Stu was becoming desperate for information. The police, apart from Pol, of course, seemed to be totally disinterested in the missing girl. It was Friday and she had been gone for a day now. Stu silently dressed in his running gear in the half light of the autumn dawn. He had tried not to disturb Di as he got up early to train. He didn’t know but she wasn’t asleep, she had lay in the bed watching the first signs of the morning open out her vision. The monochrome first light had given way to the still quietness of early morning.
“You don’t have to sneak about, Stu. I am wide awake” Her voice emerged slowly, wearily and far away from the pile of duvet on the bed.
“I am going for a run and then I have some things to do today”.
“I expect I will still be here when you get back, I didn’t sleep well.”
“No nor did I really” he said as he pulled on a pair of running tights. “I need to get out there and blow the cob webs away.”
He bent over the bed and kissed her.
Winston reluctantly slid from the sofa and stretched on the floor. “Don’t you fancy a run this morning?” Stu asked his canine mate.
Early morning Scunthorpe was a very different place. The streets were quiet, occasional local Muslims walked on their way to morning prayers. The newsagent vans were making their deliveries when the man and his dog started to run along Frodingham Road. Hicks pushed the pace fast, he was working on improving his fitness. He treated every run as a challenge and a chance to race himself. He was incapable of taking a morning jog. For Stu Hicks everything was a competition that he could not lose.
Rubbish blew along the street in the fresh autumn breeze. Gulls and jackdaws patrolled along the road before the people filled the pavements picking up pizza crusts and discarded chips and food. The town would soon wake up and the shift workers would start making their way to their daily tasks. Many oblivious to the undercurrents that flowed so powerfully just below the surface and the sharks that swam in those treacherous currents.
Stu, now in his forties, found the first few hundred yards of is run tough. The aches and pains took longer to heal now. The impact of the road on his joints jarred up his bones. He pushed through the pain and extended the pace. As soon as he found his rhythm the aches and pains eased and he settled in to it. His mind cleared as the endorphins started to circulate round his body. Winston had settled into an easy canter and loped along beside Stu with his tongue lolling from the side of his mouth. Stu started to formulate his plan. He ran past the station where Pol worked. Pol’s bike was the only vehicle in the car park. Stu was not surprised, he knew Pol and he knew he would be in the station working hard to try to find Rhianna. The man was wasted in the police. Stu extended his pace and pushed on down Ferry Road. The kernel of an idea in his mind had started to take shape and grow into the seedling of a plan.
Pol did not see Stu run past. He was at his desk. Trying desperately to legitimise the intelligence that he had been given by Stu without revealing its source. Trying to raise the profile of yet another missing teenager.
Stu and Winston returned home. Their training complete for the day. Winston resumed his position on the sofa and promptly fell to sleep.
Stu went up to the bedroom, sure enough Di was still fast asleep. He left her comfortable sleep had eluded her of late and she needed all she could get. He took his clothes from the drawers silently, he padded down to the shower. The plan was set in his mind and he needed to get a move on to make sure he was in the right place at the right time. He needed to get something solid to take to Black or Pol a location where to find Rhianna. He would go and get her back but he needed something to go on.
It had been some years since he had worn the urban camo combat kit. The materiel was a stiff and coarse weave, resistant to the abrasion of working your body along walls and over roof tops. The knees and elbows were double thickness. The pattern was not like the swirls and curves of traditional camouflage but straight edges and squares the fawn and red colours with darker lines blended surprisingly well into the colour of masonry or brick work. Because of the variety of different building materials used there was no one pattern for this type of work, this was as near as he had. He pulled a pair of loose tracksuit bottoms on over the trousers and the combat boots he wore. Over the top he pulled on a large blue hoodie. He returned to the bath room and from the cupboard he took a bottle of baby oil. The last time he had taken that out of the cupboard it had been to spread on Di, not this time. He squeezed a small pool into his right hand and then rubbed it into his short hair. Immediately he looked dirty and unkempt his hair appeared to be greasy. He let the bottle drip onto his hoody and then rubbed his greasy hands over the top to give it a dirty and stained appearance.
He took his combat gloves from the kitchen drawer and placed them in his trousers pocket. From the same drawer he pulled a used Sainsbury carrier bag. He squirted a small amount of washing up liquid into the bag. He held the bag around the neck and pullet the top of it back over his open hand.
“Hey sexy, nice look” He had not noticed Di stood in the doorstep.
