It took almost an hour for the technicians to arrive. They came in pairs in plain white vans, dressed in dark blue boiler suits and carried tool boxes, looking to the world like tradesmen, but their tool boxes contained the full array of state of the art scientific paraphernalia necessary for their investigation, from paper bags to biohazard bags, flashlights, bodily fluid collection kits, marker pens, tape measures and cameras and the obligatory latent prints kits. Grey showed them in, and they quickly got to work securing the area surrounding the cellar. Thomas and Grey left shortly afterwards and drove directly back to Brackmills. Over the ensuing hour an arrest team moved into place, effectively sealing off both entrances to the street. Two pairs of plain clothed DCs in two cars parked either end of the street, four officers in all, and two more waiting inside the house. The plan was simple. Wait for the suspect to knock on the door, the four in the cars would block his retreat and the two inside would pull him indoors and make the arrest. As soon as he was pulled inside, the team in the street would move in to assist the arresting officers. Six against one. Nobody expected any trouble.
Which was a mistake because unbeknown to anyone but himself McVey was never going to trust a young punk like Micky to handle product with a street value of close to twelve million without back up insurance. He had not risen to head up his own district by being careless with his stock, and although Micky had always been reliable, the temptation for him to do a little private dealing might be too much, plus this new house was unproven. Micky had assured him it was perfect, but still, McVey was a cautious man. He wanted nothing left to chance.
That was why he had placed two men on 24 hour watch on the house. On the day shift, dressed as painters in white overalls, two men were busy outside painting the pebbledash rendering of a house three doors down, from which they had a full uninterrupted view of Alicia’s front door. They had watched Grey and Thomas arrive, the ambulance come and take away the old lady, and the young girl. They had noticed the men in boiler suits turn up a little later on, and were interested to see the black guy and blonde woman leave shortly afterwards. Yet the men in the boiler suits had not left. They also noticed two cars pull up, but the occupants stayed inside, and two men enter the premises for reasons unknown. Their jobs were to watch and report, and they feared McVey enough to make sure they did just that. Each event was relayed to him within seconds, in full detail without comment, explanation, or interpretation. Just the basic facts.
As the day went on McVey became increasingly suspicious that the house was blown. How, he had no idea, but there was just too much activity for it to be coincidental. Maybe the girl had squealed to the police, or maybe Micky had sold him out. He did not know, and for the moment, did not care. All he cared about was protecting his product.
He guessed that if it was the police they had already found the stash, the men in the boiler suits were SOCOs, and the two who had entered the premises, plus the two teams in cars at either end of the street, were an arrest team waiting for Micky to arrive. He discounted it being a trap from a rival gang. They would have simply sent in a few heavies, ripped out the stock, and scarpered, but this had all the hallmarks of a police sting.
So, what to do?
He calculated that he had only one advantage. Time. Mickey was due to open for business at seven, the obvious time for the police to spring their trap, which gave him two hours or so to make his plans. It was going to be messy. That was unavoidable, but worth it for the value of heroin stored in that cellar. How to recover his stock and escape with it? That was his problem.
A bewildered Ward was brought into Brackmills and faced standard arrest procedures in the custody suite before being locked up in a holding cell, but Thomas was not ready to talk to her yet. First, he wanted to talk things through with Grey and Giordano. He wanted to see what Giordano had been able to dig up and discuss with Grey how to manage what had become a very widespread investigation. Drugs, three murders, the attempted corruption of a vulnerable teenage girl, a cuckoo nest. Thomas wondered what next?
They met in his office. Grey had bought coffees and biscuits from the small kitchen at the end of the corridor and set them down on Thomas’ desk on a chocolate brown plastic tray.
Thomas picked his cup up and took a sip, wincing as the piping hot liquid scolded his tongue. Grey blew on hers and Giordano decided to wait a few minutes before trying hers.
‘Everything we have points to all of these murders being drug related, and the discovery this afternoon of a significant stash of heroin at the house in Stenson Street might well be connected. What we have are a lot of indicators but no real evidence. DI Giordano, what have you managed to find out?’
Giordano carried a few hard copies of emails she had received. She had balanced them on her plastered arm. She picked one off the top and said, ‘We have received something back from the armed forces FR database, a probable match to the face on the CCTV. An ex SAS operative by the name of Alan Riley, aged 38 years. I’m trying to trace him, but we do know he left the service five years ago with a clean record. Expert rifleman, and of course will have many other military skills.’
