The wiry, po-faced cabbie studied the video picture with care, tapping at his front teeth with a nail and Guy knew he was on to something. An old fire bell in his head was ringing. He remembered why he had liked his job. It was for moments like this. He became meticulous, wanting to miss nothing.
“You sure it’s him? Look hard now.”
“Pretty sure. Not very sharp, is it?”
“It’s from a CCTV on a forecourt. It’s not Hollywood.”
“I think it’s him. In a cab you see the top half of people, y´know. Sort of faces at the window. They pay up and go. Unless they’re famous faces. Footballers or EastEnders, you don’t think nothing of it. They just go and more come along. Sort of a blur after a while.”
Guy pressed him.
“But this is him, yes?”
“I thought so. Saw it on the notice board, so I rang.”
“Tell me the exact route you took.”
The driver scratched his pointed chin.
“He hails me in Pentonville High Street.
“Tells me to take him to five Welton Street. That’s local. That’s what I did. He goes in, stays for about ten minutes or so. We went to Mettles Island after that, in Essex. I dropped him there.”
“How did he get in? Did somebody let him in?”
“No. Used his key. I didn’t see no other people.”
“Was he carrying anything when he left? Stop anywhere else?”
“No, but he posted a letter.”
“Where? What time?”
“Chelmsford. It was on our way.”
Guy ran his fingers through hanks of his hair and smiled, speaking into his comms unit.
“Commander? It’s Royce. I’m with the taxi driver. It’s him all right. Five Welton Street, Pentonville.”
He wished he could see her face and imagined her black-pencilled brows rising in anticipation.
“No doubt in my mind. This is the threat letter writer. Commander, we’ve got him.”
Guy sat watching the door to number five from the back seat of a Metropolitan Police Vauxhall emblazoned with Battenberg stripes and a bar of blue lights. Next to him, Megan Stone issued instructions. She spoke with a quiet force.
“Right, listen up, all units. The location’s the one with the blue door. I want the street cordoned and all residents evacuated. I want it done quickly. I want ARV One Zebra blocking the road outside number one. Yellow door. ARV Two Bravo outside house eight. Brown door. Where’s Bomb Disposal?”
The radio clicked, the reply immediate.
“VJ here. They’re on the way. Held up in Westminster at the Abbey, boss.”
She sighed. “Tell them to get moving. We don’t start without them.”
She turned to Guy.
“God knows what he’s got in there. What if he’s got a bomb?”
Guy wasn’t convinced, but he said nothing, letting her get on with her job. He liked her calmness and the confident way she handled herself. He had seen indecision wreck the best-planned operations on the streets. He was glad she had a clear mind. He decided he could have worked for her. She clicked on the radio.
“Who’s arranged forensic?”
“Ward here. Mobile lab’s waiting in the next street. Just say when you want them.”
A white Range Rover appeared, followed by a Mercedes Sprinter box van, blue lights spinning on both vehicles.
“Bomb Squad’s here, Megan. Top of the street. Isn’t this supposed to be a covert op?”
She pursed her lips, making her face paler than ever and she grabbed the handset.
“VJ! Tell them to switch off the pyrotechnics.”
There was a grunt over the airwaves. Seconds later the lights extinguished. She sat up as the radio called.
“Commander? Lady in number eight won’t go.”
“Who is this? Identify!”
“Sorry, Commander. It’s Constable McClellan.”
“Why won’t she go?”
“She’s very old, Commander. Says Hitler didn’t make her move and there’s no way a pipsqueak copper will. That’s what she said.”
Stone suppressed a smile.
“I don’t blame her, Constable. Leave her there. You stay with her. And don’t drink gallons of her tea. Keep your eyes open. Inspector Brown? You and your team ready? Go on my word. Full body armour please.”
A Glaswegian voice came into the patrol car.
“Aye, we’re up. Jack the door. Contain the occupants. I just hope there’s no dogs. I hate dogs.”
Guy said quietly.
“Let’s hope that’s his only problem in there. Okay, Megan, what now?”
“We go in and find out.”
