National Identification Bureau
New Scotland Yard
Guy held the damp prints in his hand, turning over the photographs, one by one to ask, “and this is all of them?”
Inspector Walters, the head of SO4, shrugged. “Do you know how hard it is to get colour negatives printed at four am? No one does this stuff any more.”
Guy studied them carefully. “Any clues how long ago?”
Walters pursed his lips. “If I had to guess, I’d say nineties? Look at the clothes. The bride’s Marie Montague. No doubt about it. You say the bridesmaid is Nikki?”
Guy nodded. “She was her only sister. Who’s the groom?”
Walters hesitated. “We had trouble with that. Finally pinned him as a young racing driver named John Howard Holborne. Known as Jack. Raced in the early nineties.”
Each new piece of information let Guy relax a little more. He could never have enough of it, like building the Eiffel Tower out of Lego, which he’d done as a boy. The more bricks the higher the building went and the more obvious the outline became, until he had the answers he sought. He asked. “Any clue where the groom might be now?”
Walters eyebrows rose. “You won’t believe this. He’s now Holborne Formula One Racing. He owns it.”
“The Grand Prix team? He’s come up in the world.”
The Inspector tapped a wedding print. “Question is, Guy, where did the money come from, eh? He didn’t have a penny.”
Guy asked. “Maybe from her?”
Walters shook his head gravely. “No, she was a struggling young actress then. By the way, forensic says your car was ignited by a can of petrol.”
Guy wasn’t surprised, he just needed confirmation. “Actually, it’s the Commissioner’s car. Did they question Tolman?”
Walters let out a sigh. “Long gone. Place was empty. They’ve scarpered, Guy.”
Now Guy was worried. That’s not what he wanted to hear. Tolman’s threat wasn’t an idle one. Blowing up the Commissioner’s police car was one thing. What would he do for revenge on the paparazzo who caused his pain? What about Henrietta Fox?
When Guy reached her apartment it was filled with detectives. A burly East End sergeant held up a roll of duct tape.
“Why’s this on the dining table, Detective Inspector?”
Guy could guess. “Check it for prints. Anything else?”
The Sergeant held up a damaged Nikon. “Her camera’s smashed, her cell phone, too.”
Guy looked them over, not wanting to imagine how. “I know why, Sergeant. And by who, but where are they now? Any traffic reports? Suspicious vehicles?”
The Sergeant shook his head. “Not a thing. Patrols are watching out. There are a lot of roads out of the East End but only two roads off the Isle of Dogs.”
“Does this block have CCTV?”
“Charlie’s looking at it now, downstairs in the lobby. It all happened in a hurry. Lights were on, door was open.” The Sergeant’s radio crackled. “Guv’nor, got something here on the security disc. Two men and a girl leaving out the back door.”
Guy interrupted. “What’s the time stamp?”
“Four-thirty. They turned left.”
The Sergeant queried him. “You sure? They should go right. That’s where the car park is.”
There was a pause. “Definitely left.”
Guy said. “That leads to the river. They came by boat, that’s why there’s no vehicle sightings. Sergeant, tell Wapping river cops I want any radar movements on the river, right now. And get me anti-terror on the secure line. Quickly, Sergeant!”
On a river as powerful as the Thames Guy knew a body could travel ten miles in thirty minutes. It was possible they may never find the girl till she washed up on the sandbanks of the estuary. He feared the redhead’s need to poke her lens into other people’s business had got her into more trouble than even she could handle. He feared at their next meeting she’d be in a body bag.
Death on the river
Cuba Street Pier
The wind howled off the black river. Carlos buttoned his jacket against it as they walked. Like a threesome on a morning stroll they moved along the darkened water frontage. High above them a few windows were lit by early risers, making morning tea to begin a new day.
She saw the unmistakable outline of the disused pier, its entrance boarded with corrugated tin sheeting and she knew where she was. The Cuba Street Pier, once known as West India Dock Pier on the Isle of Dogs, had been the starting station for the Thames Riverbus Company, long since bankrupt when the commuters of London refused to travel by water. Now it stood deserted and blackened, only the river cormorants left to stand on its rotting piles, drying their wings after diving for eels. She wanted to scream with the pain in her arms as Marko forced her along at his pace but the tape kept her silent. How could something as ordinary as a piece of tape cost her life? As they approached the pier, Carlos dragged aside a tin sheet. It reverberated with a clatter in the darkness. Her heart thumped with it, the sound as loud as a police siren but no lights nor life appeared.
