We Were Swans

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Taking the gun from the drawer, I took a long, hard look at it before attempting anything. Bloody awful things really, guns. They tend not to take prisoners and I had a healthy respect for their ability to go off. Not a Browning. Wearily acknowledging my ignorance, I referred to old faithful for instructions, the internet. It didn’t take too long, 10 minutes or so revealed that what I had was a Glock 19. I read on a while, viewed a couple of U Tube videos and once I was confident I wasn’t about to shoot myself in the foot, got to work. All Glock’s have a safe action trigger to avoid accidental discharges. It took a deliberate action to make this thing fire but in the heat of the moment, if it came, I wouldn’t have to worry about any safety catch. I uttered a low grunt of satisfaction and began to familiarise myself with my new best friend. Pressing its release catch on the left-hand side of the frame, the magazine sprang down into my waiting left hand. Pulling back the top slide showed the gun to be empty, therefore safe. There are handy indicators on the back of the mag showing how many rounds are in it. Counting them, I saw I had a full mag. Ten 9mm rounds. Wearing gloves now, I took an hour stripping and cleaning the body, pulling through the barrel, lightly oiling the whole and checking the action. Next I emptied the magazine, thoroughly cleaning it inside and out and checking the rounds for damage. Finding none, I refilled the mag. Keeping my finger away from the trigger, I pulled the slide ten times, the rounds neatly and cleanly leaving the ejection chamber, landing softly in my lap. I refilled the mag. I now had a good to go, fully operational weapon. Though I knew I’d go through this ritual regularly, for familiarity purposes as much as forensics, for now the Glock was as clean as I could get it. With luck, there were no traces of me or anybody else to be found. From now on, I would only touch it wearing gloves. I hoped I’d done enough to prevent it being traced back to me.

I’d taken a couple of days to reorganise myself, the house, my life. Simply having my hair cut had made me feel a little like my old self and doing normal stuff like going to the supermarket felt good. TV dinners and takeaways weren’t my idea of wholesome and cooking for myself again, a stiff gin and tonic in hand, relaxed me. My handyman, Sid, 65 if he was a day, also gave the place and me a sense of normalcy. We’d sit in the kitchen when he took a break and talk about life and all its rich tapestries over tea and a sandwich. He’d never been as far afield as Australia but in the past, I had, so describing where I’d been these past months didn’t take too much imagination, simply saying I’d been staying with family and thrown in the occasional road trip. I tracked more recent events via the media. The night I’d left had turned violent, as I’d hoped. Hamilton never got a mention, nor did Pete, which worked for me. I had a lot of time for Pete and had meant him no harm. I did hear that 2 were dead, rivals shooting it out, the radio had said. No names I knew. Pity that, I thought. There were a couple of Benny’s guys that needed putting down but at least drugs had been found and arrests made. No names given, I hoped my guys were on that list and out of circulation, at least for the time being. The Hole and Peabody’s were closed down and anyone left still standing had temporarily gone underground. All this suited me. In the chaos, a car dealer might easily have made himself scarce. I’d kinda liked Fast Johnny. Ambushing him had been a means to an end though. Nothing more. The 2 kilos of coke I’d flushed down the toilet. If Benny’s claims about its purity were right, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would have been in serious party mode.

Now it was time to find the fuckers. How though? There was no one to ask, I’d have to use the system somehow. I knew they were out, but that was it. Their sentence had been an indefinite one. In other words, it would take a review before they could be considered for parole rather than a pre-determined date. In theory, this meant they could have been locked up forever, the practice though, is somewhat different. Kids like these are sent to what are known as Secure Children’s Homes. There are 10 in the UK. In a lot of cases, the kids with the longest sentences are better off than those on shorter punishment. There will be a plan. Psychological, educational, therapeutic. The end game is usually getting them through an A level education, something most kids in these places would never have attained in their previous life. These two fuckers had got degrees. Degrees for fucks sake! I’d need to find out what they’d been studying, I couldn’t imagine they hadn’t thought that through and elected for a field that might somehow further whatever agenda they had in mind for the future. One thing was certain, it wouldn’t have been Philosophy or Literature. Putting them away had just made them smarter and the system was so proud of itself that it had confidently and quietly restored them to society assured that they’d teased out the psychopath in them. At 18, they should have been transferred to an adult prison. This rarely happens with any of these youngsters as it is seen as undoing all the efforts of the SCH and as these two had exceeded expectations, there was never really any chance they’d be locked up past 18. They would have known that. Mummy would have known it too. So, Eddie and Verity were out. Rehabilitated. All very laudable. But I wasn’t a social worker.

