Grey pulled into the car park by the Bellinge shopping precinct with no clear plan of what she was going to do. In front of her was a reminder that just days earlier two shopkeepers had been burned to death in their beds. The gaping hole where their shop had stood, walls either side smoke-blackened, charred embers of fittings and furniture carpeting the floor, was a chilling reminder of the outrage that had occurred. Wind howled through the gap, ruffling and bending the police tape warning people to keep out.
Grey decided to take a walk in a bid to get a feel for the people and rhythm of the area. The sun was shining warm on her face when she stepped out of her car, but the breeze held a chill, and she buttoned her jacket as she set off. She strolled over towards the hairdressers before taking a right and heading towards Fieldmill Road. Her idea was to scout a circle with a radius of about half a mile around the shopping precinct.
Her first observation was how busy the shopping centre was compared to the surrounding area, which seemed almost empty of people. There was a primary school from which children could be heard shouting and screaming, but it was clear that around here people travelled by car, they did not walk. She guessed that the layout of the housing had a lot to do with it. Traffic heavy fast ring roads circled the whole district, with streets, crescents, and courts, running off them like spokes in a wheel. The houses ranged from small two-bedroom boxes to individually designed four and five bedroom homes with double garages.
She made her way along Foskitt Court towards Fishponds Road, stopping every now and then to observe the comings and goings of the residents. She saw no sign of drug dealing until passing Gallfield Court where she noticed a teenager climb off his bike and knock on a door about halfway along. Someone answered and she saw a small package exchange hands. Cursing that she was a long way from her car, Grey tried to increase her pace, but within a minute the bike came whirring past her. At least she managed a close look at the rider. He was a pasty-faced youth, about sixteen years old, with fair hair. He was dressed in an oversize T shirt with a picture of Blake’s Red Dragon printed on the front, blue jeans, and Nike trainers.
Grey wanted to follow him, but it was no use, he was accelerating far away from her towards the precinct. Nevertheless she lengthened her stride and ploughed on, hoping he would stop, but she had lost sight of the him by the time she arrived, and so decided to sit in her car and wait for him to reappear.
The precinct was busier now, more people shopping, and young mothers with push-chairs making their way towards the school to wait for their young ones. Grey imagined it would be like this close to schools all over the town. In her car she had a packet of wine gums. She tore it open and popped a red one into her mouth before switching on the radio while she waited.
An hour passed without the cyclist reappearing and Grey was thinking of calling it a day when a black Mercedes E class saloon pulled in next to her. Inside were three men, a driver and two in the back. Grey took little notice of it but was curious when none of the men climbed out of the car. Was it a parent waiting for his child? It could be although he was very early, the schools were not due to close for another couple of hours. Was he waiting for his wife or girlfriend? More likely.
Just then Rancid Ronnie limped around the corner and began to slowly cross the car park. Grey did not see him at first until he was almost adjacent to her behind the Mercedes. As he reached the rear of the Mercedes the two men in the back seat jumped out and bundled Ronnie inside. She heard Ronnie shout but before she could react the Mercedes screamed backwards out of the car park, did a handbrake turn, and tore off, tyres smoking, in the direction of Fishponds Road.
Grey quickly switched on the ignition, put her car in reverse, and drove after it. At the same time, she radioed into Control for assistance. She had managed to see the registration plate and recited the number excitedly before concentrating on her pursuit. It was not much of one because her car was not marked, and she was not exempt from normal driving restrictions because she had not trained for advanced driving skills. By the time she reached Fishponds Road the Mercedes was out of sight sight and she did not know which way it had turned. Her only hope was that traffic had picked it up. A quick check at DVLC told her the Mercedes was registered to Alan Riley.
Thomas was confident that forensics had found traces from the arson attack on the paintwork of Riley’s van, although he would have to wait a few hours for confirmation from the laboratory at EMSOU. Added together with the CCTV footage, he had a cast iron cast against Riley.
It meant that he could concentrate on helping Grey and Giordano, so called them together for a progress meeting in his office. Grey was still hoping that traffic would trace the Mercedes and help her find Ronnie, but so far she had heard nothing.
The light was fading fast as they gathered in Thomas’s office. Thomas had been there for half an hour and was sitting in shirt sleeves when Grey and Giordano entered. He invited them to take a seat and began.
