Giordano and Echo had enjoyed a tasty meal at Bella Italia and had pulled up outside her apartment. Echo was nervous, having no idea how she was feeling. For his part he had been unable to take his eyes off her all evening. She had laughed at his jokes and had seemed to have a good time, but they were already good friends so that meant nothing, he wanted more.
‘Thanks for coming out tonight Jo, I really enjoyed myself.’ He said, feeling like a schoolboy on his first date.
Giordano said, ‘Me too David.’.
‘Well, I suppose this is goodnight. Maybe we can do it again soon.’ He said, almost stumbling over his words.
‘We will, but are you sure you wouldn’t like to come up for a nightcap?’
Echo almost burst with joy. ‘Oh, yes, sure, love to’ He said, almost falling out of his car.
Grey breezed into the office the following morning to find Giordano glowing at her desk.
‘Wow, you look like you had a good time last night.’ She said, with a knowing smile.
Giordano blushed. ‘I did thanks. Dave was really good company.’
‘So, it’s Dave now is it. Whatever happened to Echo I wonder? So come on, tell all.’
Giordano blushed even more, her face turned almost crimson red blotches began to spread over her neck. ‘We went for a meal at Bella Italia, that was about it really.’ She said unconvincingly.
‘But that’s not all is it. Come on Jo, I want the full skinny.’
‘Well, I did invite him up for a nightcap.’ She admitted, giggling.
‘Ah, now we get to it. And?’
Giordano laughed and ran a hand over her forehead. ‘I can’t say. You can’t ask me that, it’s too embarrassing!’
‘You did it, I know it.’
‘Sheila!’ Giordano cried and threw an eraser at her.
Grey laughed. ‘Yep, definitely. Congratulations!’
Giordano sighed. ‘You’re terrible. Anyway, we’ve received a report on the search conducted at Mrs. Ward’s house. We have found contacts with a man called Cameron. If you remember, he is thought to be McVey’s sidekick.’
‘Well that’s good news. Enough to prosecute?’
‘I doubt it. No links between their bank accounts, nothing to directly connect her to McVey, but notes on her computer show meetings with Cameron, and they coincide with the dates she paid cash into her bank.’
‘We might be able to make her talk with that. What do you think, bring her in again?’
‘I’ll get straight on it.’
‘I went to see Mrs.Leyton last night. While you were cosying up to Echo, she told me a lot about the drugs trade in Bellinge. Nothing much about Markovic directly, but she did say she thought Boucher was the main dealer in the area, Riley is his enforcer, and Markovic was dealing. She thought the Khan’s were buying from someone else, someone we haven’t yet identified. So Markovic must have had a connection to either Boucher or this unidentified person. Mrs. Leyton made me think, and I can’t get over Rancid Ronnie being snatched and the anonymous tip-off he received. What if we’re in the middle of a turf war?’
Giordano tapped her teeth with a pen, ‘You’re thinking someone from another gang set McVey up? Could be, but gangs aren’t normally that sophisticated. Normally they settle scores with violence.’
‘True, but whoever tipped off Ronnie knew about the stash at Stenson Street and where McVey lived. Also chances are that Markovic knew whoever killed him. Don’t forget nobody broke in. What if somehow he was a pawn in a bigger game?’
‘Could be but we have no evidence. By the way we brought Micky in overnight. Shall we see him?’
‘Do you want to be involved?’
Giordano waved her arm about. ‘No sling now. Why not?’
‘Hmm, wonder who removed that.’ Grey said mischievously, ‘Okay, let’s talk to him.’
Giordano picked up the phone and asked Echo to have Micky brought upstairs. She and Grey made their way along the corridor to IR1 where they waited a few minutes until the custody constable brought him in.
Micky turned out to be a handsome young man, early twenties, tall, slim, black wavy hair, and a boyish face with clear blue eyes. Grey could see why McVey had used him to charm Alicia.
Micky sat on the hard-plastic chair opposite the two detectives, hands in the pockets of his black jeans, legs stretched out in front of him. Grey and Giordano had already taken their seats.
‘Can you tell us how you make your living Micky?’ Grey began.
‘I’m on the dole.’ He said. ‘Tough out there.’
‘How long have you been out of work?’
‘Dunno, a year maybe.’
‘Do you know a young black girl, Alicia Monk?’
Micky shrugged. ‘Maybe, not sure.’
‘She lives in Stenson Street.’ Grey said.
‘Don’t think so, no.’ Micky was giving the impression that he was bored by the questions. He was murmuring his answers like a sulking child.
‘We found your fingerprints on furniture in her house. How do you explain that?’
‘Dunno, maybe I met her once, but I can’t remember.’
