Authors: Catriona King
Tags: #Fiction & Literature
Craig observed the ritual, amused, and wondered what Nicky would say if he requested the same, instead of his usual wham-bam-thank-you-Ma’am, can’t get caffeine into me quick enough approach to life. As Craig mused Geoff Hamill thanked God that Craig hadn’t sent his deputy to the meeting. He liked Liam Cullen well enough but there were only so many cracks that a man could take about his short stature without feeling inadequate, and Liam never missed the chance to make one. Even if he hadn’t done, just standing beside the Jolly White Giant was enough to make a man feel like he wasn’t enough.
Hamill sipped at his milk and two sugars coffee then steepled his fingers and leaned back in his chair. “What can I help you with, Marc?”
“Information. And I can give you a head’s-up in return.”
Craig drained his small cup and poured another as he talked.
“Sharon Greer is dead.”
The effect on Geoff Hamill was surprising. Instead of the nonchalant, ‘ah well, if you live by the sword you die by it’ expression Craig had expected, Hamill’s jaw dropped and he looked like he was genuinely shocked. He stammered out a “H…How?” and its tone told Craig that Hamill had had the same relationship with Sharpy Greer that he had with Tommy Hill; hatred of their crimes and the suffering that they’d caused, but a reluctant fondness for the old lag.
Hamill leaned forward urgently. “The one in Smithfield?”
It was Craig’s turn to look shocked. “Yes. Why? Have you heard something?”
Hamill shook his head so vaguely that Craig wasn’t sure if it was in denial, mourning or disbelief. It was the first.
“Just what was on the news.” He shook his head again. “I can’t believe it. Of all the ways I thought Sharpy would go a bomb was the last.” Hamill sat back in his chair. “I thought maybe some poor sod whose business they’d ruined would kill her, or one of her girls who was fed-up with the percentage she took, but not a bomb.”
Craig lounged back, echoing Hamill’s stance. “So she was definitely running extortion and prostitutes?”
“And drugs and counterfeiting, and probably some other shit that we know nothing about. We never managed to prove any of it; no-one would testify. You can ask Vice and Fraud; they’ve been banging their heads against the UKF’s wall of silence for years.”
“UKUF; they’ve changed their name. According to our source anyway.”
Hamill looked surprised and Craig was surprised that he hadn’t known. Maybe Tommy had been winding Liam up about the new acronym. Craig elaborated.
“It stands for UK Ulster Force. Seems they felt emphasis was needed after the flag decision at the end of 2012.”
Hamill shrugged, as if the name change carried all the importance of a twelve-year-old telling their parents that they wanted to be called Moonbeam or Stormbird in future instead of Ann. Hamill’s next words said Craig had got it in one.
“Adolescent angst. It’s a sort of puberty gangs go through, when they think they’re not being paid enough attention. If the UKF have changed their name to UKUF then it’s had so little impact on the gang world that it’s passed everyone by.” His forehead creased in a frown. “Sharpy’s death is much more worrying.” He glanced at Craig hopefully. “I don’t suppose the I.D. could be wrong?”
“Nope. The fingerprint was unambiguous.”
Hamill’s round eyes widened. “Fingerprint singular?”
“Was that all…?”
Craig nodded. “Everything. We think she was standing near the bomb when it went off.”
Craig sipped his cooling drink and watched as Hamill stared into space, picturing Sharpy Greer’s ignominious end. When he thought the D.C.I. had had time to process the image Craig spoke again.
“I wanted to discuss the ramifications of her death and pick your brains.”
Hamill nodded, pulling himself upright. “First, there’ll be an internal battle for leadership. Zac is heir apparent, but he’s underage so with both parents gone social services will step in.”
“Already happened. There may be an uncle in Glasgow.”
Hamill looked glum. “I bet he’s as bad as the parents were. The kid has no hope.” He rallied briskly. “OK, the in-fighting within UKF or UKUF; whatever it’s called. There’ll be a few weeks of beatings and maybe even a death of two before that settles down. Then, depending on which scrote takes over we’ll have years more of business as usual, or worse.”
Craig cut in. “What about challenges from other gangs? Won’t someone try to take over from the outside? Or get rid of UKUF entirely and take over all their scams?”
