Thomas habitually kept track of serious and complicated investigations using a whiteboard. Logically it did not mean much, but it did allow him to stand back, look, and assess the progress being made and sometimes to connect victims with suspects.
For this case he decided to start with the victim. Markovic had been murdered four nights ago at a house in Connor Street, close to the racecourse. His body had been transported between the hours of 19;30 and 22:30 to Eastfield Park where it had been dumped close to the ha-ha. His throat had been slashed with a sharp knife and the body drained of blood. Several traces of blood and fibres had been left in the cellar and fibres had been discovered on the body. He expected results from the lab any time. The brutality of the murder suggested a warning, deliberately extravagant.
Searches of the park had revealed nothing, and enquiries with neighbours had produced nothing. Markovic had no known associates or friends. However, it was clear that he had been a drug dealer. Thomas had investigated his history and discovered that he had arrived from Bosnia seven years previously after having served in the Bosnian military. He did not have a criminal record in England or Bosnia.
A mobile phone found on him revealed hundreds of contacts but only in the form of telephone numbers. Most numbers proved to be burners but there were still several names police could check, and that was the next obvious job to do.
Thomas placed all these facts against bullet points on his whiteboard. Once he had them in order he stood back, marker in hand, and studied what he had written.
He drew a question mark and wrote ‘drug connections’ by the side of it. If Markovic had been a dealer who was his supplier and where did he sell his product? According to Grey most of the incoming calls to his mobile originated from Bellinge. Was that his patch, and if so, was he the only dealer or part of a bigger organisation? Had he been missed? Well of course he had, if only by his customers. Where could they buy product now he was no longer available? Who had filled the gap he had left behind?
Grey was going to use Giordano to phone the contacts. It was worth a try despite the likelihood that most would have changed SIMs by now, but Thomas needed local information, and he decided the only way he was going to get that was by asking around. Feet on the ground. He and Grey needed to watch and learn.
He decided to take a drive out to Bellinge to get a feel for the area, but just as he was leaving his office he received a call from Control informing him of a fire in Bellinge and the discovery of two charred bodies.
It was a bright clear morning when he pulled out of The Brackmills centre. Traffic was light and the short trip along the A45 to Bellinge was uneventful.
The newsagents was still smouldering when he arrived at the small shopping precinct. There was little left of it, the windows had blown out, the brick walls were blackened, and the roof had caved in. Where the building should have been was a gaping hole from which smoke was still rising. Charred embers lay glowing on the soaked shop floor and burned stock and shelving was scattered across the car park. Two fire crews were still working, clearing up their equipment, and two squad cars had blocked off access. Uniformed constables were keeping curious onlookers at bay. Thomas recognised Skip Henderson from the fire service and approached him. Skip’s face was black, and he was sweating from the heat. He removed his safety helmet as Thomas approached.
‘Morning Brian. I’m not surprised they sent you out. This is a bad one.’ Henderson said.
‘Hello Skip, it’s been a while. I heard two bodies,’
‘That’s right charred out of recognition. This was arson, no doubt about it, and quite crudely done. Petrol poured onto the shop floor. The place went up in seconds. No chance of escape, poor bastards. They were in the upstairs flat, would’ve fallen into the furnace when the roof collapsed.’
‘Bodies gone to the morgue?’
’Yeah, what’s left of them. Not sure there’ll be much for the medics to go on.
‘I’d better get SOCOs here, although I imagine most traces will have gone up in smoke by now.’
‘You’ll have my full report by the end of the day, but it will only confirm what I’ve told you.’
‘Any clue of delivery method?’
Henderson scratched his forehead. ‘Probably poured through the letterbox. The fire started just inside the entrance door. There’s some evidence of a cloth, so I guess it was set alight and fed through the letterbox onto the petrol.’
‘We arrived just before four o clock. The fire was well set by then, so I guess it started around three thirty. All we could do was protect the other shops. These places are all constructed of steel. The heat was enough to make it buckle so our main job was to keep the surrounding buildings cool. There was nothing we could do for the two victims; we couldn’t get inside until it was way too late for them.’
‘Any idea who called it in?’
‘No but one of the shopkeepers was already up and about when we arrived. Most of the people in the adjoining flats were blissfully ignorant of what was going on around them. We had to knock them up.’
‘Any idea where he is?’
‘He’s a she; she’s the one in the green coat over there.’ Henderson said, pointing to a middle aged woman standing opposite them, just outside the taped off area.
Thomas took a quick look, thanked Henderson, and made his way over to the constables. He took one aside and asked. ‘Any witnesses?’
‘Not so far sir, but we may have a bit of luck. The hairdresser has CCTV and it’s still blinking.’ The constable said, pointing to the camera.
Thomas followed his finger and smiled. ‘Well spotted. Make sure you collect the recording from the owner and bring it to me. Clear?’
‘And make sure the area is kept secure. It’s a crime scene now. Call in more support and don’t go anywhere near the shop.’
Thomas pulled out his radio and called for a SOCO team before walking over to the woman in the green coat. She looked quite shocked to be confronted by six feet two inch black detective. Thomas introduced himself and directed her over to a quiet spot in the corner of the car park.
