The linear village of Overstone stands just outside the eastern boundary of Northampton. Its most notable features are the Grand Hall and the Church, neither of which has been in use in recent times. The Hall was built in the 1860’s by Lady Overstone for her husband but he hated it and refused to live in it. Boasting over a hundred rooms in fifty acres of parkland, it should have been a premier escape to the country for the landed gentry, but it was rarely used except for the occasional winter hunting party.
When Lord Overstone died he left the house and land to his daughter Harriet, Lady Wantage, who together with her husband founded The Red Cross and donated what is now Abington Park to the townsfolk. After changing hands many times, The Hall was bought by the New Testament Church of God in the late twentieth century before suffering a catastrophic fire in 2001 since when it has stood derelict. Nobody is quite sure what God was thinking.
The Church of St.Nicholas was built before the Hall in 1803. It contains a window carved in remembrance of Lord Wantage who as well as his altruistic work with the Red Cross was awarded the first Victoria Cross for his service in the Crimean War.
Both imposing buildings and much of the surrounding farmland can be seen clearly from the golf course which was built in the early nineties on the park land.
The golf course is part of a larger leisure centre boasting a gym, pool, tennis courts, a boating lake, and bars and a restaurant. The restaurant has panoramic views over the golf course and seated at a window table on the evening after Markovic was murdered were Kubric and Cameron.
Kubric was wearing a dark blue casual jacket and tie and clutched a double scotch on the rocks. Cameron was in light blue jeans and a darker blue polo shirt with an orange squash and a straw in the glass in front of him.
‘I need you to fill in for Maric Cammy.’ Kubric said.
Cameron leaned forward and placed both hands on the table. ‘That’s going to be tricky boss. McVey wants me to look at Boucher’s operation. He’s thinking of moving in.’
Kubric was dismissive. ‘Huh, he’s not the only one, Boucher has been weak and now everybody knows it. The vultures are circling, smelling blood, but that’s not important to me. What is important is to find out what is happening on Boucher’s patch, and why Markovic was killed. My instinct tells me this could be a threat to the whole operation.’
‘Any details?’ Cameron asked.
Kubric shook his head and took a sip of his scotch before rattling the ice in the glass. ‘My source told me he was given a wet neck but with a twist. Apparently, his body was drained of blood.’
Cameron frowned. ’I’ve heard of that. It was used extensively by gangs in London as a warning to anyone trying to muscle in on their turf. They would string them up by their feet, slit their throat and let them bleed out. Not surprisingly it worked.’
‘I’m hoping it’s not a London or big city organisation behind this, but it could be. My supplier denies feeding whoever it is.’ Kubric said, sounding worried.
‘That would suggest someone with independent supply. A larger gang, not an individual. I think you should be concerned.’ Cameron said.
Kubric frowned and waved to a waiter for a refill. ‘It does and I am, but somehow it doesn’t fit. Why take Boucher on? He’s a dealer, he has a small district, but if someone wanted to take over why hasn’t he come after me? And why kill Markovic? It makes no sense.’ He said.
‘Maybe they’re not connected. Maybe Markovic has nothing to do with this gang. Maybe his death was personal.’
The waiter brought another double for Kubric and placed it down on the table with a folded napkin on the side. Kubric nodded curtly as a thank you. He wrapped one hand round the glass and said, ‘It’s a mystery and that’s why I need you Cammy.’
‘What happened to Maric?’ Cameron asked.
‘He was unlucky. Markovic ran a nest and it needed cleaning after he died. I sent Maric to do it. I didn’t trust Boucher to handle it even though Markovic was one of his. I knew it was risky, there was always a chance the police would get there first, but I wagered they wouldn’t find a connection with our business. I was wrong, I lost the bet. From what I know they were there when he arrived. There was some kind of struggle, perhaps Maric panicked, I don’t know, but he was arrested.’
‘How long will he be out?’
‘He injured a police officer, a woman, plus I guess there was stock in Markovic’s house, so I think it could be a long time.’
‘I’ll have to juggle my time with McVey. I assume you want my involvement kept quiet.’
Kubric drained the glass, nodded. ‘Naturally, but I need answers Cammy and I need them now.’