The metal floor bucked and dropped and she knew they were onto the pier’s floating walkway, the flood tide slapping and gurgling through the stanchions of the old pilings, creaking with each new swell. Marko held onto her until they reached the rotting decking of the pier. Carlos produced a torch, guiding it along the water’s edge to light up the mooring lines of an inflatable rib. It stood tethered, like a bucking bronco, the tide slapping at its rubberised pontoons.
“Marko, get her onboard quickly! It will soon be light. We must be down river and away.”
He came to hold her whilst his companion moved to drag on a rope, hauling the craft closer to the pier’s edge. Marko jumped down onto the inflatable, his arms outstretched for balance like a tightrope walker.
“Come. Ljubimac. Jump into my arms.”
She heard his laughter in the darkness. Carlos propelled her forward. She teetered on the edge of the dock, her lashed hands making balance impossible. She had to jump or fall! She leaped for the boat, landing on its wood-boarded flooring. She felt the rib jolt under her weight, pulling up to the full on its mooring line before jerking her backwards. She staggered and was grateful this time for Marko’s hands gripping her.
He led her to the open seating and forced her to sit, which she did gratefully. A tremor through the flooring told her that, in the gloom, Carlos was aboard.
“Sit still, Miss Fox. It will soon be over.”
Marko moved aft. Henrietta sat counting her options. The outlines of the grey clouds were just discernible as the sun began to rise somewhere behind them. She wondered would she ever see it again?
The breaking tops of the waves splashed iridescent all around her but, in the darkness, she could see no further than the boat’s length. The chill of the rising dawn wind cut through her leathers, her numbed hands already losing their feeling under the dog leash. Henrietta tried to be calm. She tried to review her position as carefully as her racing heart would allow. She knew if she panicked, and that was close now, she would die.
One option was to jump. How long could she last in the freezing water in a rip flood tide? She knew the river. Survival was best at top and bottom of the tides, when the current was slack. How long had it been flooding? Was this the top of the tide? Could she swim enough to survive with her hands tied behind her back?
To swim in the darkness was suicidal. No, she would wait for a better chance. Somehow she must talk to them, reason with them and gain some time. The outboard stuttered into life, shattering the peace of the morning. The bow reared up, causing them all to sway forward as the rib set off down river with Marko at the helm. The tide ripped passed its rubber prow, slapping the underside when it rose out of the water to plough on through the waves.
She heard the beat of wings as a skein of mallards flew low, skimming the water. Once the longer, more laborious beat she guessed was a pair of swans moving into the capital for a day’s scavenging. She smelled the acrid stench of diesel as a slick progressed past the craft. As the gloom lifted she was sure she saw a huge log slide by at great speed like some aquatic mammal encountered in mid-Atlantic, eyeing them curiously. She wondered what would happen if it struck the tiny boat on such a powerful, inhospitable river. A flood tide that rose and fell twenty-five feet, twice a day.
Carlos appeared out of the greying mist and sat, observing her without compassion. He raised his voice to be heard above the splashing of the waves and the outboard.
“Did you know that thousands of tons of rubbish come down this river in barges every day? Incinerated at Gravesend. Such dirty people, Londoners, but they don’t care where it goes, or what goes with it, eh?”
He gave her a leer, which transformed him into a ghoul in the swirl of morning mist.
“Tell me, why did you choose to photograph Mr Tolman?” Carlos peered across at her. She mumbled into the tape sealing her lips.
“My apologies, lady. You cannot, can you?”
He stood to balance himself and loomed over her to pick at the edge of the duct tape with a nail. With a sharp pull he peeled it off her mouth. Henrietta gasped out with relief. She dragged in a lungful of the sharp, morning air, redolent with the dank river.
“Nobody will hear you out here, Miss Fox. Why did you photograph him?”
She shook her head to clear the tears from her eyes. “I knew nothing about Tolman. He was just there.”
He nodded along. “But you photographed him at the soccer match. How did you know they were there? What made you follow them?”
“It was a coincidence. I was covering the game. I sold it to the Graphic. I saw Marie in the crowd, with your boss and I took their picture. Carlos, why did he kill Marie?” She waited, watching the light creeping into the base of the clouds in the east.