She addressed her radio.
“Inspector Brown, hit the door, please.”
A team of six officers in full armour with a steel hand jack and long-handled club hammers moved towards the front garden. With a squeal of rubber, two silver BMW Five Series ARVs accelerated into position to block the road, each spilling out a team of three. They crouched behind the open doors, Heckler & Koch MP5 Carbines sighted on the front of the terraced house.
The door shattered with a ripping, wrenching of torn timber, springing back on its hinges, slamming into the wall. The team stood away. Inside a woman screamed. Megan Stone was running with Sergeant Ward, both carrying Glock 9mm self-loading pistols, but D.S. Vijay Balasubramanium was quicker, crying out as he ran.
He entered first carrying a Heckler & Koch carbine. Guy stood on the threshold, feeling naked without a firearm. He heard the woman’s scream once more. Three armed officers shoved passed him to enter. He moved into the corridor, peering into the empty rooms. Then he found Commander Stone.
The sitting room was tiny but clean, net curtains at the only window. A worn sofa and its twin armchair surrounded an old open coal fire. In the centre of the room Megan Stone straddled a woman of about her own age. The thin woman lay face down with her hands on her head visibly shaking, her dress hiked to expose one leg to the thigh.
“Stand up and face me, please.”
“Come on, we’re not going to hurt you.”
The woman pulled herself to her feet, tugging at her beige floral dress. Her round, lined face was ashen grey, her black eyes glittering with fear. She ran a hand into her pale brown mop of hair, trying to straighten it.
“I am Commander Stone of New Scotland Yard. I have a warrant to search this house. I require you to answer my questions.”
Sergeant Ward called from the upper floor.
“Nobody here, Commander. Deserted.”
“Royce. You know her?”
He studied the woman and shook his head. Stone continued.
“What is your name?”
“Pauline Thorne, I live here.”
“Who else lives here? And please speak up.”
“Where is your husband?”
She shifted uncomfortably. “Why are you in my house?”
Guy chipped in. “You must know. You’re his wife.”
She inclined towards him, colour returning to her cheeks and she took a breath.
“You’ve broken down my door!”
Stone was becoming impatient and ignored her protests.
“Where is your husband?”
Pauline Thorne spat out.
“I would have let you in, you know! Why are you asking me where he is? You know where he is.”
“Mrs Thorne, you are in a very serious situation. I suggest you cooperate fully.”
She bunched her fists, returning Commander Stone’s stare.
“I am cooperating.”
“What’s your husband’s name?”
“Kenny. Kenneth Thorne. He’s my ex-husband.”
“When did you see him last?”
“Two and a half years ago.”
The name hit Guy like an express train. He took a breath. Pauline Thorne was calmer and Guy wondered if she was telling the truth. He launched in.
“Are you lying, Mrs Thorne? Your husband was here on Monday. He wrote a letter.”
She bridled, scowling at him.
“I didn’t see him. I’m not lying!”
Megan Stone resumed.
“When do you expect him back?”
She was silent, biting her lip then she mouthed,
“He won’t be coming back.”
“Why do you think that is?”
She faced her. “How can you people say that?”
“What do you mean, Mrs Thorne?”
Anger filled her eyes. “You know or you wouldn’t be here!”
Megan Stone spoke into her radio.
“VJ, run the name Kenneth Thorne through the PNCD terminal in the gunship.”
Guy heard boots clatter on the stairway as VJ left. He asked another question.
“Do you have any writing paper, Mrs Thorne?”
Pauline Thorne looked confused.
“I do. I mean, I did but I looked for it and I can’t find it.”
He looked to Megan Stone who remained impassive.
“Does he own a Volvo?”
“No, How could he?”
“When he came here on Monday did he leave a letter? A note?”
Pauline Thorne paused before answering.
“What has he done now?”
She sat in a chair, stunned by the questions. VJ filled the doorway.
“Commander, this is bad. Kenneth Thorne has form. Bad form.”
Megan Stone was impatient. “Then tell me, VJ!”