Thomas and Grey went together to the house in Connor Street. The rain had eased, and the sun was shining, although the roads were still wet. Traffic was heavy all the way but after a frustrating drive Grey was able to park directly outside the house. It had already been taped off. Two constables stood guard at the door. Before she left the station, Grey had organised a forensics team, but it had not arrived yet.
‘You take the back I’ll take the front.’ Thomas said as they unbuckled their seat belts. They climbed out of her car and strode purposely towards the passageway, nodding briefly to the constables as they passed them.
Grey felt a little redundant because she had already searched the back room and found nothing but it wasn’t long before Thomas called her into the front room after finding what Giordano had uncovered earlier in the day.
‘Looks like a drugs stash; maybe we were right. Markovic was a dealer.’ Thomas said, pointing to the boxes full of snow.
‘Wow there must be over ten grands’ worth here. There is nothing in the back room sir, so I’ll take a look upstairs.
‘I think I noticed a cellar when we came in, I’ll have a look down there’. Thomas replied.
At that moment forensics turned up. There were three of them. They were kitted out in their plastic snowmen’s outfits and carried heavy black leather medical cases with them. Thomas showed them to the front room and then left them to it while he set off to explore the cellar.
Upstairs were two bedrooms and a bathroom. Grey started with the bathroom but found nothing either in the cabinet above the sink or behind the bath panel. It had given way easily on the first tug. She had been hopeful of finding a stash behind it but all she saw were musty pipes and mouse droppings. The floor was covered with linoleum in a chequerboard design, and underneath she knew would be floorboards, but she would leave forensics to pull those up.
The main bedroom was an Aladdin’s Cave of heroin and cash. She found 50 or so shoeboxes full of small bags of heroin, and stashed in one corner piles of five, ten, and twenty-pound notes. She did not touch them but counted them in her head and decided there must have been close to thirty thousand pounds. Coupled with the street value of the shoeboxes she calculated the room was holding close to a hundred thousand pounds of drugs and cash. She mouthed a silent’ Wow’.
The smaller bedroom was completely empty. No bed no wardrobe no table, just an empty room with a dirty brown cord carpet covering the floor.
Unlike the downstairs rooms there was no stink of tobacco or sweat and each room was clean and tidy. Grey decided to make her way downstairs and tell Thomas what she had found but she had reached only halfway when Thomas called up to her asking her to meet him in the cellar.
Grey hurried down the last few steps onto the passage, and then began the steep descent of the uncovered concrete steps leading to the cellar. They were quite slippery with years of accumulated dust and grit. She did not have to reach the bottom to know that Thomas had found the murder scene. The smell of blood and death is unmistakable and never leaves you. Grey had experienced it before and so she was not surprised when she stepped down into the cellar and found Thomas standing in the centre of a nightmare.
The only light came from a single bare bulb shining from the centre of the ceiling. The concrete floor was cold and dusty, and the room contained no furniture at all except two hoists hung from the ceiling. It was not difficult to imagine how they could have been used to lift Markovic up by his ankles and hang him upside down. The dust on the floor had mixed with pooled dried blood and blood splatters pebble-dashed the walls all the way up to the ceiling. It had been a messy murder. Some clothes had been bundled up and thrown into one corner. Grey imagined they must have belonged to Markovic.
‘I think we can safely say this is where he was killed.’ Thomas said, his black forehead glistening with sweat. Great could not work out whether it was because of the heat from the bare bulb or the horrific blood bath he was standing in.
’I found a large stash of drugs and cash in the main bedroom sir,’ Grey said, “I think this is a dealer’s house. Presumably Markovic was the dealer.”
’And I found a dozen or so boxes of heroin in the front room.” Thomas said. ‘We’d better get this evidence bagged and tagged. Speak to forensics upstairs, and have them go over the whole house. We haven’t covered the loft or the garden yet but I’m nervous about destroying evidence, so I think we’d better leave it as it is for the moment.’
‘It still doesn’t explain why Markovic was killed sir.’ Grey said.
‘No but it suggests his death is drugs related. Perhaps he was skimming, perhaps he was trying to invade someone’s territory. Who knows?’