He shrugged, as if discussing the rain on a picnic. “It is of little consequence to you. Mr Tolman’s Three Sisters Fund is a brotherhood of Middle Eastern investors. Some are very rich men. Some even rulers of their countries. All have their own reasons to make profits. Many of them unite to raise money to fight American capitalist imperialism round the world.”
She shifted on the hard, wooden board, flexing her wrists to test the leather leash that held them. “Are you saying they are terrorists?”
He opened his hands. “That’s very naïve, Miss Fox. These men don’t carry Kalashnikovs. They all have reasons to need money. For some it is to fight an ideology, for others, who knows?”
She asked. “But the fund is regulated, surely, by the markets.”
“You will not find the Three Sisters Fund on the West’s puppet exchanges.”
“Then how does he make money?”
“Mr Tolman is a resourceful man. If you alone know something is going to happen you can profit from that knowledge.”
“You’re saying he fixes things to happen? He makes them happen?”
“Why take the trouble to guess when you can be sure? His investors ensure he knows before they strike a blow. When the bomb destroys a capitalist playground, Ibrahim has already repositioned the Fund to profit from it. Mr Tolman anticipates the economic damage long before the bomb goes off. You see, he knows it will happen.”
“His investors are terrorists! They make money from killing innocent people! More like a brotherhood of blood.”
Carlos grinned. “The imperialists pay for their own destruction. It is so perfect.”
“And he makes these things happen? That’s evil!”
He dismissed her. “What do you know of such things, English girl? You who have all you want. What do you know of desperation? Where your house is taken from you, your village destroyed, your family slaughtered in front of your eyes? You know nothing!”
His excitement made his eyes wild. She knew she must keep him calm. What do I know about desperation? Plenty now, you mad lunatic. She said quietly. “That’s what you do for him, Carlos?”
“My home in Serbia was destroyed. Mr Tolman took me in. And Marko. We perform services for him. To show our gratitude.”
“You killed Marie Montague for him?”
“Ibrahim did not have her killed. I do not know who killed her, Miss Fox.” He grinned, his mouth agape in the lifting gloom. She watched as the east bank firmed up into discernible buildings. Offices and apartments where once there were cranes and wharves. Menace chilled his voice. “How is your friend’s car? A total wreck, so I believe?”
“Carlos, can’t you see you have to be crazy to do things like that? You need help, psychiatric help.”
He bunched a fist and she thought he would hit her. “Don’t patronise me, English girl! I hold your life like that! Soon the eels will have you. Can’t you feel them nibbling at your brain already, Miss Fox? The crabs eating your eyes from their sockets?”
Henrietta shuddered as the rib breasted the swell. Ask him a question! Calm him down!
“Carlos, why did Ibrahim meet Marie at the match? Do you know?”
He spat over the side, his face contorting. “She was nobody. Nothing.”
The black river swelled up, raising the rib to dump it again in the trough that followed.
“Marie was somebody. The Prime Minister’s future wife.”
“I’m not talking about Marie. I’m talking about her sister, Nikki. If you are betrayed then your betrayer is less than nothing. A maggot. The slag on the steel.” He looked back down the river, idly studying the small craft that were now becoming visible. She pressed on with her point. “Who did Nikki betray, Carlos? How did she?”
He shifted on his seat to watch her reaction. “When a woman commits herself to a man she is his. His to command. She no longer has the right to talk of his business, discuss his secrets. All men have secrets. She broke the rules.”
“By telling Marie how The Three Sisters Fund paid out its profits. She betrayed Ibrahim’s rules. And so he made use of her.”
Absently, his hand strayed to a pocket and he lifted out a small, plastic dog handler’s transmitter, toying with it between his fingers.
“Tolman is holding her? Where is she now, Carlos? Where’s Nikki?”
He sighed, idly pressing the button on the unit in his hand. Henrietta felt a sharp pain in her wrists and she jumped back in her seat with a cry. He seemed not to notice.
“She met a dog who didn’t like her.”
She turned away. “Why couldn’t Tolman just let Nikki go? Isn’t that what Marie wanted from him?”
“Marie had not finished her task. Nikki was already dead but Jack couldn’t tell Marie that.”
“Who is Jack?”
“Marie’s husband. Jack Holborne.”
“What does he do for Ibrahim?”
“He is useful. He transports the money.”
“Is that why he killed Marie, too?”
He looked at her quizzically. “I told you twice. Ibrahim did not kill Marie, Miss Fox. He needed Marie alive.”