‘I think we have a result on the Khan case. As you know we have CCTV evidence that suggests Alan Riley, ex SAS, was responsible for their deaths, and this morning I attended a search of his house and van. Forensics have taken some samples that I’m fairly confident will have come from the fire. If they have then we have a good case against him. It means I can help you both with Markovic and the McVey gang.’ He said, sounding pleased with himself.
‘Good result sir,’ Grey said begrudgingly, thinking about the lack of leads she had, ‘it might be that Riley is connected to something else sir. As you know I have a snitch in Bellinge, Rancid Ronnie. Remember, he told me about a possible connection with a man named Boucher who, he says, controls the drugs trade around Bellinge. Now, we know the Khans were dealing, and we found drugs at Markovic’s house. So, there is a possible connection with Riley, and today I was at Bellinge when Ronnie was snatched by three men in a Mercedes. Traffic are trying to trace the car. It is registered to Riley. I can’t help thinking that somehow Markovic and the Khans are connected sir.’
‘Could be coincidence. There’s no tangible evidence.’ Thomas said.
‘Ronnie also tipped me off about the drop in Nether Heyford sir. Why would someone tell him unless they thought he knew something?’
Giordano chipped in. ‘I’ve been thinking about the possible connections sir, and I believe DI Grey may have something. We know these County Line operations like to have diverse distribution points, they spread the risk. We strongly suspect McVey controlled a region because of the value of the heroin we found in Stenson Street. There was too much there for a single dealer like Micky to handle. We also know the Khans were dealing, but according to Ronnie they were small fry, the region is controlled by Boucher.’
Thomas shook his head. ‘Two Regional bosses. Hmm, I grant that there’s possibly a connection and the house in Stenson Street was probably a cuckoo nest, but it gets us no nearer to finding who killed Markovic or why.’
‘We traced Micky sir and he’s being processed as we speak. Perhaps he’ll shed some light on it?’
‘Has anyone spoken to McVey yet?’
‘Only a preliminary interview sir.’
‘Alright, let’s speak to him DI Grey. Meanwhile, Giordano dig up what you can on this Micky character.’
McVey had been in the holding cells overnight and when he was brought up to IR1 he looked furious. His eyes glared at anyone crossing his path, his fists clenched, and his arms hung straight down as if ready for a fight. He was only five feet six in height be he was a fearsome sight, a ticking timebomb, as he was guided through the door. He sat opposite Thomas and Grey and glowered at each in turn, ignoring his smartly dressed solicitor who sat at the end of the table.
Thomas began with standard PACE procedures and then asked, ‘Last night you were arrested when we found heroin in your house with a street value of about twelve million pounds. Can you explain how it got there?’
McVey’s hands were trembling but Thomas guessed not from fear, but from alcohol withdrawal. McVey needed a drink.
‘You pigs planted it there.’
‘We also searched a van, registered to you, found on your drive. Forensics took trace samples from the floor. They match the heroin found in your house. Can you explain that?’
‘You planted the evidence.’
‘They also matched samples of heroin found in the cellar of a house in Stenson Street. What do you know about that?’
McVey was silent. Thomas continued. ‘Fingerprints found on the casing containing the heroin match those of your friends who were with you last night, and they match prints found in the cellar at Stenson Street. Can you tell us how they got there?’
McVey did not answer, and so Thomas carried on. ‘Supplying Class A drugs carries a life sentence Mr.McVey. You can help yourself by helping us.’
‘Maximum life sentence Chief Inspector.’ McVey’s solicitor corrected him. Thomas bowed.
‘It’s a long time without a drink.’ He said.
McVey glared at him but said nothing.
‘Who is Micky?’ Thomas asked. ‘Why did you pick on a young girl like Alicia?’
McVey said nothing.
Grey decided to take a punt and said, ‘We know you paid a Child Care Officer, a Mrs. Ward, regular sums of money in return for details of vulnerable young children. Mrs. Ward is talking.’
McVey raised his head, stared at Grey, and then spat in her face. The duty constable acted quickly and pulled him backwards off the chair, sending him sprawling to the floor. Grey wiped her face with a tissue and stood up. Thomas said, ‘Take him back down.’ and then quietly to Grey as the constable dragged McVey from the room. ‘You Ok?’