“He’s doing five years for GBH and assault with a deadly. He’s on parole. Was in Pentonville. On Monday he was released. Went AWOL the same day. His tag puts him in the States.”
Megan Stone looked at Pauline Thorne.
“Where in the States?”
VJ shouldered his carbine.
“Los Angeles area. He’s not answering his Monitor Officer.”
“He was here on Monday.” Guy interrupted. “Does your ex-husband have a passport?”
Mrs Thorne shook her head.
“We’ve never been abroad together.”
Megan Stone looked to VJ.
“Check with Prisoner Processing at Pentonville. He should have a parole officer. Check the local nick, he has to register with them, too.”
Pauline Thorne cried out.
“Do you know what happens to them in there! I mean, do you really know? They tried to slash his face in the exercise yard. How do they get a knife in a prison! He was having trouble, in his mind. There was a time I thought he was going mad.”
Guy started forward, his fears confirmed.
“How mad, exactly, Mrs Thorne?”
She was silent, becoming withdrawn.
“I … I didn’t mean that.”
Megan Stone insisted.
“Come on, Pauline. That’s what you said. You saw him in prison two and a half years ago. How was he then?”
“I stopped going. I couldn’t stand him. I divorced him. He was having trouble. I couldn’t go out in the street. He took it hard. What would you expect? He lost his job. He lost everything.”
Guy asked his question, but he knew the answer.
“Has he ever been in a mental institution?”
Stone glanced up at him.
Pauline Thorne nodded, avoiding his gaze.
“Where did he work last?”
“In a gun club. Rifle range place in Essex. He was good with guns. Knew a lot about them.”
“Did he have a gun here? Ever?”
She shook her head.
“I never saw one. I don’t think so.”
Commander Stone instructed.
“VJ, I want this house sealed up tight. Let forensic go over it. See what we find. Have technical re-route the phone number to the Yard in case he calls. Get me a woman officer to accompany Mrs Thorne. Guy, are you coming?”
In Welton Street a converted Ford Iveco Cargo Van that served as the mobile laboratory for the Forensic Science Service pulled up close to number five. A gang of science officers, dressed head to toe in white overalls, began yellow taping the front of the house. Pauline Thorne was led away to a patrol car.
Guy said. “Megan, where’s Bullingham and the rest of your squad?”
She studied the house.
“At the rehearsal for the royal wedding tomorrow. Are you missing him? Trevor’s got extra skills that make him useful. You really should get on with him, Guy.”
“How did you know Thorne had been institutionalised?”
“I didn’t. The name was familiar. When she mentioned his mental state it rang a bell.”
She nodded. “I know where you came from. I told you I read your file”
“I got recommended to the Met. Ended up in S.O. Fourteen.”
She added quietly.
“You’ve forgotten something. On the beat at Highgrove you tackled a man with a knife and got the Queen’s Gallantry Medal. Presented by Princess Michael of Kent, wasn’t it?”
He grunted, feeling at the scar on his arm. He hated thinking about it. The man had come out of nowhere. He’d only put up his hands to protect himself. He never felt the cut. They grappled and he went down, holding onto the madman until his station sergeant had responded. Guy bristled at the memory.
“The guy was deranged. He was out from a psychiatric ward. Raving about Diana’s death.”
“What was he doing?”
“Trying to climb into Highgrove.”
“Was the Prince of Wales there?”
They looked to each other.
“My God, Guy. Thorne’s the man who attacked you. That’s how he knows your name. He still wants retribution but he’s been inside.”
“What we don’t know is where he is.”
She nodded, adding.
“We know why he’s so angry. He’s served his time. Got out early. He’s the madman who wants to kill the Duchess of Cornwall. In his twisted mind he thinks Camilla’s responsible for Diana’s death.”
Guy said. “Why not threaten to kill a paparazzi or blow up Harrods? I think Pauline Thorne’s right. He’s gone mad during his spell inside.”
Guy sucked his teeth. “That makes him very dangerous indeed. We’ve only twenty-four hours left to the royal wedding.”
Megan Stone sighed.
“Tell me about it, Guy. Tell me about it.”