The internet is a wonderful thing. Going back to when I was a kid, libraries were about the only source of information available, research had to be done in public, in silence, beneath the light of a green Bankers Lamp. Nowadays, though, there aint much that isn’t out there that you can’t dig up from the comfort and privacy of home. All you need are keywords and anything electronic with the ability to connect. I really didn’t mind how long it took. It was just a case of getting it right. Virgo, see. Perfectionist, so they say. They’d have new identities of course, courtesy of you and me, but Christian hadn’t said anything about their appearance and I felt certain he would have had it been radically altered. Perhaps the largesse of the public purse didn’t run to plastic surgery. There was no way they’d be logging on anywhere, legitimate or otherwise, using their birth names. But I knew their kinks and inclination. It was a starting point. What I needed, was The Dark Web. I hadn’t the first clue how to access it but I hoped what I needed was on it. I powered up and typed in ‘Access Darkweb’ into my everyday search engine. It’s astonishing to discover that anonymity is achievable. It turns out that the first rule is to find a safe country and move there. By safe I mean one that doesn’t try its damnedest to spy on its citizens. Not that easy in this day and age and in my case, impractical. So, I’d have to ignore that one. Instead, it seemed, what I needed was a brand-new laptop and an anonymizing operating system with secure software based encryption. Whatever that was. I kept reading. The laptop needed to be set up to jump around random, different, open wireless networks, whether public or not and never use the same connection point. Did you know that there are little bits of kit out there that will allow you to access the Internet from anywhere in the world without revealing your true location or IP? One of them is called a reverse GSM bridge. This little bit of genius would allow me to proxy from anywhere in the world with only a laptop and the internet and never reveal my true location. There’s more, much more information than I feel the need to outline here. In short, with a bit of ready cash, some spare time and the will to do it, being nobody is much easier to achieve than you might think. Don’t use plug ins, set up burner accounts, never use credit cards. It would take a couple of weeks of research, judicial choices, careful purchases and a lot of work trawling slowly through a load of technical crap but I reckoned when I was done, I’d be as secure as I was ever going to get. I went shopping.

I’d given Sid two weeks paid holiday, I figured that was as much time as I’d need. The cellar was massive, pretty much extending over the entire footprint of the house. I’d selected a nice dry alcove close to power and water and with my expensive new tools, began building what would effectively be an underground lair. The hardest part was cutting through the floor of the kitchen to manufacture a hidden access but with patience, in time I had a removable floor panel and small staircase down into the cellar. I Installed what furniture I needed that was too big to go through the access hatch, a desk, chair and pinboards, then built the back wall, when complete, viewed from inside the cellar, it had all the appearance of having been there since the original building had gone up. I piled old garden furniture against it to add a further layer of disuse. I had a monitor with camera feeds showing me the rest of the house and grounds and a good internet link. Satisfied that I now had a secure workplace, I transferred the Glock to the desk drawer. Time to get to the real work. I unpacked my new laptop but before powering it up, taped over the webcam, simple, effective, and another level of anonymity. Settling into the chair, I switched it on. Putting in just enough garbage to get past the starter screens and into the operating system, I clicked onto the internet and downloaded a browser bundle suited to my purpose, one I’d researched and established was just the ticket. Built into the bundle was a control panel which automatically randomised my IP address. That and the GSM Bridge would keep me secure. None of this is difficult. I ran the file and extracted it, creating an icon on my desktop. I hesitated before opening Pandora’s box. It sat there, unblinking, looking for all the world like any other icon but this was going to take me into an unknown world. A place inhabited by people savvier than I’d ever be. Tom Hood had done well to get this far but deep down, despite everything I’d done these past months, I knew I was still Mister Suburbia. Drugs, guns, The Darkweb, this wasn’t me. I’d had moments of doubt before and knew what I needed to kick start my resolve. I opened the box in my head, just briefly, just enough to motivate me. I thought of Ellen. I thought of The Twins. I moved my hand to the mouse and hovered over the browser icon. I had the comfort of knowing that if I got into difficulty or felt threatened in any way, all I had to do was close the browser. Mentally taking a deep breath, I double clicked. Bingo. I had my Darkweb browser.