‘Yes sir, just a bit shocked, that’s all. My punt rebounded into my face.’ She joked, but Thomas could see she was upset.
‘We’re not finished yet. Let’s drag another one up. McVey is the boss, but perhaps his minions won’t be quite so loyal when they understand they face a life behind bars. Are you up for it?’
Grey nodded. ‘Absolutely sir.’
There was a short delay before Michael Ritchie was brought in. The custody constable looked a little dishevelled after his tussle with McVey, but he stood stoically beside the door after guiding Ritchie to a chair.
Thomas was already seated next to Grey, who had recovered from McVey’s shocking assault.
Ritchie had previous for possession of Class A drugs and assault. He was a tall wafer-thin young man, twenty five years old, with aquiline nose, long chin, and a thin black moustache. His jet-black hair was slicked straight back with jell. He wore a lumberjack style blue check shirt and dirty blue jeans. Unlike the belligerent McVey, Ritchie appeared to be timid and nervous. McVey’s solicitor was also present.
Thomas said ‘Your fingerprints were found at a house in a Stenson Street. Can you tell us how they got there?’
‘I’m a friend of the family.’ Ritchie said.
‘Which member of the family is your friend?’
‘What do you mean?’
Thomas smiled. ‘It’s a simple question. Which member of the family are you friends with?’
Ritchie looked uncomfortable and did not answer. Thomas said, ‘Let’s stop messing about shall we Michael. I know you were there to pick up a crate of heroin, your prints were found on the crate. I know you helped transport the crate from Stenson Street to McVey’s house in Nether Heyford. Your prints were found in the van and at his house. Do you realise that you are facing a potential life sentence Michael?’ Thomas said glancing at the solicitor.
Ritchie bowed his head, and his hands began to shake. Thomas continued. ‘You can help yourself by helping us Michael. Do you understand?’
Ritchie finally met his eyes and said, ‘Alright, I was there. McVey asked me to help pick it up.’
‘And did you take part in the attack against police officers? Don’t lie to me Michael, I already know the answer.’
‘So, what do you want from me if you already know the answer?’
‘I want to hear it from your lips Michael. I want to know exactly what happened from your point of view.’
Ritchie shrugged and lounged back in the chair with his hands together. ‘Got a call from McVey, said there was a package needed picking up from Stenson Street. There would be police there, but he had a plan and all I needed to do was concentrate on the package. Two mates looked after the police, and when the time was right, we went into the house and picked up the crate, loaded it onto a van and drove to Nether Heyford.’
‘Were you armed?’
‘No, that was another crew. Our job was to simply transport the package.’
‘Do you know why it was there?’
‘I heard rumours, but nothing first-hand.’
‘Tell me what you heard.’
‘This is not admissible Chief Inspector; you must know that.’ The solicitor interrupted. Thomas nodded. ‘I’d still like to hear it.’
Ritchie continued, ‘I bumped into Micky. He told me he had won the lottery. McVey had asked him to cuckoo a house in Stenson Street and trusted him with a lot of skag. He was gonna be rich.’
‘McVey asked him to set this up?’
‘Yeah, he had reeled in a young black girl, gave her money, was gonna get her hooked on dope. The house was gonna be his base.’
‘It sounds as if McVey is some kind of gang boss. Is he?’
‘I dunno man, I’ll be dead.’
‘You’ll be inside for many years Michael. Your choice. I already know some of it, so you won’t be telling me much I don’t already know.’
Ritchie took a deep breath. ‘He controls the west side of town. He operates through a lot of houses and on the net. It’s a big operation. He has a right-hand man by the name of Cameron. I’ve never met him, but I know of him.’
‘You say he controls the west side. Do you know who controls other areas of town?’
‘Yeah, though I’ve never met them. There a frog called Boucher controls the east, and a pimp called Hall controls the centre.’
‘And do they have people to help them, right-hand men as it were?’
‘Yeah, Boucher has a bloke called Riley, ex-army, a real hard bastard. Hall used to run whores out of the Boroughs, but she’s turned her hand to dope lately. She uses her sister’s son. Goes by the name of Foal. He’s a vicious young punk.’
‘Do you know anything about a fire that killed two people in Bellinge?’
Ritchie smirked. ‘I heard they were small time dealers on Boucher’s patch. Use your imagination.’