‘If it is drug related, it’s going to be very difficult to find the perpetrator sir. You said yourself the people behind these gangs are smart and very secretive.’
‘Yes but judging by all this blood and the clothing left behind, I suspect that whoever did kill him has left traces that we will be able to use, and with a bit of luck SOCOs will find a weapon.’
Thomas began climbing the stairs, Grey following close behind. They passed forensics and Grey stopped briefly to speak to them. Thomas gave instructions to the two constables and told them to expect more SOCO’s soon. Nobody was to enter without his authority. It was raining again as they stepped outside. They hurried back to Grey’s car, trying hard to skip over puddles.
Thomas asked Grey to drop him off at the station before she returned to the hospital to visit Giordano. She pulled in as close as she could to reception so that he did not have too far to walk in the rain. Grey watched him tiptoe over the puddles and then pulled away when she saw him open the entrance door.
She drove slowly to the hospital, partly because it was raining but also because her mind was trying to make sense of what they had just found.
One side of her was excited. She had something to work on, she now knew where the murder had been committed, and she had found a considerable quantity of drugs and cash on the victim’s premises.
But another side of her was worried. Thomas had said that trying to trace a drug baron was like looking for Lord Lucan. If he was right, her chances of finding the murderer were very slim indeed, and that would give Malan all the ammunition he needed to ruin her future career. She had no illusions about Malan’s intentions. He had been on her back for years. Only Thomas had saved her career.
Her only real hope was forensics. But what were the chances of a professional killer, and she was sure that this was the work of a professional, what were the chances of him leaving DNA traces or fibres at the scene?
She pulled into the visitor’s car park and tried to find an empty space but found none. Finally, after three circuits of the car park she saw someone pull out and dove into the vacant space as quickly as she could. Then she struggled in her purse looking for some change for the parking meter but could not find any. She had no idea whether the meter accepted cards, but she climbed out of the car and ran over to the nearest station. The rain was coming down harder and her hair was getting soaked. To her relief the machine accepted her contactless Visa card. She waited impatiently for the machine to cough out a ticket and then ran back and stuck it to her windscreen. She locked the car and raced the few hundred yards to the rear entrance of the hospital before seeking out a nurse who could tell her where Giordano was. After drying off a best she could, using a whole bag of paper tissues, she made her way to the ward.
Whenever Grey thought of the hospital she thought of yards and yards of endless featureless corridors, that unmistakable iodine smell, and thousands of overworked and underpaid staff. In her earlier days she had been called many times to deal with drunks abusing staff. But the hospital itself had come a long way since Dr Philip Doddridge and Dr William Kerr had opened the first building in George Row and then moved it to its current location when it outgrew itself in the late eighteenth century. Grey had to admit to herself that in her opinion some parts of it had probably not changed in the intervening two hundred and twenty years.
She found a nurse close to the reception area who directed her to a ward close by. Grey was happy she did not have to trek too far, and even happier to find Giordano sitting up, her arm in a sling encased in plaster, and a bandana like bandage wrapped round her head.
Giordano’s face lit up on seeing Grey bounce into the ward. Grey strode over and gave her a hug. ‘How’s it going Jo?’ She said.
‘Bit of a headache, but other than that I feel fine.’
‘You took a heavy hit from Oddjob’ Grey said.
Giordano looked perplexed. ‘Oddjob?’
‘Before your time girl. Don’t worry.’ Grey laughed. ‘Anyway, we did arrest him and he’s in the cells at Brackmills.’
‘You managed to arrest him? On your own? God, he looked like King Kong and he had a jemmy in his hand. How did you manage that?’ Giordano sounded amazed.
‘The power of pepper my dear. Works every time, and all his mates scarpered, fortunately.’
‘Wow, well done you. I found some drugs in that front room. Looked like heroin.’
Grey nodded. ‘I know. Thomas and I paid a return visit earlier today and we discovered drugs in the front room, drugs and cash in one of the bedrooms, and a bloodbath down in the cellar. We think that was where Markovic was killed.’
‘So he was dealing?’ Giordano asked.
