Read Liz Carlyle - 05 - Present Danger Online

Authors: Stella Rimington

Tags: #Mystery, #Espionage, #England, #Memoir

Liz Carlyle - 05 - Present Danger (21 page)

BOOK: Liz Carlyle - 05 - Present Danger
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The track suddenly stopped in a small lay-by in front of what had been a crofter’s cottage. From behind the decayed ruins smoke rose in a twisty wisp, before dispersing in the wintry winds. It was only when he walked behind the cottage that he saw the remains of the white van. One of its tyres was still smouldering.

The forensic team moved fast – everyone did when a policeman had been shot. They checked for prints, but none had survived the fire, which was so hot that the steering wheel had been reduced to a metal spoke. A few fibres were found, miraculously untouched in a corner of the van’s back compartment; they looked like wisps from a blanket.

Then one of the team discovered a big piece of metal about six inches long lying under the skeletal frame of the driver’s seat. It retained enough of its original shape to be recognisable as a handgun.

‘Old,’ said the forensic team leader, when he was shown the find. ‘Better get it to the lab right away. I doubt they’ll be able to tell if it’s been fired, but they might work out what make it is.’

And while the remains of the handgun were driven at speed to the PSNI laboratory, the team focused on the van itself. Over the course of the next two hours, they carefully extracted what remained of the engine from the vehicle’s charred carcass. After applying acetic acid with a paintbrush they could make out enough of the chassis number to allow a technician at the lab to run a software programme used for identifying stolen vehicles. Its algorithm came up with four possibilities, of which only one was a vehicle large enough to be the burnt-out van found in South Armagh.

It had been a laundry van belonging to O’Neill’s Laundry and Linen Service, a cleaning business run out of Sydenham in East Belfast by a family named – to no one’s surprise – O’Neill. It had been reported stolen a couple of days ago. Twenty minutes later, two officers had driven to the home of the company’s managing director, where they found Patrick O’Neill still irate at the theft of a van from his fleet of nine vehicles.

Did he have any idea who might have stolen the van? No, he replied; he’d assumed it was local villains who’d taken it out of the office yard. Had anyone recently left his employ? Well yes, a guy called Sean McCarthy had quit a few days before. He was a laundry collection and delivery driver, who’d never settled in the business. Was this before the van was stolen? Yes, come to think of it, it was just before the van was stolen …

The PSNI had a suspect now, and they soon discovered from their own database that Sean McCarthy had a string of minor convictions as a juvenile, including illegal possession of a firearm. By now, too, the lab had come back and reported that the charred handgun found in the burnt-out van had been a .25 calibre pistol, probably more than twenty-five years old. Unfortunately, there was no description in the file of the kind of gun Sean McCarthy had been charged with possessing four years before.

McCarthy’s file also showed that he had been an associate of several members of the Provisional IRA. There was no recent information about that strand of his life and one recent informant had opined ‘the boy’s gone straight’, though his evidence for that appeared to be confined to McCarthy’s being in full-time employment – at O’Neill’s laundry service.

He was said to live in the house he’d been brought up in on the edge of Andersonstown – but a visit to his home found only his mother in residence. She seemed unconcerned about the absence of her son, and didn’t seem to know anything about his friends or associates. The interviewing PC believed her – probably because he found her too drunk, at ten-thirty in the morning, to lie convincingly. This was her usual condition, according to a neighbour, who also had seen no sign of Sean McCarthy in the last few days.

34

 

Judith Spratt stopped for a coffee at a Starbucks two streets away from Milraud’s shop. This was a part of the city she did not know well, a small oasis of galleries, restaurants and boutiques in what had once been a commercial area of small factories and warehouses.

 

She needed to collect her thoughts before she went into the shop. It had been decided that no publicity was to be given yet to Dave’s disappearance, so Judith had to find some excuse for enquiring about him at the shop. She had been taken aback when Liz had asked her to do this job; she was not used to direct contact with the public and role playing was not her strength. Her job, at which she excelled, was the processing and analysis of information once it had been collected; when the pieces came streaming in she liked nothing better than to use her mind like a prospector’s sieve, throwing out the dross and making sense of the few gold nuggets that remained.

