Murder at the Royal Wedding

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CHAPTER EIGHT

SO14

New Scotland Yard

London

Wednesday 27th April

Ex-Detective Inspector Guy Royce took his return like a bereavement. He glanced at the policemen settling in at the long table in the Royalty Protection Department. He had spent seven years here. It was familiar yet he didn’t belong. An old home now inhabited by strangers.

It had begun well enough. Years on the road with the Princess of Wales, working out of this room. The recce trips around the world. Privilege, excitement and duty. Now he felt nothing. The man he was back then was now gone, along with the Princess and his dead wife. Vanished into the past.

He wanted a drink.

Jeremy Chambers, the Commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police, sat beside him. The light above his head reflected on the silver and red crown-and-laurel-wreath badge pinned to his epaulettes. Guy’s seven years with the Commissioner as young Protection Officers together, working from this very room, meant little now.

Chambers had joined SO14 from the Cardiff Constabulary, a graduate of the University of Wales. He held the Queen’s Police Medal. Now the Commissioner had lost his hair and his waistline. The sag to his chin filled Guy with a selfish melancholy for his own lost youth. Chambers´ eyes had gained authority from the promotion and he wasn’t the same man.

The Commissioner flexed his fingers, his voice calm and resonant. In unison, the officers opened personal laptops, filling the room with the Microsoft chorus.

“All here, I see. Let’s get down to it. On my left is ex Detective Inspector Guy Royce. He’s now a retired officer. He’s agreed to join us for this briefing.”

Commissioner Chambers glanced up, his grey eyes under heavy brows swept the attendees. He waved a hand, encompassing the slim, brown-eyed woman seated beside him.

“This is Commander Megan Stone. She is ranking officer-in-charge, responsible to me.”

Guy studied her. He couldn’t believe her rank. Too good looking for a Commander, he thought, just too young and a bit snotty. Lithely built with the muscle definition of an athlete, her clear complexion was enhanced only by a touch of lipstick. Her slightly severe, black-pencilled eyebrows arched too unnaturally. He wondered how this slim, fresh-faced woman, no older, he guessed, than thirty, could be a Commander at the Yard. He had never climbed higher in the Force than a D.I. She must be a qualified Specialist Firearms Officer even to be here in the room. He imagined her Glock 9mm semi automatic in a garter holster on her thigh and suppressed a smile.

He tried to imagine her at Stirling Lanes taking the SAS anti-terrorist courses he had struggled to cope with. How the hell did she get through that, this slip of a girl? She could only be five foot six at the most. Smoke bombs, sudden attack, tactical defence, advanced driving, self-defence, she must have done it all with honours. He thought, how useful she would have been with the Princess. It’s a shame she probably hates my guts with the rest.

Chambers had moved on. “…and to her right Inspector Trevor Bullingham whom I believe you’ve met.”

Guy looked across the table, giving Bullingham a cursory glance.

“Oh, yes. We’ve met. And Sergeant Ward there. We’re almost brothers.”

His face remained impassive and Bullingham turned away, raking his fingers through his fine, brown hair as he looked to the window.

“Good. The fourth Officer is Detective Sergeant Vijay Balasubramanium. He likes to be called VJ, which is a relief to us all.”

VJ nodded briefly to the assembly and fiddled with long fingers on his laptop.

“Representing the National Identification Bureau, S.O. Four to us here, is Inspector Walters. He also speaks for the Forensic Science Service.”

Chambers paused to pull an envelope and a letter from a transparent evidence pouch, sliding them to Commander Stone to pass on.

“This is why we’re here. It arrived at the Yard addressed to me. It’s a threat to kill the Duchess of Cornwall at the royal wedding on the twenty-ninth.”

Chambers spoke slowly to make his point.

“Two days’ time.”

Guy read the letter and he knew immediately why he was there. He searched the rogues gallery of old faces in his head. Chambers continued.

“There’s a code name. That doesn’t happen with our normal cranks. He wants to be taken seriously? Well, he’s got that. The FSS has examined it. Please, Inspector?”

Guy watched the diminutive figure produce a sheaf of white cards. Walters shuffled them like a riverboat gambler. He was neat and precise and spoke with a guttural edge to his accent that Guy couldn’t place.

“He may be crazy, this Cat Strangler One, but he’s not daft. That’s the code name he uses. The agent Diazafluoren, as some of you know, reacts with the amino acids left by a suspect’s fingerprints. Forensic treated them with DFO. The results were negative.”

He paused and scratched his chin.

“Our Cat Strangler One used protection. Maybe gloves, more probably a linen cloth like a handkerchief. Traces of fibres, you see, under an electron microscope.”

He shuffled his pack once more, gripping a card by its edge.