‘Almost for sure. We think it’s a gangland killing but we have no motive as yet. There was some clothing left in the cellar and we imagine that forensics might find some DNA on it. I certainly hope so because I remember what Thomas said about Lord Lucan and drug dealers.’ Grey said ruefully.
‘You’ll solve it, you always do.’ Giordano said, more in empathy than expectation.
Thomas was due to meet Malan for his regular weekly update. In recent weeks Malan had been less acerbic than usual. Thomas had no idea why and he really did not care. He did not like Malan, never had, and he guessed the feeling was mutual, but over the years they had found a way of working together that was just about bearable for them both.
He wandered down the double corridor to Malan’s office suite and reported to his secretary. She picked up the phone, said a few words, nodded, although Malan could not see her, and then showed Thomas into Malan’s office.
Malan was seated at his desk in white shirt sleeves, no tie, his jacket hanging from the back of his chair. As usual his hair was slicked back with too much grease, and a few grey hairs had begun to appear amidst the waves of jet black. He looked more gaunt than usual, his cheek bones threatening to burst through skin that seemed to have been stretched too tightly over his face.
’Come in Thomas, take a seat. ’He said.
Thomas sat down in a high-backed wooden chair with green leather padding.
‘So, what do we have this week?’ Malan asked genially.
‘A murder sir. Last night, a man called Markovic was found dead in Eastfield Park. Throat cut, but he was murdered elsewhere, and his body dumped in the park. I think he was killed at home. We found drugs, cash, and pooled blood and splatters in the cellar of his house. Looked like a dealer hub judging by the quantity of heroin we found.’ Thomas said.
‘Cuckoo’s nest?’ Malan asked.
‘We think so sir, but to be proven. He had hundreds of contacts on his phone so he might have been a dealer. The house isn’t registered to him so he could well have taken it over.’
‘We arrested a Maric Kovic this afternoon. Grey and Giordano were making a preliminary search of Markovic’s house when four men broke in. Kovic attacked Giordano with a crowbar, broke her arm and gave her a head wound. She’s recovering in hospital. Grey managed to overpower Kovic and arrested him. The other three drove off.’
‘How is Giordano?’ Malan asked.
‘She’s under observation. Grey is with her now. Last I heard she was sitting up in bed.’
‘And this Kovic. Anything known?’
‘No sir and he’s not talking. We will charge him with GBH on a police officer and breaking and entering, plus posession of course.’ Thomas said.
‘Grey sir, she’s the most experienced I have, and with Giordano out of action I will be getting my hands dirty.’
‘Watch her Thomas, she’s a loose cannon. And make sure you keep this quiet. I don’t need the press running headlines about drug gangs ruling the town.’
‘She arrested Kovic sir and probably saved Giordano’s life. I will be recommending her for a commendation.’ Thomas said firmly. This was not the first time he had had a run in with Malan over Grey, and he was fast losing his patience with him.
Malan dropped his bottom lip but recovered quickly and said, ‘Well keep me informed.’
‘Yes sir,’ Thomas said and made a hasty exit before he exploded. Malan had not once enquired about Grey’s wellbeing and seemed oblivious to the fact that Giordano could have been killed. The man was almost ferrel, he had not one jot of humanity.
Boucher’s district stretched from the village of Weston Favell eastwards to the outskirts of town. He also covered a few of the eastern villages and the smaller towns of Wellingborough, Kettering, Corby, and Rushden. Ranging across hundreds of square miles and including some of the most densely populated areas of the County, distributing his product was a logistical problem that required organisational skills, people skills, and the ability to manage a whole bunch of places where he could store stock and conduct his trade.
The police understood the kind of structure that Boucher operated. They called it a County Line operation.
The line was owned by Kubric, whose base was a secluded farm way out of town. Boucher bought his product from Kubric at wholesale price. The terms were very strict and based on quotas. Boucher was required to purchase a minimum quantity each month. If he was short, he had to pay a penalty in compensation. He was happy to do so. He needed Kubric more than Kubric needed him. There was never any question of Kubric needing Boucher because Kubric could always get someone else to step into his place and take over his district. Boucher was painfully aware of it, and it was for this reason that he was so concerned, and why he had set Riley the task of finding out on the street who had begun selling inferior product on his territory, and who had killed Markovic.