Giordano said harshly, ‘Must have been a memorable meeting, you left twelve million pounds worth of heroin in her cellar. Let’s stop dancing around Micky. In case you don’t know it already, let me tell you, you’re staring at a life sentence. The more you help us the better your chances. We know you know her.’
‘Well if you already know, why are you asking me?’ He complained irritably.
‘We’d like to hear it from you Micky. Why don’t you tell us what we want to know, starting with how you met Alicia.’ Grey asked softly.
Micky took a deep breath. ‘I met her in the chemist on St.James Square.’
‘Did McVey ask you to befriend her?’
‘Yeah, he needed another nest for his product. She lives alone with a sick aunt. I was to make friends, lend her money in return for using her house to store stock.’
‘Has McVey asked you to do this before?’ Grey asked.
‘Maybe, once or twice.’
‘Can you remember the addresses?’
‘Nah, it was ages ago.’
As interesting as it was to hear it from Micky personally, it was not helping her with the Markovic case at all, and so she asked. ‘Do you know a man called Markovic?’
Micky pursed his lips. At least, Grey thought, we have his attention now. ‘No, never heard of him.’ He said.
‘How about a man called Cameron?’
‘Yeah he’s McVey’s minder.’
‘What do you mean by minder?’
Micky tried not to guffaw in derision. ‘What do you think? He makes sure he’s safe, collects his debts and I don’t mean just money. To see him you’d never believe it, but he’s a viscous bastard. Looks like an accountant, has the brain of one, but got a heart of stone.’
‘You’ve met him? Describe him for me.’
‘Tall, thin, mid-forties, thinning hair, smart dresser. Like I said, looks like an accountant.’
‘Does he have any dealings with Boucher?’
Micky looked shocked at the mention of the name. ‘Boucher? Not that I know of. He runs the East, so taboo.’
At that moment, a constable in uniform knocked on the door, entered and handed Giordano a paper note. She scanned it quickly and passed it to Grey. Grey read it and said. ‘We will pause here Micky.’ as she stood up. The custody constable put the handcuffs back on Micky and led him out. Meanwhile Giordano said. ‘This could be interesting.’
Grey nodded. ‘It could, we need to make sure forensics go over it with a fine-tooth comb, but what worries me is what’s happened to Ronnie.’
‘Leave it to me. I’ll arrange to get a team out to it.’
Thomas was at his regular weekly update with Malan who was looking more ghostly than ever. Thomas wondered whether he was ill and thought about asking him if he was alright but decided against it.
‘We have agreement from the CPS to charge Riley sir, plus thanks to DI Grey’s initiative we have recovered heroin with a street value of £12million and arrested one of the gang bosses in a County Line operation.’ He said, thinking how lucky they had been, and how impressive it sounded. Not bad for a week’s work.
Malan asked. ‘Any progress on the Markovic case?’
‘Small steps sir. We know he was involved in drugs and we suspect but can’t be sure that he has a connection with Riley. We’re following up a few leads, but a worrying development is the taking of Grey’s snitch in the area. She witnessed him being bundled into a car yesterday morning. No sign of it so far sir.’
Malan scratched his chin. ‘And you think this is somehow connected?’
Thomas inhaled deeply. ‘It might be sir, but it’s a concern anyway. He has not been found yet.’
‘Ok, anything else?’
‘I’d like to put Grey forward for a commendation sir. She saved Giordano’s life at Connor Street.’
Malan, who had an unhealthy dislike for Grey, looked like a vegan being force-fed a steak tartare. He said nothing for several seconds during which Thomas studied him. Was he sweating? His face looked shiny, and now looking at his hands, were they trembling?
‘Er if you don’t mind me asking sir, are you feeling alright?’
Malan smiled ruefully. ‘Ah, so you’ve noticed Thomas. I wondered how long it would take you. No, I’m not alright. Pancreatic cancer. They tell me I have six months.’
Although Thomas disliked him, he was stunned. He had been thinking perhaps a cold or the flu. ‘I’m so sorry to hear that sir. Is there nothing can be done?’
‘Perhaps, they say, but I think not.’ Malan suddenly looked up and met Thomas’ eyes. ‘I will appreciate it if you would say nothing Thomas. The Chief knows of course.’
‘Yes sir.’ He said, not sure how he was feeling. It was too much to take in and so unexpected.
‘Do what you will with Grey. I will support you.’ Malan said in dismissal.
‘Thank you, sir.’ Thomas said and made his way slowly out, still reeling from Malan’s awful news. What a devastating blow. He was not an old man, still in his mid-forties, Thomas guessed, and to have been given such an appalling diagnosis at such an early age must have been heart-breaking. Thomas could not help but pity him. The man had a wife, and two children. How must they be feeling?
He found himself heading towards Grey’s office. He found her seated at her desk. ‘Any news?’ He asked, simply for something to say.