“Thank you, this what everyone in London and Paris is wearing”
“Yeah right, do they call it the evo stick look?” she joked with him.
“Watch and learn, the transformation will take place imminently.” He said.
As he spoke he allowed the proudness to seep from his square shoulders, he hung his head forward towards his chest and let his mouth flop open. He took a couple of steps towards Di. He lifted his feet high but relaxed his calves and lower legs so the steps were clumsy as those that have nerve damage caused by solvent or alcohol use walk. He shambled towards her. He had shed all that she recognised in him. She knew that if he walked out into the alleys and streets like this he would disappear from view and consciousness, he would be another glue sniffer sitting in a corner. He would become invisible.
“I will be out all day, keep Max in with you and keep the door locked” he spoke gently with his gentle eyes locked on hers.
“Are you scared that something might happen?” She mistook what he intended to be concern as fear.
“No, not at all. But I want to be sure that you are ok, can you make sure the washing machine is empty,”
“Yeah I know, loaded with bleach and set for a hot wash”.
“You know the drills.”
He turned and walked out of the door. As he got in the alleyway she watched him flick the switch and become the vagrant again. He even lifted the bag to his face and inhaled from it a few times to complete the ‘new look’.
He did not have far to walk to his destination. He walked in the stooped and ragged style he had earlier showed to Di. He knew how he would slide from view and no one would notice him. This time he did not use the alleyways as his first choice. He used the main road, he wanted to escape the view of the Acheron Street Crew. They frequented the rat runs and the alleyways. He walked straight down the street. As he turned towards West Street and along Teale Street he saw Ishan, the gang’s enforcer in the mouth of the alley way behind. He placed a hand against a car lamp post adjacent to him. He was close to Ishan. Only a few meters. If Ishan recognised him there would be no way he could continue his plan. He raised the bag to his lips and again, feigned inhaling solvent from the bag.
He watched Ishan in the reflection of a parked car window. He saw Ishan watch him with the bag and watched the expression on his face turn to one of disgust.
“Piece of fucking white trash” Ishan shouted at him in the street. This was the crucial moment. If Ishan, injured arm or not, decided to attack him there might be nothing he could do to avoid compromise.
Ishan turned and walked away in disgust. Stu shambled on slowly.
The Mosque was a converted terraced house. It fronted onto West Street but was on the south side of the street in a small block with Gilliat Street, Frances Street and running parallel to West Street was Scunthorpe High Street. Behind the high street and running between Frances and Gilliat Street was a small alleyway. He needed to get into the alleyway near the High Street. Easily he moved down West Street until he came to the junction with Frances Street, He turned into Frances street and could see the entrance to the alleyway, his target only eighty meters in front of him.
Between him and his target he saw a police officer and a police community support officer out on patrol. They were walking up the street on the same side as him and directly in front of him. He averted his eyes from them. If the stopped him that would be the end of the days job and he would be no closer to Rhianna. If they searched him they would find the knife and other tools he had concealed. As they got closer to him he recognised the police officer immediately as Pol. The sergeant was out in his patrol vest and helmet. As they got close the PCSO spoke to him.
“Hello, what’s your name?” He asked
Stu looked at Pol, Pol recognised Stu instantly.
“Danny, what’s it got to do with you?” Stu slurred a very effective Scottish accent.
“Come on Mike, we don’t really have time to deal with this, we need to keep our eyes open for that misper” Pol spoke to the PCSO.
Stu continued his unsteady progress and finally made his way into the alleyway. Typical of most of the town alleyways it was dirty. The smell of urine was strong and the ground littered with the human and animal waste that seemed to accumulate in the corners away from the main stream view.
These alleyways had been constructed to give access to the rear of the houses on three sides and the shops on the high street side of the block. Stu shambled along the first section of alleyway until he was at the junction with the piece that ran behind the houses and between Gilliat and Frances Street. He moved int the alley with the intention of slipping off his outer clothing and climbing up on to the roof tops. In the centre of the alley way stood a group of people. This was the last thing that Stu needed. He wanted to be up and on the buildings to give himself maximum time to gather the information that he needed. The group consisted of three men and two women, they were all shouting and arguing in an eastern European language, maybe Polish. In their hands they held various drinks containers, vodka seemed to be the tipple of choice for them. Stu guessed they had been on the night shift at one of the large factories and where now relaxing in the style they seemed to enjoy the most.
