Bad news travels fast and nowhere faster than in the Force’s rumour mill. Within minutes of the debacle being called in by one of the panic stricken officers from the back of the police car in the casino car park, everyone across all Northamptonshire stations knew about it.
Except Thomas and Grey who were closeted in IR1 with Mrs. Alice Ward.
Aged 38 with bleached blonde hair, high cheekbones, thin lips, and a good figure, she looked nothing like how Thomas had imagined her. A middle aged spinster dressed in tweed skirts and thick stockings was how he had pictured her, but Alice Ward turned out to be something of a beauty in a knee length soft cotton navy blue dress with white poker-dots.
But she was clearly scared. Her hands were shaking, her face drained of colour. Grey was glad. It might make her job easier. Thomas had suggested she lead the interview, a vote of confidence not lost on her, and she was determined to make the best of it. She was sitting opposite Ward, a thin wedge of papers on the table in front of her. Thomas stood, arms folded, at the back of the room, next to the custody constable, an impassive six feet five of solid muscle.
‘You know why you’re here?’ Grey began.
‘No, I don’t. I was arrested at work, in full view of all my colleagues.’ The way Ward said it, Grey was sure it was meant as a protest, but it did not come out that way. More of a whine.
Grey did not enlighten her. Instead she said. ‘I understand you have a responsibility towards disadvantaged children.’
Ward frowned as if wondering where this was heading. ‘Well yes, I’m a Child Support Officer.’
‘And how long have you been in that role?’
‘About a year I think.’
‘What does the job entail?’
Ward took a deep breath. ‘A variety of things. Most of the children have trouble at home of one kind or another. Often, it’s abusive parents, or parents who cannot cope. We try to offer them support, sometimes giving them a break, or a more permanent change of surroundings if the child is in danger.’
‘One of your children is Alicia Monk, 14years old?’
‘Yes, is she in trouble?’ Ward asked, looking concerned.
Grey did not answer. Instead she concentrated on her papers. Without looking up she took hold of one sheet and lifted it, as if reading from it.
‘On your bank statements there are regular deposits in cash of £2,000.00. Can you explain these to me?’
Ward looked perplexed. ‘My bank statements. How did you get hold of them?’
‘Just answer the question please Mrs. Ward.’
‘Well I don’t know. I shall have to look back.’
‘It isn’t as though these are insignificant amounts. Surely you can remember them?’
‘I, I gamble.’ She stuttered.
‘Are you telling me these are gambling winnings?’
‘Probably, but as I said I will have to check back.’
‘Where do you gamble Mrs. Ward?’
‘Ladbrokes in Harpole, mostly.’
Grey did not hide her scepticism and was about to respond when a knock on the door interrupted her flow, and a uniformed constable entered. She apologised and handed a note to Thomas. He scanned it briefly, frowned, and said. ‘We are going to have to curtail this interview and continue it later.’
Ward looked aghast. ‘What! Are you saying I have to wait again in that stinking cell, locked up liked a common criminal? I won’t have it.’ She shouted.
Thomas indicated to the constable to take Ward back to the cells. The constable led her out of the room, with Ward shouting abuse and threats as she was bundled away.
As they headed out Thomas said, ‘We are summoned to see Malan.’
‘Malan? What does he want?’ Grey stammered.
‘No idea.’ He said.
At that moment Grey’s phone pinged and she stopped to read the message. ‘Come on Grey, no time for texting.’
Grey looked puzzled but said quickly. ‘Need to make a quick call sir, won’t take a sec.’
Thomas seemed irritated but signalled he would carry on and wait for a minute or so. Grey stepped back into IR1 and made her call, reappearing a couple of minutes later. Thomas said impatiently, ‘Hurry up, we are keeping him waiting.’
Grey trotted towards him and said, ‘Sorry sir, something came up.’
They strode in single file along the drab corridor towards Malan’s office, Thomas wondering what was so urgent, Grey preoccupied with her new text message. Thirty seconds later they were waiting while Malan’s secretary went into his office to introduce them. She reappeared seconds later and said, ‘He’ll see you now.’ Thomas nodded a quick ‘Thank you’, and entered in front of Grey.