But he could also do his own detective work. The first question Boucher asked himself was where to start. The obvious place was the heavily populated and very profitable eastern district of the town. Most of the population in that area lived in houses that had been built for the council to accommodate the huge influx of people from the London overspill in the 1970s. To call it a poverty-stricken area would have been overstating it, but people living there were underprivileged, and drug use was common amongst young teenagers. It was a growing local market for Boucher, and it was there he told Riley to keep his eyes open and ears to the ground.
The other problem was the sheer number of distribution points, cuckoo nests as they were known to police. Flats or houses owned or rented by people easily blackmailed or intimidated into allowing Boucher’s men to use as a base for distributing product. Alcoholics, drug users, people in debt, people with mental problems, young single mothers, all were easy targets. Boucher had over fifty of them scattered about his district.
The question was how and from where the intruder was distributing. Surely he was not using tired and worn methods, passing cars from which dealers handed out stamp bags, vendors strategically placed on street corners, low level soldiers hitting the night clubs, spiking drinks, selling Snow as Coke to the uninitiated.
So far Riley had found no sign on the streets, yet the threat was real. Takings were down fifteen percent.
The obvious place to start was to check the takings from each nest. Was one nest or small district being targeted or was the problem more widespread? Boucher had to know.
His plan was simple. Find the district, identify the problem. Eliminate the problem. Fill the gap, make up the shortage. Get back to normal. That was Boucher’s plan. Simple, but logical.
An organisation the size of Boucher’s, just like any legitimate business, carried hidden overheads. Somebody had to make sure supply matched demand. Running out of stock, even in a single nest, was not acceptable. At the same time product was expensive and overstocking unnecessarily depleted valuable cash flow.
To make sure things ran smoothly there had to be a reliable method of supply whereby orders could be placed, and deliveries made next day. That meant the use of a standard stock control system that could be downloaded onto any laptop computer. Each nest had its own system and each day dealers logged onto the internet, each using VPN to ensure security, and placed their orders for the following day. These were fed into a central stock control system that emailed off orders to Kubric. From there it was up to Kubric, but he had never yet let Boucher down.
Control of cash flow was also a crucial consideration. Margins were high, a typical wax stamp bag retailed at fifteen pounds and cost less than a third of that, but the potential for leakage was high. Each bag sold was less than an inch square. But product did not arrive ready packed. It was either delivered in powder form in one kilo packs for customers who inhaled, or in black tar like bricks for those that injected.
Boucher employed a team of six packers and in the past an odd one had been known to steal. If caught, which over time was inevitable, justice was quick and severe. The tax, as it was known on the street, for stealing usually included loss of at least one limb and a heavy fine. Everybody paid up, without exception, because the alternative was to lose several limbs without anaesthetic.
Distributors had also been known to skim. These were more difficult to identify but usually were discovered when they became too greedy, and when they were, the penalties were especially severe. Examples had to be set.
Boucher employed an accountant to keep control of these problems, and it was to her that he first turned. His bean counter was called Rita who operated from her bungalow in the village of Hardwick. A widow, she lived in a modern two-bedroom affair on a small estate in the centre of the village. Her living area comprised a cosy small lounge and spacious kitchen diner.
To HMRC she was a self-employed cleaner on a low income, but her book keeping skills were her main source of income. She had only one client, Boucher, who paid her each week in cash. The arrangement suited them both. Rita paid no tax on her accounting income, and Boucher’s books remained completely secret. Nobody except Rita knew what he made, and Rita was entirely trustworthy because she knew that Boucher knew where her only daughter lived. It was a never spoken but very real threat that Rita never lost sight of.
But human nature is impossible to fathom and the joy that Rita experienced from the sex she shared with Boucher was completely unmitigated by that threat. From the moment they first met, they had been unable to keep their hands off one another, and over time they had settled into a routine of sex first, accounts second. There was no love involved, just pure animal, sometimes brutal lust.
Rita was not a young woman, perhaps late thirties, but she had a good figure and a sensuous smile. After their usual brief breathless bout, Rita pulled up her panties and adjusted her dress while Boucher tucked in his shirt and zipped up his flies. Rita excused herself for a few minutes while she went to the bathroom, leaving Boucher to gather his thoughts.