‘Good news sir. We have found the car used to snatch Ronnie. Forensics are going over it now.’
‘Good. Any progress on Markovic?’
‘Nothing directly connected sir, but I’m following up a couple of lines of enquiry. I had a long chat with Mrs. Leyton. She gave me a lot of interesting background information.’
‘But no hard evidence yet. Okay, well keep on it.’ He said.
As he left Grey wondered what was wrong with him. It had been a nothing conversation and she had the impression that he had not really heard a word she had said. Shrugging her shoulders, she carried on with what she had been doing.
The car had been found abandoned along the lane leading to Ecton at the back of the recycling centre in Great Billing. A passing patrol car had noticed it and called it in.
Giordano had organised a forensic team and Grey decided to drive out and meet them. A north wind howled across the car park as she hurried to her car. She was chilled to the bone by the time she reached it, zapping the lock, and climbing into the driver’s seat as quickly as she could. The air-conditioning was on auto and the fan engaged at full blast as soon as she switched on the engine.
The sun was shining above a clear blue sky, but the strong wind was scattering brittle brown leaves across Pavilion Drive as she pulled out onto the road. Traffic was thin and she reached the A45 in less than a minute. The turning to Great Billing was five miles ahead and the cabin still cold when she reached it. After a short delay while a collection lorry pulled out of the recycling centre, she turned into the lane to Ecton and drove slowly until she saw the Mercedes in the distance. Forensics were already there, SOCO’s dressed in their familiar snowman suits.
Grey pulled in behind the Mercedes, stepped out of her car and pulled her own uniform out of the back seat. Unlike the SOCO’s hers was pale blue, and she slipped into it as quickly as possible, trying to keep warm.
‘Morning Sheila.’ One of them said.
‘Tony, you been here long?’
‘No, just setting up. What’s so special about this one to involve Serious Crimes? Thomas doing abandoned cars now?’
‘The car was used in an abduction. Might be part of a wider investigation too. I’m going to need the full skinny. Hair, fibres, everything.’
‘Blimey, okay. We’d better get going then.’ He said and turned away to talk to his team.
Grey felt redundant as they went through their tried and tested routine, beginning with a half hour of photographing the outside of the vehicle from every possible angle. Bored with watching, she decided to catch up with a few emails and sat in her car to keep warm. The suit was uncomfortable and irritating, it crackled every time she moved and made it difficult for her to concentrate. Nevertheless, she had her head down, looking at her phone and was deep in thought when she heard a sudden shout of alarm. Jerked out of her reverie, she peered out of her windscreen and saw Tony about a yard away from the Mercedes with his hand over his mouth. The boot was open, and he was staring into it.
Grey climbed out of her car and hurried towards him, wondering what was wrong, but it quickly became clear. A naked body lay in a foetal position in the car boot. It looked dead. The torso was speckled with what looked like burn marks, and it was badly bruised. The hair was singed. Grey suspected it was Rancid Ronnie even before she saw the body, but now there was no doubt. She recognised his face and hair. A wave of nausea washed over her. Ronnie had been her snitch for a long time, and although his was a troubled sole, lived rough, stank like an old fish, and sniffed glue all day long, she was fond of him. In a way, she would miss him.
‘Better call the pathologist.’ She said to Tony, and began scrolling through her contacts.
While they waited for Jane Edwards, there was a new urgency, a new sense of purpose in the SOCO’s actions. What had been routine drudgery suddenly had urgent and important meaning. The look in their eyes changed from boredom to fierce concentration. Banter was replaced by quiet murmurs of fully focused procedure.
Edwards arrived twenty minutes later in a small white Volkswagen van. She stopped close to Grey’s car, opened the rear door, and pulled out her medicine bag and theatre blues. Having quickly put them on she said, ‘We meet again Sheila.’ as she approached the Mercedes.
‘Sorry to drag you out again Jane, there’s a body in the boot.’
‘Ok, I’ll take a look.’ She said, snapping on a pair of nitrile gloves.
‘I’d better call Thomas.’ Grey said as Edwards peered inside the boot.
Thomas listened to her report but Grey again had the sense that she was not really getting through to him and wondered what on earth was bothering him. He did not volunteer to meet her there or back at the office. He simply thanked her and rang off. Weird.
Edwards stood up from leaning into the van and pulled off her nitrile gloves. She walked over to Grey and said, ‘Looks like he’s been tortured. Lots of burn marks on the body, possibly from a battery lead, also he’s been beaten badly with some kind of blunt object. Death by strangulation.’
‘Hell, another one. That’s four in a week.’ Grey cursed.
‘I’ll let you know more when I’ve examined him on the slab. We’re snowed under but I will prioritise this one for you.’
‘Thanks Jane, appreciate it.’ Grey said.