Authors: Mari Hannah
For Rob and Marit
Jason Irwin locked his prison van. No armed escort today. The only copper he’d see for the rest of his shift was securely handcuffed in the back, a disgrace to his profession according to the grapevine, suspended from Special Branch on allegations of misconduct, something to do with illegal firearms. His name was Jack Fenwick.
Flicking away his cigarette, Irwin climbed aboard and fastened his seat belt. Waiting for the thumbs up from security, he rammed the vehicle in gear and pulled away, keen to get rid of his last delivery.
As he cleared the exit gate, he head-checked the road, turning left towards Newcastle Quayside, his eyes scanning the front steps of the Crown Court as he passed by. Outside the sandstone building, a gang of scruffy youths gave him the one-finger salute as he stopped at traffic lights, their eyes full of hatred. Not long ago, Irwin had transported one of the group into the care of Her Majesty – exactly where he belonged, in his opinion.
He turned right and immediately put his foot down, watching the group get smaller in his rear-view Crossing the River Tyne via the Swing Bridge, he drove up a steady incline, following the signs to the south and on through Gateshead as the autumn drizzle worsened. Not perfect conditions for driving, but hey: he couldn’t have everything. It was Friday. Tomorrow he’d be Cyprus bound, spending half-term with his family, a pocketful of euros and nothing to do for two whole weeks.
Irwin made good time. Somewhere close to the border between Tyneside and Durham, the sky darkened and the wind got up. The rain increased in intensity until it was almost impossible to see through the windscreen, even with the wipers on full pelt. Their inability to do the job they were designed for was not lost on his new colleague, Philip Storey.
Storey was a posh boy, a graduate in Roman Archaeology from Durham University. Even with an impressive degree, he’d struggled to find work in his field of expertise. He’d been forced to seek other employment to pay for his flat. The alternative was to go home and live with his parents, a fate worse than death, apparently. They, and he for that matter, thought security work was beneath him. Taken on by the company less than three weeks ago with minimal training, the lad had found fault with everything: the pay and conditions, the early mornings, and currently the state of the wipers, a thin strip of which had broken away and was flapping across the windscreen like a small black eel.
‘Welcome to the private sector,’ Irwin said.
‘You should complain,’ Storey grumbled.
‘On what grounds?’
‘We have a right to health and safety. It’s illegal not to be able to see through the glass.’ Storey’s tone was flat. Disinterested. ‘How long have you been doing this poxy job anyhow?’
‘Twelve years, give or take.’
‘On fifteen grand?’
‘You’re doing it.’
‘Only as a stop-gap.’
‘Don’t knock it, son. It puts food on the table.’
As Irwin turned his attention back to the road, a red light forced him to depress the brake pedal. Stopping the van, he glanced at his watch. Right on schedule. He’d make Durham prison by four. He waited for amber, impatient for his shift to end, to be rid of the jumped-up kid sitting by his side. Storey had riled him once too often this week. What was so special about scratching around in the dirt anyhow?
At least his was a proper job.
A dark blue Clio pulled up behind, the volume on its radio turned up so high it could be heard in the next county. The driver was singing along to Coldplay’s ‘Yellow’, his body swaying to the drumbeat. He was wearing a peaked cap and sunglasses. Optimistic, Irwin thought, unless . . .
The soundtrack stopped as an Audi A6 overtook at speed, screeching to a halt in front of the prison van, boxing him in. Pressing his alarm, Irwin floored the accelerator, ramming the car. It hardly budged. Selecting reverse gear, he did the same to the Clio behind. He was about to repeat the action when two men emerged from the Audi pointing sawn-off shotguns at his windscreen, gesturing for him to vacate his vehicle.
‘Open up!’ one yelled.
A foreign voice.
Irwin froze as a young woman moved into his eyeline beyond the man holding the gun, the sound of crunching metal having drawn her attention. Time stood still as she stopped to gawp at the spectacle. When the armed man looked over his shoulder, she sprinted for cover. Irwin couldn’t hear himself think due to the racket his cargo was making. Fenwick was banging on the inside of the cab, demanding the low-down on what was going on, begging him to take evasive action. This was serious shit.
Really? Like he didn’t know.
In the distance, the running girl stopped. She turned, took out her phone and held it up. What was the mad cow doing? Willing her to get the hell out of there, Irwin yelled at Fenwick to quieten down.
He wasn’t helping.
Praying that the Clio would back up, offering him an escape route, Irwin’s hopes died as the driver exited his vehicle, leaving the door wide open. Keeping his head beneath the window line, he crawled to the rear of his car on his hands and knees and legged it across the road into woods that ran along the west side of the carriageway. Irwin didn’t blame him – given the choice, he’d have done the same.
Realizing they were trapped, Storey began to weep.
Irwin urged him to get a grip. They were going to be fine. He’d get them out of there. Somehow. The words had hardly left his lips when the gun was raised. Both security guards ducked as the windscreen shattered, a large gaping hole appearing at its centre where the shot had pierced the glass. No longer could either guard see their attackers, but they could hear the shooter’s instructions to climb down and open up the back, his voice muffled through a balaclava.
