Authors: Nick Oldham
BIG CITY JACKS
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First published inÂ 2008 in Great Britain and the USA by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
19 Cedar Road, Sutton,Â Surrey,Â England, SM2 5DA.
This eBook edition first published in 2014 by Severn House Digital an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited
Copyright Â© 2008 by Nick Oldham.
The right of Nick Oldham to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Oldham, Nick, 1956-
Screen of deceit
1. Christie, Henry (Fictitious character) - Fiction
2. Police - England - Fiction 3. Juvenile delinquents -
Psychology - Fiction 4. Detective and mystery stories
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-6646-2 (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-564-2 (ePub)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
This ebook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland
This one is for Bob Tanner
t started to rain hard just after midnight, big spats of water exploding like tiny bombs on the windscreen. Henry Christie shivered and hunkered down even further in the front passenger seat of the decrepit but nondescript Vauxhall Astra, reached out to the dash and twisted up the heating a notch in an effort to keep warm â his nose was red with cold â and to clear the fogged-up screen. But the heater fan, rattling in protest, wasn't working as effectively as it should have been â no surprise there â and Henry had to sit up again and run the back of his hand over the screen to get a half-decent view down the poorly-lit street.
He sighed and slumped back, cupping his hands around his mouth and blowing warm breath into his palms to circulate it around his nose, which was now dripping unsightly beads of snot.
âJust how good is this intelligence?' he asked, discreetly checking his watch for the umpteenth time. He turned to the man in the driver's seat, a newly promoted detective inspector called Rik Dean. The two cops had known each other for a number of years and Henry had been instrumental in getting Rik from uniform into plain clothes in the first place. He'd spotted and nurtured the younger man's thief-taking potential early on. Rik's subsequent rise from detective constable to DI had been entirely his own doing.
âIt's good,' Rik said confidently. âHe'll be here, don't worry.'
âI'm not worried. It's just that at moments like this I realize the benefits of being a shiny-arsed headquarters Waller, nine to five, weekends off, warm office, long lunches â¦ luscious secretaries,' he concluded wistfully.
âYou make it sound very appealing, especially the secretary bit, but you did volunteer for this, remember?'
âAye â¦ truth is, the job I do at HQ is as boring as bat shit and the fact is I'd give anything to be doing this sort of stuff day-in, day-out â¦ waiting for bad guys to turn up â¦ what could be better?' He adjusted his position and shivered. âExcept the car, maybe.'
âBest we could do at short notice,' Rik apologized, âbut at least it's not out of kilter with the surroundings.' He indicated the rain-sodden back street, consisting of a few dilapidated terraced houses, some lived in, others boarded up, and the high gated wall surrounding a warehouse at the far end of the street with the area of derelict land opposite which looked like a World War Two bombsite.
A companionable silence descended on the two men as they maintained their observations, waiting for their prey to arrive so they could pounce, claws drawn.
Earlier that day â 9.30 a.m. â Henry had been sitting in a meeting at Blackpool Police Station, listening with a growing sense of boredom to the regular monthly get-together of the divisional management team, hoping his expression did not betray his inner feelings. He was there as a visitor, the head of Headquarters Special Projects Team, and was required to give a short presentation to the DMT on a new stop-and-search initiative that was shortly to roll out force-wide. He had visited all the other divisions in Lancashire Constabulary â and been greeted with stunned apathy at another harebrained HQ scheme â and this one, Blackpool, was his last gig of the tour.
His mind wandered as he sat through the usual plethora of agenda items, wishing he could have been put on first, as in other divisions, but not here. In reality he should have been glad of the distraction afforded by days out around the county, but he wasn't. His head was still full to bursting with the mush and emotional turmoil from the last time he'd managed to worm his way out of HQ and get involved in âreal' police work. He'd found himself mixed up with a murder which had led him into a real nest of vipers â not all criminal ones, either â which had ended badly. Henry was only just getting through his inner pain barrier, and scooting around the county giving meaningless presentations should have taken his mind off things â¦ but it didn't.
He wondered if he would ever shake off the way he was feeling â but of one thing he was completely certain: attending meetings over-populated by career-minded brown-nosers who spent most of their time up their chief superintendents' backsides was not the cure.
Talking of which, the chief superintendent of Blackpool division drew a riveting discussion on budget allocations to a close and moved on to the next item on the agenda.
Henry forced himself to concentrate. He wasn't good at meetings at the best of times.
