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Authors: Faith Martin

By a Narrow Majority

BOOK: By a Narrow Majority
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By a Narrow Majority

Faith Martin

Detective Inspector Hillary Greene watched Sergeant Duncan Baines check his .38 revolver and was glad it was him and not her. It was a cold and still March morning, and she shivered inside her long black coat, reflecting that frost and nerves never did make for a good combination.

Two other members of the Tactical Firearms Unit stood off to one side of her, watching the innocuous office unit without blinking. Neither appeared overtly nervous, which was
reassuring
, though Hillary for one was not totally convinced by their calm. Behind the bland faces, tension had to be high. Even on a low-risk offensive like this one.

‘Hill.’ A voice behind her had her turning and smiling. DI Robbie ‘Dobbin’ Dobson was an old friend of hers from way back, when she was still at her old Headington nick, and she’d been relieved when told that he was to be in charge of the arrests today. ‘Still think it’ll be a good one?’ he asked her flatly. He was a tall man, with silver hair and pale blue eyes, and a quiet voice that always reminded her of a priest.

Hillary nodded. ‘I don’t think we’re dealing with a bunch of desperadoes if that’s what you mean. My snitch was adamant they’re first-timers.’

Dobbin grunted, but wasn’t appeased. ‘They can be the worst of the lot,’ he grumbled. ‘No experience, see. Guys who tool up regularly, they tend to know the odds when they’re surrounded, and give up without a fight. Amateurs think guns
make them supermen. Then there’s always the “if you got it, flaunt it” factor. Why have a gun if you’re not going to fire the damn thing? Give even the mildest-mannered villain a gun in his hand and he thinks he’s Jesse James.’

Hillary sighed. There was always something. ‘My snitch is Gary Verney’s wife, as you know. He’s been a strictly petty B&E merchant until now; you know the sort – not too bright, but in no way vicious either. I just can’t see him giving you any trouble. He spends more time inside than out, and Mavis, his wife, seems to prefer it that way. Word is she’s got a
stand-in
ready whenever he’s locked up, so she’s never been a player until now.’

Dobbin grunted. ‘But?’

‘But she’s been scared out of her wits ever since her nearest and dearest bragged about this new mate of his getting him some real hardware.’ Hillary went over it again, even though she knew that he’d already been fully briefed by DCI Mallow. ‘She doesn’t know much about this new mate, or says she doesn’t, but I got the distinct feeling from her attitude and reading between the lines that he’s about as hard as last night’s left-over fish and chips as well,’ she carried on. ‘So I’m really not expecting fireworks.’ Even as she said it, she felt a moment of shame. It was easy to be sanguine when she wasn’t going to go through the door until everything had been sorted.

Before she could say so, however, Dobbin nodded and sighed. ‘It’s a sign of the times when even the bottom feeders start tooling up.’ He sounded as tired and dispirited as she’d ever heard him, making her wonder why he still did the job. He could have retired by now if he’d wanted to, and was a granddad twice over, and yet here he was, carrying a loaded gun and maybe about to get shot at. Still, he’d been doing it for years, so perhaps he was addicted.

Regular coppers could apply for firearms training at any point in their careers, of course, but surprisingly few did so. Perhaps it was the rigorous psychological evaluation that put
them off. Others, like herself, had no fantasies of locking and loading and going down in a haze of bullets. Or, in this case, of raiding a rather dreary office unit in the outskirts of Bicester on a cold Monday morning.

Dobbin’s earpiece stuttered and he listened intently, nodded and glanced at the other two armed men. Both looked way too young, to Hillary, to be carrying firearms. ‘Team two are in position. Ready?’

Hillary felt the sudden and urgent need to go to the loo. She looked around nervously, but the business park was reassuringly deserted.

According to her snitch, the gun dealer in question was a previously unknown character by the name of Adam Fairway. Background checks had confirmed that he ran a legitimate garden equipment supply business from one of Bicester’s many business parks, and the fact that he had no criminal record and hadn’t even crossed the radar of any of Oxfordshire’s police forces meant nothing. Nowadays, with gun crime on the rise, every Tom, Dick and Harry seemed to want in on the act.

She watched as the two officers, Baines and Dobbin, approached unit 62, using parked cars as cover. A second team, she knew, was in position at the back of the premises. It was barely ten o’clock, and most workers had long since settled in to their office routines. She hoped the sound of gunfire wouldn’t interrupt their morning coffee. She hoped nobody would even know arrests had been made until gossip did the rounds at lunchtime.

