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Authors: Jo Bannister

Closer Still (18 page)

BOOK: Closer Still
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Finally he said, ‘If that's too hard a question, let's start with an easier one. How long are we going to be here? I might need someone to feed the cat.'
Dev Stretton didn't know how to respond. This really wasn't what he'd expected. Only sheer desperation had brought him here, and when he'd over-ridden the bunker's
security with a combination of inside knowledge and brute force he'd believed that the world he'd known ended right there. He hadn't expected to find himself talking to a man who was worried about his cat.
He didn't believe Detective Superintendent Deacon had a cat. Unless it was a tiger.
Deacon was trying to be reasonable. ‘What, an hour? A couple of hours? Only, any time after that he'll start killing poodles.'
Stretton was here – they were all here – because it was the only way he could think of to take control of a situation that threatened to destroy everything that mattered to him. It had been an act of despair, a last resort – and now he was committed, still he seemed helpless to prevent that control spiralling away from him. He tried sticking strictly to the point, to see if that would help. ‘Maybe you should get someone to feed it.'
‘Ah,' said Deacon wisely. ‘So we're waiting for something else to happen. Well, I have to tell you, we're not going to let anyone else in here and we're not letting you out. Whatever you're waiting for, you're going to be disappointed.'
‘We'll see.' Stretton's tone suggested he didn't see disappointment as his main problem.
‘Oh, I see. You're waiting for a phone call. Sorry – that's not going to happen either. We've shut down the mobile networks. You can use a mobile signal to detonate a bomb.'
‘But …' Even Stretton could see the flaw in his logic. ‘I'm right
here
. Why would I
phone
a signal in? All I have to
do is break one of these fuses …'
‘All right!' said Deacon quickly. ‘I believe you. You probably know a damn sight more about explosives than I do. In fact, I
hope
you know a damn sight more about explosives than I do.
‘One thing you don't seem to know, though, is how this is going to end. So I'll tell you. It's going to end with you in handcuffs in the back of a police car, and eight months from now a judge deciding you're a danger to the public and likely to remain so for fifteen years. That's your youth gone, and everyone you know moving on. If you've got a girl you can wave her goodbye. She's not going to wait years for you – you couldn't ask her to. Because this wasn't her idea, was it? She didn't ask you to steal enough explosives to put Dimmock into orbit. That was someone else.'
‘No,' said Dev Stretton, as firmly as he could with the images Deacon had conjured crowding his eyes. ‘No one asked me. This was my idea.'
‘What was?'
He wasn't stupid enough to fall for that. ‘I told you. Right now, I'm not prepared to talk about it. All you need to know is, if you leave me alone no one will get hurt. I never wanted to hurt anyone. I'm happy with Dimmock where it is. I'm not seeking to overthrow the government, I'm not a terrorist, I have no agenda, hidden or otherwise. I just need …' For a moment his voice grew thin. Then he took a grip on his emotions again. ‘It's just that, right now, I really need to be where I am, doing what I'm doing. I know this makes no sense to you. All I can say is, I will explain. Later.'
‘Later may be too late,' grunted Deacon. ‘Whatever your intentions, you've triggered a full-scale security alert. You've made the news in Tokyo, you stupid sod! There isn't going to be a moment when you can explain everything and walk away. The best you can hope for now – the best any of us can hope for – is that we leave here in a squad car, not the morgue van.'
‘You're not going to kill me,' said Stretton with a kind of shaky conviction. ‘I have no hostages. There's no one here but me. And you, and you can walk away any time you want to. You have no reason to kill me. You'll wait to see if I come out of my own accord. And I'm telling you now, Mr Deacon, I will.'
‘When?'
‘When I'm ready.'
