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Authors: Alan Jacobson

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BOOK: No Way Out
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Turner’s eyes rotated up and about. “I’ve heard of them. But no, they don’t mean anything to me. Why, you think they’re involved?”

“So you haven’t heard anything from them. Haven’t had any contact with them.”

“Nothing,” he said firmly—with a bit too much volume. He held up a hand and tucked his chin as he composed himself. “Look, Agent Vail. I don’t want any trouble. Are you—are you going to tell anyone about where I got the manuscript?”

Vail looked at him a long moment, then said, “I only need the info for the threat assessment. I’m no expert on British law regarding archeological or historical preservation, but I have a feeling that what you did is not above board. I think you already know that. As would Inspector Reid. That said, if you did the right thing by selling it to a reputable party, Reid and I would have nothing to discuss.”

“Of course,” he said, nodding. “Of course.”

“I’m thinking you should start by contacting the leading British museums and see if they’re interested.” She winked at him and gave him a hard, long look.

Turner frowned. “First of all, they’re going to want to know where I got it. Not to mention who knows what they’d do with it once they had it in their possession—”

“Given the timing of the Curtain excavation and the discovery of the manuscript in your gallery, a museum curator would be able to put the pieces together. You could simply say a man approached you—which is true. Any museum worth a shit would salivate over a find like this. And my sense is that they’d want to display it and boast that they’ve got one of the most significant pieces of literature in world history—and let the historians fight over its relevance to British society and culture.”

Turner looked away.

“Call them before close of business.”

Turner’s shoulders slumped. “They’ve already rung me up.”

“Then I suggest you call them back and make the offer. A very reasonable offer.” Vail’s BlackBerry vibrated. She fished it out and answered. “I’m a few blocks from the gallery, down New Bond, in front of—Okay. I’ll be here.” She shoved the handset back in her pocket and said, “I have to go. Make the call, Mr. Turner. Or I will most definitely have something for that journalist hanging around outside the gallery.”

Turner sighed in resignation, then turned and headed back the way they had come.

10

“M
erlin Hughes is the guy we’ll be meeting with,” Reid said. “He’s the legislative aide to Leon McAllister.”

Carter was seated in front of Vail, who was sweating the tight quarters. She opened the car window, despite the drizzle coming down, and the cool, damp air helped her breathe. “What can you tell me about the British Heritage Party?”

“Essentially,” Carter said, “the past twenty or so years they’ve tried to go ‘mainstream’ and become ‘respectable’ to reel in a broader spectrum of the British public. They prey on the disaffected, exploiting the economic situation and particularly the ‘threats’ to employment.”

“What threats?” Vail asked.

“Immigrants taking ‘our’ jobs,” Reid said. “Remember what Grouze said about Croats and Slavs? Immigration rates over the past fifteen years or so from the poorer parts of southern and eastern Europe have gone through the roof.”

“Because of their history,” Carter said, “the Security Service used to keep a close eye on them.”

Maybe it’s time to start again.
The rain picked up and Vail’s sleeve got wet. She rolled up the window a few inches.

“Leon McAllister,” Reid said, “is an elected Member of Parliament for an area of the UK that’s got a high concentration of immigrants. McAllister’s a sharp bloke, Oxford educated.”

Vail nodded. “We see that a lot in the US too, with our extreme right-wing groups. The leadership’s bright, the followers not so much.”

“They’re essentially a ‘Britain for the British’ party. They cater to white, lower-middle-class voters who are feeling increasingly marginalized—but are turned off by radicalism. So the party dialed back on the extremism to capture their votes. Even so, BHP policies still tend to be isolationist and xenophobic, and they’re still trying to extend their base using fear by exploiting deeply held and often buried prejudices.”

Reid pulled up to the curb across the street from the Nags Head Pub in South London.

Vail peered over the top of the partially open window and gazed up and down the street. “Where the hell are we?”

“Our meet with Merlin Hughes,” Carter said with a wink.

“All I see are bars and…more bars.”

“Right observant you are, Agent Vail.”

“I figured we’d meet him at Parliament or something. Don’t they have offices?”

“I thought this might be more conducive to an open chat. And on neutral territory, to boot.”

Vail rolled up the window. “What’s this Hughes guy like?”

“A party operative,” Carter said. “A disaffected Conservative, not as well educated as McAllister, but no pushover. Former worker bee for the Royal Mail, the postal service.”

“Shall we?” Reid asked, propping open his door.

Vail followed, dodging the driving rain and stepping in a puddle. “Carter, Turner said that MI5 had his surveillance footage at the lab.”

“They’re being reviewed and enhanced.”

“I’d like to see them.”

Carter glanced at her, a dubious look. “We do a thorough job, Agent Vail.”

“Of course. Can you arrange to get me a copy?”

With a frown, Carter said, “I’ll see what I can do.”

Reid reached forward and grabbed the handle of the pub’s front door. “Word of advice. Probably best if you didn’t meddle in those affairs.”

