Grey decided to return to Bellinge. She wanted to talk to the hairdresser whose camera had secretly filmed Riley when he was performing his pyrotechnics on the Khan’s shop. She was in desperate need of a lead, any kind of lead, to help her with the Markovic case. Thomas had had the solution to the Khan’s case handed to him on a plate, and McVey had been arrested, along with Micky, following the tip off from Ronnie. But Ronnie had no idea who had sent him the text, or how whoever had sent it knew his number, or knew that he would pass the information onto the Police.
Someone was pulling strings, but she had no idea who, or why, and none of what had happened had any obvious connection to Markovic. She was literally clueless. All she had was a body and some hair and fibres, but nobody seemed to know him, who his associates were. Ronnie knew of him, knew he was a dealer, but now Ronnie had been taken, which was another mystery. Why, and by whom?
It was dark as she drove slowly along the A45, and the rain had returned. The blacktop glistened with standing water and passing tyres sprayed muddy water onto her windscreen. Headlights in her rear-view mirror dazzled her, heavy goods vehicles buffeted her car as they overtook. On the radio Harry Connick Jr. was singing a downbeat version of Harold Arlen’s ‘If I Only Had a Brain’ from his Wizard of Oz musical. Grey could not picture herself as the Tin Man, who sang it in the film, but just at that moment she wished her own brain would switch into gear.
It was an irritating and confusing case bereft of clues. Most murders were solved quickly because the killer was a family member or someone close to the victim. A jealous lover, an angry son or a father, an avaricious stepfather, or close friend of the family. A few interviews usually uncovered the truth. But in this case normal procedures had uncovered nothing. True, Markovic had either let his killer into his house, or the killer had a key, but house to house had revealed nothing, none of his neighbours were on more than passing terms with him, he had no known relatives, no girlfriend or boyfriend for that matter, and although he was a known dealer, nobody knew who supplied him. He was a ghost.
Grey pulled into the car park outside the hairdressers, locked her car, and hurried across the concrete to the shop door. She rang the bell and waited in the dry under the overhanging roof. It was not long before the fluorescents in the shop flickered on and a lady opened the door.
‘Mrs. Leyton?’ Grey asked. She had rung earlier to say she would be coming so that the Mrs. Leyton would not be alarmed.
‘Detective Grey?’ Judith Leyton asked, and stepped aside when Grey nodded.
Grey entered the shop followed closely by Leyton. ‘We can talk in the waiting room if it’s all the same to you. My husband is upstairs asleep.’
‘That will be fine, thanks.’ Grey said as the entered a small cosy room containing six plastic cushioned upright chairs, a magazine rack, and a tea and coffee station.
‘Would you like something to drink?’
‘No, thank you, I’m fine.’ Grey said.
‘Take a seat, please.’ Mrs Leyton said, taking one herself. ‘How can I help you?’
‘I’m following up on the brief conversation you had with DCI Thomas. We are trying to find out as much as we can about the drug dealing in this district. Are you aware of any dealing?’
‘Well yes. I have reported it before now. It’s very common round here.’
‘Have you witnessed it first-hand?’
‘Yes, many times. Some of the dealers are completely brazen about it. I’ve seen them dealing outside this shop on many occasions.’
‘Do you know who they are?’
‘Some of them, the local ones. Layabouts the lot of them.’ Mrs Leyton said dismissively.
Grey pulled a picture of Markovic from her pocket. ‘Do you recognise this man?’
Mrs.Leyton took the photograph from her and walked over to the kitchen area. She picked up a pair of reading glasses off the worktop and studied the picture as she sat back down. ‘Yes, that’s Markovic. He was round here a lot. Haven’t seen him lately though.’
Greys heart began beating faster. ‘You’re sure?’
‘Oh yes, he came here for his haircuts.’
Grey took the photograph from her and put it back in her pocket. ‘What do you know about him?’
Mrs Leyton scratched her chin. ‘Well, I think he lived in Connor Street. He was not one of the brazen ones, he was always careful, but he was a dealer for sure. I could tell. He used to ask me a lot about the Khans, how they got their supplies. I don’t think he liked the competition.’
‘Were you able to tell him?’
‘Not his name. The Khans were always after making a few quid on the side. They used to rent out those porn videos under the table years ago, but they began dealing drugs when the video business dried up. Greedy they were.’
Grey tried to steer back on track. ‘Do you have any idea where they bought their supplies from.’
‘Yeah, saw him once, old boy Khan. He took a bag full of it from a chap who hangs around every now and then.’
‘Could you describe him?’
‘I would say early forties, tall, thin. Looks more like a solicitor than a drug dealer.’
‘Do you know his name?’
‘No but I can tell you he still comes round here now and then.’
‘So you’d know him if you saw him again?’
Mrs Leyton nodded. ‘Definitely. I’ll call you next time he’s in these parts if you like.’
‘That will be very helpful thank you. Do you know anybody who had a grudge against Markovic?’
‘No, why is he in trouble?’ Mrs Leyton seemed quite concerned.
