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London, late 2002
'Chasing suspect ...'
I moved as quickly as I could. It was definitely Nina's voice on the radio, and it sounded like she was after our target.
The house had appeared empty. The SO19 firearms officers had declared it clear and we had moved in to start a more thorough search. We were looking for paperwork, documents – anything that might lead us further into the world of the trafficking gang we were investigating.
I was in the kitchen and had just unearthed some interesting passport-sized photographs of young women. Nina's voice was shrill, excited.
She was on the first floor checking the bedrooms so I headed that way. Just as I turned towards the hallway and stairs, I caught a sudden movement out of the corner of my eye. A figure falling from the flat roof extension into the rear garden: dark clothing, moving quickly.
'Garden ... garden. Male ... dark jacket.' It was Nina's voice again.
I reached the door to the back garden in time to see one of the German Shepherd dogs from the firearms support team launch headlong towards a man desperately trying to climb a fence. I heard screams of pain and guessed what had happened even before I saw it with my own eyes.
As I jogged across the garden I found the dog firmly locked onto the left calf muscle of Nina's fleeing suspect, who was trying to shake himself free of the animal's grip. His efforts were pointless and time was against him. On both sides of the fence I could see armour-clad cops closing in.
Nina appeared behind me. 'They got him?' she panted.
'Looks like it ... at least the dog has. The Ninjas will have him cuffed in a tick.'
'Excellent. Good job we decided to use them. Bastard dropped out of the loft hatch and climbed through the window.'
Nina moved to push past me further into the garden.
'I wouldn't,' I said. 'Wait till they've got the dog back on its lead.'
'Ah ... OK. Can I leave it with you? I left Matt upstairs on his own.'
I nodded, and Nina headed back to the first floor.
I watched her go. She moved smoothly, like an athlete. I had no doubt that, even with a head start, she would probably have caught our suspect without any help. I'd now known Nina Brasov for nearly a year. We were no longer Sergeant and Inspector, any conscious reference to rank was long since jettisoned. Matt was a Detective Inspector, a DI, the same as me. But to Nina, we were just Matt and Finlay. Two parts of the 'Three Degrees', as she called our team.
One of the SO19 lads – the Ninjas – gave me a thumbs-up as they lifted the injured suspect from the fence, checked the bite wound to his leg and slipped a set of ridged cuffs over his wrists. Satisfied the coast was clear, I walked over to them. The man Nina had described raised his head and turned towards me.
'Hello, Costas,' I said, smiling.
Costas Ioannidis curled his lip and snarled.
I ignored him and turned to the two dog handlers. 'Good effort, lads.'
Then, as our prisoner was led from the garden, I heard Nina call from an open window behind me.
'Was it him?' she asked.
'Yes,' I shouted. 'In the flesh.'
'Come upstairs, Finlay. We all need a good laugh, and you'll never believe what Matt has found.'
The first thing to hit me as I climbed the stairs was the smell. Stale ammonia. I was still puzzling as to the cause when I heard a squawk from behind one of the bedroom doors.
For a moment, I wondered what on earth they had discovered. Then, as I walked in, it became clear. The room was full of cages. Wall to wall parrots. African greys, to be exact.
Matt had counted them. There were eleven, he announced.
Nina produced a can of Easy-Start spray and shoved it towards my face. 'Have a sniff, Finlay.' She laughed at my puzzled expression. 'It contains ether. The junkies go into pet shops; one distracts the owner while another sprays the bird. Poor mister parrot keels over, which makes it easy to nick.'
'Seriously?' I asked.
'Damn right. These fetch over a grand a piece. Costas is the fence, he deals in stolen birds.'
It was my turn to laugh. 'So, what are we going to do with them?'
Matt interrupted as he brushed past me, heading towards the stairs. 'Nothing. Leave 'em where they are. I've already called the local CID. They've got loads to put to Mr Ioannidis. They knew someone was at it locally ... it looks like we've found out who.'
An hour later, with the arrest paperwork complete, we had handed Costas over to the local CID and were heading back to our office at New Scotland Yard. We'd wanted to talk to him about his alleged involvement with prostitution, but the evidence of his dealing in stolen goods had now taken priority. Our questions would have to wait.
I had the result of an important interview to think about, although Nina and Matt seemed more interested in talking about their discovery in Costas's upstairs bedroom. We'd been travelling for several miles before Nina noticed I wasn't joining in the conversation.
'Have you absolutely no idea if you passed the selection board, Finlay?' she asked as she swung the car into the offside lane and raced towards the junction. The traffic signal was just changing to amber and, as was typical of her style of driving, Nina was determined to beat the lights. We made it, just.
'None at all,' I said, as I started to breathe again. 'I even had a sneaky look through the boss's correspondence tray yesterday. There was nothing; no clue.'