The rear of the mosque was within his reach but now this group of drunks looked like they might prevent him from reaching his objective. Stu considered his options and decided he would have to go into one of the gardens and climb up onto the buildings sooner than he had initially hoped.
Some of the back yards into the alleyway were fenced and others open, some of the yards had steps running own from first floor flats. He chose one of these yards. It was open and concreted but with rusty steel stairs leading up to the first floor. The stairs landed against the building and in the angle created by the back of the house and the kitchen that projected into the yard. The ground floor rear windows were shuttered with the metal sheets of dereliction and the door partially boarded with ply wood. One section of the timber had been pulled away from the frame and it looked like the ground floor was a squat. Ideal for what he wanted.
Hicks moved along the garden and to the door way, the piece of ply wood that was pulled away would be big enough for him to squeeze through. Slowly and quietly he looked inside the house, he allowed his eyes to adjust to the gloom. The room was empty. It had been the kitchen of the ground floor flat. The cheap units lay with their doors hanging off. Filth and rubbish littered the floor, paper plastic bags and the ubiquitous needles and syringes. This was perfect for his purpose, this was the place he could slide into and disappear. He climbed in to through the door, crossed the threshold and into the darkness and filth. His foot crunched on something as he stepped in. He looked down and underneath his foot he saw a shapeless thing that he initially did not recognise for what it was. The thing, shapeless and melted moved on and pulsed. He crouched to see what this thing was. As his eyes had become fully accustomed to the gloom he saw this thing was the remains of a dead kitten. The movement provided by a writhing, pulsing horde of maggots, the agents of decay had consumed the frail body leaving nothing but the husk and outline of what once it was. Stu stepped off the corpse and placed his carrier bag on the work top amongst the other detritus he removed the tracksuit and hoody that he had worn as he approached the house and the alley. He pulled on the leather combat gloves and from the inside of the urban combat jacket he removed his hood. He pulled it over his head. The hood was of a tight fitting cut and enclosed his full head and face. He could see through the fine weave of the eye panel. The Silk hood had been designed to reflect light from the outside but to allow him to see almost as clearly as if he did not have it on. It flattened his features, merged them into the pattern of the urban camouflage he wore, his face disappeared, he became a part of the shadow, without identity and without substance, moved into the shadow with ethereal silence.
The highest risk part of the job was getting on to the roof tops in the first place, he would climb the stairs to the flat above and then using the kitchen window ledge climb up. He was not as agile as once he was but he was fit and he was strong, this would be no problem.
The drunk Poles had left the alleyway and were nowhere to be seen. The alley was empty, mid-morning was a quiet time. The Junkies that used the alley for moving about the town to shop lift had been out at nine and scored their first bags of gear, they were now in their bedsits and flats with the blanket of heroin pulled warm and tight over their squalid and desolate worlds. People that worked or shopped in the town didn’t venture into the dangerous edgeland of their worlds’ that the alleyway represented.
Hicks padded up the stairs to the flat, allowing each foot fall to settle before placing the next. Combat boots were not the best for this, but he no longer had the sticky climbing shoes. But with careful placement he could prevent the stairs from resonating and continue his progress in silence. With every step he paused for a second to check the windows. The back window directly to his front had a sheet pinned over it, the sheet was still and made no movement. The more imminent danger came from the kitchen window to his side. The room was dark inside and he would struggle to see anyone in there until they had moved, the light was off and he hoped that anyone using the kitchen would turn it on as soon as they stepped into the room.
The platform beside the door was only two more steps above him when the sheet in the back window moved. Hicks instantly crouched down to the wall. He was not able to see what had caused the movement, the bottom right corner of the sheet had lifted just an inch or two. He guessed for someone to look out of. He was confident that even if they had caught sight of him that they would not have recognised the shape on the stairs to be a person. The Clothing disrupted his outline very effectively and the hood made his face invisible. Without the outline and the head the human mind would not be able to place the shape on the stairs in the identification box that said “human”.