She returned after a few moments, ran a hand through her long auburn hair, and sat down in front of her computer. Boucher pulled up a chair next to her.
Rita took a deep breath and said, ‘Now what can I do for you?’
Boucher laughed for a few seconds and then replied. ‘I have a problem Cheri; someone is trying to take over. My takings are down. I need to know where he is operating. Is it all over or is he just in a small area?’
‘I have records of takings for each address going back two years. I can check for any significant variations. When did you first notice?’ She said, finger poised on her mouse.
‘Let’s say in the last two weeks.’
‘Well the first thing to say is that the cash receipts tally, as do the stocks, so there is no evidence of anyone stealing more than usual. I would have called you if there had been. We allow up to 2% leakage as you know. So, let’s see if we can isolate any reductions in takings.’ She said, clicking the mouse and tapping keys faster than the eye could see.
Within a few seconds, on her computer screen, Boucher was presented with a list of addresses and names of dealers where takings were below average. Only two were significant; one an address in Bellinge, another in Little Billing, both in close proximity to one another. Together they accounted for his shortfall. Boucher breathed a long sigh of relief and patted Rita on the shoulder. ‘Merci ma Cheri, merci.’ He said, in genuine gratitude. ‘Please print for me.’ Rita did as he asked, and a happier Boucher left a few minutes later.
Hall was sitting in an easy chair in her lounge, smoking her twentieth cigarette of the day. She lived in a large three storey Victorian terrace on Barrack Road. Her lounge was on the ground floor with a view of the busy blacktop outside, although insulated enough to drown out the noise. High ceiling with white stucco coving yellowed by smoke, bare walls painted magnolia and treated floorboards, it was utilitarian rather than comfortable. A bit like a dentist’s waiting room.
Hall was dressed in a button-down blue dress, the top three buttons open revealing a creamy cleavage, fluffy slippers on her feet, no stockings. She had one leg crossed over the other. Lounging opposite her, in a checked shirt and blue denims, one leg over the arm of his chair, was Foal.
‘I’ve looked around Rushden, Corby, Kettering, and Wellingborough, but there’s no sign of anybody new boss.’ He said.
Hall stubbed out her cigarette in a glass ash tray precariously balanced on the arm of her chair. ‘What about the Eastern district? There must be a sign somewhere.’
‘I haven’t got round to that yet.’ Foal replied, ‘It’s next on my list.’
‘What about Markovic? Any whispers?’
Foal shook his head slowly. ‘Not a word. I must have talked to twenty dealers. Not one has noticed a thing. I can’t believe they’re all lying.’ He said.
Hall considered for a moment or two, then raised an eyebrow and sighed. ‘So, it sounds like whatever’s happening is happening in the Eastern district. That suggests it’s a small-time operation. I wonder where the supply is coming from?’
‘Hopefully, we’ll find out more in the next day or two.’ Foal said. ‘I know a few people over that side of town. One of them will talk.’
‘Let’s hope you’re right. This is an opportunity too good to miss.’ Hall said. ‘Any sign of the Frenchman?’
‘No nor Riley. I did half expect to see one or the other, but perhaps they’ve gone underground.’ He said.
Hall stood up and flattened her dress against her thighs. ‘He’ll have Riley running around like a headless chicken, but he’ll get nowhere, I guarantee it. This goes deeper, I can feel it.’ Suddenly turning to face him she asked, ’What about McVey?’
‘Nothing. Word is that Cammy is working directly for Kubric now, so I imagine McVey is a bit short handed. Apparently Maric had a run in with the law and could be out of action for months, even years.’
‘Don’t underestimate McVey. He might be a fat little alcoholic, but he’s got an animal cunning and a scent for blood like a hyena, and don’t forget he comes from Glasgow. He’s a tough little bastard.’ Hall said sternly.
Foal smiled ‘Yes mum.’ He said.
Hall stepped slowly towards him, undid three more buttons, pulled the dress over her bare shoulders, and said. ‘Let me remind you, I’m not your mother.’