Malan was seated behind his desk, jacket on, hair slicked back, face a deathly white with a hint of blue, black eyes blazing. ‘Sit down, the pair of you.’ It was not a request; the tone left no room for misinterpretation. It was an order. Thomas sat in one of two chairs opposite Malan, Grey in the other.
Malan said nothing for a few seconds while he inspected them both. Grey first, then Thomas. Grey shivered as she felt his eyes on her.
‘Take me through this afternoon Thomas.’ He began.
Surprised but in complete ignorance of what had happened, he explained the sequence in as much detail as he could recall, finishing with ‘I expect the arrest will be about now sir.’ In full belief that his instructions would be carried out.
‘And you Grey, what was your part in this operation?’
‘I interviewed the girl first sir and called assistance from DCI Thomas based on the drugs found on the premises.’
‘So, let me get this straight. You were called by a young girl, Alicia Monk. You Grey took it upon yourself to interview the girl and found a large quantity of heroin on the premises.’
‘Yes sir I….’
‘When I want you to interrupt me Grey, I will tell you!’ Malan said glaring at her. ‘At that point you called DCI Thomas.’
Grey was about to say, ‘Yes sir’, but bit her tongue.
‘Now this is the part I want to be crystal clear about. The two of you decided that this was a likely new cuckoo nest, and the drugs belonged to a man by the name of Micky who had befriended Alicia Monk. Micky was due back at seven, presumably to start dealing the drugs. You then organised a team of six detectives to wait for Micky and effect an arrest. Am I right?’
Thomas moved from one cheek to another, beginning to see the writing on the wall. ‘Yes sir. Two in the house, two pairs in cars each end of the street to block off any escape.’
‘Did you notice anyone about, watching the premises?’
‘No sir, nobody.’
‘Anyone in the street?’
‘A couple of painters sir, nobody else.’
Malan nodded, ‘Ah yes, a couple of painters. Tell me Thomas, why did you feel it necessary to leave the drugs on the premises?’
Thomas coughed because whatever his answer was, he knew what came next. ‘Well sir, I was worried that someone might see the drugs being taken away and alert this Micky.’ Thomas said and waited, knowing what was coming. Malan was no fool and had framed his questions well. ‘But you just told me nobody was about.’
‘Not that I noticed sir, but just in case,’
Malan stood up and spread his fingers on his desk. Leaning towards them, eyes glaring at each in turn, he said, ‘The drugs have flown, in the van owned by the painters. Five officers have been assaulted, threatened at gunpoint, three left trussed up in two cars. Explain to me Thomas how state of the art your thinking was, and what brilliant deductions made you lose twelve million pounds worth of heroin from police custody and endanger the lives of half a dozen officers. Not to mention the press Thomas. Oh yes, the hyenas are about, and they smell blood. We will be the laughing-stock of the country.’
Stunned, Thomas did not know what to say. ‘Anyone injured sir?’ Was all he could think of.
‘Thankfully, no. One of the officers left his post and has been suspended immediately. Tell me Thomas why I shouldn’t suspend the pair of you.’
Thomas could see Malan was enjoying himself, prick that he was, and decided he had had enough. He stood up to his full height and took a deep breath. ‘I acted on my best instincts sir. DI Grey had no part in my decisions. I take full responsibility.’
‘Sit down Thomas! I haven’t finished yet.’ Malan ordered, but Thomas stood his ground. There followed a thirty second stand-off that Grey would swear afterwards lasted ten minutes.
In the end she coughed and said. ‘All may not be lost sir. I have an operation in play to recover the heroin and perhaps arrest a main dealer sir.’ It was a punt, Grey knew, all she had to go on was the text she had just now received from Rancid Ronnie, and she had acted upon it, sending an arrest team out to Nether Heyford.
No way did she want to mention it in front of Malan, it might well go tits up or have nothing whatsoever to do with Stenson Street, but Malan was already leading up to disciplinary action so she had nothing to lose. He had been on her case for years and he was clearly relishing this excuse to get rid of her.