He waited frozen on the stairs for a second and then, when there was no more movement he made his way on to the top platform beside the kitchen window and crouched amongst the discarded cigarette ends on rusted steel platform. As he watched the kitchen intently the door into the kitchen from the back room opened. A human shape stepped into the kitchen in front of him, if they saw him here she would be compromised. It was a young woman, she stepped into the kitchen and walked straight through in front of him without looking out of the window. She was naked, her long mane wild and unbrushed. Her thin body was adorned with poor homemade or amateur tattoos. She disappeared from view into a door at the end of the kitchen, Hicks assumed it to be the toilet. This was his chance to get up and on to the roof, but he needed to be quick and silent, the woman was only ten feet from him and might only be in the toilet long enough to go for a piss. Silently and with cat like agility he sprung from the plat form and one foot landed on the window ledge. On hand under the barge board around the roof and the other on the gutter bracket he swung the other leg flat onto the pitched kitchen roof. With a quiet secondary moved he flicked the foot from the window ledge and placed it gently beside the other on the roof and rolled his body up the roof once. H exhaled slowly and calmly as he lay on the small pitched slate roof of the flat. He hear the toilet flush and the soft pad of the woman’s bare feed as she made her way back from the toiled and through the house. That was as close as he wanted to get to being compromised during this outing.
Remaining low on the roof and spreading his weight through his hands, forearms knees calves and feet he moved along the roof to the main line of the terrace roofs. Now the route to the mosque was simple and straight ahead. Even in the low and crouched position he covered the ground distance quickly and efficiently, he kept below the line of the roofs and away from the edge. His movement was close to invisible to anyone on the ground. He was aware that the town boasted a superb CCTV centre that had been fitted ten years previously but he also knew that the monitoring centre was understaffed and that many of the cameras were now unserviceable as the council had not been able to afford to maintain them properly. With the streets becoming busy he was quite sure that the few CCTV operators would be monitoring the shops and streets for the thieves and drunks, they would not be watching the roof tops.
When Stu got onto the roof of the converted house that now formed the mosque he lay still for a few moments. The front door opened on the other side of the building so he felt safe to rest for a moment. It was still only 11:30, prayers did not start for another hour, but he wanted to be in situ before the building started to get busy in the hope that should anyone come into the building early he would be there to hear them.
At this point it occurred to him that there was a chance that his targets might speak Urdu. Or another Asian language. He crouched on the roof and could not believe how stupid he had been by omitting this possibility from his planning. It was too late now he was there he needed to take the chance.
He positioned himself half way along the roof and half way up. From a large pocket inside the back of his jacket he removed a stethoscope and a long thin handled pair of cutters. The cutters would have been as equally at home in a surgeons tools as the stethoscope would be. He placed the stethoscope on and placed the end flat against the roof. He could hear deeply muffled conversation from inside the mosque. Experience told him that the sound was from a distance and that the attic had not been converted. With the long handled snips he reached under one of the slates in front of him. He felt the two copper nails that held the slate in place. He cut through them both and released the slate which slid down to his hand silently. The first slate rested against his knee he cut through the nails of two more slates, one either side of the first, and lifted them to his knee and lifted them to his knee. The removal of these slates enabled him to remove three below opening a gap. He gathered the slates together and took them to the edge of the roof where he delicately placed them so the edges were held in the gutter. The hole in the roof was not yet complete with the lats still in place. He returned his tools to the pocket in his jacket and pulled out from the pocket a multi tool and opened the saw blade. Easily and quietly he sawed one of the lats out leaving a hole he could comfortably get through. Again he took these lats and placed them in the guttering then made his way back to his hole. Reaching in he gripped one of the trusses and swung his legs in, he landed lightly and softly on the beams. No one in the room below would have been able to hear the soft transfer of his weight onto the timbers. He stretched out and lay along two of the beams, the fibreglass insulation would deaden any noise he made. Again he removed the stethoscope and held it to the plasterboard or the ceiling below him. There was some sounds of movement from the room below. He lay still and quiet, waiting for an opportunity, the room became quiet and he heard the click of a door latch. Another sixty seconds of quiet and he removed a ten millimetre drill bit from his pocket and started to drill through the plaster board, every half turn he paused for five seconds and listened. Before starting again he brushed the dust away. He continued until the plaster was gone and the thin piece of paper on the back was all that remained. He replaced the drill bit and using the small, razor sharp blade of the multi-tool he cut a cross in the paper. Through the small hole he placed a small fibre optic lens and attached it to a small hand held endoscope. He lay and he waited.
Years of close surveillance had taught Hicks almost unbounded patience. He could maintain a high level of alertness whilst his mind wandered. It would take the very slightest stimulation to bring his mind back into sharp, monochrome focus. And so it was, he listened through the stethoscope and heard the prayers being given on the ground floor and the lessons being given to the children in the school room. He heard the sound of running water and the noise of a kettle being filled and turned on.