Hamill made a face. “Now why did you have to go and ruin my day? I just settled an eastern European gang war last week near Portadown, the last thing I need is an inter-gang conflict in the loyalist camp.”
Craig pushed him. “If there were to be one, who would it involve?”
Hamill’s eyes narrowed. “You think a member of UKUF took Sharpy out.”
Craig shook his head. “Maybe a few days ago, but not now.”
Hamill opened his mouth to ask the question but Craig shook his head. “I can’t release any information, sorry. But I’d still like to know who a loyalist gang war would involve.”
Hamill rose to turn on the kettle, pondering as it re-boiled. As he placed the fresh cafetière on his desk he gave Craig two names. “The URF; the Ulster Royal Force. And the LDL; the Loyalist Defence League. They’re my best bet. They’re a shower of shits, all of them, on both sides, but if UKUF don’t replace Sharon Greer quickly and show they’re solid, one or both of those will try to move in. And by quickly I mean within a couple of days. These boys don’t let the grass grow under them when there’s money to be made.”
Craig filed the names away for the briefing and then ten minutes of banter, mostly about Liam, commenced. Craig left the fifth floor without promising to update Hamill on the source of the explosion. If it ever leaked that the Saudis might be involved in Sharpy’s death, UKUF would start targeting every brown-skinned person in Northern Ireland and they’d have a race war on their hands. No-one would thank him for that.
Nicky glanced covertly at the pair of desks belonging to their two new recruits, wondering if anyone else had noticed what she’d done. She’d inched the veneered desks closer, so that now they were sitting directly facing each other instead of at a diagonal as they’d been the day before. She’d seen the way Ken glanced at Carmen even if Carmen hadn’t, and she was going to do her level best to grow those glances into something more.
Nicky felt Davy watching her and she turned defiantly to him with a look that said ‘what?’
“I didn’t s…say a word.”
“You didn’t need to.”
She walked sedately to his desk, hobbled by her pencil skirt. Her love affair with the 1950s was waning rapidly; she couldn’t do anything even vaguely energetic dressed like this.
“Do you have something to say, David?”
Davy’s eyebrows shot up. ‘David’? No-one called him David except his granny. He wondered if it was Nicky’s way of showing her disapproval or just a fifties throwback like the rest. He decided on the former and counterattacked.
“No, Mrs Morris. I don’t. Except…” He leaned forward conspiratorially, dropping his voice to a whisper. “I’m running a book on Ken and Carmen.”
Nicky widened her eyes in faux-disgust. “Don’t you dare! It’s so unromantic.”
“Think of it as an incentive. I already have ten quid from Annette and a fiver from Dr Marsham. Do you w…want in on the action?”
Nicky thought for a moment, torn between her belief in the purity of love and her desire for a new pair of shoes. She rushed back to her desk and returned clutching a five pound note. “OK, I bet a fiver that I get them together by the end of this case.”
Davy squinted. That might mean waiting until they got a court date and he wasn’t waiting for his money for months. “Define end.”
“No later than when we leave for the wedding. The 30th.”
Davy extended his hand. “Done. Although I have to tell you it isn’t looking good for you. The odds are five to one against at the moment.”
Neither of them had noticed Craig re-enter the floor, so his words caught them completely unawares.
“Five to one against what?”
Nicky gawped at Craig then glanced quickly across at Ken and Carmen chatting about a report. When she was satisfied that they hadn’t heard she dropped her voice. “We’re betting that they get together by the 30th. I’m positive they will and Davy’s running a book against it.”
Instead of the frown or sceptical look they expected a boss to display Craig nodded as if he was deep in thought. “Five to one against, you said?”
Davy smiled. “Yeh. There’s no hope.”
“I disagree.” Craig reached into his wallet and handed Davy a twenty pound note.
Nicky smiled adoringly at him and then shot Davy a triumphant look as Craig explained his bet.
“They’re both single and he obviously likes her. My money says that she’ll weaken and go on a date before the end of next week. I hope she does. He’s a nice lad and she’s lonely.”
Before Nicky could gloat further Craig turned on his heel and walked across to Smith’s desk, leaving them wondering if he was going to expose their bet. He wasn’t.
“Any word on that bomb signature yet, Ken?”