Meddle?
“Excuse me. Reviewing those recordings is a basic part of any investigation. Do you have a problem with me seeing them?”

“Not at all,” Reid said. “Just trying to head off a problem with my boss.”

“I can handle your boss.”

Carter chuckled. “No doubt.”

They pushed through the door and the low rumble of male conversation sat like fog over an old London street. In the dimly lit room, Carter wove his way past the tables to a rickety staircase that led downstairs. A large placard above the entry read, “No smoking. No exceptions.”

The steps were shallow, and Vail grabbed the handrail to make sure she didn’t take a header. The stairwell’s red and white wallpaper was peeling at the corners and rolling inward along its seams, as if it had fought years of dampness and lost.

They turned left at the landing, past a sign that posted the gastropub’s “recommended dishes”: lamb shoulder, braised ham hock and mash, smoked rabbit, and bread and butter pudding. She clamped a protective hand over her stomach.
I think my appetite just went on vacation.

“What’s a gastropub?”

“Latest craze,” Reid said. “A restaurant within a pub.”

Food in a bar? Now there’s a new concept.

The moldiness of the damp room flared Vail’s nostrils. A patron occupied a table to her right, but in the back, against the wall, another man sat with his elbows leaning on the table, a Lambert & Butler cigarette burning in an ash tray by his left forearm.

So much for the “no smoking, no exceptions” rule.

By the man’s right elbow sat a glass inscribed “Aspall Est 1728,” filled with amber liquid topped by a half inch of white foam.

Reid and Carter greeted their contact, then parted and revealed Vail. The man’s face brightened when she stepped forward.

His eyes traced her body from feet to face, lingering a tad longer on her chest. “They don’t make cops like they used to, eh? Who’s the dishy one?”

“She’s visitin’ from the States,” Reid said as they took seats around the small circular table.

“So what can I do for the ’Yard today?” Hughes asked. “Always happy to help.”

Vail had to resist rolling her eyes.
One of those.

“Must be serious if we’ve got this many coppers coming to have a beer with me.” He turned to Vail. “But you’re not a copper, are you?”

“FBI.”

Hughes tilted his head, then slowly found Reid’s face. “This is about the bombing. Your partner didn’t tell me—”

“Didn’t think it mattered. I mean, since you’re always happy to help. Doesn’t matter what we talk about, eh, mate?”

Hughes tightened his jaw and nodded slightly. “Not much I can tell you.”

“We have reason to believe that the Army of English Anarchists is involved,” Reid said.

A waitress walked up to the table, apparently oblivious to the nature of the conversation. “Can I get you anything?”

Being good law enforcement officers, the men demurred.

Vail was not so constrained. “I’ll have what Mr. Hughes is having.” It wasn’t so much that she liked beer, and with one exception in Napa awhile back, she did not drink on the job. But she wanted a way to connect with Hughes, and she’d given up smoking and did not want to tempt the pull of nicotine.

“From what little I know,” Vail said, “there’s some alignment of the Anarchists’ philosophy and yours. Yours being the BHP.”

Hughes leaned back and chewed on that a bit. “The British Heritage Party does not condone the bombing. And we don’t control these splinter groups. Nor can we. Just because someone came from the BHP doesn’t mean we endorse or even support their beliefs or that their beliefs mirror ours.”

“All due respect,” Carter said, “your group is intolerant of others. It’s not surprising that these Anarchist nut jobs have a tie to the BHP.”

Hughes studied Carter’s face a moment. “Why don’t we agree to say that it’s no secret that their leadership were once BHP members.”

Well, it’s news to me.

“But that doesn’t mean we had anything to do with the bombing.”

“We’re not accusing you of anything,” Reid said. “We just thought you might have some insight into the Anarchists. Let’s start with who they are.”

Hughes chuckled. He reached out and took a pull of his beer, then licked his lips and set it back down. “I don’t rightly know.”

“With all due respect,” Carter said, “you just stated that their leadership came from BHP.”

“Rumors.” Hughes locked gazes with Carter. “We’ve all heard them.”

The waitress brought Vail’s beer and set it in front of her.

Reid scooted his chair closer to the table. “You’ve had a number of people leave the Party the past few years. People who were frustrated with your shift in philosophy.”

“Sometimes you have to change your spots to blend in better in the wild,” Hughes said. “The party felt this was the best way to grow.”

“But you don’t agree,” Vail said.

He thought a moment, studying the table in front of him. “I think you stand by your principles. Plenty a people agree with us. But to those who don’t like what we stand for, I say, fuck ’em.”

Vail lifted her glass and held it out to Hughes. He squinted, then raised his own and tipped it against Vail’s. “I happen to agree with you, Mr. Hughes. We’ve got problems like that back in America. ’Course, I can’t say that shit when I’m in the States, because the Bureau has to be politically correct, but our country’s being overrun by Hispanics and Asians. The Hispanics take our blue collar jobs and the Asians take the high paying jobs in banking and engineering.”
Jeez, am I laying it on too thick?