“Paper used is standard writing pad. Sold by the thousand everywhere. Ink analysis shows up polysynthetic, spirit-based, blue ink. Used in most cheap ballpoints made in China. Sold worldwide. Handwriting has no match. Envelope has on it the prints of half the Royal Mail staff.”

He stopped and took a breath, looking to Chambers.

Commander Megan Stone hunched forward.

“Did he lick it? The envelope or the stamp. Did he lick it?”

The Inspector sniffed, staring at her as though she were demented.

“Of course not! Do you think we’d miss that? Chummy’s DNA is on nothing we can find. Self-adhesive.”

Guy broke in.

“Tell us about the handwriting analysis, Inspector.”

Walters shifted to look at him and selected a card.

“Our Cat Strangler One has three personality traits you won’t want to hear about. This person is harbouring anger, resentment, even hatred. A secretive person.”

He pointed at the letter.

“Note the hard upstrokes to the right? That’s aggressiveness. The down-slanted T-bar with a sharp ending? Definitely a dual personality. Classic calligraphy. Napoleon had it, you know.”

Guy called.

“Where was it posted?”

“Essex, Monday, one p.m. collection. Chelmsford Sorting Office processed it.”

“Why you, Jeremy?” Guy asked. “Why address it to you personally? Does he know you?”

Commander Stone´s scorn was dismissive.

“That’s ridiculous. Anyone can get that address. It’s on the Internet. You better leave this to us, ex Detective Inspector.”

Megan Stone was talking to Walters again. Her brown eyes and short, bobbed brown hair reminded Guy of his dead wife.

“Any CRO on this code word? Ever been used before?”

“Criminal Records say no. No obvious links to terror groups or royal stalkers. He’s not on the National Method Index. He sounds like a loner - not on the database.”

Walters tapped his cards into a neat pack and sat down.

Chambers rapped the table with a knuckle.

“Okay, then we go back over every royal watcher. Revisit the security for the wedding. All attendees to the Abbey must clear the vetting.”

He singled out the Anglo-Indian officer.

“VJ, talk to the Risk Assessment Liaison Group. See if there’s anything new, political or terror.”

VJ nodded.

“We have six thousand people classified mentally unstable. All of them fixate on the royals. It’ll take some time, Commissioner.”

Guy watched Bullingham´s eyes turning on him, his thin neck stretching as he spoke up.

“What’s your contribution, ex Detective Inspector Royce? Are you here to watch?”

Guy gave him a dead smile, taking his time. When he spoke he spoke quietly.

“I know who he IS. Is that what you meant, Inspector?”

Bullingham fell silent, his lips tight. The Commissioner took it up, almost casually.

“Yes, I thought you might, Guy. Name familiar, is it?” He sat up straight and waited.

Guy had recognised the code name the moment he saw it but he was confused. It didn’t make sense. He thought of his silver flask and licked his lips.

“Yeah, I know him. I just can’t figure out why him.”

The Commissioner queried. “Why don’t I remember him?”

“You captained a desk by then.”

“So could you have done, Guy. You’d better tell us more.”

He directed his explanation to Megan Stone, knowing she ran the squad. In the street outside a police siren wailed, cut off abruptly as if plunged into water.

“At the height of Princess Diana mania, we had a pack of wolves to protect her from. The press boys we met every day on the streets coined a name to describe the drooling fanatics who followed Diana everywhere. They called them the Cat Stranglers. The name stuck.”

Bullingham cut in.

“You must have been under a lot of stress, D.I. Royce. Did you find a way to cope with it?”

Guy ignored him. Inspector Walters stood irate.

“This doesn’t appear in the intelligence database! We should know all this!”

“This was not intelligence,” Guy retaliated, “just street talk. All the information went into the green dossiers.

Chambers broke in.

“Let’s stick to the facts. Tell us more, Guy.”

He sat back, letting his mind sift the past.

“One man was an ever-present. Obsessed by the Princess, he went everywhere she did. He dressed in red, white and blue. Carried framed pictures of her on a placard. Always by the roadside when she went by. I checked him out many times. He was just a fan.”

Megan Stone whistled softly.

“Mark Chapman was just a fan till the day he shot John Lennon.”

“I hear what you say, Commander. However, he was no threat at the time.”

He watched her face and wondered whether chestnut brown was her natural colour or if she was just another mouse using the bottle.

She continued, “then we can dismiss him?”

“No. The name Cat Stranglers stuck. This particular fan knew I called him Cat Strangler Number One and he would greet me with it. ‘Hello, Inspector Royce, am I still your Cat Strangler One?’ He would giggle about it.”

The diminutive Inspector Walters broke in once more.

“What was his name?”

Guy knew the question was coming. He had been trying to answer it from the beginning. Then it rose up like a woodcock flushed from a bush and he could picture him.

“Milton. Matt Milton. He had a green dossier. I put it there myself.”