Smith made a face. “Yes and no, sir. I was just going to tell you. The database search found something but Major James won’t release it. He’s insisting on speaking to you.”
Craig glared at nobody in particular. “He won’t release it! Who the hell does he think he is?”
“An army major. Sorry, but this is par for the course. I love the army but they invented obstacle courses and I think he wants you to run one.”
Craig’s glare changed to a look of fury. “I’ll run all over him.” He yelled “Nicky” and swung round just in time to see Nicky sit down at her desk. “Get me Major James on the phone. Let’s see who’s better at this game.”
He disappeared into his office and the sound of a phone ringing and his voice rising followed. Five minutes of shouting later the phone was slammed down to be followed by another minute of Craig shouting at no-one in particular. Finally his office door banged open and he re-emerged, his normally calm demeanour distinctly ruffled. Four pairs of eyes turned hastily back to their work.
“Nicky, get Des on the phone and ask him to meet me at the base in thirty minutes. He won’t object; he loves getting out of the lab.” He turned to Smith. “Captain Smith, I want you to come with me, Your C.O. is being bloody minded and he’s about to find out that two can play at that game.” With that Craig was heading for the exit shouting instructions, with Smith hurrying in his wake.
“Nicky, brief Des when you call him. You heard everything I just said to the Major. Davy, work up anything that you have on the bomb and the time when it was planted. I’ll give you a call from the base.”
Davy waved him to slow down.
“Before you leave, chief, I s…spoke to Mrs McGovern. Her husband didn’t have a regular day to visit bookshops; he rarely had any free time what w…with work and the kids.”
Craig nodded. He’d pretty much ruled Barry McGovern out as a target, but it was good to have it confirmed. At the lift he turned to Ken. “Major James is going to play on your loyalty to him and I’m asking you not to let him. The only thing to focus on is the case.”
Smith nodded, knowing he would be torn and glad of Craig’s order to focus. But it wasn’t loyalty to Stephen James that would divide him; his loyalty was to his regiment and much higher ideals.
It took Craig and Smith thirty minutes to reach the base and when they’d passed all the security checks and driven onto the Mess’ gravelled forecourt Craig spotted Des Marsham standing by the front door. A uniformed private so tiny he looked as if Des could have eaten him was standing guard. Craig parked the car carelessly and they strode across to join them. Des spoke first.
“Nicky briefed me, Marc. They’ve got the bomb signature and they’re withholding it? Whose bloody case does James think this is?”
Smith interjected. “The army’s.” Des went to object and Smith raised a hand in peace, his expression saying that there was no love lost between him and his boss. “That’s not my view, but I know the army and I know Major James. To put it bluntly, he’s a prick. He’s got something that you need and he intends to make you wait for it as long as he can.”
Des’ normally genial expression soured. “What the hell for?”
Smith shrugged. “Because he’s a power-mad megalomaniac who has no life outside his job, so he vents his frustration on his men and anyone else he can.”
A snigger reminded them of the private’s presence. Craig checked to see if Smith was annoyed but he merely slapped the young man on the back. “This is Floody; Private Ian Flood. Don’t worry; he’s heard me rant about James before.”
Floody grinned. “Most Friday nights on your way back from the Mess, sir. And you’ll get no argument from anyone on the base.”
Craig raked his hair. “Well, megalomaniac Major James may be, but he’s not above the law. He has information relevant to a multiple murder and he’s withholding it; that’s obstruction. If need be I’ll lock him up until he gives me what I want and it won’t be in some comfortable room in the Officers’ Mess.”
That put a smile on everyone’s face and Smith led the way down the Mess’ main corridor with a spring in his step. At the end of the polished conduit he halted in front of a door and waved Craig forward. With a sharp knock and an even sharper “come in” they were on the other side and standing in an office so plush that Craig knew he was in the wrong job.
A deep-pile carpet covered a wide floor set between walls of cherry-brown wood, so highly polished that they could see their reflections. Above them hung a brass chandelier that Craig imagined cast a more forgiving light than the fluorescent strips that gave him a headache at the C.C.U., and at one end of the room sat a desk, so old that Craig wished that it could speak.
The whole effect was regal and the stance of the man behind the desk even more so. Stephen James set down his fountain pen and stared at the men with no welcome in his eyes. Instead he did what he did best. He barked.