Before she had joined the service she had been an analyst at an investment bank. That was where she had met her ex-husband Ravi. She had enjoyed the intellectual challenge of that job, but had found it ultimately unsatisfying; it had served no real purpose, other than to line the pockets of the firm’s partners and sometimes to help a distant client somewhere to make a killing. With her husband’s encouragement, and the knowledge that his fat salary made the reduction in her pay tolerable, she’d jumped at the chance of working in Thames House. Her subsequent divorce meant that money was now much more of an issue, but she never regretted her change of career. At MI5 the purpose of her work was always important, and sometimes frighteningly urgent.

She finished her coffee and walked down the narrow street to the door of Milraud’s shop. She was wearing an ankle-length knitted coat with a fringed shawl draped round her shoulders, and flat shoes. The look she was aiming at was arty, bohemian, slightly ditzy but definitely genteel. As far away as could be imagined from an intelligence officer. She stood outside the shop for a moment and took a deep breath to calm her nerves, then she opened the door and went in. A bell tinkled discreetly.

‘Good afternoon.’ A woman stood up from a chair behind a low glass cabinet. She was middle-aged, smartly turned out, with elegantly coiffed grey hair and wearing a dark wool dress with a choker of pearls. She eyed Judith cautiously.

‘Is Mr Milraud in?’ Judith began, walking towards her and giving an eager, slightly goofy smile.

‘Monsieur Milraud is not available, I am afraid. He is out of the country in fact.’ Judith adopted a frown of disappointment. ‘Did you have an appointment?’

‘That’s the thing. I don’t know, and I’m not sure if I have the right day in any case. My cousin Simon asked me to join him here. He collects little guns, you see, and he said he was coming to see Mr Milraud about buying one. He asked me to meet him here this afternoon because we have to go down to the country after Simon has finished here. At least I think it was this afternoon, but if he’s not here, perhaps I’ve got the wrong day – or the wrong time.’ She gave a small sigh, and went on talking. ‘But I know it was here we said we’d meet. He wants me to hold his hand while he negotiates with Mr Milraud. You know, to stop him spending too much money. Not that I’m an expert on guns …’ Her voice trailed off.

The woman stared at her. ‘As I said, Monsieur Milraud is not here.’

‘Don’t think I don’t believe you. The only question then is what I’ve got wrong, not did I get it wrong – since we have established that.’

Judith saw the look of doubt in the woman’s eyes and wondered if she was overplaying her role.

‘Let me have a look at the diary, and perhaps I can see when your appointment might be.’ The woman went through a door marked ‘Private’ at the back of the shop, returning a moment later with a leather-bound desk diary. ‘Your name is?’

‘Crosby. Heather Farlow Crosby.’

Judith watched as the woman consulted the pages of the diary. ‘I see nothing here,’ she said.

‘Oh how silly of me,’ said Judith, putting a hand to her cheek. ‘It wouldn’t be my name at all, would it? It would be my cousin Simon’s.’

‘Simon?’ the woman said, her expression suggesting she was having to work hard to keep her patience.

‘Willis. His mother was the Crosby, which is why my cousin and I have different surnames.’ And she continued prattling while the woman ran her finger up and down the page, until she stopped at one line. When she looked up at Judith now her face was wary. ‘A Mr Willis was here,’ she said slowly. ‘Yesterday in fact.’

‘Ah,’ said Judith with relief. ‘So at least I was close.’ Her smile went unreturned. ‘And was I right about the time?’

‘The time?’ The woman was watching her carefully.

‘Yes.’ Judith glanced at her watch, a slim antique with a silver strap that, like most of the rest of her attire, she had borrowed from a colleague. ‘Two o’clock?’

The woman made a show of looking at the diary. She seemed suddenly nervous. ‘Yes, that is correct.’

‘And could you tell me how long he was here? Did he make a purchase? I’m wondering if he went off to the country by himself. Do you remember when he left?’

‘They left …’ and the woman paused.

Judith pounced. ‘
They
?’ There was nothing ditzy in her voice now. ‘Did he and Monsieur Milraud leave together then?’

The woman said carefully, ‘No. Your cousin left, then Monsieur Milraud left shortly afterwards. He had his plane to catch.’

‘What time was that?’