Thomas looked down at her, a puzzled expression on his face. Malan was stunned into silence. Grey stood up and pushed back her chair. ‘Er Rancid Ronnie sir, now if you don’t mind, I need to see this through sir.’ She said and beat a hasty retreat, followed quickly by Thomas.
‘Grey?’ He called, ‘What the hell is going on?’
Grey did not break step. She headed straight for Giordano’s office, bursting in just as Giordano was taking a call. Grey stood behind her, hopping impatiently from foot to foot, breathing heavily. Giordano raised a steadying hand while she listened. Thomas followed quickly behind Grey, still asking questions, but she was not listening. Finally, Giordano smiled and gave Grey a thumbs up. ’Got them, ’she mouthed.
Giordano ended the call a minute or so later. ‘Looks like you were right Sheila. Five arrests, a large stash of heroin, good result.’
Grey let out a big sigh of relief. Her stomach had been churning since the summons to Malan’s office, and she had felt physically sick while Malan had been ranting, but now at least it seemed that events were improving. Who would have thought it? Rancid Ronnie, the walking biohazard. What timing!
‘DI Grey, pray tell me what on earth is going on.’ Thomas said, looking grim.
Grey said, ‘Oh sorry sir. Just before we were summoned to see DCS Malan, I received a text from one of my informants, telling me that a significant amount of heroin had just arrived at a house in Nether Heyford. I organised an arrest team to raid the premises.’
‘But how could you know it’s connected to the debacle at Stenson Street?’
‘I don’t sir, but it is a bit of a coincidence. To be truthful sir, I was fairly sure that I was about to be suspended so I took a punt.’
Thomas ran a hand through his hair and breathed out heavily. ‘So, we are not certain this is connected?’
‘No sir, not yet.’
‘Bloody hell.’ He said and began to pace about the office with his hands in his pockets. Grey had never seen him so enervated, but to her relief, after several uncomfortable seconds, he sat down and looked her in the eye. ‘I suppose you’re right. It did look grim in there. We’ll just have to wait and hope for the best. Meanwhile we’d better go and apologise to DCS Malan, I expect he’ll be wondering what’s going on.’ He said, hands on his knees, standing up from his chair.
Grey did not feel like apologising, she felt like smacking Malan round the ear, but she rose slowly, reluctantly, and followed Thomas back to Malan’s office.
They found him as they had left him, leaning over his desk, supported by his outspread hands. He did not look up as they trooped in, expecting the worst.
‘Apologies, sir, it seems that we might have recovered the heroin and made five arrests at a house in Nether Heyford.’ Thomas explained.
Malan raised his eyes and said ‘Really, and you think that in some way this new event excuses your lack of judgement this afternoon?’
‘I don’t believe my judgement was in any way lacking sir. I did what I believed was right under the circumstances. I’m very sad to hear that officers were assaulted, but sometimes operations do not go as planned.’ Thomas countered.
Malan was silent for several seconds before pushing himself back and sitting down. ‘Five arrests you say.’ He said, somehow looking sad that his rage had blown over. Suddenly he seemed tired and deflated.
‘Yes sir, DI Grey received information from an informer, and the recovery of the heroin and arrests are down to her quick-thinking sir.’
Grey was not sure how she felt. Thomas was obviously trying to protect her, but she was so angry she would almost have preferred a stand-up fight.
‘Alright, well you’d both better get on with the interviews. Keep me informed.’ Malan said.
Thomas said ‘Sir.’ and quickly stood up, gesturing Grey to follow. They beat a hasty retreat and strode purposefully back to Giordano’ office.
When Thomas and Grey burst into her office without knocking, Giordano was seated, eyes concentrating on her computer screen, her plastered arm in a white cotton sling, free arm resting lightly on her desk. As usual she looked immaculate in a honey coloured silk blouse and brown cotton skirt. Her long auburn hair was brushed straight back, revealing deep brown eyes, high cheekbones, full lips, all of which made up her perfectly formed face.
