Boucher and Riley were sitting in Riley’s car which Riley had parked in a lay-by in Fieldmill Road. Through the windscreen they had a good view of the neighbourhood, including the school and the shopping precinct. They had been there since the early hours trying to find out what was happening in this area of their patch. They had dealt with the Khans but trade was still down; cheap undercut skag was flooding the streets and ruining the market for their product. Cut to twenty-five percent from best Columbian, Boucher sold a quality product at a reasonable price, but this new heroin was cut to fifteen percent and being offered at a hefty discount.
‘I don’t understand it. The Khans were dealing boss. I saw them with my own eyes.’ Riley said.
Boucher had aged years in the short time since Markovic had disappeared, and now on this bright winter morning, with the low sun blinding him and the air conditioning giving him prickly heat, he was a troubled man. ‘It has to be organised. We’ve been watching for three hours now and seen nothing unusual. All the dealers are our own, all the customers known to us. Yet somehow, right here, under our noses, someone else is dealing. Why can’t we see him? Who is supplying him?’
‘Could all be online boss.’
Boucher wiped sweat from his brow. ‘No, if it was online it wouldn’t be as local. This is down to this area and this area alone. None of our other districts are under attack. I sense Hall or McVey or both are behind this, but why just this area?’
Riley looked puzzled. ‘Do you think this interloper was supplying the Khans.’
Boucher was disdainful. ’Mais oui! There’s no way those small shopkeepers were handling enough product to hurt us. No, they were menu fretin, small fry you say, but they had a means of delivery, so they were useful.’
‘Did Markovic notice something? He did not mention anything to me, and how has this interloper found so many customers so quickly? It takes months to build up trade.’
Boucher sniggered disdainfully. ‘Yes, but then he was murdered before he could report to you. Mon Dieu if I could only find him, I would skin him myself, fillet him like a rotten fish! Ah, idiot!’ He exclaimed thumping himself on the side of his head, ‘But of course, he cloned Markovic’s contacts from his phone and gave himself a readymade list of customers.’
Riley tried not to sound unimpressed. ‘Maybe now boss, but we were losing before Markovic was killed.’
At that moment a thin middle-aged man in a full length grey overcoat tied up with string limped away from the shopping precinct clutching what looked like a chocolate bar. His unwashed weathered face was lined with pain and he flinched when he stepped off the kerb onto his damaged leg.
‘That’s Ronnie.’ Riley remarked.
‘Rancid Ronnie, the local tramp and busybody. Has his nose in everybody’s business. If anybody knows what’s going on Ronnie will know.’
‘Then we should talk to him.’
‘We should, but not now. In private. I will arrange it for tonight.’
Boucher nodded and then suddenly opened his door and climbed out of the car. There was sweat on his brow when he leaned into the car and said. ‘I need some air. I’m going to walk to the precinct. Keep your eyes open and pick me up in thirty minutes.’ He said and slammed the door shut.
Surprised at Boucher’s sudden departure, Riley simply nodded and watched his boss stroll away. As he disappeared, Riley turned his attention back to Ronnie, who had found a bench to sit on and was busily munching on his chocolate bar. Riley cursed himself for not thinking about Ronnie before now. The man was a walking snoop, could not keep his nose out of other people’s business. He stank like a farting skunk; downwind you could smell him from ten yards away, yet somehow he was able to sidle up to conversations, never interrupting, but his ears like radio receivers, able to pick up anything said. It was his goal in life to know other people’s business, yet the information was useless to him. Riley guessed he did it to pass the time. In Riley’s estimation he was a glue sniffing hobo, nothing more, but he might turn out to be useful, he might just have overheard something. Riley decided to have him picked up that evening.
Boucher seemed to forget that Riley had seen McVey’s man Cameron talking to the Asian runner. There was no doubt that the newsagent had been supplying the Asian youth, but why had Cameron been talking to him? For that matter why had Cameron been on Boucher’s patch at all? It was taboo, could be construed as an act of war. McVey had been quick to criticise Boucher’s security and his offer to help had been a clumsy shallow attempt to hide his true intentions. Had he sent Cameron on a fishing trip? Perhaps Ronnie could help him find out.
Riley drove towards the shopping precinct and parked in the lay-by where a few nights earlier he had watched the news-agency burn. Amazingly the other shops had already re-opened and business looked brisk. People were bustling about as if nothing had happened, even though there was now a gaping hole and burnt out embers where their newsagent used to be.
He was drumming his hands on the dashboard, waiting for Boucher to reappear, when two police cars raced into the car park and screeched to a halt behind him, forming a ‘V’ shape, effectively blocking him in. Realising immediately what was happening, Riley yanked open the door intending to make a dash for it, but before he could another car pulled up alongside. Three constables scrambled out and surrounded him. One pulled him out of the car and said ‘Alan Riley, I am arresting you on suspicion of the murder of Anwar and Sadita Khan.’ Riley was too shocked to hear the rest of it or put up any kind of struggle. Instead he allowed himself to be bundled into the back of the police car wherein he was flanked either side by burly officers. They drove off at speed, watched in shock by Boucher who had turned the corner into the precinct just in time to see the events unfold.
