At Brackmills Thomas had summoned Grey to his office, and to his surprise and delight she brought Giordano with her.
‘We’re desperate but carrying the troops out of sick bay is a bit much.’ He said, half serious, half smiling.
‘I volunteered sir.’ Giordano said dutifully, remembering what Grey had told her.
‘Hmph, you know what they called volunteers in the war?’
‘Cracked eggs. I’ll leave you to work out why. Anyway, good to see you up and about.’
‘Thank you, sir. I wanted to do something. Lounging around at home would drive me mad.’
Thomas nodded and said. ’Ok. We have three murders to contend with. Markovic, and now Mr. and Mrs. Khan, newsagents in Bellinge. Victims of an arson attack last night. According to a neighbour they were involved in drugs distribution in the neighbourhood.’
‘Could be a connection with Markovic sir. My snitch tells me that there’s an organised gang operating from a cuckoo house in Faracre. Gang boss is a Frenchman by the name of Boucher. According to my man, Markovic worked for Boucher as a runner. He also said a Bellinge newsagent was a small-time dealer treading on Boucher’s toes. According to him Boucher wouldn’t tolerate it for long. I’m guessing Mr. And Mrs. Khan are the same newsagent’s sir.’ Grey said.
‘Makes sense. A cuckoo house you say. That would suggest a County Line operation.’ Thomas said.
‘Yes sir, and the contacts on Markovic’s phone also point in that direction.’
Thomas scratched his chin. ‘So, we’re saying that the Khans were murdered because they were dealing on this Boucher’s patch? That would be logical, but it doesn’t explain why Markovic was killed, unless of course Khan did it. Any progress yet?’
‘Still trying to gather background information sir. He wasn’t known to his neighbours, but he was a regular in the Bellinge area.’
‘Which brings me to the main reason for calling you in. We need to conduct a surveillance operation in the area. I think the only way we’re going to get to the bottom of this is to understand who the dealers are, where they’re dealing from, and maybe then we’ll find a motive for Markovic’s killing. Anything known about this Boucher?’
‘Not by name sir. We need a photograph.’
‘There’s a possibility we might have CCTV of the arson, although we’ll have to wait and see whether it will be useful. Anything back from the lab yet?’
‘Not yet sir. I’m going to call them later today.’
‘Well, let’s get to it. Organise your people DI Grey. I’ll take the late shift, you take the day. Giordano I’m going to need you to support both of us. DI Grey is SIO on the Markovic case, and I’ve got the Khans. Any problems?’
‘Good. Now let me make this very clear. You are not to undertake any field work whatsoever. Understand?’
‘Well I was hoping....’
‘I know what you were hoping Giordano, but my instructions are very clear. Understand?’
‘Ok, details. I want two teams, on foot from six a.m until I take over at five p.m. We’re looking for dealers, customers, and their distribution point or points. I want to identify every customer, every dealer on the street, and where they’re dealing from. I want to know their history, do they have any form, known associates, and did they know Markovic? I want to know about anyone that looks out of place. Any questionfds?’
‘We’re going to stand out on the street sir. New people in the area, hanging around, anyone experienced will spot us within ten minutes.’
‘Which is why we are going to operate as a family from a base, or at least you are. Rent a house in the neighbourhood, make yourself known as a new family in the area.’
‘That might work sir but it’s risky.’ Grey said.
Thomas took a deep breath and let it out slowly. ‘It is but we need information and fast, so unless you have any better ideas, I suggest you make a start.’ He said.
Grey and Giordano left Thomas alone in his office just before the CCTV file of the arson arrived in his email inbox. Thomas removed his jacket, hung it on the back of his chair, and after clicking his mouse on the file icon, sat back and waited for the show to start.
The first thing he noticed was the clarity of the images. Gone were the days of grainy black and white ghost-like figures moving around silently against a snowy background. The film playing across his computer monitor was clear, in full colour, with sound, and it was time stamped. It took him a few minutes to work out the geography. The camera had been positioned in the eaves of the hairdresser’s shop and so all the images were being shown from a height of about ten feet. The camera had a wide-angle lens and covered the whole of the car park but not the road leading up to it. Its range however did capture the area immediately in front of the shops, including the entrance to the newsagent.
It was tempting for Thomas to fast forward to the time when the fire started but he did not want to miss a thing, and so sat watching patiently for anything of significance to happen. A surprising number of cars pulled into the car park in the early hours, stayed for a few minutes, then drove off again for no apparent reason. A few drunks staggered by, and a couple of courting couples stopped for a quick kiss and cuddle on their way home, but it was not until the time stamp showed three thirty that a blue transit van pulled into the car park.
Thomas paused the video, looking for a registration plate, but it had been blacked out. He clicked on ‘play’ again and watched a tall thin man, dressed in black, exit the van carrying a small red can. Thomas guessed it was full of the petrol used to start the fire. The man approached the newsagents, soaked one end of a cotton rag in the petrol, screwed a spout onto the can and then poured the remaining petrol through the letterbox into the shop. He set fire to the rag and fed it through onto the shop floor before jogging back to the van. In all it took less than ninety seconds, but not once in that time did the man look up into the camera. Thomas cursed under his breath. Angling down from the eaves, all the camera captured was the top of a hooded head.
The man sat in the van for a few minutes until the shop exploded in a flash of white light. The blazing shop front reflected against the windscreen, and it was at that moment the camera caught a clear image of the arsonist’s face, lit up by the raging inferno. Thomas froze the image, smiled, and said ‘Gotcha.’
He wasted no time in emailing the image to Technical Services with an urgent request to run it through the force’s Facial Recognition Software.
From time to time the force used live biometric facial recognition software that checked passers-by against a database of wanted people. The system was effective but expensive, both in terms of the software itself, but also to be effective it needed officers on the ground to apprehend the suspects it matched. It also relied on someone being in the database, but only those with a criminal record were on file.
In this case Thomas wanted a check against the Police National Database and Armed Forces List past and present. Together these stored about 35 million images so Thomas was confident he would find his man on one of them. He had a face, and once he had a name, an arrest would follow as sure as night follows day.