‘It must have been about two-forty-five that your cousin left. Monsieur Milraud left about three-fifteen to catch the plane.’

‘And my cousin left alone? You’re absolutely sure of that?’

‘Quite sure, madam,’ replied the woman tersely, dropping her mask of politeness.

‘You see it’s very important,’ said Judith levelly, returning the woman’s stare. There was little pretence left between them.

‘I can assure you that he was on his own when he left.’ The woman had regained her sangfroid and the shutters had come down with force. It was obvious that she knew more than she was letting on but Judith could see that she would get nothing else out of her now. ‘I’m afraid I cannot help you further.’ Judith was being ushered firmly towards the door.

Outside on the pavement Judith found that her nervousness had been replaced with anger. It was obvious that something had happened to Dave and that this woman knew more about it than she was letting on. Now the woman also knew that someone was looking for Dave, and Judith doubted she believed for a moment that it was his cousin.

35

 

Liz stared out at the old barracks parade ground as the last flicker of sun gave way to the chill dusk of the February afternoon. Information was beginning to seep in but so far it was all negative. She still had no idea what had happened to Dave.

 

No results yet from the various CCTV cameras in the car park and the area around Milraud’s shop, but at least she now knew, thanks to Judith’s thespian efforts at the premises, that Dave had actually been there. If the shop assistant was to be believed, he had left safely and on his own at two forty-five. But that might not be true. Judith thought that at the very least the woman was not telling all she knew, and in spite of what she had said, Milraud had certainly not taken the flight to Paris on which he had a reservation. Nor had he been found on any airline manifest leaving Ireland in the last forty-eight hours. It was still possible that he had taken a private plane from one of Ireland’s thirty-odd airports but nothing had been found to point to that, and if he had changed his plans, the question remained why had he done so. Preliminary checks with the ferry services in the North and in the Republic had come up with the same result: no sign of the man.

The main interest had come from analysis of the photographs taken by the camera on the gate of the National Trust property in County Down. There had been an unusual amount of movement in and out since the previous afternoon. Timed at three-forty-four, the red Vauxhall Vectra had gone in, with the dark-faced thug and the man identified as Malone in the front seat. There seemed to be no one in the back, though the camera could not see the back seat clearly. At four Piggott had gone in driving his Audi, with an unidentifiable back-seat passenger. At five-thirty the Audi had gone out again, driven by the Spaniard, and had returned at seven-thirty, again driven by the Spaniard. Nothing more had happened until seven-thirty the following morning when the Audi had been driven out by Malone, possibly with a back-seat passenger who might or might not have been Piggott.

At the offices of Fraternal Holdings in Belfast, where A4 had been on watch since eight a.m., very little had happened. At nine a.m. the female receptionist had let herself into the offices with a key. She was now sitting in the reception area, clearly visible to Arthur Haverford and Jerry Rayman in their observation post across the street. She was painting her nails.

Two policemen had been to Piggott’s house on the National Trust estate during the morning. The old housekeeper who had answered the door said that her employer had left the previous day and had not told her where he was going or when he would be back. The police officers had been told to do no more than enquire for Piggott and if he was there to ask him some question about an imaginary rave on the National Trust land. So they’d accepted what the housekeeper said and, after walking round the surrounding land and seeing nothing to arouse their suspicions, they had left.

As Liz was turning all this over in her mind, Michael Binding appeared in her office doorway, eyebrows raised in a questioning look. Liz shook her head. ‘Nothing firm yet,’ she said flatly. ‘Still waiting for the CCTV.’

‘I wish they’d get a move on,’ he said, coming into the room and fiddling with his tie. He didn’t sit down. ‘I promised DG a progress report this evening. All I’ve got is a
lack
of progress report. It won’t do.’

Liz didn’t reply. It wasn’t quite true. The threads of an investigation were beginning to emerge. The problem now was making sense of them and deciding what to do about it, without precipitating a situation that might put Dave in more danger than he was already in – that was if he were not dead already, something she did not wish to contemplate.

Binding wasn’t finished. ‘You were supposed to be in charge here, Liz. You go away for two days and your people end up all over the place. God knows what’s happened to Dave, or why he felt he could just go charging off on his own.’

BOOK: Liz Carlyle - 05 - Present Danger
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