While Riley was being booked into the custody suite at Brackmills, a search team with a warrant was recovering his van and raking over every drawer in his house. Giordano had discovered from Hannington that Riley owned a blue van similar to the one used by whoever had killed the Khans, and that CCTV had picked it up being driven away from the area in the early hours of the morning they were murdered. Thomas believed that Riley was the driver, and so had arranged for a forensics team to examine it before it was moved.
It was a cold sunny morning with a chill breeze. Thomas was standing shivering outside Riley’s house with his hands in the pockets of his navy-blue woollen overcoat. He was stamping his feet to keep them warm.
The van was parked on the street outside Riley’s house, but once forensics arrived it was quickly sealed off and hidden under a hastily erected white canvas tent. Thomas was grateful to duck into its warmth and watch while the examiners set up lights and took photographs from every angle, doors closed, doors open, bonnet up and down, rear doors open and closed, the interior, roof, chassis, tyres, and a close up of the VIN. This preliminary operation took almost an hour, following which they began a meticulous search of the exterior and then the interior. At each step potential evidence was marked and photographed, tagged, and bagged.
Thomas was interested in all of it, fascinated by the whole process and the care and precision with which it was handled, but he had to admit that he had witnessed it many times before, and he was here only to discover one thing: had embers from the fire carried to the van’s paintwork? On the night of the fire it had been breezy, and he hoped that Riley had hung around long enough to watch the newsagent’s burn. If he had, there was a good chance debris from the fire had blown onto the van, and experience told him that even if Riley had cleaned it, some fibres would have stuck.
If he were in luck, combined with the CCTV evidence, he would have enough to pass onto the CPS.
Buoyed by the information she had passed onto Thomas about Riley’s van, Giordano was happily sorting through the contacts on Markovic’s phone when Grey stepped into her office.
‘Morning Jo, what’s new.’ Grey asked.
Giordano beamed. ‘Where to start? It’s been an exciting twenty-four hours.’
Grey picked up on the ‘twenty-four hours’ instead of ‘day’ and gave her a playfully enquiring look. ‘You got a date?’
Giordano blushed. ‘I do, but you’ll never guess who.’ She said with a smile.
Grey sat in the chair by the side of Giordano’s desk and scratched her chin. ‘Mmm, Echo?’
Giordano was amazed. ‘How did you know? He only called me last night!’
Grey tapped her forehead with her forefinger. ‘Obvious really. He can’t hide it. He fancies you something rotten.’
‘I thought he was married.’
‘No, he’s on his own as far as I know. Huh, never asked me out though. You are honoured.’
Giordano suddenly looked unsure. ‘Let’s hope so. Anyway, good news and bad news. Hannington say they spotted a van driving away from Bellinge in the early hours of the morning the Khan’s were murdered, and it belongs to Riley.’
‘Wow, that is good news.’
‘Yes, Thomas is at Riley’s house now with a search team. Fingers crossed there. He’s hoping to find traces from the fire on the van’s paintwork. That’ll clinch it together with the CCTV images.’
‘He’s such a lucky bastard; two people murdered, he decides to be SIO, and the case is solved for him by traffic and the local hairdresser. No such bloody luck for me! No news on Markovic I take it?’
’No. That’s the bad news. The Landcruiser you spotted? Turns out it belongs to Kovic. I’ve put out an alert, but it feels like a dead end to me.”
Grey said disconsolately, ‘Huh, me too. Still, I suppose we should be grateful for small mercies. Anything from Stenson Street?’
‘Not yet. Oh, hang on.’ Giordano said as her laptop alerted her to a new email. She clicked her mouse and leaned forward, peering at the screen. ‘Just reading the results of forensics from Stenson Street. Hang on, erm, ah, here we are. Well, well, prints from a Michael Summers found on various fittings inside the front room, the toilet, and kitchen. Summers has a record for carrying Class A drugs and resisting arrest. I wonder if he’s our Micky?’
Grey’s face lit up. ‘Sound like he could well be. Can you have him picked up? I’d like to talk to him. You know, I can’t help thinking that all of these deaths are somehow connected with the drugs we found in Stenson Street. It will be interesting to see how Riley has been making a living. Is he connected to the drugs trade? Did he know Markovic? Does he know McVey and Summers?’
Giordano was unimpressed. ‘Bit of a stretch Sheila. There’s no evidence.’ She said. To her it sounded like Grey was clutching at straws.
Grey sighed. ‘I know, still my snitch told me Markovic was a known dealer around Bellinge. The Khan’s were dealing, and don’t forget we did find drugs at Markovic’s house, plus of course there were drugs at Stenson Street worth millions. It just feels like they are all somehow connected.’