The very name ‘Darkweb’ inspires fear but as the browser opened, not a fat lot happened. No scarlet rimmed eyes stared out at me, no steam or foul odours emanated from the laptop. It looked for all the world like any other search engine. Ever so slightly reassured, I typed them in. Edward and Verity Christian, it seemed like the logical place to start. I’d done this before, probably a thousand times since the murder. I was more than familiar with the newspaper stories, blogs and various other websites that had sprung up all containing information and opinion. Amongst them, what you might now call my trained eye saw a whole bunch that hadn’t been evident before. I’d kinda hoped this would be what I’d find. For the first few days, I played it safe, only roaming around sites offering reports and opinion, staying away from what were obviously vigilante blogs of which there were an abundance. I printed up stuff that was new to me or of particular interest. There was some real gold in the form of a police psychologists report and transcripts of the twins in the interview room with my policeman, Stuart Ames. Other stuff related to the various secure homes they’d been kept in and the efforts Mummy made to have them reunited. Lots of crap about their human rights and threats of litigation. Officialdom had crumbled under the legal onslaught and she got her way. Eddie and Verity were, after all, very special. They’d got their degrees in record time graduating just prior to their release. I assume that as they had little else to do, they saw it as some kind of stimulus. I’d got as much as I was going to get that was fact and as I’d trawled, I’d noted some user names that jumped out repeatedly and when I felt confident, I tapped into them. What I was looking for, were sighting reports. There was a heap of those, I paid scant regard to any that pre-dated their release, there really are some morons on the web, but looked harder at those that appeared corroborated and there weren’t that many, perhaps half a dozen or so. You’d imagine that something as unique in appearance as these two would stand out but then, they would know that and have altered themselves in some way, or perhaps even never appeared together in public, shopping and the like. As individuals they would blend in and no photos of them had been published since their arrest. It got to the point where the only thing left to do was to get in the car and start checking locations around the UK. I picked the most likely first and in descending order, diligently worked my way through the rest. All told I reckon I spent 3 months wandering, looking, watching and found not a single trace of them. It was August, almost a year since their release and I was on my way back from the latest sure thing on the Darkweb. Lost in thought, disappointed at finding nothing from what I’d hoped was the most promising sighting so far, I’d been on autopilot. Peripherally, familiar sights began to intrude until I became fully conscious of where I was. With the satnav volume turned off, nothing had been guiding me home and I’d simply drifted back to our old home town. I jerked into full awareness, now alive to the possibility of bumping into Sacha. The prospect though, faded comfortably, perhaps even with a sense of disappointment, when I remembered she didn’t live too close any more, the house I’d bought her being some ten or so miles away. I was on a roundabout on the outskirts of town, the pub sitting familiarly to my right. It was imposing enough to have its own exit lane, on impulse and lacking anything else to do, I indicated and aimed for the car park. Little had changed, perhaps a fresh coat of paint to the outside and hanging baskets renovated and more ambitious than I remembered. I hoped that the pub’s garden still existed. Unlike the larger, more commercial chains, this place was privately owned and run and instead of commercially packing the grounds with tables and benches, the owners had been content to simply make it a nice place to be with space between seating areas. Space to breathe and chat. Landscaped and planted, it was where we had spent the occasional summer weekend socialising the pup and washing away the trials of the working week. I hoped the lunches were still as good, I was hungry from the drive and though it had been nearly 8 years since I’d last crossed the threshold if I came across a familiar face, well… why not? I was beginning to crave company.

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