Sunday 22nd April
When I woke up my hands were still tied behind me. The car was upside down. There was no hood over my head this time, so it wasn’t the nightmare. Everything felt soft and distant and there was ringing in my ears. I tasted blood. Someone was moaning and it wasn’t me. I shuffled around and saw the driver. He wasn’t moving. It looked like someone had cut his throat. It was Greaves who was moaning. He was upside down and trapped against the airbag. I’d been kidnapped before and had survived, both times. The first time was part of our training. I could hear the trainer’s voice.
‘You’ll be in shock when you wake up. Remember you’re not dead yet. If they’d wanted to kill you they would have done it earlier. It’s information they want. Count before you answer. Try to buy yourself some time. Make them wait longer each time before you answer the next question. And don’t tell them anything. Once you tell them what they want to know, you’re no longer required. That’s not a good place to be.’
Now there were women’s voices shouting in my ear.
I think that’s where this all started.
‘Come on girls, higher. Lean to your right, bend your left knee high to your chest. Balance. Now, fast-kick and return. Good. Do three more, then change over.’
The class was going well. They were improving rapidly.
The phone in my pocket vibrated. It was Andy Johnson, my boss. I ignored it and put it back.
‘That’s it. Lean, bend, balance, kick. Okay, back to your base position. Left foot forward. Head and trunk should be upright. Hands high. Now, one-eighty on the spot. Good. Now, right foot should be forward and your trunk still upright. One-eighty back again. Good. You should now be in the same position that you started at.’
The phone vibrated again. A text this time.
Can you come in to the office now? Client with me. I have a new job for you. Andy.
Glancing at the clock, I did a quick calculation then hit Reply.
I wrote Twenty minutes then pressed Send.
‘Okay girls,’ I shouted. ‘That’s it for this week. What have we got to remember?’
‘Ten-B’ some of them called back.
‘I can’t hear you?’ I felt like the front guy in a rock band.
‘Ten-B’ they shouted, this time much louder.
‘And what’s Ten-B?’
‘Throat, Eyes, Nose and Balls!’ they yelled back in unison.
‘Wonderful, remember your life might depend on it one day. See you all next week.’ I gave them a clap, and they gave me a clap, and we were done.
I’d been taking this class at Blues Gym for nearly nine months. I was doing regular member training sessions when they asked me to take over as maternity cover for one of their trainers. It should have been dance aerobics. I added in a few self-defence moves at the girls’ request and the class increased its popularity. Now it was fully booked every week and Blues were happy. Ten-B came from my special services training. Do or die time, it was called. We’d all be sitting on the floor around a rubber mat. Our instructor, Jaws, just called out names at random and into the middle we went to do or to die in no-rules unarmed combat. The winner was the one left standing. No-one actually died, but several never made it into action. That was the point. It sorted out who was going to survive before it really mattered.
I wasn’t the strongest and there were only two women in training, but I was flexible, I was fast, and I was determined to survive. I could kick from floor to head in an instant, but I’d learned the hard way that this wasn’t the smartest move. It was too easy for your opponent to grab your foot if you missed. I’d worked on Ten-B instead. I would wait for the first swing to come, duck to avoid it and when they were off balance, deliver an elbow or fist to the nose, followed by a throat punch or a sideways kick to the balls or the knee joint. That would get me out of there in one piece. Ten-B got me through special forces training. Now I was trying to pass it on to the girls. They certainly enjoyed testing it.
I took my music out of the CD player, stuffed it into my backpack and headed for the car park. Ten stairs down, one landing, then eight stairs.
At the door, I paused to let the automatic glass door open and surveyed the car park. It was impossible to note all the changes and car movements. There was too much turnover but nothing looked suspicious, so I headed over to my Dogma cycle. The trip to town wasn’t long. Up Mathew Bank, along Highbury and down into town. The route took me past my therapist’s, Doctor Penny Richardson, place. I needed to make another appointment with her. Freewheeling down into Grey Street, I turned into the office alleyway and parked it around the back. Grey Street had once been home to wealthy bankers and merchants. Now it was home to bistro restaurants, employment agencies and bars that used to be banks. It was also home to Andy Johnson Investigations. I climbed the twenty-two stairs and pushed open the glass doors to our office.
‘Hi Kelly, is he free?’
‘He’s expecting you. He’s got a client with him, but he said you should go straight in.’
We have a large open-plan office with excellent views of Grey Street. At the far end there are two rooms with glass walls. The one on the right is the conference room for general meetings plus the monthly team get-together. The one on the left is Andy’s office. Andy was forty-eight and had the beginnings of grey in his short stubble. He was fit and strong with bright piercing blue eyes. He could spot liars a mile away. It was Andy that taught me to look for the tell-tale signs when suspects were lying. He sent me on the FBI training course. After that it became easier to spot the lie, until finally I was left with just ‘the hunch.’ He called it his alarm bell. I learned how to feel the signal going off in my head when someone was lying to me. It could also be a curse. I soon realised how many people were lying to me every day.