‘How good is the match?’ Thomas asked. It was an important question because although facial recognition software (FRS) had improved immensely since introduced in 2014, budget cuts meant that the force did not have an up to date version of it. Also, against them was the fact that the image had been captured in abnormal light and was partially obscured. The latest algorithms used in FRS produced errors of less than two in a thousand, but those results were produced when comparing perfect images. The error rates in the wild as it were, increased to about one in ten, so Thomas was rightly wary of being too hopeful. An error rate of one in ten would be at best indicative, and certainly not good enough to be used in court.
‘I checked the confidence level with the guidebook sir, and it’s set to ninety-nine percent, so it should be reliable.’
‘Against that sir, we know that the software is not great against street images. Our confidence level is set high, but the average accuracy can be as low as forty percent. I’m not sure this takes us any further.’ Grey said.
Thomas sat back and raised his eyebrows. ‘Well it’s a start and it gives us something to go on. We need to trace this man. Anything else?’
‘Still waiting for the lab reports on the Malkovic case sir, but I managed to get some preliminary results on Mrs. Ward.’ Giovani continued, trying to shuffle the print outs one handed. ‘Alice Jane Ward, aged 38, lives in Harpole. Current account is with HSBC. Been with Social Services for three years, transferred a year ago to Child Care. Managed to get a warrant to look at her banking. There are a few cash deposits of £2,000 in the past year, the latest being a week ago. I’m still searching for credit cards and for other bank accounts.’
‘We need to search her house.’ Grey said.
Thomas sighed. ‘We do but we also need to prioritise. As we sit here, we only have suspicions that these crimes are connected. Di Giordano, have uniform conduct a search of her house. DI Grey, we need to begin our surveillance of the Eastern district. We will meet daily at eight each morning until these cases are concluded. Any questions?’
They both shook their heads.
‘Ok let’s get to it.’ He said.
Inside an unmarked police car at the North end of Stenson Street two detectives were becoming impatient. The man known as Micky was due at seven, but on Thomas’ instructions they had been watching the house for over an hour, without a break, and it was still not six thirty. They had exhausted conversation about Arsenal and Manchester United, Brexit, Trump, The Saints, and why The Echo had gone from a daily to weekly newspaper. Gossip about the latest cuts in the Police quietened the tone from brash generalisations to more detailed personal introspections, both wondering how their careers might be affected. The air was stale with a pungent mix of male sweat, empty Macdonald’s wrappers, eau-de-cologne, and bullshit.
Unseen, above them, birds swooped white against the leaden evening sky. Clouds drifted slowly eastwards. The air outside was damp. The wind had dropped. The light was fading. Dusk would soon turn to night.
‘I think this has all the elements of what the Americans call a cluster-fuck.’ Davies, the younger of the two said. His breath misted his side window, and he pressed the switch to let it down a couple of inches, taking a deep refreshing breath of the cool evening air. A hint of burning wood from a distant bonfire added to his pleasure.
‘What makes you say that? Should be a standard take down.’ His older colleague said.
Davies tapped his fingers on the dashboard. ‘Oh come on mate! Thomas is on one of his ego trips. That house is full of stash. Why not just take it in and wait for the guy to turn up? Easy-Peasy.’
The older man shrugged and turned to look out the window. ‘Who knows? Somebody might be watching. Perhaps he was concerned someone would notice a crate of stash being hauled out into the middle of the road.’ He said with a touch of sarcasm.
‘Oh really? Who? There’s nobody here but those couple of painters. The street’s deserted. Street like this, I’d bet behind those net curtains are old biddies with nothing better to do than watch Neighbours. Word War 111 could start, and they’d have no fucking idea.’
‘Well, we’re here. Ours not to wonder why and all that.’
‘Yeah yeah, that’s as maybe, but Thomas is always trying to look good. Licks Malan’s arse by all accounts. Makes me sick. Him and his pet Grey. Swooping in like Batman and Robin, keeping the town safe. Fuck me, like us ordinary mortals are incapable. You can play the Boy Scout if you want to, but me, I need a piss.’ Davies said and yanked his door open, climbing out and heading for the park.
‘Robin’s a bloke….’ His partner began, but Davies had already turned the corner.
At the other end of the street, one of the detectives saw him leave. ‘Where’s he going?’ He asked in dismay.
His partner, who had been fighting sleep in the warmth of the car, sat up straight, suddenly alert. ‘Christ on a bike, that’s Davies. He’s such an impatient bastard. If Thomas hears of this, he’ll skin him alive.’
‘Probably gone for a leak.’
‘Yeah well that leak will piss Thomas off, I can tell you.’
The two men who had been painting the outside of the house loaded their gear into the van and drove off towards the park.
‘Long day for them poor bastards. What a life, stuck up a ladder 8 hours a day, waving a bloody paint brush about.’