‘I’d rather you told me.’
‘Rumour is that Riley took care of them. Like I say he’s a hard bastard, but Boucher would have given the order.’
‘What do you know about the murder of a man named Markovic?’ Grey asked. She had been silent throughout, but Ritchie seemed to know a lot.
‘Who? I never heard of him.’
‘Drugs were found at his house Michael. From what you’ve told us about Boucher controlling the eastern district, he lived on Boucher’s patch in Connor Street. Are you sure you don’t know what happened to him?’
He shook his head. ‘No, nothing. Never heard of him.’
‘Who else was with you in Stenson Street?’
‘Some mates. You’ve already picked them up.’
‘Do you know the addresses of any of McVey’s other premises?’
‘No man, I just do as I’m told.’
‘It might help you Michael. Holding information won’t help you at all,’
‘I’ve told you what I know. I don’t know anything else.’
Thomas very much doubted that was true, but Ritchie had already given them a lot of information, and a couple of new names, so he decided to leave it there. He could always talk to him later. Ritchie was going nowhere.
Thomas and Grey made their way slowly back to Giordano’s office where they found her studying a printout of an email. ‘Any luck?’ She asked.
Thomas sat in one of the empty chairs at the side of her desk. ‘We have a couple of new names, a woman called Hall who was a pimp, her right-hand man, a young man by the name of Foal, the son of her sister, and someone called Cameron who is McVey’s right- hand man.’
Giordano raised her eyebrows, impressed.
‘I think I might know Hall, I’ll have to check, but I arrested a Diana Hall years ago for pimping. She ran street walkers round the Boroughs and had a couple of brothels along Kettering Road.’ Grey said.
‘That could fit. According to Ritchie she’s now controlling the drugs trade in the town centre.’
‘Yes, and I’ll wager this Foal has a record too.’
‘I’ll check them out.’ Giordano said.
‘Interesting as all this is, I’m not sure how much further forward this takes us. We already have enough to nail Riley, plus we caught McVey and his gang red-handed. They’ll be going down for a long time, but we’re no nearer on Markovic.’ Thomas said.
‘I’m worried about Ronnie sir. If he’s been snatched there must be a reason. I’m wondering if this Boucher has him.’
‘Possibly; there’s definitely a connection; he was taken in Riley’s car. Any news on that car DI Giordano?’
‘Not yet sir. Nothing from traffic and no hits from ANPR.’
‘Ok well let’s wheel Riley in and see if he can shed any light on things.’
Grey felt like a doctor seeing a waiting room full of patients, one after another. Riley had declined legal representation although Grey guessed that would soon change once he realised he was facing a life sentence.
He was a tall, thin man, dressed in a white tee shirt, charcoal grey trousers, and white trainers. His light brown hair was cut military short, perhaps a legacy from his days in the army. His face was leathery, tanned and lined, and a thin scar ran down from his left eye to his mouth.
Thomas was SIO and he led the interview. After going through the preliminaries, he said, ‘You are here on suspicion of murdering by arson Mr. And Mrs. Khan at their shop in Bellinge. I would like you to tell me, in your own words, why you did that.’
‘What makes you think I did?’ Riley replied.
‘We have you on CCTV and found traces from the fire on your van. There’s no sense in you denying it.’
Riley did not respond. Instead he sat forward and rested his hands together on the table. Thomas gave him plenty of time, but when it became obvious Riley was not going to answer, he continued, ‘Did Boucher order you to do it?’
Riley seemed surprised at the mention of Boucher’s name but recovered quickly and simply smiled in response. ‘Were they dealing on Boucher’s patch?’ Thomas continued. Riley’s face seemed paralysed in the smile. Thomas was sure he had not blinked once.
‘What do you know about the drugs trade in Bellinge?’
Riley sighed as if bored and sat back, one arm across his chest, the other resting on it, his hand scratching his chin as if he were deep in thought. ‘Remaining silent will not help you in court Mr. Riley. We know you murdered the Khans, what we don’t know is why. You can help us by explaining. Why don’t you tell us about Boucher?’
Riley continued smiling and nodded his head.
‘Tell us what you know about McVey.’ Grey said, hoping to shock him into saying something, and Riley did seem more than surprised at the mention of the name, but remained silent.