‘Any news?’ Grey asked, hiding her jealousy well. Giordano had something she knew she would never have; style.
‘They’re being processed now. The stash is downstairs in the custody suite for the time being. Echo wondered if you wanted to go look. Make sure it’s the same stash as you saw in Stenson Street.’
Grey nodded and headed downstairs.
‘We have the lab report on Markovic sir.’ Giordano said pointing to her computer screen. Thomas drew up a chair and sat next to her, only vaguely noticing Armani fragrance drifting towards him. He could just about read the report from where he was sitting, and quickly scanned the usual introductions until he found the section that interested him.
Death was from exsanguination caused by several left to right incisions across the throat that had severed the jugular vein and carotid artery. The wounds were from a sharp knife that had been dragged across the neck by a right-handed person. There would have been considerable immediate blood loss from spray. Death had occurred within seconds. The wounds were deeper on the left side than the right, and there were abrasions at the entry points. From the wounds, the pathologist estimated the knife blade to have been at least an inch wide. Cotton and nylon fibres had been found on the chest and neck. These did not match the clothes found on the victim thus could have transferred from the assailant. A single hair had been found on the back of the neck. The hair did not belong to the victim. DNA could be extracted from the hair.
Thomas said, ‘When we catch this murderer, we should have enough here to prove he did it.’
‘Yes sir. Also, we have the possible drug connection with the newsagents and Markovic sir. The hairdresser seems certain the Khans were dealing. Now we have this huge stash from Nether Heyford, perhaps the same pile you and Sheila found in Stenson Street. Could they be connected?’
‘Who knows? It is a coincidence, that’s for sure. Drugs were found in Markovic’s house and Stenson Street. The Khans were dealing. There might well be a connection, but we have no solid evidence. Do we have an address for Riley yet?’
Giordano reached into her out tray and selected a sheet of paper. ‘Yes sir, he lives in Goldenash in the Eastern district.’
‘Some sir; no known employment. Nothing at all from HMRC. Since he came out of service, he seems to have been unemployed. Yet he does own his property and there’s no record of a mortgage. No criminal record sir.’
‘The FRS won’t hold up in court, but our own confidence level is high enough to give us hope, plus the fact that he owns his house outright suggests he has a source of income. Not claiming dole, you say?’
‘No sir, nothing at all. No tax returns or PAYE records either, he went off the radar after he retired. He might have got a pile when he left the army, but I doubt it would sustain him this long. Could have a rich family of course.’
‘Nothing from his bank?’
‘Still looking sir. I have search requests out across the BBA but no hits yet.’
Thomas scraped his chair back so that he was sitting side on to Giordano. ‘I still think we need feet on the ground. I’m sure that’s the only way we will find out what’s going on. Are these incidents connected, do we have a drug related turf war on our hands, what does Riley do for his living, why was Markovic killed, why were the Khans targeted? A lot of questions and no answers yet.’
At that moment Grey bounced in, beaming. ‘The stash definitely came from Stenson Street sir.’
Thomas scratched his chin, ‘Which means the house was being watched.’
‘Which means Micky was not acting alone sir. Takes people and organisation to watch a house sir.’ Grey added.
‘It does. We didn’t notice anyone, but then we weren’t looking. This house in Heyford, do we know what it looks like? Big, small, expensive?’
‘Echo says the arrest team reported a large house in its own grounds with manicured gardens. Owned by an angry short fat Scotsman who was the wrong side of several whiskies when they brought him in. Reeked of it apparently.’
‘So, the drugs were transported back to his house. I wonder why. Is he a main dealer?’
‘Could be sir. I think we should give his house a once over. If this McVey, that’s his name by the way, is the main man then we might find records of other nests, and names of his people.’
‘Indeed we might DI Grey. Ok, let’s get a warrant. DI Giordano, I’ll leave you to organise that and pull Riley in. We’re going to be busy. Meanwhile, let’s talk to Mrs. Ward again. By the way, DI Grey, what exactly did Rancid Ronnie tell you?’