âAnd now we come to Operation Nimrod,' the chief super said, looking around the table and zeroing in on DI Rik Dean â unfortunately for him, a fully paid-up member of the DMT.
Welcome to management, Henry thought sourly, and kiss real coppering goodbye.
He pricked his ears towards Rik and what he had to say. At least Nimrod had some connection to the business of front-line policing.
Nimrod was an ongoing, countywide operation, aimed solely at disrupting the drug business and targeted at dealers and their set-ups. âA raid a day' had been the grand motto and there had been some notable successes, even though everyone knew the honest truth: no matter how much the police did, how many dealers were arrested and brought to trial, the drugs trade was so widespread and sophisticated that, even as one dealer was banged up, another was stepping up to the mark. Not that this prevented the cops from doing their job â and Nimrod showed the public that the cops were hard at work â it just meant that the deep-rooted social issues related to drugs were never really being tackled. That was a job that the politicians ducked and weaved around.
Rik inhaled nervously. This was his first DMT as a fully-fledged member, and his stress showed as he shuffled his papers, cleared his throat and began â¦
ââ¦ and some more good news, Tommy “the Crud” Hawthorn appeared at Preston Crown yesterday and after pleading guilty to importation and supply was sent down for eight years â' an audible Mexican wave of âWell dones' and âGood stuffs' murmured around the table. Rik acknowledged the plaudits without too much of an ego-show. He'd been the one who'd nabbed and nailed Tommy âthe Crud' in a previous Nimrod raid a few months before. Henry gave him a wink â âWhich brings me to tonight's Nimrod operation, subtitled “Wiggum” â¦'
Henry saw a few creased eyebrows but no one had the courage to ask âWhy Wiggum?' Henry, though far removed from any form of youth culture himself, did know that Chief Wiggum was the police chief in the Simpsons cartoon, which he happened to love.
âObviously I can't share any of the intel or operational details at this forum,' Rik went on. All intelligence gathered prior to a Nimrod strike was closely guarded and only disseminated when necessary. It was vital to keep the whole operation watertight â until the moment of the fateful knock on the door. âBut the briefing's at ten tonight in the parade room and a lot of detectives and uniforms'll be showing up for this one, because it's a biggie,' he concluded with a grin.
âAnd you have all the resources you need?' the chief super asked.
âI think so,' Rik nodded. He vaguely explained a few more details before winding up and asking if anyone had any questions. There were none â which then brought the meeting round to Henry.
He took a deep breath and prepared to bore his colleagues into oblivion.
The meeting dissolved, the attendees drifted back to their real life jobs. Henry quickly gathered his notes and slotted in behind Rik Dean as he left the room.
âSo who are you going to nail tonight?' Henry asked him mischievously.
Rik raised his eyebrows. âCan't tell you that, Henry,' he said, mock-affronted.
âYes you can.'
âYou might be a bent cop for all I know.'
âAs a nine-bob note â¦ go on, come on, tell me, mate.' Henry cajoled.
They walked down the narrow corridor on the fourth floor of the station, then twisted to the stairs, Rik ahead of Henry, taking the steps two at a time as he descended.
âCome on,' Henry whined pathetically.
Rik stopped on one of the dog-leg landings between floors. Henry almost crashed into him.
âYou may well be a DCI, but you know how secret Nimrod is.' Rik looked furtively around, up and down. There was no sign of anyone else in the stairwell. He leaned toward Henry and whispered a name in his ear which made Henry go weak at the knees.
Henry drew back. âYou jest!'
Tight-lipped, Rik shook his head.
âHey, look,' Henry said hurriedly, âKate's away for the night,' he said, referring to his ex-wife, with whom he lived, âand the girls,' he added, talking about his two daughters. They were in London to catch
We Will Rock You
. Henry had been invited, but had made a poor excuse not to go.
Rik grinned knowingly.
âCan I come along for the ride?' Henry pleaded. âCan I?'
It was just the sort of tonic he needed.
Which is how he came to be sitting in a battered pool car with a dickey heater, shivering, and watching nothing in particular in a back street just off Blackpool's town centre, wishing he hadn't volunteered himself so hastily. Like most of his rash decisions, it had seemed a good idea at the time, but now, two hours after the briefing, with nothing moving but sodden cats and a rat, he was repenting at leisure. But only up to a point, because deep down there was always that chance of action. He just needed to be patient â but for how long? At the back of his mind he was thinking that whatever happened, whatever time this job went on to, he had to be back behind his desk at nine next morning.