” asked the journalist a little surprised.
“You bet, a small thing, almost a toy but it made the glass in the door of the Ranger Rover shatter.”
“Then what?” the guest prompted fascinated by the story.
“The big man in front let off two barrels of a sawed off shotgun, 12 gauge like my own. I thought ‘Jesus he has killed her’ but NO!”
“He missed her?” the journalist sounded incredulous.
“Like hell, ” retorted Mr Penny, “No one can miss with a shotgun at that range.”
“What then?” asked the journalist all ears.
Now Mr Penny grew restless and moved in his seat as if trying to avoid the question.
“Well you see this is the bit that makes me out to be touched in the head, like.”
“Either tell him as it was or shut up.” Snapped is wife clearly annoyed that his story was being told again. “shut up would be my choice ” she added.
“Darn me but she glowed a blue hazy light colour , took a pace back and was fine.” Mr Penny blurted out.
“Body armour, bullet proof vest, very common nowadays ” put in the journalist but the detective in him knew there was more.
“Firstly, I could not see any body armour and secondly what body armour absorbs all the energy and melts the snow at your feet.? Could you tell me that?”
“Strange” added the journalist trying the picture these events.
“Strange,” repeated the farmer, “a shotgun at that range should have knocked her off her feet body armour or no body armour; both barrels mind you!” he exclaimed.
“How did this end?” asked the detective.
“Well, that is another strange thing, for the big man up front shouted in total consternation that they had “bloody disappeared ” pointing beyond the nurse and well to my left. The look on his face , never forget it, one of pure disbelief.
What ever or who ever had been there had clearly vanished. I never saw anyone for sure so it left me mystified.
Then the camper starts up and someone turned it around and picked up the nurse. She shouted at me to go home. She was absolutely fine. Last I saw, they went down ‘Pics Lane’ weaving all over the place. The Range Rover had a minor fire or something for last I saw of that it had blue smoke coming from the bonnet. Another vehicle turned up and had it fixed in about 60 minutes. That’s it really, except for the camper van.”
“Don’t bore the poor man with your theory and love of camper vans.” Intervened his wife.
“What about the camper?” pushed Mr Trent willing to latch on to anything he could.
“Well, for years, on Daisy Bank field we ran a camping site. Let’s see, seven years at least. I know my caravans and campers, Mr Blake and I can tell you that were no ordinary camper van. No sir. Custom made from top to bottom. Take a look.”
He rose and retrieved an A4 sheet of paper from a kitchen drawer.
The picture was black and white and grainy but a camper van was clear, even its number plate.”
“Apparently the plates are false, relate to a refuse truck in Kent.” stated the farmer.
“See the back end is like nothing you can buy, not a Hymer, Burstner, Elddis or Swift. Twin axle so she carries some weight well over the normal 3 and half ton and the array of things on top. Well, never seen anything like it.”
Taking the picture in both hands the journalist asked, “how did you get this.”
“I have two security camera covering the entrance, one was snowed up but one took this as they were leaving.” Explained the farmer.
“Can I keep this?.” Asked their guest.
“Sure thing.” Answered Mrs Penny for her husband, as if she was glad to be rid of it.
Then she went on, “our friends think he going potty and I have told him forget it.,as if it never happened so don’t you go making a big story out of it, like mad farmer Penny sees miracle at Penny Farm.”
She crossed her arms defiantly.
“There will be no such story.” Assured the fake journalist on the condition I get a piece of your pie to take home.”
“Done” snapped Mrs Penny with a smile of pure pride.
Hunter Trent was tired both from the drive back from the Penny Farm and from trying to fit the facts into some kind of theory, some kind of explanation. His number one assumption, he hated making assumption but in this case he had little choice, was that the nurse was wearing some kind of body armour and that she was military. Perhaps a military nurse but why was she in the Royal and out on an emergency insulin case? That aside, the fact that her computer records had been scrubbed clean suggested military or state security. However, if she was testing a new piece of kit that would entail secrecy and the need to remove her records. This theory did not sit well with him. Why send a nurse out to test such equipment on a winters day in the middle of nowhere. None of that made sense.
‘No’ thought Hunter as he settled behind his desk, ‘I will tell my client the name , possible State control of some kind and a plan to track down the camper van. To do it in a week was impossible.’
His next major concern was being alone with the Sultry woman.
“Mo” he shouted, “I need a chaperone at 7.”
A loud cry of anguish from the outer office, “Mr Trent.“.