Andy had been my DI at Byker Station until they reorganised. They made him an offer that he couldn’t refuse so he moved out to set up Andy Johnson Investigations. Recruiting me was one of his first moves. At Byker, I’d been marking time. I’d just been through a messy divorce so Andy’s offer gave me an exit route. It proved to be a good move on my part. This was the best place I’d worked at so far.
I knocked on his door then entered.
‘You rang boss?’
‘Riley, come in.’ He waved me towards him and his visitor. Both were sitting at his coffee table.
‘I’d like you to meet Laura Scott.’ Laura Scott stood up and held out her hand. She was about five foot five, in her late fifties maybe, dark brown hair tied back. She wore small round earrings and a grey business suit over a white blouse. She had sad-looking eyes and her forehead had some deep wrinkles. She looked unhappy but that wasn’t a surprise. Most of our clients were unhappy.
‘Hello,’ she said, ‘I’m Laura Scott.’
‘Hi. I’m Riley.’
‘Come and join us, Riley. I’ll take you through a job that Laura wants us to help her with.’
‘Us? You mean me.’
‘Of course. Your last job has just finished hasn’t it?’
He was being bright, cheerful and positive with his new client. Then he said, ‘Laura’s lost her husband. He’s just died.’
‘Oh, I’m sorry.’
I re-focused. There was someone else’s pain in the room that I needed to consider.
‘He died of a heart attack on the Isle of Lewis, in Scotland, just over two weeks ago. He was a vet specialising in virology working for the Scottish Office. Laura thinks he may have picked up a new virus.’
‘And it killed him?’
‘It’s not what you think,’ Laura interrupted.
She seemed to know exactly what I was thinking. Virus, death, me getting involved. No chance.
She started to explain, ‘He was working in close proximity with some sheep that he was testing. They’d been dying mysteriously. His test results indicated that they had a blood disorder. They were developing unusual blood clots. Then he died of a sudden heart attack, apparently caused by unusual blood clotting. There was a Fatal Accident Inquiry and it concluded that he died of natural causes. There’s a brick wall being erected by everyone that I talk to. I just need your need help to get beyond it. There’s no risk to you from any virus. Not unless you plan to get up close and personal with some infected island sheep. And we don’t really know if they’re infected or not.’
‘Why have you come to us?’
‘My husband’s Head of Faculty suggested it. He knows Andy. He thinks they may have already activated a secret emergency plan. That plan would stop me from getting at the truth. He thought that Andy would be good at getting around any secrecy.’
‘And I thought of you,’ chipped in my cheerful boss. ‘You’re our resident expert in surveillance and snooping.’
I was looking at their faces. Andy looked like a car salesman about to make his sale of the month. Laura Scott’s face was sad and pained. She needed my help, and Andy needed her business.
‘Have you explained our rates and paying for any extra surveillance items that I might need?’
‘Not yet. Our rates are six hundred pounds per day plus additional items and any incidental expenses. My guess is that we might need about six days. This would set you back four or five thousand. Is that what you expected?’
‘That’s fine, Andy. I need to do this. The proceeds from Peter’s insurance policy will cover it.’
‘I think you should add another thousand to cover surveillance kit,’ I added.
Andy tried to look reassuringly at Laura. ‘We always get a good result for our clients.’
‘When is the job supposed to start?’ I asked.
‘I want to return to Lewis in a few days. I need to pick up Peter’s belongings. He was renting a cottage. The local police are holding the keys until the end of the month.’
‘You have a day or two to formulate a plan,’ said Andy. Then he added, ‘Laura lives in Darras Hall.’
Laura seemed puzzled.
‘Are you from Darras Hall too?’
It wasn’t really a lie. I didn’t live there any more.
‘It’s a nice place, I like it a lot.’
It was an old surveillance service habit. It’d been drummed into us during training. Don’t tell your colleagues anything about yourself. No real names. No details about your home life. No names of any family. Nothing. That way, if they get captured and tortured, they can’t spill the beans about you. I wasn’t expecting Laura to get captured and tortured into telling her captives where I lived but old habits died hard.
‘How about if I come over to visit you? Tonight would be good for me.’
‘Yes, tonight is fine. I could prepare some supper for you. How about eight o’clock?’
‘Eight o’clock is good for me, but I’ll skip the supper.’
‘Is there anything else that I need to prepare for you?’