‘Sorry you’ve had to go through this,’ he said, ‘can you tell me your name and where you live?’
‘Judith Leyton. My husband and I own the hairdressers.’ She said.
‘I hope the fire team managed to keep your property safe. It was a very bad fire.’ He said.
‘They say so. We’re just waiting for permission to go back in, but I don’t suppose we’ll be opening today.’
‘Depends on how long it takes for us to finish up, but I’m afraid it will take a while. Any idea who lived in the newsagents?’
‘The Khans. His name was Mumtaz, but I never met her. I saw the ambulances. Are they alright?’
‘No, I’m afraid not. Did you notice the fire, call 999?’
‘Yes, I never sleep well and I noticed the blaze. Then I heard the windows explode. Sounded like a bomb going off.’
Thomas would be able to find out what time she made the call from the Control records. All incoming calls were timed and recorded. ‘Did you notice anybody about?’
‘I heard a car or van start up outside, but it had gone when I looked out the window. We do have security cameras though, and they have good views of the car park. My husband insisted on them when we set up in business here. You never know, do you?’
‘No, you don’t. One of my constables will be asking to borrow the recording. It could prove useful to us.’ He said.
‘Was it started deliberately then?’
‘We’re not sure yet, but your recording will help us decide. Do you know if they have any enemies, someone who holds a grudge?’
‘Not that I know of but Mumtaz is a bit of a crook, everybody round here knows. He used to rent out dirty movies, but now he sells drugs.’
‘Drugs?’ Thomas repeated, ‘are you sure?’
‘Oh yes, he makes no secret of it, but there’s a lot of that goes on around here. I think he has a couple of people help him.’
‘Help him in what way?’
‘Delivering the drugs. Most of them are delivered with his newspapers. Old Mumtaz reckons he keeps it a secret but just about everybody knows. It’s a common topic of conversation in the salon.’
‘Has nobody ever thought about reporting it?’
‘Oh yes but nothing’s been done. I reported it myself a few months ago. There are some bad types dealing round here. It brings the whole neighbourhood down, gives it a bad reputation.’ Mrs. Leyton said.
Thomas sighed and scratched his chin. ‘Well I’m sorry to hear that. I’ll make sure something is done about it. Would you recognise any of the dealers, other than Mr. Khan I mean?’
‘Oh yes, they’re round here every day. Not difficult to spot. They try to hide it but it’s obvious really.’
‘Thank you, Mrs. Leyton. I’m sure one of my officers will need to talk to you again, but in the meantime please keep your CCTV safe.’
‘I will.’ She said and made her way back to her husband.
Thomas waited for more constables to arrive, gave his instructions on securing the scene, and made his way back to his office. He would have to give Malan the bad news sooner or later, and sooner was better, before the newspapers and social media got hold of it.
He parked his car in a spare bay at Brackmills Centre and took the stairs two at a time on his way to see Malan. He had been using a personal trainer three times a week for months and he had not felt as fit since his schooldays. He reached the top with no change in his heart rate and strode purposefully along the corridor. Malan’s secretary was not at her desk, so he knocked on Malan’s office door. He heard a shout of ‘Come in.’ took a deep breath and entered.
Even though he had been working with Malan for some years now he always felt apprehensive when he went to see him. He knew why. It was because Malan had the ability to unbalance him, and because of that Thomas was caught in a no man’s land somewhere between fight and flight. Malan had no idea how to talk naturally to him. Every sentence was either a barb or caustic comment. His first, instinctive reaction was to grab Malan by the scruff of the neck and give him a good shaking, but he knew that if he did that he would be out of a job, and so he ended up fighting himself which just made things worse.
Malan was standing by his filing cabinet, a green folder in his hand. He was wearing a dark blue pinstripe and a lighter blue tie. He looked thinner than ever. His face was heavily lined, gaunt, and his jet black hair brushed straight back and held in place by too much gel.
‘I hope this is quick Thomas.’ He said.
Thomas coughed and said. ‘There’s been a double murder at Bellinge sir. A newsagent was torched in the early hours and the owners who lived in the flat above were inside when it went up.’
Malan looked shocked. ‘Arson? Are we sure?’
‘No doubt sir according to the senior fire officer. Petrol poured onto the shop floor. By the time the fire service arrived the place was already ablaze. They had no chance of rescuing the occupants.’
‘Mr. And Mrs. Khan sir.’
‘Possibly sir. A witness says the husband was a small-time drug dealer. We may also have some luck. One of the shops nearby has a fully functioning CCTV system. I should get the recording later today, so hopefully it will give us a picture of who is responsible.’
‘Drugs, you say. Any connection with Markovic?’
‘We don’t know yet sir.’
Malan ran a hand through his hair. Thomas imagined it would be slick with grease now. ‘Christ Thomas, I hope we don’t have a bloody drug war on our hands, the press will have a field day.’
‘There’s no evidence to suggest that yet sir.’ Thomas protested.
‘Or to the contrary Thomas. We need to get on top of this before it gets out of hand.’