She glanced over her shoulder once more and sighed. Where was Frank Ross, that worthless waste of space? As one of the sergeants on her team, and the longest serving member, he was supposed to be here to provide logistical support. Ha! She’d be better off with a trained poodle.

She rubbed her hands nervously across her dark blue skirt and tried to breathe normally. Sergeant Baines reached the door first, waited for a signal from his team leader, then tried
the handle. It was open. Good. No need for the battering ram then, which meant one less hurdle and one less thing that could go wrong.

Hillary watched as first Duncan Baines, then her old friend entered the building, followed by the younger two. She glanced at her watch. 10.02. No shouting. No shots. She glanced behind her and saw two uniformed constables crouched down out of sight behind a furniture lorry. One of the business units housed the local depot of a large-scale sofa manufacturer. She looked down at her watch – thirty seconds had passed. Still no sounds. A door further down the avenue of block-like buildings opened and Hillary tensed. An office worker stepped outside and lit up a fag. Of all the times she could have chosen, Hillary thought grimly. She was dressed in a blue suit very similar to her own – skirt, jacket, white blouse. Only the secretary’s skirt reached up to her bum, while Hillary’s fell modestly down to her knees.

Hillary grimaced, feeling suddenly old. Forty-four was probably not old, but it wasn’t exactly young either. Would she still be working long past the time when she could have retired, like Dobbin? Too scared of boredom or loneliness to quit while she still could? It was a depressing thought.

She glanced at her watch again, wishing the secretary would go back inside. It wasn’t always feasible to evacuate an area when armed arrests were being made, and the woman’s presence outside was making her antsy. Another thirty seconds had gone by. Then a whole minute. Her radio remained stubbornly silent.

What if she was wrong? What if her snitch had got it wrong, or, worse yet, had been leading her up the garden path? It wouldn’t be the first time the wife of some old lag had decided to have a laugh and pull a copper’s leg. But she didn’t think so. Mavis Verney had struck her as genuine – in her own way, genuinely fond of her no-hoper of a husband, and almost comically indignant about the worthlessness of his newest buddy and his plan to get her husband tooled up.

Her radio suddenly squawked her designated number and she lifted it quickly to her ear. She wasn’t aware that she’d been holding her breath until she released it on a long relieved sigh when she finally heard Dobbin’s voice. ‘Eight-one, this is two-six. All clear.’

Hillary acknowledged the call with a dry raspy voice, and nodded across to the two uniforms to accompany her. She knew the call had also gone through to another team of constables, parked well out of sight up the road, who would now come in and help her do the scut work.

Hillary walked the short space across the car park, glad that, at last, the office worker had gone back inside. Someone should tell her that smoking could seriously damage your health.

In unit 62, someone had gone nuts with cans of beige paint and had plastered it everywhere – the plywood walls, the artexed ceilings, the window frames and doors. Even the heavy-duty matting was beige coloured. A straight and simple corridor gave way to rows of doors, but Hillary could hear the murmuring of voices far down and to the left. She walked cautiously and very slowly forward, even though she trusted Dobbin’s judgement completely, and knew that his team would have made a quick but thorough search before giving the all clear. Still, it never hurt to be careful.

Just then, Duncan Baines opened one of the doors a bit wider, and grinned out at her. He was dressed, as were all the Tactical Firearms Unit team, in dark blue Kevlar. ‘In here, Inspector Greene.’

Hillary walked in to an office with posters of beautiful landscaped gardens plastered on every wall. A big box of newly published brochures, featuring that year’s leaf rake and garden extension hose deal of the century sat on a table. A young girl, obviously a secretary, was seated behind a word processor in a little plexi-glass cubicle, not sure whether she was shocked, scared, fascinated or indignant.

Sitting behind a big desk in the main office, and looking
distinctly shame-faced, was a man who could have posed for Daddy Warbucks in the musical
Annie
. He was dressed in a very smart blue pinstriped suit, was almost completely bald, and had the florid complexion of a farmer. He was twisting a wedding ring nervously around and around on his finger. Looking tense and miserable on the other side of the desk from him was Gary Verney and a man Hillary didn’t know.

‘Are you in charge here?’ Daddy Warbucks asked, trying to sound outraged. He couldn’t quite bring it off.