As stand-offs go, this was unusual in Deacon's experience. Not just because of the proximity of enough explosives to make him the first Detective Superintendent on the Moon. Not because the other protagonist was a well-spoken, intelligent young man who'd begun the confrontation with reassurances rather than threats. Not because, although the danger quotient was high, the number of people at risk was comparatively low. No, what made this siege virtually unique in the history of sieges was that Dev Stretton had no demands. He hadn't asked for political concessions, he hadn't asked for money, he hadn't even asked for a fast car and a head start. He seemed content – edgy, but content – merely to be here, a man sitting quietly on a bomb, unperturbed though the cause of much perturbation in others.
Which told Deacon something. He knew now what Stretton had come here for. He knew why he'd risked being apprehended as he broke into the blockhouse, and worse than apprehended if he'd tripped on his way in. He knew why he had no demands. The only thing he wanted was already being given to him, and he hadn't even had to ask.
He'd come here to buy time.
‘A man named locally as Dev Stretton …'
When Brodie heard that on the radio her heart turned over. ‘That poor woman …!'
Daniel was beside her. ‘So you were right. Dev Stretton murdered Joe Loomis after all.'
‘Looks that way.' Her lips were supplying the words but her mind was elsewhere. Daniel could see it in the way her well-shaped brows gathered, in the fathomless depths of her dark eyes.
‘But …?' he prompted softly.
‘I don't know,' she said, shaking her head like a horse bothered by flies. ‘Something … It doesn't add up. Why? Why kill Joe at all – but if he had, why do this nine days later?'
‘Perhaps Jack was closer to him than we realised.'
‘Jack!' Scorn laced her tone. ‘Jack hasn't been remotely interested in who killed Joe Loomis for a week. Of course, I understand that now – if he's known there were terrorists in Dimmock, everything else would go on the back burner. But if Jack was hunting bombers, why was Dev so spooked? And he must have been very spooked to hide in a shed full of dynamite!'
It was a good point. It had seemed to make sense: a man suspected of one serious crime had broken cover and committed another. But when you looked closer there was no causal line between these different events. The sums didn't add up. ‘Suppose,' Daniel said slowly, ‘that Dev Stretton did murder Joe Loomis. Why?'
‘Because Faith lied to me and Joe really was his father,' said Brodie immediately. ‘The cow! I would have
sworn
she was telling me the truth, at least about that.'
‘Even if Joe was Dev's father, why did he end up with a knife in his lung? Nothing else we've heard about Dev suggests he settles scores that way. And it was Joe who brought the knife to their meeting.'
Brodie was nodding. ‘So after the incident on the Promenade, Dev went round to mark Joe's card. Or more than that – perhaps he meant to give him a thrashing. Joe pulled the knife, they struggled and he got stabbed.'
‘So why did Dev flee the scene and pretend nothing had happened? If he'd called the police and said it was self-defence, no one would have doubted him. No one who knew Joe.'
Even people who didn't move in criminal circles were aware of the man's reputation. All Stretton had to say was, ‘It was his knife – I was afraid for my life,' and his only problem after that would be deciding whether it was in bad taste to actually wear the medal.
‘Does it make a difference,' wondered Brodie, ‘whether or not Dev was Joe's son?'
Daniel considered. ‘I'm not sure it does. If Dev stabbed him, it's not because he was a lousy father. It's because he
hurt his mother and Dev was making sure he'd never do it again.'
Brodie was still thinking. ‘It
could
make a difference. Not to what Dev did – to what Joe did. He went to that meeting alone. Whoever he went to see, he thought he could handle the situation alone. Joe, who habitually took muscle to change his library books! And he was a much smaller man than Dev. If he'd thought there was any chance of coming to blows he'd have had help.'
‘Size isn't everything,' said Daniel with a quick grin. ‘Dev's a nicely brought up civil engineer – his idea of a walk on the wild side is exchanging sharp words with a slacking labourer. Joe got where he is – was? – is,' he settled on, because no one could have argued that Loomis got less than his just deserts, ‘by being more vicious than a lot of bigger men. In a street fight, even without the knife, he'd have left Dev bleeding in the gutter.'
‘So it
was
Dev he went to meet?'
When Daniel screwed up his face like that he looked like a twelve-year-old struggling with long division. ‘Dev, or someone like Dev.'