Hughes studied her face a bit, then said, “People from poor countries come over here to live off the government, sucking our benefits dry. And British taxpayers pay the tab. It’s not right. We’re tryin’ to change all that—from within. No bombs.” He drove his index finger into the distressed wood table. “Legislation, that’s what we’re doing. Getting support for issues that appeal to the common man.” He turned to Reid and Carter. “That’s why we don’t know anything about that bombing.”

“But this bombing,” Vail said. “Does it sound like a tactic the Anarchists would take?”

Hughes laughed. “If I did think that, why would I tell you people?”

“Because you’re always happy to help Scotland Yard,” Reid said with a straight face.

Hughes grumbled, then grabbed his mug and threw back a swig of beer. He let the glass slam down a bit harder than necessary. His eyes flicked over to the table where the other patron sat, then back to Reid. “There were a few blokes who got upset years ago when Mr. McAllister started advocating change. They thought the party’d gone soft, that we were selling out to the mainstream, gettin’ in bed with the establishment—the people we’ve opposed for decades.”

“So they split off from the party,” Carter said.

Hughes took a pull from his Lambert. “We weren’t radical enough for them anymore.”

Or, apparently, for you.
“Sounds like you envy their position.”

Hughes sucked another mouthful from his cigarette. He locked eyes with Vail and leaned back in his chair. “Sometimes you have to make certain…compromises in life. But I’m not complainin’. I like my job. And I like working with Mr. McAllister.” His gaze again wandered over to the man at the other table. “Besides, being a radical is better suited to young bucks. I’m too old for that shit.”

Vail turned and glanced over her shoulder. The customer seated there wore a serious expression, his attention clearly focused on their table. Vail grasped her beer and rose from her chair.

“Where you going?” Reid asked.

She walked over to the other man’s table and took a seat. “Karen Vail. Good to meet you.”

Her new friend did not move, his vacant stare remaining on the formerly empty chair.

“Are you the leader of the Army of English Anarchists, or just a sympathizer?”

His eyes rose and met Vail’s. “I’m in charge.”

Vail nodded slowly. “Do you have a name?”

“I do.”

Vail waited, but he didn’t volunteer it. “You look like a Billy to me. So, Billy—”

“Nigel. Name’s Nigel. And I know why you’re here. No need to be troubling my friend over there. He ain’t got nothin’ to do with anythin’. BHP’s a bunch of pussies. Talk a lot, no action.”

“How about you, then?”

Nigel played with his empty glass. “I don’t have any comment on that.”

“I’m not a newspaper reporter. I’m a cop. In case you don’t know, if you wanna keep your ass out of jail, you answer us when we ask questions. Unless you’ve got something to hide.”

Nigel kept his chin down but raised his eyes to meet Vail’s. After considering her point, he said, “Arrest me then if you think I did the deed. If not, I guess this conversation’s over.” He gestured at the waitress, who knew the signal and nodded back. “But you don’t have anything on us. You can’t. Because there ain’t nothin’ to have, is there?”

Vail looked over at her colleagues. They had all turned their seats and were watching; they were either impressed that she picked up on Nigel being with the Anarchists, or they were keeping their distance to allow her room to operate.

“You took responsibility,” she said. “Just being opportunistic, or did you set that bomb?”

Nigel squirmed a bit. The waitress brought another beer and set it down. But as Nigel reached for it, Vail grabbed his forearm.

“It’s not nice to ignore a lady,” she said firmly. “I asked you a question.”

His face was taut, angry. “You ain’t no lady. You’re a copper. And get your fuckin’ hand off my arm.”

Vail released it but held his gaze.

He took a swig of beer, then set the glass down. “That guy thinks he can destroy Britain’s history, the essence of what makes it great, by claiming some nigger Jew bitch wrote Shakespeare. And then the media keeps repeating the lie, making it seem like the truth.” Nigel frowned, as if his beer was suddenly bitter. “He needed to be shut up.”

Now we’re getting somewhere.

“How’d you do it?” Vail said nonchalantly. “The bomb.”

“Didn’t say we did.”

“But you called in, claimed responsibility.”

Nigel ground his jaw.

Vail drank from her glass, swallowed, and watched Nigel’s expression. She knew very few details of the bombing were made public—standard procedure for any metropolitan law enforcement agency, especially one of Scotland Yard’s renown. “Let’s back up a minute. If—hypothetically—you were to do the deed, how would you do it?”

“I’d plant the bomb using an undercover guy, who’d leave a package near where the manuscript is being stored. I’d make sure the arsehole was in his gallery, then I’d detonate with a remote.”

“Semtex? Ammonium nitrate? Pipe bomb? M112 demolition block?”

Nigel studied her face but did not answer.

He may not have replied, but Vail had her answer. She finished her beer and set the glass down firmly on the table. “Thank-you, Nigel.” She extended a hand and the man slowly took it, head tilted and mouth open in surprise. She grinned. “I appreciate your time.”

BOOK: No Way Out
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