It was his policy, given the age of #Me Too that he would not interview a client alone in his office who was a) attractive and/or b) a sexual predator. This rule had recently been modified to include both sexes when necessary. To this end he had installed a large glass partition between his inner office and the outer office inhabited by Mo. In addition he had installed a camera system but he found Mo to be the best deterrent being both visible and vocal.
Trent was above all a pragmatists . He deplored his policy of not being alone with a female in his office but he accepted the times he lived in had changed and although Mo complained she understood his concern. She accepted that men in all walks of life were having to accept precautionary policies against possible allegations. “A crying shame for female emancipation when decent men run for cover when a skirt enters a room.” She once said when drunk. Both when sober accepted there was a grain of truth in this drunken statement.
And so it was a little after after7pm Mo announced, “They are here.”
“They?” he repeated to himself, “They?” he was sure she would come alone. Perhaps his judgement of her had been wrong. He regretted instantly asking Mo to stay late, that is until he set eyes on the three of them.
Sultry was what he expected, small, tight black skirt and black top with sex appeal effusing from her like cherry tree blossom in spring. Behind her were two people of strange appearance. Both had shaven heads, angular faces as if carved from stone, while the taller of the two walked with a menacing dominating gait. The tall one was dressed head to toe in tight black leather, her figure if she was female, was pencil thin.
The detective had been around the block, from being in the Territorial army, police force briefly to a ship steward on the high seas hence he knew danger when it sneaked into his world. Some instinct told him the leather clad female, if it was female, was dangerous but just how dangerous he had no idea.
So it was he decided to keep the his desk between him and his client(s), hope Mo was on the ball and wait for the introductions. They never came. Sultry started straight in with
“Well, Hunter what have you got?”
“Is is safe to speak in front of your ... comrades?” he kicked himself quietly , why did he use the word ‘comrades’ was it because there was something military in their bearing?
“Yes” came the one word answer, very sharp and with no nonsense. Her warm seductive nature was AWOL, her demeanour tense.
‘She is afraid of these two’ he thought.
Hesitating he decided to use as few words as possible, to give them the destination but not the route.
“The female you want is called Eva Songster a nurse as you suspected but with some very powerful friends.”
“How powerful” snapped back Sultry.
“Very I would say, capable of wiping government computers of all her data, capable of disappearing without a trace but definitely a qualified nurse.”
“Address?” ask the smaller of the two strange females.
“I do not have an address, as I said she has disappeared without a trace.”
“But you can find her?” pushed the female.
“Yes, probably.” he leaned back in his chair waiting to give the punch line.
“How long?” asked Sultry before repeating the question, “how long before you locate her?”
‘This is it, crunch time .’ he thought.
“Oh, let’s say 5 weeks, perhaps a little longer.”
The result was worse than he expected. Sultry shouted, “Jesus Hunter.” while the smaller woman said something to the taller woman in a strange squeaky language which needed no translation in saying “bad news.”
With one phenomena movement the tall woman left her seat pirouetted around the corner of the desk and was behind Hunter before he could move. She was holding something like a knife to his throat. Mo screamed in her office and rose in amazement.
“Not good enough.” said the smaller women, “is this delay just to get more money?”
“Wait, ” screamed Sultry clearly very alarmed, “he is not like that.”
Hunter was less concerned by the maniac behind him than the look of fear on Mo’s face as she entered the room. ‘Dam ‘,he thought, ’ I should have seen these gangsters alone.′
Sultry rode to his rescue with “Call off your attack dog and let Mr Trent explain, I assure you he will find her.”
“On your head.” said the smaller female.
Sultry nodded a sign of acceptance.
“So be it.” she said and as if by some invisible communication the attack dog returned to her seat.
“Mr Trent!” exclaimed Mo.
“It is alright Mo.” he said.
Sultry turned to Mo explaining with, “These two just hate men.”
“That explains everything then.” replied Mo sarcastically.
“Well, detective.” said the ex stripper once a little calm had descended.
Hunter explained the unique characteristic of the camper van saying he would have to find the company that built it. Although he could use the internet no one was going to hand over a customers name and address willingly, but he would worry about that when he found the company with the engineering skills to have made it.
The smaller woman leaned forward, “My colleague will extract the information.” she stressed the word ‘extract’ so Hunter knew what was implied.
“We will see.” said Hunter.
His clients eventually rose to leave, without goodbyes or handshakes. Sultry threw a piece of screwed up paper in his waste paper bin, her eyes flashing a code to him.
As soon as the everyone had gone, Mo rushed in but Hunter raised his hand in silence as he dived into the waste bin.
Straightening the crumpled paper the note said, “We must talk and not about sex. 10pm The White Witch.”