‘Mr Fairway?’ Hillary asked, coming forward and opening out her ID card and rattling off her name, rank, and the fact that she worked out of Thames Valley’s headquarters in Kidlington. As she did this, she glanced at Dobbin, who merely shrugged. Things had gone easy.

There were no guns laid out on the table – but then, with a secretary present, she hardly thought there would be. More likely the two men and the gun supplier had simply been negotiating a price. She sighed, and reached for the radio. ‘Bring in the dogs.’

She glanced around and grimaced as Detective Sergeant Frank Ross sauntered in through the doorway. At least he hadn’t turned up in the middle of the raid, just when he could do the most damage. Even so, it wasn’t like him to miss the show. Frank considered himself to be an old-fashioned copper, harder than the actors in the seventies cop show
The Sweeney
and twice as streetwise. She knew for a fact that he’d applied for firearms training early on in his career, and she was sure that she could still hear them chuckling about it, even now. Needless to say, he’d been turned down. Frank Ross had to be the least liked cop at Kidlington nick, and when she thought about the serious competition he had, that was saying something.

‘Frank,’ she said dryly. ‘So nice of you to join us.’ Frank had never been her number one fan, and since she’d saved his life a few months ago, he positively hated her guts. She suspected his late showing was just another way of pissing her off.

‘I demand to know what’s going on,’ Daddy Warbucks said nervously, rising from behind his desk on legs that even Hillary could see were shaking. Just then, a uniformed constable came in with a beautiful liver-and-white spaniel. She saw Gary Verney’s eyes widen as he saw it. No doubt he was expecting a slavering Alsatian that looked ready to rip the head off anything that moved. Most people did. But the fact was, spaniels, and many other assorted breeds, were
regularly
used by the police to sniff out drugs, firearms, and other assorted goodies.

Hillary handed over the search warrant for Adam Fairway to read, and nodded to Frank. ‘Since you’re here, you can help Tactical to oversee the search. Mr Fairway, you have separate premises in the rear of the lot, I understand?’ She knew he had. They’d done their homework carefully before going in.

Adam Fairway went rather green as Hillary gave the trainer with the dog the order to start there. For a man who was into gardening, she supposed it was a good colour for him. Behind her, in her little plexi-glass cubicle, the secretary began to cry. Perhaps it was genuine shock, or perhaps she simply wanted one of the big, handsome, armed policemen to notice her. Which they did, of course, the youngest one going over to her at once and offering her a shoulder to cry on.

Hillary turned her attention to the two men sitting opposite the desk. ‘Hello, Gary, remember me?’ she asked, moving forward, and nodding to Dobbin to take a seat opposite.

‘Er, yeah. DI, er …’ Verney was a little sparrow of a man; small, brown haired, eyed and skinned, and fragile-looking.

‘Greene,’ Hillary prompted. ‘I arrested you last, let me see, nearly ten years ago now, wasn’t it? When I was still in uniform. Who’s your friend?’ She turned and glanced at the other man and smiled. He was slightly younger than the thief, a bit flashier, but probably no smarter. He wore an earring and a spider tattoo on the back of his left hand. He went a trifle pale with the sudden attention she was giving him.

‘Eh? Don’t know him,’ Gary Verney said promptly. ‘I was
just here to order a lawn mower, like. This bloke came in just after I did. After a lawn mower too, I ’spect. Mr Fairway here was just telling me that he was doing this great deal on the latest hover mower. Weren’t you?’

Adam Fairway nodded, but his sickly green colour
intensified
as the sound of excited barking reached them through the open back door.

‘Gary, Gary,’ Hillary said softly, shaking her head, ‘you don’t have a garden. You live in a block of flats, remember?’

The young officer not consoling the pretty secretary suddenly laughed. As did Dobbin. And so, after a short,
startled
pause, did Gary Verney. Hillary caught Dobbin’s eye and shook her head slightly. Sometimes the job gave up a moment of farce so absurd that no theatre producer would touch it with a bargepole.

The stranger beside Gary, probably unnerved by the sudden levity, stood up. ‘Look, all I was after was a hedge trimmer. I don’t know nothing about this, so I’ll be off.’ He even pushed back his chair ready to move. Frank Ross strode forward and pushed him back down in his seat. As he did so, Dobbin’s radio crackled.

BOOK: By a Narrow Majority
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