Fingers clacked on laptops as they interrogated the Police National Computer Database. Inspector Walters was first to speak.

“He’s not here! This is outrageous. How can we keep efficient records?”

Chambers said.

“Look, no system is perfect. The paper records we had to digitise in those days were huge.”

Guy added.

“Jeremy, it was a big dossier. He lived, I think, in Clapham but he moved around. Always renting. Never stayed long. They all thought he was a bit eccentric.”

“You remember exactly his last address?”

“Not now, no. We need a picture of him.”

The Commissioner’s lips compressed.

“I want him nicked before the royal wedding. You’re dismissed.”

Chambers left the room but the squad members blocked Guy’s path, Commander Stone pinning him with her eyes

. “If you see Milton, Royce, you point him out to us. You understand? No personal collars or we’ll do you for obstruction.”

Bullingham said.

“Couldn’t we make it Sedition? Much more fun.”

“You’re a nitwit, Bullingham,” Guy said dismissively. “The last time that was used was against Guy Fawkes.”

Bullingham sneered, looking at his watch.

“You’d better go for a drink, Royce. It’s past opening time. Do be sober before the wedding. Wouldn’t want you breathing fumes over the royal bride.”

The anger exploded in his head like an incendiary. His hands were on Bullingham´s scrawny throat, gripping him, choking him, riding him backwards across the squad room. They crashed with a jolt against the wall, locked together. Bullingham´s eyes bulged as he wheezed for breath but Guy hung on, watching his face turn scarlet.

Sergeant Ward gently tapped the side of Guy’s temple with the muzzle of his Glock 9mm. He whispered.

“Now, Royce. Please don’t bend our Inspector. He’s got a lot of work to do.”

Guy glanced to its gunmetal mouth and released Bullingham who pushed him away and paced across the room to the door.

“This isn’t over, Royce! You won’t jump me unexpected again, you bastard!”

The door crashed shut behind him, shivering the portal.

Megan Stone stood her ground.

“Well done, Royce. Now you’ve just about alienated everyone. Is that what got you thrown out of the Force in the old days?”

Her brown eyes under their pencilled brows quizzed him.

Guy stood rigid, anger hardening his face.

“I wasn’t thrown out!”

“My mistake. What was it, then? Bullingham says booze. Was that it?”

“No, it wasn’t. I was in a pursuit that went wrong.”

“How wrong?”

“There’d been a riot in Central London. A bunch of anarchists were trying to get to the Princess in her Jaguar. I went after them. I was on armed response duty that night in a divisional ARV.”

“Were you driving?”

“No. I declared myself Ground Commander. I was the most qualified at the incident. The subject vehicle was driving wildly. They were going to kill someone trying to escape. I tried a box-out manoeuvre. It was dark and wet.”

“Were you in the Initial phase?”

“No. Tactical.”

“It wasn’t authorised, was it?”

She watched him carefully.

“I had an advanced driver. I thought the risk to the public was extreme. We tried to stop them quickly, before it got out of hand.”

“It did get out of hand. That’s what the pursuit guidelines are there to stop.”

“You’ve read the case?”

Guy paused, running his fingers through a furrow of hair, the memory of it biting at him and, in a flash, he was sitting in the squad car again, the rain beating the windscreen.

She was still talking.

“Of course. As soon as I heard you were joining us I wanted to know what I had by the tail. You were joining MY squad.”

“There was an RTA involving a Merc. My driver was killed.”

The memory of it pierced him like the jagged glass.

“And a woman and her elderly mother.”

“In a Toyota. Yes. As ranking officer I was held responsible. There was an inquiry; the rest you know.”

“Do I? Bullingham says you were drunk.”

“That’s untrue! I was not. My sample was cleared.”

“Then where does the drinking come into it, Royce?”

“A long story.”

She moved closer and asked.

“Tell it to me. I have to rely on you at the royal wedding on Friday. I want to know. Why did you leave Royal Protection. Why?”

Guy shifted feet, trying to stop the muscle spasm in his neck. He wanted to hate her but he couldn’t.

“An incident with my firearm at Kensington Palace. The Glock went off when I was cleaning it in the garages. Nobody else was there but I got suspended. I had to re-qualify my certificate at Lippitts Hill.”

“You sound accident prone, D.I. Royce. Were you drinking then?”

“A bit.”

“Your wife left you?”

“Angela committed suicide. Clinical Depression. You see, Commander, I was so busy protecting Princess Diana that I forgot to protect my own wife. I wasn’t there to prevent it. Some cop, eh?”

She touched his arm lightly.

“Sorry, Guy. I’m sure that was hard.”

He smiled briefly and turned to leave.

“Women around me tend to die, Commander. First my mother giving birth, then the Princess and my wife. Better steer clear of me, Megan.”

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