‘I’ll need you to tell me everything that you know with the names and addresses of anyone involved if you have them. Then we’ll work out a plan about what to do after that. Can you give me your address?’
Andy passed her a notepad and pen. She wrote down her address and telephone number. I looked at it for a few moments. I didn’t need to memorise it. She lived along the road from dad.
‘I’ll see you at eight tonight.’
I left them to discuss the fine details of the contract. Andy smiled at me as I left the room.
I sat at my desk and picked up the phone, pushing some well pressed keys. Eight rings. I waited.
‘Hello, dad, it’s me.’
‘Riley, what a surprise. Are you okay?’
‘I’m good, dad. I’m just checking up on you.
‘I’m still here.’
‘I’m going to be passing the house tonight. Are you going to be in?’
‘Where would I be going?’
‘How about six-thirty, for an hour?’
‘Shall I ask Sally to leave you some tea?’
‘No thanks, I’ll have eaten. I’ll see you at six-thirty.’
About thirty seconds. A good conversation. We’d stripped our calls down to the bare minimum. I didn’t need to tell him that I was worried he was looking frail and he didn’t need to tell me he wanted me fixed up with a new man. He wasn’t going to be happy until I was bringing over three grandchildren for Sunday lunch.
I pressed some more buttons. Sally answered.
‘Hi Riley. Was that you just now?’
‘Yes, I’m coming over tonight. Are you at the house?’
‘I am. He’ll be pleased to see you, it’s been a while.’
‘I know, it’s work. I get busy. It looks like I’ll be going away again, maybe for a week this time. How has he been?’
‘He’s been good, really… He reads a lot. Mainly military stuff. And he’s always on the internet. He claims that he’s keeping up to date with the news.’
His voice was muttering in the background.
‘He says that you don’t need to check up on him. He can tell you himself.’
‘Okay Sally, let me know if he needs anything?’
I crossed the room to the corner window. Graham Walton was our Australian IT guru and he was talking on the phone while typing on his laptop. I sat down in front of him, smiled, and listened in to his conversation.
‘Look, I’m going to have to go now. How about popping over to the Pitcher and Piano after work? I’ll buy you one of those Mohican cocktails that you’ve been raving about. No? Friday then?’ He gave me a big smile. I put two fingers up close to my mouth and made a silent puking motion into his waste basket.
‘You do know that I’m an expert in interrogation? You will give in. . . Monday? What kind of night is that? Okay, Monday six o’clock, at the P and P. I’m in love with you already.’ He ended the call and put his mobile into his shirt pocket.
He was grinning at me. ‘Riley, how about I buy you a Mohican after work?’
‘I think you’ll find it’s called a Mojito and you should try to discriminate between us a bit more. We would find it a bit more flattering if you made the effort.’
‘I don’t want to marry her, I just want to have some fun. Maybe with you too.’
‘I’m not easily taken in by your beautiful smile. And I think your idea of fun would be over in five minutes.’
‘No, longer than that, surely? I’m thinking about thirty minutes at least. So, what can I do for you?’
‘The Robson job.’
He typed on his laptop.
‘You still have two mini GSM bugs out.’
‘I need three more. I’ll keep those two. I also need two plug GSM’s and two 3G waterproof remote cameras.’
‘New job? What’s the job number?’
‘It starts today. The client’s name is Scott. She’s in there now. Andy’ll give you the job number when she’s signed the contract.’
‘Well, according to my excellent records that means you will have five GSM bugs, two plug GSM’s, two 3G remote cameras, a radio frequency bug tracer wristwatch, a company iPhone and laptop, one pair of infra-red field glasses, one pair of night vision goggles, four marine parachute flares, and a Sig Saur Elite Dark pistol.’
‘The two mini GSM’s are still in action. I intend to recover them tonight.’
He opened his desk drawer and pulled out his bar code reader. ‘Come with me.’
I followed him to the kit store. He swiped his ID card and keyed in his four digit code. Five one five zero. Football scores for Newcastle against Manchester United apparently. I’d already worked out the numbers by listening to the tones. He should’ve switched off the tones when setting it up but I never mentioned it to him.
He pulled at the heavy metal door and the lights came on automatically. It was an Aladdin’s cave of surveillance equipment. A windowless cupboard about eighteen feet long with wide wooden shelves on either side and just enough room for two people to turn around. Surveillance and other technical kit for our jobs filled the shelves. He picked up three GSM bug boxes, the two ‘plug-bugs’ and the two cameras. He scanned them into his bar code reader and handed them to me.
‘I’ll come back to you if I can’t retrieve the Robson bugs.’
‘I expect I’ll be hearing from you soon. I’m always bailing you out Riley.’
‘Only when I’m stuck, Graham.’
‘That’s a regular occurrence. I’m watching out for you!’
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish