Authors: James Craig
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General
Keen to avoid Father McGowan’s lawyer, Roche frogmarched Carlyle out of the station and took him off to do some interviews relating to a fraud case they had been ignoring for too long. Eventually, they ended up all the way across Covent Garden at Il Buffone, the tiny 1950s-style Italian café, on Macklin Street, at the north end of Drury Lane. It stood opposite the block of flats where Carlyle lived and was therefore deep in ‘home’ territory. At this time of the day, the place was empty.
As they walked in, Marcello Aversa looked up from behind the counter and smiled. Normally, the place would have been shut by now. But Marcello and his wife were having to work ever longer hours to try to keep the place afloat. ‘Ciao!’ their host shouted over the noise of the ancient Gaggia coffee machine which laboured behind the counter.
‘Two espressos please, Marcello,’ Roche said, pushing Carlyle into the back booth, under the poster of AC Milan’s ’94 Champions League winning team, a present from Roche which had place of honour on the wall, next to the counter.
‘I’ll have a green tea,’ Carlyle corrected her.
Roche looked at the inspector then laughed. ‘What? Are you ill or something?’
‘Wife’s orders,’ Marcello chuckled.
Changing the subject, Carlyle pointed at Donadoni, Maldini and the rest. ‘You got a new poster!’ He had been quite impressed when Roche had found a copy for Marcello the first time. When that had been defaced by yobs, he was even more impressed by her ability to come up with a replacement.
‘Si,’ Marcello shouted happily. ‘Otherwise, I was going to have to put up one of the Azzurri.’
‘Jesus!’ Carlyle threw up his hands in mock horror. ‘That would simply not do.’ The Italian national team, world champions not so long ago, was going through one of its periodic troughs. The star players had stayed on too long past their peak and stopped the next generation coming through.
‘No, I know,’ Marcello agreed with regret. ‘They don’t deserve the place of honour on my wall.’
Roche nodded. ‘Too old.’
‘I know the feeling,’ Carlyle joked.
‘Me too,’ said Marcello. ‘This job is getting too tough for me.’
Carlyle felt a ripple of panic in his chest.
Christ on a bike, not more change
. He had been coming to Il Buffone most days for more than a decade. The place was a delight, a throwback to the days when cafés had an individual identity. Walking five minutes in any direction, you could probably find close to a hundred other cafés, most of them part of big chains. Some franchises had maybe four or five branches in and around Covent Garden alone. But there was only one Il Buffone.
And, sadly, it was up for sale.
Carlyle looked at Marcello. The old man did appear more tired than usual. ‘You haven’t found a buyer, have you?’ he asked warily.
‘I wish,’ Marcello sighed, wiping his hands on the dishcloth hanging over his left shoulder. ‘Now it’s getting to the point where I’m basically trying to pay someone to take it off my hands. There are a couple of people interested. We’ll see.’ He smiled at Roche. ‘But don’t worry, I’ve told ’em that the poster has to stay.’
‘I’m glad to hear it, Marcello.’ Reading the unhappiness on Carlyle’s face, Roche slipped into the seat opposite him. ‘We have to talk about what happened back at the station this morning,’ she said quietly but firmly, ‘and how it will never, ever happen again.’
Placing the drinks on the table, Marcello registered the tone of Roche’s grim ‘thank you’ and beat a hasty retreat.
‘What the hell do you think you were doing with McGowan?’
Carlyle stared into his mug.
‘He’s an old man,’ Roche continued.
‘He’s a fucking paedophile,’ Carlyle hissed, turning round to check that no one was listening to the conversation, almost embarrassed to say the word.
‘Whatever he is,’ Roche said icily, ‘you cannot lose control like that. You could have bloody killed him.’
Carlyle grunted in a way that suggested the idea of a swift and violent end for Father Francis McGowan did not totally displease him. ‘I didn’t lose control,’ he said, trying to keep his voice even, his words clipped and precise. ‘He knows now that we are serious.’
‘He knows that we are dangerous,’ Roche snapped back.
I wasn’t the one who smacked him about, bringing him into the station, Carlyle thought, his anger more than tempered by the knowledge that he should have done that job himself and not dumped it on his sergeant. ‘Look, I want to find the boy,’ he said. ‘I know that I have dragged you into this and I’m sorry—’
Roche dismissed his apology with a curt shake of the head.
‘– but if there are any repercussions, they will come back on me, not you.’
‘His lawyer is bound to make a complaint.’
‘Any complaint will focus on what happened in the interview room,’ Carlyle insisted. ‘That falls on me. You are in the clear, I promise.’
‘It’s not even our bloody case.’
Fumbling in his jacket pocket, Carlyle pulled out a small photograph, barely twice the size of a passport mug shot, and dropped it on the table. ‘Simon Murphy.’
Roche sighed. ‘I know who he is.’
‘Twelve years old. He was taken into care when he was two.’
‘I know the story.’
‘Moved in and out of various foster-homes for more than twelve years. Expelled from three different Camden schools before he was ten. Dumped into a Boys’ Club run by a sixty-three-year-old priest who has not one but two banning orders which are supposed to prevent him working with children.’
Roche smacked her fist on the table. ‘John, I know all this – you’ve told me already.’
‘Six complaints from children who have come into contact with McGowan in the last five years. Two have withdrawn their statements, three are pursuing civil claims against the Church and one committed suicide. Simon is the best, if not the only chance of bringing a criminal conviction against this scumbag. And now he’s vanished.’
Pushing a strand of red hair behind her ear, she sat back on the bench and folded her arms. ‘We have no evidence that McGowan has anything to do with his disappearance. The kid has run away before.’
‘You saw that sick old bastard in there,’ Carlyle said. ‘He thinks he’s untouchable. He thinks he’s put the boy beyond our grasp.’
‘Listen to yourself,’ she scolded him. ‘What happened to John Carlyle the arch pragmatist?’
Not meeting her gaze, the inspector looked to Marcel Desailly – on the wall behind Roche’s head – for inspiration. None was forthcoming. He had put himself on the hook and she wasn’t going to let him wriggle off. They had been working together for less than a year but Roche had quickly come to understand how his mind worked. He was getting used to her often disarmingly accurate commentaries on his moods and the contradictions in his behaviour.
‘You have to get a grip – put the chimp back in its box.’
He looked up. ‘Eh?’
‘It’s a psychological model,’ she explained briskly. ‘The chimp is your emotional side. In difficult situations you have to keep it under control or you will make mistakes. In a stressful situation, like the one with McGowan, you have to stop your chimp from preventing you dealing with the problem logically.’
‘Sounds like a load of bollocks to me,’ he snorted.
‘Sports people use it.’ She mentioned a few names, a couple of footballers, cyclists, even a snooker player.
‘Good for them.’
‘Maybe you should go and see a shrink,’ Roche said gently, ‘help you cage your chimp.’
‘I am seeing a shrink,’ Carlyle pointed out. ‘Boss’s orders.’ He shook his head at the absurdity of it all. ‘The silly old bugger couldn’t cage a kitten.’
‘Maybe you need to try someone else,’ she persisted.
‘Life’s too short.’
‘Life’s too short for all this hopeless crusading,’ she countered. ‘Whatever happened to “don’t fight battles you can’t win”?’
Carlyle shrugged. ‘Some battles you have to fight, even if you’re going to lose. But this is one that I certainly don’t want to lose. You can’t give people who abuse children a free pass.’
‘Well,’ she replied, lifting her demitasse to her lips, ‘there seem to be plenty of people who disagree with you.’
‘Tell me about it.’ Carlyle took a sip from his own mug and winced. Wherever Marcello got his supplies from, his green tea wasn’t a patch on Helen’s. ‘This case has been knocking around for years now. No one wants to touch it with a barge-pole. It only ended up on our desk by accident.’ That was literally true. Carlyle had been waiting for a file on the case of a local politician who had been burgled three times in six weeks. Instead, Archives had sent him the McGowan file. Once he’d read it, he’d dropped an email to his boss, Commander Carole Simpson, telling her that he was going to take another look at it. He knew that Simpson could be very hit and miss when it came to email communication, so there was every chance she would not try and stop him until he’d either made some progress or reached a dead end.
Roche gave him a look.
‘Okay. It only ended up on
desk by accident.’
A sad smile spread across her face as she put a hand on his forearm. ‘Your burden is my burden, Kimosabe.’
‘Thank you, Tonto.’
Her smile vanished. ‘But now McGowan’s lawyer will have a field day – police harassment, brutality, assault with intent; you’ve really dropped yourself in the shit on this one.’
‘I know. I’ll speak to the boss about it.’
‘Simpson? She’s not around.’
‘What?’ In recent years, the Commander had a good track record when it came to watching his back. He relied on her network inside the Met more than he cared to admit. If Simpson wasn’t around, he could find himself very exposed indeed.
‘I heard that she’s been sent on some work experience jolly to Canada for three months.’
‘Great.’ Carlyle’s heart sank. ‘So who’s replacing her?’
Roche shrugged. ‘Dunno.’
‘Okay.’ Digging some change out of his pocket, he got up and walked over to the till. ‘We’d better get back to the station then and see how bad things are.’
Biting her bottom lip, Paula Coulter tried not to cry as she glanced at Luckman and Mohammed, spread-eagled on the floor in the middle of the store, guns to their heads. A pool of dark liquid was trickling across the wooden floor where one of the men – the manager, she presumed – had pissed himself. Squeezing her legs together, Paula swore to herself that she wouldn’t lose control of her bodily functions, difficult though that might be. She glanced at the door, praying that someone might ring the buzzer and realize that something was wrong. The clock on the wall had just ticked past five, but the sign on the door clearly said that they stayed open until five thirty. She tried to clear the sour feeling in her throat. Someone had to come, surely? The window blinds had been drawn and she watched one shadow, illuminated by the late-afternoon sunshine, saunter past, quickly followed by another. She could hear a couple of women chatting outside.
I don’t care if the silly old cunt buggers off with the au pair
,’ one squawked in best estuary English,
‘as long as I get the money.’
Good for you!
’ the other laughed hysterically.
Normal life was proceeding unhindered just a few feet away, on the other side of the glass. Paula thought she was going to vomit with disappointment and fear.
On the floor, Mohammed started wheezing. ‘I’ve got asthma,’ he gasped. ‘I need my inhaler.’
The white guy gave him a kick and lowered his gun to where the security guard could see it. ‘Shut up!’ he hissed. ‘We’ll be gone in five minutes. You’ll have to wait.’
Paula felt the tears welling up in her eyes and she let out a sob.
‘Don’t worry about them,’ the black guy grinned, pulling a Harrods plastic bag out of his pocket and tossing it to her. ‘Just start filling that up and no one’s going to get hurt.’
The bag landed on the counter in front of her and she opened it up. Looking around, she had no idea where to begin.
‘Start over there,’ the black guy said impatiently, gesturing at the display of watches in one of the windows.
Paula stepped unsteadily from behind the counter and moved towards the window. Belatedly she realized that she needed to unlock the display.
‘I need the key,’ she wailed, bursting into tears.
‘Oh, for fuck’s sake,’ the white guy screamed. Lifting his gun to shoulder height, he fired three times, into the centre of each of the store’s main windows. Falling to her knees, Paula covered her ears. A split second of silence was instantly replaced by the sound of a dozen alarms going off at full blast.
‘You fucking idiot,’ the black guy spat at his companion as he hauled Paula to her feet. Thrusting the bag at her chest, he pushed her towards the display. ‘You have three minutes to put as much stuff in that bag as possible,’ he shouted, ‘or I will blow your fucking head off!’
Jumping over to the window, Paula began grabbing at handfuls of watches, jewellery and broken glass. Ignoring the cuts to her hands and fingers, she shovelled handful after handful into the plastic bag. For the first time, she was conscious of her heart beating like crazy. But more than that, she was conscious that the fear had fled. Her ordeal was nearly over. Trying not to rush, she counted down the seconds as she dropped a tray of single stone diamond rings into the bag, followed by a
dragonfly brooch and selection of gold charm bracelets. With every minute that slipped by, she grew more confident that these tossers were going to be caught. Smiling to herself, Paula had reached forty-three when she heard the first sirens in the distance.
The black guy roughly snatched the bag from her. ‘That’ll do!’ Grabbing the collar of her blouse, he shoved her forward. ‘Open the fucking door! Quickly!’
After fumbling with the lock, Paula pulled the door open.
Fuck off, you wankers, I hope that they gun you down in the street.
Trying to step aside, she felt a hand around her neck, pushing her out onto the pavement. When she tried to break free, the grip tightened.
‘Get going, bitch!’ She recognized the voice of the white guy behind her as they tumbled out on to New Bond Street. ‘You’re coming with us.’