‘That’ll be all. Keep me informed and for heaven’s sake keep a lid on it.’ Malan said.
Thomas made a swift exit, closed the door behind him and breathed a sigh of relief. God the man was impossible.
He made his way to his office and called Grey. He needed to implement his plan and quickly. He only had himself, Grey, and a couple of constables available to conduct the kind of surveillance he had in mind so he would have to manage their time carefully. Giordano was going to become crucial to the investigation. Someone had to do the back-office work, make the phone calls, update HOLMES2, keep control of witness statements, and all the other paraphernalia that went with a major investigation.
He decided to take on the role of SIO of the Khan murders himself. Grey had enough on her plate with Markovic without being burdened with two more cases. The big question was whether to treat both crimes as drug related killings and somehow combine the investigations, or treat them as completely separate unconnected offences.
Boucher was still seething at the thought of McVey inching his way into his territory. Why else would that snake Cameron be there? Why had he been talking to one of Mumtaz’s dealers?
Kubric had told him to leave McVey alone but every instinct told him that would be a mistake. He had identified the threat, now he had to remove it, no matter what Kubric said. The only questions were when, and how? Timing would be vital. He had already insisted to Kubric that McVey should pay the fine, so he did not want to act before then. He could leave Riley to decide how to do it.
He was pouring himself another espresso when his phone alerted him to an incoming message. He checked caller ID but it was an unidentified number. Boucher was in no mood to read another advert for PPI or investment opportunities and was ready to press delete at the first hint of unsolicited content, but what he saw made him forget about his coffee. The first part was text. It said simply, ‘watch video’. The second part was a twenty second video showing Hall’s head of security Foal, in conversation with an ageing Asian in what looked like a newsagent shop. Money changed hands, a lot of money. The camera then slowly panned out to show the name of the shop. It read ‘Bellinge News.’
Boucher was shocked and livid at the same time. Riley had been clear; Cameron was the interloper which meant McVey had been trying to take over his territory. But now here was living proof that Hall was involved. Were they in it together? Surely not, but if not, what did this mean? The evidence was irrefutable. Boucher assumed the shopkeeper was the sadly departed Mumtaz Khan, small time dealer who had died after trespassing on forbidden ground. Good riddance to him and his fucking family.
Foal was pictured handing over a wad of cash, which could mean only one thing. Foal was dealing on Boucher’s patch. But who had sent the video and why? And how did they happen to be ready with a camera or phone at that exact moment? And again, why? Why would they bother, and why send it to him? It made no sense. It was not as if he had a Fairy Godmother looking out for his welfare. No, he had reached the top on his own, using his own wits and surrounding himself with good people. So, who had sent this? And the wider question was could it be true that McVey and Hall had joined to oust him, and why now? The trading losses had begun before Markovic had been killed so had nothing to do with his own perceived weakness. Had they been plotting together for weeks?
Boucher was in a fog, but he needed answers and he needed them fast. He decided to call Kubric.
Kubric was wondering what to do about Maric. He knew a lot. Could he be trusted not to talk? What if the police offered him a sweetheart deal in exchange for information? Kubric had contacts in the police and in the prison system. He knew Maric had not talked so far. But how long before he did?
Taking care of Maric would not be a problem. But Maric had been a friend for many years. They had history together. Throughout the wars against the Serbs, he had served faithfully, saved Kubric’s life, and after it had all ended had followed him here to set up business. No, Maric would not talk. But he had to replace him because he would not be returning for many years, and Kubric needed security. Who though? Cameron was bright but he did not have muscle. Foal was just a young punk. Riley? Perhaps, but was he too close to Boucher?
Kubric was pondering his problem when his phone rang, and caller ID told him it was Boucher.
‘What is it?’ Kubric said, not bothering to hide his irritation. Boucher had problems, yes, but they were his problems. Kubric was not his mentor. Why then bother him all the time?
‘Something is wrong.’ Boucher began. ‘You know that Riley saw Cameron talking to a dealer on my territory. Now someone, I don’t know who, has sent me a video showing Foal passing money over to the late lamented shopkeeper. What the hell is going on here? Are they both trying to muscle me out?’
This was news to Kubric, but only of minor interest. Still he was curious. ‘How did you come by this video’? He asked.
‘It was sent in a message to my phone.’
‘Interesting. So, whoever sent it knows your number. That narrows it down. Are you sure it’s genuine?’
‘I’m no expert but it looks genuine to me. Two questions. Why send it, and if things are as they seem, why are they suddenly making a move?’
Kubric said nothing for several seconds while he tried to make sense of what had happened. In the back of his mind he was wondering if there was any connection to the Markovic killing.
‘What do you want me to do?’
‘It’s not what I want you to do, it’s what I need to do. I must protect myself. This cannot continue.’
‘I told you, I don’t want McVey touched.’
‘That may be so but I’m not going to stand by and watch things collapse around me. I’ll do what I have to.’ Boucher said, his blood beginning to boil.
‘Do nothing for 24 hours. I will ask around and come back to you.’
‘Twenty-four hours eh? Ok, but not a second longer.’ Boucher said and rang off.