Brodie frowned. ‘Meaning?'
‘It was personal, not business. If Joe had been meeting someone on business he'd certainly have taken back-up because he'd have expected the other party to take back-up too. He went alone because he didn't expect to need help, but also because he didn't want his minders to know what he was doing. He didn't want them gossiping about a private matter.'
‘Donna knew.'
‘Donna's different. She was about the closest thing Joe had to a friend. And all she knew was that Joe had a child, and he wasn't interested in it.'
‘If he knew about the child, maybe the child knew about him,' suggested Brodie. ‘Joe slapped Faith's face in a public place: Dev was bound to ask why. Maybe that's when she told him. That he wasn't who he'd always thought he was, he was the son of a vicious little drugs baron instead. Imagine how that made him feel. Before he'd had time to come to terms with the idea, and recognise that Faith had been right all along to keep the pair of them apart, he'd called Joe and told him to meet him. And Joe came because if they couldn't discuss it in private it was going to happen in public.'
‘You sound pretty sure that it was Dev.' Daniel was sorry about that.
‘I think it had to be,' said Brodie. ‘The elements are all there. We know Faith knew Joe back in the Eighties. Well, if you'd had a child by Joe Loomis, you'd want to hide the fact too. So she invented a Kashmiri father-figure, and that worked fine for a quarter of a century. Daniel, you were there when she as good as told Joe that's what she'd done –
I don't mind people thinking I slept with an Asian as long as they don't know I slept with you!
But then he slapped her, and people saw, and back home Dev wanted to know why and wouldn't take her evasions for an answer any longer. So she told him.'
Daniel was nodding slowly. ‘But then, why didn't Dev report the fight to the police?'
Brodie shrugged. ‘Shock? This isn't the kind of
situation he's familiar with. And he's still reeling from the discovery that he's son and heir to a thug, and his own father's just pulled a knife on him. Dev wouldn't be firing on all cylinders at that point. And maybe he didn't realise how seriously Joe was hurt. Once he'd calmed down a bit, perhaps he'd have gone round to Battle Alley to explain what happened. Only by then he'd heard that Joe was dead. If he told the truth now, it was all going to become public property. Maybe Faith's the one he was trying to protect.
‘And nobody had come looking for him. The only one who knew Dev was Joe's son was his mother, and she wasn't going to turn him in. Maybe he thought he'd wait to see what happened next. He didn't feel like he'd murdered anyone. All he did was defend himself against an attack.'
Daniel took up the narration. ‘And nine days passed, and not only did the police not come knocking at Dev's door, they lost all interest in the killing. There's a full-scale terror alert going on. And at that point Dev finishes his packed lunch and breaks into his employers' explosives bunker? Why on earth would he do such a thing?'
Brodie couldn't imagine either. ‘Is it possible Dev's involved in terrorism as well?'
‘Islamic fundamentalist terrorism?' She nodded. ‘But haven't we just decided Dev is Joe's son? What possible interest could he have in
jihad
?'
‘Well …' said Brodie slowly. ‘Because until Faith told him about Joe a fortnight ago, Dev
thought
he was half Kashmiri. That's why he went out to help after the earthquake.
Maybe he got involved with fundamentalism while he was there – maybe he was involved in a plot to bomb Dimmock long before he stabbed Joe. Maybe
that's
why he was angry enough with Joe to stick a knife in him – that he'd put his whole future on the line to support a cause he'd come to believe in passionately, only to discover it wasn't his fight after all. He'd been lied to. He wasn't a member of an oppressed culture at all: he was the illegitimate son of an Irish drug dealer.' She considered. ‘I can see how he'd be a bit miffed about that.'
‘All right,' said Daniel, accepting her version for the moment. ‘So he was angry with Joe because he felt cheated. Then he thought about it some more and decided that the accident of his conception wasn't a good enough reason to give up on a cause that, a few days earlier, he'd believed in strongly enough to die for. So he determines to go on with the bomb plot. But Daoud is now dead and the Dhazi cousins are in custody. Is that why he tried to steal explosives? Because the guy who knew how to make them out of common household chemicals was dead?'