‘I’m afraid he’s dead. He was found murdered a few nights ago.’
Mrs Leyton let out a sudden cry and put a hand over her mouth. ‘Oh my word, that’s terrible! What is this place coming to? First the Khans, now Markovic. I can’t believe it.’
‘You say he was a dealer. Do you know who supplied him?’
Mrs Leyton stood and shuffled over to the coffee. ‘I’m going to make myself a cup. Are you sure I can’t tempt you?’
‘Oh go on then. Black no sugar please.’
Leyton busied herself with the kettle and coffee for a few minutes before returning to her seat, handing Grey her cup on the way. She sat down again with a groan and deep sigh. ‘I’m fairly sure that Frenchman supplied him. He’s the main dealer round here I think.’
‘Do you know his name?’
‘Boucher, I think. He and his hard man Riley pretty much rule the area. Don’t see much of Boucher, but Riley hangs around all the time.’
‘Does Riley do the dealing?’
‘Collecting, I think. Some of my customers come in with bruises, black eyes, and such. Riley beats them up if they don’t pay.’
‘I wonder how the drugs are delivered?’
‘Me too but they must have some kind of system. There are a lot of junkies in these parts.’
‘If I bring some photographs to show you, will you be able to tell me if one of them is the man who supplied The Khans?’
‘I’ll certainly do my best.’
Grey stood and collected herself. ‘Thank you, Mrs Leyton, you’ve been most helpful.’ She said.
‘That’s alright my dear. I’ll keep my eyes open for you.’
It had stopped raining when Grey left the shop. She strolled back to her car glad to take a breath of fresh air. It had been stuffy in the hairdressers. An idea was beginning to form in her mind, and she drove home deep in thought.
Giordano had been struggling to decide what to wear for her date with Echo. She was keen to make an impression but not appear too eager. The more she had thought about Sergeant, the more she looked forward to seeing him. Yes ,he was the butt of jokes at the station, but he had always been kind to her and he made her laugh.
In the end she decided on a burgundy silk blouse and black slacks. The blouse highlighted her hair and eyes. Right on time Echo sent her a text to say he was waiting outside, and she skipped down the stairs to meet him. He was standing guard-like next to the open passenger door. He saluted as she approached and said, ‘Your carriage awaits madam.’
Giordano smiled, climbed in, and buckled up. Echo started the car and said, ‘I thought we might go to Sixfields.’
Aghast Giordano said, ‘To see the Cobblers?’ Surely he did not expect her to sit through a cold ninety minutes watching football!
Echo laughed. ‘No, although it’s tempting. I just thought there are lots of pubs and eateries over there so we can choose where we fancy.’
Giordano breathed a sigh of relief. ‘Oh, good idea, I’m famished.’
‘What food do you like? There’s a bit of everything.’
‘How about Italian?’
Echo laughed and thumped the steering wheel. ‘Yes! I had a bet with myself that’s what you’d say, so I booked a table.’
Thomas had called his wife Alice and was looking forward to watching a streaming of Puccini’s Tosca with Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna in the starring roles, but before then he wanted to relax and think with a glass of soothing Fleurie. He poured himself a large glass and chose to ease himself onto one of the matching Georgian wingback armchairs that stood either side of the television in the lounge. He leaned back with the glass resting on his knee and closed his eyes.
Something McVey’s man had said was helping him form a hazy picture which he hoped would come into focus and help his team solve the Markovic case. He admitted to himself that they had been very lucky, solving two murders and recovering heroin worth several millions of pounds without any real effort. Thank goodness for CCTV and snitches. But the tip off sent anonymously to Rancid Ronnie must have had a purpose beyond the obvious.
If he understood correctly what he had been told, the heroin trade in the town was a County Line operation. McVey had controlled the West, together with an unidentified minder called Cameron. It had been McVey who had ordered the take-over of young Alicia’s house. The centre of town was covered by Diana Hall and a young man, Foal, and the Eastern district by a Frenchman, Boucher, and his head of security Riley. Riley and McVey were both in custody, one for possession the other for murder. Also, someone else involved in the operation, Maric Kovic had been arrested in Markovic’s house.
It seemed obvious to Thomas that someone had set McVey up, and the only reason he could think of for someone to do that was to take over his patch. He could be wrong, it could have been an act of revenge, but he did not think so. Drug gangs meted out revenge with baseball bats or knives. They did not involve the law in their plans. The only questions were who, and why? Who benefitted?
Hall and Boucher were obvious candidates. They both already controlled districts, but in his experience gang bosses were nothing if not ambitious. The other question was whether McVey’s arrest had anything to do with Markovic’s death. There was no evidence to suggest it was, just a nagging feeling that somehow it could be. Thomas was suddenly tired. He sighed deeply and took a long pull of his wine. Deciding it was time to let his subconscious dwell on the problem, he switched on the opera and sat back for a little light relief. He had no idea that Tosca was a drama. A tragic tale of lust, torture, murder, revenge, and suicide.