Murder at the Royal Wedding

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CHAPTER NINTEEN

The Operations Room

New Scotland Yard

Commissioner Chambers could not sit. Instead he paced before the banks of TV screens. The operators swivelled with his every pace, trying to concentrate on their screens.

“Show me The Mall again. Close up. I mean really close.”

The image on the central screen zoomed and he saw the ranks of the band of the Royal Air Force swaying as they marched.

“All right. Give me the Abbey. Tight please.”

The picture jerked and enlarged. An operator cut in.

“More crowds at Clarence House, sir. D’you want I go in tighter?”

He peered at the screen and let out a long breath.

“No. There’s no point. I know the Commander’s got her people all over it. Where’s the Volvo now?”

“Eurochopper One’s with it. Just left Scratchwood Services on the M1 Motorway. He’s definitely going north, sir. We can stop him any time you want.”

“Yes,” the Commissioner mumbled, “but what’s he left behind him?”

A woman sergeant stood waving.

“Commissioner? Another sighting, sir.”

He dismissed her.

“Yes, we have him here on screen, Sergeant.”

“No, sir. Another sighting. Same registration number’s just come up on the ANPR cameras.”

“What! That’s just not possible.”

“Afraid it is, sir.”

“Is it a Volvo?”

“Yes, sir. Registered to you.”

“I know all about that, thank you, Sergeant. Can you put it on screen over here?”

“Yes, sir. Give the car a minute to reach the mobiles at Southwark. I’ll lock onto it.”

The new image flashed onto the central screens. A white Volvo crawled through the traffic crossing into London. Chambers studied it suspiciously.

“Doesn’t look quite right. Anybody know that model car?”

A young operator stood up at the rear.

“I do, sir. I had one like that. Good runner but the clutch was dodgy. Bastard to start in the mornings.”

He silenced him with a hand.

“Look at it closely, Constable, then look at the one we’re monitoring up the M1. See any difference?”

The operator peered carefully at the screen.

“Same colour, almost the same trim. If you lose a bit of the side flashing it’s murder to replace. See that there, it’s missing.”

Chambers was impatient.

“Is it the same?”

“No, sir. Different year.”

The Commissioner moved to his side and handed him the video still of Thorne at the Essex petrol station.

“And that?”

The young operator studied it.

“No, different again. These Volvos are all white with the same registration plates but not exactly the same model.”

Chambers patted him on the shoulder.

“Get me the Commander, quickly.”

He moved to the communications desk.

“Megan? A second sighting.”

On the speaker she was jubilant.

“Good. Where’s he going?”

His voice rose.

“No. You don’t understand. A second sighting! Another Volvo with the same registration number. It’s on camera crossing south, heading towards Chelsea.”

Guy interrupted.

“What! Where’s the first Volvo then?”

“Heading out to the M1.”

“I don’t understand. Are you saying we have two Volvos with the same number?”

Chambers was short.

“No, we have three. I’ve got two under surveillance on screen. A young expert here tells me Thorne’s Volvo is a different car again. All similar but not the same, if you see what I mean. We’re being duped by this man. Who said he was mad?”

Guy said.

“He’s not mad, Jerry. Just mentally ill. I suggest we stop one of the cars. See what we can find out. Tell them to be careful. Who knows what he’s got.”

Chambers nodded.

“Yes, I agree, Guy. I’ll have the car on the motorway stopped. I’ve got more resources there.”

“You better hurry, Jeremy, the procession’s under way.”

“I hear you, Guy. Chambers out.”

*

Guy and Commander Stone had reached the North side of Horse Guards when they saw the Duchess of Cornwall on the big screen. At the Abbey she was being handed into the Australian State Coach by Prince Charles, followed in by Carole and Michael Middleton, the bride’s parents. Settled back she waved from the picture window as the horses took up the strain and rolled it on. Megan Stone tapped Guy’s arm.

“No stopping her now, Royce. She’s now public. Where IS the Commissioner?”

On cue his voice was in her ear.

“Chambers here. Commander Stone?”

“Yes, sir. It’s me.”

“Megan, it’s not good. Thorne’s playing games with us. The Volvo on the motorway was a paint company rep going to Leicester. No connection whatsoever. I stopped the second Volvo. Same result. A bank manager visiting Head Office in Chelsea. Our Thorne´s gone out last night and fitted them with slipover false plates. Who looks at his plates every time he goes out?”

Guy broke in.

“So he’s got us running around. What’s he up to, Jeremy? Does Thorne want to humiliate us publicly? Is that part of his revenge?”

“He wants to keep us guessing.”

Stone stepped in.

“You remember, Royce, you said he was gloating over us?”

Now Chambers was annoyed.

“Look, we can theorise later. Right now we still don’t have him. Get to it! Chambers out.”

Guy eyed a group moving towards the barriers and was pleased to see amongst them the bedecked figure of Matt Milton. He was beneath a commemorative royal wedding Union Jack umbrella, portraits of the bride and groom smiling from its fabric panels.

The Band broke into ’With Honour Crowned’ as they turned from Horse Guards Parade onto The Mall and the crowds roared when the royal pageant in the sun began for them. As the bandsmen drew closer Guy gave up talking, letting the deep brass section vibrate through them until, finally, the band moved away around the square, heading down the Mall to Buckingham Palace. The Foot Guards swung into view, their boots crashing on the tarmac in perfect rhythm.

When the band faded they found Chambers calling out.

“Commander? He’s dead! We’ve got him!”

Megan Stone clapped a hand to her face, rubbing at it.

“No! Tell me, sir. What’s happened?”

“His Volvo’s been located in a wood just off Hither Green. No cameras, you see. That’s why we couldn’t find him.”

“So you got him, Jeremy?” Guy interjected.

“The car was burnt out, his body still in it. Traces of petrol and an empty can nearby. I guess he couldn’t take it any more. You did say he was mentally unwell? Obviously driven to suicide.”

“But that’s great!” Megan Stone cried out. “Sorry for the poor man and all that but…”

Guy rubbed at the scar on his cheek.

“Jerry, when will you get pathology?”

“The wreck’s still red hot, Guy. The pathologist will be there as soon as he can. We’ll inform Pauline Thorne once he’s confirmed the ID. Probably take an hour or so.”

“And there’s no doubt?”

“It’s all over. Pass on my congratulations. A job well done, Megan. Although it’s hard to justify those overtime claims you’ve landed on me. We’ll speak about that when you return. Chambers out.”

Commander Megan Stone´s fists balled.

“Bastard. I know he’s a friend of yours, Royce, but really!”

He chuckled at her.

“Don’t mind me, Commander, go right ahead and curse. I don’t blame you.”

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