‘Do it!’ Storey yelled. ‘It’s not worth losing your life for peanuts – or that piece of shit in the back.’
Irwin told him to shut it. ‘Do I look stupid to you?’
‘No!’ Fenwick bawled. ‘They’ll kill us all.’
‘That’s helpful, pal,’ Irwin yelled back. ‘Got any bright ideas? Because, if you do, now’s the time to spit ’em out.’
The Special Branch officer’s opinion was valid – and probably correct – but then
wasn’t the one with the gun pointing at his head. His reply was lost in the general mayhem as the passenger door was yanked open. Whimpering in fear, crying for the mother he couldn’t stand the sight of, Storey was pulled from the vehicle, the butt end of a gun rammed into his stomach. He dropped to the ground like a stone. With the gun now in his back, he was told to lie face down.
Seconds later, Irwin joined him, thrown with such force, two of his fingers snapped as he hit the deck. Out the corner of his eye, he saw keys dangling from the Clio’s ignition. For a split second – no more – he wondered if he could make the car without getting shot in the back. He decided against. He couldn’t leave Storey to the mercy of these two. Besides, this was no time to play the hero.
Sucking in a breath, Irwin tried to lower his heart rate.
His chest felt like it might explode. If he were a gambler – which he wasn’t – he’d have taken bets that the men in the masks weren’t going to kill him. Why bother dragging him out of the van otherwise? Why not shoot him dead in his seat? Still, he decided not to test his theory.
Storey had gone into shock. He was shaking so much his safety helmet was knocking a tune on the road. Irwin wanted to comfort him but didn’t dare move. The lad had shut his eyes tightly, expecting to get his head blown off at any second. It unsettled the older man, who had a flashback of his wife and kids packing suitcases at home, his eldest daughter singing along to ‘Yellow’
a bizarre coincidence.
For a moment, nothing happened. Then Irwin heard the familiar squeak of the van’s back door as it was pulled open. With sound but no sight of what was going on, he counted the seconds, his nerve gone completely. No longer sure it wouldn’t end there on that wet and deserted stretch of road, he shut his eyes, wondered if he’d hear the shot that killed him.
Idling engines purred . . .
Rain hit the tarmac . . .
Flinching as a pair of heavy-duty boots arrived by his side, Irwin exhaled as they moved away again, his stomach heaving in relief. A door slammed, then another and another. Expensive.
As it took off at speed, he lifted his head. His prisoner was gone.
The events of the past month had caused Detective Sergeant Matthew Ryan a lot of anguish, none of it of his own making. The arrest and detention of his senior officer, Detective Inspector Jack Fenwick, had shaken him to the core. It had come without warning, with no reason given. The first Ryan knew of it was when he received a flying visit from the rubber heelers shortly after five the next morning, the nickname for Professional Standards hardly apt on that occasion. There was no creeping around. No softly-softly approach. In fact, the opposite was true. Their rap on the door of his seaside cottage was so loud it woke half the tiny coastal village of Dunstan Steads.
Ryan asked himself if he’d ever doubted Jack. The truthful answer was yes – but only because he was half asleep when his Northumbria colleagues took
in for questioning. After three hours of intense and often hostile interrogation, common sense kicked in. Now he was as convinced as he could be of his DI’s innocence.
In the course of his interview, Ryan had learned one or two significant details. Firstly, the allegation that Jack had firearms concealed in his garage had been delivered to the Chief Constable’s aide. More importantly, it was acted upon immediately, despite the fact that the intelligence was anonymous and rubbished by those close to the Special Branch officer, an action guaranteed to raise suspicions among those in the know. A warrant was obtained, Jack’s home searched – on whose say-so Ryan wasn’t sure – but even he had to concede that the evidence was compelling. Guns had been found wrapped in an old army blanket Jack denied owning, and yet fibres from it had been lifted from the boot of his car. His subsequent remand in custody had put him out of reach. What little information Ryan had managed to cobble together since had come from Jack’s wife, Hilary, who’d been grilled by police, the experience leaving her distraught and angry, unable to comprehend what was going on.
Hauled in for the same treatment, Ryan had told Professional Standards to back off, refusing to give the allegations houseroom. With no knowledge of the cache of arms in question, he had nothing to say on the matter. It was a fit-up, surely. Any detective worth their salt could see that. But those dealing with the case had Jack in their sights and they weren’t letting go.
Ryan checked his watch. It was almost five.
It would be dark in an hour.
Time he wasn’t there.
‘That was a big sigh.’ Caroline’s cool hands began to massage his neck and shoulders, taking away the tension. He hadn’t heard her approach or noticed her set a mug of tea by his side. ‘Are you going to tell me what’s up?’ she asked.
‘Up?’ Even in his head, his response sounded lame.
‘I don’t need eyesight to see how worried you are,’ she said. ‘It’s obvious you have something on your mind. If it’s the house, just say and I’ll put it on the market. It’s not a problem.’
‘It’s not the house.’ Reaching up, Ryan laid a hand on hers, stroking it gently. ‘You live here because it makes your life easier. Mine too, knowing you’re secure. I want you to stay for as long as you like.’