‘I suppose so,' said Brodie slowly. ‘He'd psyched himself up to be a suicide bomber – and even after he discovered he had the wrong genes, he was still crazy enough to want to go through with it. He had to find a new source of explosives – it was all he had left, all that mattered to him. Even if he wasn't who he thought he was, if he went out with a bang he'd always be remembered as an Islamic martyr. He'd had the title stolen from him – he had to win it back. And though
he maybe didn't know how to blow things up with hair bleach and chapatti flour, he did know where there was a stock of blasting explosives.'
‘So what went wrong?' asked Daniel.
Brodie didn't understand. ‘Nothing went wrong. He got past site security because he knew his way round and everyone there knows him. Then he broke into the bunker and …' Now she had it. ‘Ah.'
‘And now he's sitting there inside a police cordon and while he could make a big bang if he wanted to, blowing up a shed in a field is never going to strike a hammer-blow against Western imperialism. So what has he gained?'
‘It went off half-cocked,' said Brodie weakly.
‘Sure it did. He broke into an explosives bunker in the middle of a working day, with people who knew him all around. Of course they called the police – what else were they going to do? It was entirely predictable that it would end in a siege. A siege doesn't get him anywhere. So why did he do it that way?'
‘He panicked,' Brodie supposed. ‘Everything was going wrong, he couldn't carry out the original plan, he thought this was the only way he could carry out any plan at all and he could only do this if he acted before the police caught up with him. He was making it up as he went along.'
But Daniel didn't buy it. ‘How panicked would you have to be to do it in broad daylight? He could hardly have drawn more attention to himself if he was trying. At night, knowing his way around, knowing what security there
was, he had a chance of getting hold of the explosives and staying ahead of the police long enough to use them. Why didn't he wait till dark?'
‘The guy's planning on blowing up half Dimmock and probably himself as well,' Brodie reminded him. ‘Maybe getting away with it didn't seem that important.'
‘But he had to stay free long enough to do what he planned, or what was the point? It's not the suicide that's the aim of a suicide bombing, it's the bombing. The target. People, important buildings – something that will send shockwaves through the ranks of the enemy. He can't do that on a building site in the middle of Menner Down.'
‘So he's a bad suicide bomber,' shrugged Brodie. ‘I suppose it's a skill you don't get much chance to practise.'
Daniel thought about that. ‘Maybe. But he's been good at everything else he's done. Brodie – what if it's not that he's a bad suicide bomber? What if it's that he's a good diversion?'
Real silence isn't just the absence of sound: it has substance, it expands to fill the space available. That's why we talk of breaking a silence. It isn't nothing. Sometimes it's almost tangible, a physical obstacle to overcome.
This was one of those silences. Brodie's eyes grew round and her lips formed a startled O but no sound came. Like having to fight your way out of a sleep paralysis, she had to force the first meaningless grunt out of her throat before the silence pulled back enough to let her speak.
‘You mean – while every policeman within a twenty-mile radius is here, preventing the escape of someone who has no intention of going anywhere, something's going to happen that they might be able to prevent if they were where they should be?'
Daniel gave that awkward little half-shrug that was the souvenir of a broken collar-bone. His plain round face was troubled. ‘It would make a kind of sense. It would make sense of some of the things that don't make sense otherwise.'
‘But he'll never get away with it! He's surrounded, he isn't walking away from this. The moment the town hall or whatever hits the stratosphere, Jack'll know what he did. He'll spend the rest of his life behind bars!'
‘These people are happy to die hurting what they think of as the enemy,' Daniel pointed out quietly. ‘I don't think they'd be glad to blow their stupid heads off but draw the line at going to jail.'
‘My God!' whispered Brodie. ‘Daniel, what do we do?'
There was only one answer. ‘We have to tell Jack. Maybe he's already thought of it, in which case he'll shout at us, but if he hasn't he needs to. Phone him. He'll take a call from you.'
BOOK: Closer Still
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