The door to the meeting room opened and Hicks heard the people come into the room. Immediately his mind left the Caribbean Beach and zoomed in on the room below. He moved the eyepiece of the endoscope and looked into the room. The meeting room slowly filled with men. They were of all ages and some dressed in traditional Muslim dress whilst others dressed in smart western suits, some casual and some scruffy. He listened to the speech, some of the men spoke English but most spoke in other Asian languages. He waited and listened. He saw Tariq move close to the Mayor, Quereshi.
“Hello uncle” Tariq spoke to Quereshi.
“Hello Tariq, how did you enjoy prayers?”
“Very much thank you, uncle. We have everything in place for your associates in Rotherham.”
Hicks focussed hard on the conversation, picking the most important parts out.
“Very good,” said Quereshi.
“This time we are going to use a unit that belongs to Abdul”
“Which Abdul? And I don’t want my associates going to some dirty garage with a mucky old mattress on the floor.”
“Oh no, Uncle it is not like that, it is a two story unit with nice accommodation upstairs which we have nicely sorted out with furniture and downstairs is a bit more open, we will put her in there then your associates can go upstairs when they have finished or they can have a break in comfort. It is Abdul Mohamed from the youth centre. We can trust him, he knows the business.”
“That is good, I might pop over and partake myself.”
“Well, will be there hosting it for you anyway, the guests are invited for ten and we will have her there for eleven.”
“Thank you, Tariq. I am sure that the normal respect will be paid to you early next week”
“Thank you, Uncle. It is always a pleasure to help you and you associates”.
“Tomorrow, the pleasure will be all mine”
Both men laughed. Hicks felt the anger boil inside him. They were talking about his niece, about Rhianna. She was just a kid. Half an hour later he was walking back home, once again dressed as a vagrant.
As he got in the back door Di, who had been sat at the table rose to greet him. “I know where she is.”
“That’s fantastic,” Di said. “Tell Pol”
“Ok, I will just let me get changed and I will get straight onto him.”
Pol stepped into the back yard of the police station and pulled his mobile phone out. He walked slowly towards the cycle shed where his motorbike was stood. He dialled the number from the phones memory.
“Hello,” The voice was detached, non-descript and without accent.
“Is that Mr Black?” Pol asked.
“Who is this?”
“It’s Pol Winchester.”
“Yes this is Black”
“I have some information on the location of a missing girl, tomorrow she is going to be gang raped by a group of animals in Rotherham” Pol said.
“Right, is it Rhianna Taylor?”
“Yeah, how do you know?”
“I have various sources, technical and human, and I knew that she was missing”
Pol knew that Stu spoke to him, they had discussed this on a number of occasions, but they both had agreed not to let Black know they both spoke to him and not to mention him in any electronic communication.
“She is in Rotherham at a place owned by Abdul Mohammed.” Pol appraised Black of all of the facts he knew.
“Ok, where did this information come from?”
“I also have sources,” Pol replied jokingly.
“Yes, Quite.” Black replied, dry with no humour.
Pol said “Her Uncle, Stuart Hicks found it out”,
Black replied “Ok, I don’t know how much we can act on without compromising him”.
The reality of what Black had said to Pol started to sink in. He was declining to help. He was backing out of rescuing a fourteen year old girl.
“I am sorry, Mr Black, are you declining to help?”
“I am not declining to help, I am just thinking of the bigger picture, Sergeant”
“So what should I do? The local police can’t help because they are all bent and now you are saying that your agency, who the fuck they might really be, won’t do anything?”
“Look Pol, I know where you are coming from and I understand the way that you feel, but we have to keep a grip on the bigger picture or all is lost.”
“I am sorry I swore. I served in the forces with her Uncle, I guess I sort of know her by proxy”.
“I think if he went to recover her then it might be the best thing” he didn’t say anymore. He just left the suggestion in the air.
“Ok, Mr Black, I will leave it with you”
“Thanks Pol, keep me posted”
Pol: Swimming pool 10 min
When Pol got to the pool Hicks was already waiting for him. He was pacing up and down in front of the main entrance. Pol told Stu what Black said to him. Both men stood and looked at each other without speaking a word.
“Do you know where we are going?” Pol asked Hicks, by way of accomplice.
“I will by tomorrow.” Hicks said simply.