Matt leaned over my shoulder from the back seat. 'It went well though, I heard. And it can't have done you any harm that you just completed the Hostage Negotiator course. Most people who do that training are earmarked for promotion.'
'True enough, but there aren't many spots for Chief Inspectors this year, and my time at Combat Stress won't have helped. So, to be honest, I'm not too hopeful.'
'It was a shame they held the board so close to you coming back to work,' said Nina. 'If there'd been a decent gap ...'
'What's done is done,' I snapped, instantly regretting my lack of patience. Nina was being sympathetic, and I wasn't showing much appreciation.
'So, will they let you stay in the department as a DCI, or will you have to go back to being a wooden-top?' she asked calmly, having either not noticed or politely chosen to ignore my rudeness.
'I don't know that, either.'
'Jenny will be pleased ... if you pass, I mean. Especially now you've an extra mouth to feed.'
I shrugged. Nina was right. The extra pay would help, especially as there was no chance Jenny would be going back to work any time soon. She was enjoying being a new mother again, and our daughter Becky loved having a little sister.
Nina interrupted my thoughts. 'Well, you've done your courses now. So, technically speaking you're a proper DI. And, if you don't mind me saying, you're not a bad one, either. I've worked with a lot worse, believe me.' She jabbed a thumb towards the rear seat and laughed.
'Bugger off, Nina,' said Matt, feigning anger. 'Fancy a job writing parking tickets do you?'
I didn't respond, but I appreciated Nina's words. It had been a tough year; one that I was glad was behind me. For now, all my thoughts were concerned with the result of the promotion board and what the implications would be if I had managed to scrape through.
I was certainly the oldest and, possibly, the least apprehensive of the applicants who assembled in the foyer of the interview rooms on the day of the selection board. The thought even crossed my mind that I'd been nominated so the Met couldn't be accused of excluding older officers. I saw a lot of female candidates, at least as many as the men, which didn't come as too much of a surprise given the effort the Met was making to put right its poor record on equal opportunities. We were all in best bib 'n' tucker – smart suits or full uniform, depending upon our current role. I'd felt quietly confident at that point, even as I'd walked through the door to the final interview room.
But now that I was due to see our new Superintendent to hear the result, I didn't really share Matt and Nina's faith in me. My lack of operational experience as an Inspector had generated quite a few questions from the three senior officers on the selection board. And I was asked the inevitable question – a tough one to answer: Did I think that spending several years guarding the Royal Family and just one year as a Detective Inspector was sufficient to prepare me for the demanding role of a Chief Inspector?
I had given as good an answer as I could, but it was clear to me that the question was posed to expose my Achilles heel. I'd done well on my CID courses, but I knew as well as the board did that I'd only been fast-tracked onto them due to my unusual situation. My interviewers didn't mention the six-week absence I'd taken to be treated for stress. But they knew about it – it was on my file – and I wasn't so naive as to think it wouldn't figure in their deliberations.
Our new Superintendent, Ron Cutts, was waiting as we arrived back at the office. He waved me over and, as I stepped into his office, he shut the door behind me and invited me to sit. My stomach felt hollow. Long in the tooth and with a long history of selection systems and examinations behind me, yet I still felt nervous.
He got straight to the point. 'How do you think the board went?'
I shrugged and screwed up my face a little. I was about to speak when he raised a hand to silence me.
'Sorry ... not a lot of point in beating about the bush. That was a pointless question.'
'Not good news, then?' I asked.
'Not for you, no. I'll admit to some relief you'll be staying with us for a while longer, though.'
'Can't say I'm too surprised. I was the oldest by far and my CV kind of let me down.'
Cutts flicked through a file on his desk, appearing to re-read what had been said about me. 'Feedback was good: says if there had been more places you'd have been in with a shout. It suggests a posting where you can act up in the rank and then have another go.'
'I bet they say that to everyone who dips out. What do you think?' He took a deep breath. 'If I'm honest, I think it's not just your age and length of service that work against you.'
'Your history. Before I took command of this team, Mr Grahamslaw filled me in on what happened to you last year and how you ended up here.'
'You think that influenced the board?'
He closed the file and placed it in a drawer. 'I think you're a damn good cop, Finlay, and it's clear our Commander has your back. But, let's just say there are people in the job who thought you should have been prosecuted.'
There was little more to be said. I extended my thanks and headed back to the main office.
Nina and Matt were in the corridor grabbing coffee and a cake from the tea-lady's trolley.
Nina looked at me, expectantly. I guess my face told it all. 'No good, eh?' she asked.
'Better luck next time, I guess.' I did my best to look upbeat.
'Not a chance. I had to sleep with all three of the board to get them to turn you down!'