‘Well the only way we’re going to find out is with hard evidence, and we are short of that as far as Markovic is concerned. No weapon, no prints, no known contacts except the ones on his phone, but we do know whoever killed him either had a key or Markovic invited him in, and if we do find a suspect we have hair and fibres.’
Grey stood up and drew a hand back through her hair. ‘Let me know when Summers is brought in. Meanwhile I’m going to Bellinge to have a look around. Perhaps I’ll find something on the street.’ she said.
‘Will do, and good luck.’ Giordano said.
Boucher phoned Kubric to tell him that Riley had been arrested. Kubric had been talking to Cameron on the telephone, checking that he had everything he needed to take over from McVey. Cameron sounded relaxed and confident and Kubric ended the call in good heart. He was surprised when Boucher called just a few moments later, and his mood turned to alarm as Boucher described what had happened.
‘Why?’ Kubric asked.
‘Riley collected the taxes from the newsagents. Perhaps he was careless.’
’Jebote! What the fuck are you running there! Firstly you allow Markovic to be killed, now Riley brings the pigs to your door, and you’re still short!’
Boucher did not know how to reply. Kubric was right. It was his responsibility, but how could he admit that he had no idea what was going on?
‘I will deal with this. Do not worry.’
‘I told you 48 hours. Time’s up Boucher.’ Kubric said coldly.
‘No! No, I need more time. I told you one week. I beg you, another few days.’ Boucher pleaded, desperation in his voice. ’Look, we have been in business together many years. You know me. You know you can trust me. Just give me a few more days. I will make things right!’
Kubric was silent for several seconds. In the silence Boucher’s stomach was on fire, his head buzzing. ‘Alright, 48 hours. Not a second longer.’ Kubric said and rang off.
Boucher took a deep breath. 48 hours. He had been given a lifeline, a final chance. He knew there would be no extension. Boucher shook himself down and determined to get to work. He would forget about taking advice from anyone. After all he had risen to the top in Paris on his own, and he had made it again in England. Nobody had helped him. He had managed on his own using just his wits and intelligence and desire to succeed. This was not where it would end for him. He had plans and they did not include failure. He knew what he had to do, and he would begin right now.
He waited by the shops in Bellinge, certain that Ronnie the tramp would turn up sooner or later.
Hall and Foal had spent the night together in Hall’s house in Barrack Road. They had not yet heard about the disaster that had befallen McVey, nor the arrest of Riley, so when Hall’s phone rang, and her informer gave her the news, she was suddenly deep in thought.
‘Things have changed. McVey and most of his team have been arrested. The pigs found a crate of unprocessed dope at his house. And Riley has been arrested on suspicion of murder.’ She said.
Foal, who was lying naked in bed, sat up and rubbed his eyes. ‘Christ, sounds like the shit’s hit the fan. Told you they were a bunch of wankers.’
‘Shut the fuck up! Now is not the time for playground stupidity. Now is the time to think. Boucher is going to be vulnerable with Riley off the scene. It’s going to take him a while to find a replacement. That’s assuming for now that Kubric gives him the time.’
‘Surely there’s more of an opportunity on McVey’s patch. There’s no protection, no leadership.’
Hall gave him a withering look. ‘I told you not to take these people as fools. Cameron will have already put things back together. Never forget, Cameron is Kubric’s man. Kubric never rated McVey, he drank too much and ran his business with his balls. That’s why Kubric put Cameron in there. To keep an eye on him. He was already losing it, so this arrest is no surprise. Cameron, on the other hand is a thinker, and that makes him dangerous. Kubric will have asked him to take over. So forget about McVey’s patch, concentrate on Boucher. He’s the vulnerable one.’
‘So how do we go about this?’
Hall climbed out of bed and pulled on a white lace dressing gown. She padded on her bare feet over to the coffee machine and switched it on. ‘Boucher will not have the manpower to check all his nests. We need to identify them and begin taking them over. Do you have anyone in that area?’
Foal pulled back the covers and slid his feet over the side of the bed. He stood up and pulled on his underpants. ‘Yeah, I do.’ He said, thinking of Rancid Ronnie.
Hall poured two cups of steaming coffee and handed one to Foal. ‘Good. We need to act quickly because Cameron will be thinking the same thing. Boucher is finished. We need to make sure we step into his place.’
‘What about Kubric? He’ll want to choose who takes over.’
Hall sighed. Sometimes Foal was so stupid she could slap him. ‘That’s why we need to move fast. So we present him with a fait-accompli. Boucher losing control presents Kubric with a problem. He’s not interested in Boucher as a person, or anybody else for the matter. He doesn’t care who runs that district. He only cares that he doesn’t lose the trade. Boucher’s lack of control puts that in doubt. If we move quickly, we will be doing him a favour. Understand?’
‘Yeah I guess so.’ Foal sounded unsure.
Hall felt like throwing her coffee at him but instead she said. ‘Ok get moving. We have no time to waste.’