‘Don’t feel that sorry for them. Day off when it rains and make five hundred quid a day each.’
His partner grinned. ‘Yeah but they don’t meet the class of people we do. And think of the other perks.’
‘I’m trying. Give me a starter for ten.’
At that moment a tall man in dark jeans and black hoodie approached the police car at the opposite end of the street, yanked open the driver’s side door, pulled a pistol out of his pocket, and pointed it at the sitting detective.
‘Jesus, that guy’s got a gun,’ The driver shouted. ‘Call it in.’
His partner picked up the radio speaker and was about to make the call when the nearside door was jerked open and a gun pressed hard against his forehead. The cold steel felt hard and unforgiving. ‘Out of the car’, the man with the gun said quietly. He was dressed in jeans and check shirt and his face was covered by a latex Donald Trump mask.
Both detectives were terrified and did as they were told, but the one making the call had the presence of mind to leave the radio connected. The gunman bustled them into the rear seats and handcuffed them to the head restraints. Then he climbed into the front seat and drove off, not stopping as they passed the other police car. In that car the same thing had happened, and the driver wasted no time in following.
Four men then strode purposefully along the street towards Alicia’s house, each one with a latex mask covering his face. The Jeremy Corbyn lookalike knocked and called, ‘Alicia, open up, its Micky.’
Inside, the two detectives looked at one another, shrugged, whispered ‘He’s early.’ One pressed himself against the front wall while the other grabbed the door handle. He looked at his partner and counted down with his fingers. ‘Three, two, one..’ and yanked the door open, intending to pull Micky through into the house. Instead he was confronted by Barack Obama and Yoda, plus two others who pushed him back into the room. His partner made a move to jump out and surprise the intruders but was quickly beaten down with the butt of a pistol. He lie bleeding on the floor.
‘Downstairs and make it quick.’ Yoda said to the other three.
Outside, the painters’ truck pulled up. Both painters jumped out and quickly opened the rear doors. The three men carried the container with the dope up the stairs while Yoda covered the two detectives with his pistol. It took less than a minute to load the truck. ‘Ready.’ One of them called.
Yoda said, ‘Your pockets please gentlemen, on the floor.’
Both detectives emptied the contents and threw them on the floor. ‘Now, outside please.’ Yoda backed out followed by the two detectives. He locked the door and climbed up into the passenger seat of the van training the gun on the detectives as he settled in. He tapped the window with the barrel and the truck drove off, leaving the two detectives helpless on the pavement.
Davies turned the corner into Stenson Street a minute after the truck left. Expecting to join his partner but seeing the car gone, he scratched his head. ‘What the fuck?’
Just then the two detectives saw him and dashed towards him, shouting ‘Get on the radio, call it in, we’ve been robbed, the stash has gone!’
Davies, realising instantly that his ten-year career had just ended in the time it had taken to have a quick comfort break, fumbled in his pocket, dropping the radio as he pulled it out.
The two cars headed towards the town centre at a leisurely pace, turning left uphill at the junction of Horsemarket and Gold Street, towards the Mayorhold, now almost empty of shops but a place where since the 12th century, livestock had been bought and sold, right up until the turn of the twentieth century. Daniel Defoe described it in the 17th century as ‘the centre of all horse markets and fairs in England’.
No sign of horses now, just a four-lane blacktop, nose to tail with vehicles scurrying about their business.
Inside the first car the policeman who had left on the radio shouted, ‘Horsemarket, heading towards Regent Square, where are we going?’ Hoping beyond hope that someone in Control could hear him.
‘Shut the fuck up!’ Trump ordered.
The two cars cruised along until easing left into St. Andrews Street, and then right into a small backstreet that led to the Casino car park on Regents Square. Both cars drew up close to a jet-black BMW 3 series, number plate covered with black tape. Three men climbed out of the police cars and piled into the BMW, leaving the policemen handcuffed in the back seats. The BMW drove off, quietly, careful not to speed.
From the rear seat of the first car the detective was screaming. ‘Control! Control! Can you hear me? Control?’ as he and his partner struggled to free themselves.
The BMW headed sedately down Grafton Street towards Victoria Park, where it pulled into a small lay-by close to the Gladstone Road turning. The driver stepped out and removed the tape from the number plates. The passengers transferred to a pale blue Ford Focus and drove towards McVey’s house in Nether Heyford where McVey and the truck and the heroin were waiting.
They arrived fifteen minutes later to be greeted by a grinning McVey, a glass of scotch in one hand, fat cigar in the other. As they climbed out of the Focus they could hear laughing and joking and the clinking of glasses coming from the back garden. McVey patted each one on the back and said, ‘Come on in boys, join the party.’