I laughed. Matt laughed. Even the tea-lady laughed.
'Well, at least you can enjoy the weekend,' said Matt. 'I've just had the DCI from Kilburn on the phone. They've been trying to catch up with Costas Ioannidis for months. Well pleased, he was, and he's agreed to take over the enquiry. We've got a weekend off to enjoy some down time.'
Jenny's reception to my phone call came as something of a relief. She took the disappointing news well and was honest enough to admit that she hadn't really expected me to be successful. And, perhaps to soften the blow she'd anticipated, she'd arranged for us to have a drink that evening with my old friend Kevin Jones and his girlfriend, Sandi, so I had something to cheer me up.
Ron Cutts was right, of course, especially regarding the legality of some of the things Kevin and I had been involved in. The preceding year had been amongst the most difficult I'd ever known. Everything had changed the day I'd been at home with Jenny and had answered a telephone call from Nial Monaghan, my former CO at 22 SAS. I hadn't heard from Monaghan in many years and what he said to me that evening threw my life up in the air. And my family, having discovered I wasn't the ordinary former soldier they'd thought, had been drawn into a fight for survival so dangerous that I came very close to losing them.
And then, just when I'd thought the threat was at an end, I'd gone with Kevin to visit the widow of a former colleague murdered by the terrorists who'd been targeting us. On the face of it, we were simply helping her dispose of a trophy weapon, a pistol her husband had retained after leaving the army. But we'd been handed a document – the 'Al Anfal' report – which turned out to be so sensitive, so secret, that even knowledge of it placed a person at risk of being silenced by the Security Services. The report had been discovered by an ex-military team called Increment, who had been working in Afghanistan during the war with Russia. They had forwarded it to their MI6 controller but, before doing so, they'd photocopied it. Somehow, one or more of them must have realised its potential value and had tried to hawk it to the press. That decision had cost them their lives and our attempts to discover the significance of the document had very nearly resulted in us suffering a similar fate.
Our MI5 family liaison officer, Toni Fellowes, had uncovered the truth. Monaghan had been given the job of clearing up the leak and had set about it in the way he knew best. He'd then used the ruse of an official MI6 black op as an excuse to target Kevin and me in the mistaken belief we were both guilty of having had affairs with his late wife. It was a mistake that cost him his life.
* * *
As was my habit, I picked up an evening paper and, on the underground journey up to Cockfosters, read it from cover to cover. I still found that crowded trains were a cause of some discomfort. The combination of noise, heat and the crush of people was an anxiety trigger I knew was best to avoid. Reading the paper was a coping strategy I'd learned. By immersing myself in newspaper articles, I could ignore my surroundings.
Today, one article in particular drew my attention. It was about a missing literary agent – Maggie Price, who I knew represented an author by the name of Chas Collins. About a year before, Collins had brought out a book called Cyclone. The book had caused a bit of a storm, especially when the author's claims about his work in the SAS Regiment had been exposed as lies. He'd since dropped out of circulation, but rumour had it he was working on a follow-up book.
Maggie Price had recently disappeared, and, when superglue had been discovered in the lock to the front door of her home, the papers had been full of the story, with some incredible conspiracy theories being aired. All kinds of 'experts' had come out of the woodwork, from former detectives through to supposed friends of both the agent and her author. All had different theories, from a random stalker to a hit by an assassin hired by an underworld crime syndicate. The truth was, nobody knew what had happened.
Maggie Price lived in rural Essex, so the Met had only been involved in a support role, helping to interview her friends and associates. With no ransom demand received and stumped as to how best to proceed, the Senior Investigating Officer had made an appeal on the BBC Crimewatch programme the previous night. I hadn't watched it, but several people at work had been talking about the case. The connection to the Collins book had been mentioned, as had the story that the author had gone into hiding in Belgium, fearing for his life. The SIO had made a public appeal for him to get in touch.
I had my own opinion on how successful that appeal was likely to be. Those of us who knew Collins of old also knew that if he didn't want to be found then he wouldn't be. Despite the false claims in his book, he'd still been a good soldier and would know how to look after himself.
The newspaper article, written by the reporter Max Tranter, and following up on the publicity caused by the Crimewatch appeal, was a good one. Tranter had been doing some digging of his own and had made a connection between the Price case and a murder that happened about two miles away from her home, the day before she was reported missing. A young man had been found shot dead on a quiet, country lane and Essex police were working on the premise that the killing was drugs related, the victim having possible connections to east London drug dealers. Max Tranter, however, had an alternative theory. He argued that it was too much of a coincidence that two major crimes could occur so close together without there being some kind of connection.
Excerpted from "End Game"
Copyright © 2018 Matt Johnson.
Excerpted by permission of Orenda Books.
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