‘Just that there was a stash being delivered to an address in Nether Heyford sir.’
‘Which begs the question, how did he know?’
‘I’m wondering too sir. I’ll ask him when I see him, and there’s another related question for him.’
Thomas raised an eyebrow.
‘Well sir Ronnie is my snitch for the Eastern district, so what’s the connection between the Eastern district and a delivery to Nether Heyford?’
There was an hour’s delay in bringing Ward up from the cells while they waited for her solicitor, but when he finally arrived, they made a start in IR1. Grey was to conduct the interview. Thomas took a back seat and the custody constable stood, a sentinel beside the door.
Grey began with the time and date and a statement of those present, plus the usual PACE rules around answering questions and the recording of the interview.
‘When we last spoke, we were asking you to explain regular deposits of £2,000 into your bank account. Now that you’ve had time to think can you give us any more detailed explanation for these amounts?’
‘I think my client has already answered that question.’ Ward’s solicitor said. He was in his mid-fifties and dressed in a brown jacket, grey trousers, and light green pullover. His tanned face was thin and lined and his fair hair brushed straight back, only partially obscuring an expanding bald patch.
‘I’m sure she can speak for herself.’ Grey countered.
‘Nothing to add.’ Ward said stiffly. She was sitting up straight with her back against her chair, arms folded, a determined look on her face. Despite having been locked in the cells for several hours, she looked quite beautiful. Her angry blazing blue eyes simply added to her attraction.
‘How do you explain the round amounts. Are you saying that your gambling winnings are consistently the same?’
‘No but they are the amounts that I bank.’
‘What do you place bets on?’ Grey asked.
‘Football, horses, sometimes boxing.’
‘You told me when we last spoke that you gamble mostly at Ladbrokes in Harpole. Is that correct?’
‘I’ve already told you.’
‘There is no branch of Ladbrokes in Harpole Mrs. Ward. How do you explain that?’
Ward blushed and suddenly looked unsure of herself. ‘I, I, perhaps I was mistaken. Perhaps it was another betting shop.’
‘You can’t say which betting shop? I would have thought that you would know very well which shop when you’re winning so much.’
Ward shrugged. ‘I’m not sure.’
Grey let it pass. Ward was obviously lying. ‘I am going to ask you again how you came about that money.’
‘I’ve told you; I won it.’
‘Then you will be able to tell me how you won it, who you won it from, and why the deposits are all for the same amount.’
‘I will have to look at my records.’ Ward said.
‘In your capacity of Child Care Officer have you ever been approached to give information about vulnerable children in your care?’
Ward looked shocked. ‘How do mean?’
‘I mean what I said, have you ever been approached in that way?’
‘N - No I haven’t.’
‘I think you have. I think you have been paid to provide information and that is why you are able to deposit such large sums into your bank account.’
‘But what you think DI Grey means nothing. Can I ask you what evidence you have against my client? Because all I’ve heard so far are your opinions. My client has answered your questions, so please, either charge her or let her go.’
Grey was sunk and knew it. She looked at Thomas for help, but he just shook his head.
Grey took a deep breath and said. ‘You will be bailed to appear here again at a future date to allow us time to gather more information. You are free to go.’
‘On what grounds are you imposing bail DI Grey? You have nothing against my client.’
‘I have suspicion and circumstantial evidence, but I need to make further enquiries. The bail will be for 28 days as prescribed by law.’ She said, standing up and signalling for the custody officer to make the necessary arrangements.
‘My fault,’ said Thomas as they walked disconsolately along the corridor. ‘I was too hasty. I let my anger get the better of me. We needed more information before interviewing her.’
‘Perhaps something will come up from the search of her house sir.’ Grey said.
‘Let’s hope so. Meanwhile we are going to need to see all her case files and check them out.’
‘I’ll get straight onto it sir.’
‘No, let’s put Giordano on that. You have a murderer to find, and I have a double murder to solve. Those are our priorities.’
‘And the five in custody sir?’ Grey asked.
‘They can stew overnight. Let’s talk to them in the morning.’ Thomas said.