Here Be Dragons: A Short Story (3 page)

BOOK: Here Be Dragons: A Short Story
11.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Now, though, the tide is high. Now, Deptford Creek is filled with rushing, swirling, dark water.

‘One of the few places I feel safe. Talk to you later, Boss.’

 

When Joesbury and his brother, Adam, were boys in south London, their grandfather, a sergeant in the Marine Unit, often took them out on police boats. (In those days, the rules were expected to be broken.) One of Joesbury Senior’s young constables was a man called Ray Bradbury, who remained with the unit all his working life.

Bradbury, retired now but unable to leave the river behind, lives on a boat in Deptford Creek with his wife, Eileen. Moored up next to it is the vintage yellow sailing yacht in which Lacey lives.

Joesbury drags his eyes away from the yellow boat – time enough for that – and faces the thin, sun-tanned, deeply wrinkled man.

‘I was on a job tonight,’ he says. ‘Things escalated.’

‘Want to tell me about it?’ Ray has never wasted words, isn’t about to start now.

Joesbury shakes his head. ‘You’ll know soon enough.’

‘That bad, huh?’

‘Not as bad as it’s going to sound.’

Ray registers that with a sharp breath on his cigarette. ‘Anything I can do?’

‘Don’t mention you’ve seen me. Don’t notice if your boat gets borrowed occasionally over the next couple of days.’

Ray nods at a large, black-hulled boat. ‘The Westcotts are away up north for three weeks. Use theirs. Need a bed for the night?’

Joesbury can’t resist another sideways glance at the yellow yacht. ‘Thanks, mate, I think I’m sorted.’

Ray’s face creases further, increasing his similarity to all things simian, and Joesbury wonders if decades of loyalty might be shifting, on the basis of a few weeks’ acquaintance with a pretty woman. Well, he’d make the same call himself.

‘She’s had a tricky day.’ The fag has burned low now, and Ray is sucking on it like a starving infant.

‘Yeah.’ A routine part of every day now for Joesbury is checking the Marine Unit daily reports. He already knows that early that morning, Lacey and Ray found the floating body of a young woman out on the river. ‘It’s going to happen though, in that job,’ he says. ‘She knew that.’

When Lacey, a promising young detective, had announced her decision to leave CID and go back into uniform, just about everyone she knew had tried to persuade her against such a career-limiting move. Not Joesbury. All he wanted was to keep her safe and the Marine Unit might just do that when he couldn’t be around.

In his pocket, his phone starts buzzing. The boss again. He smiles apologetically at Ray. ‘Sorry, mate, I need to take this.’

Ray gets up and stretches. ‘Take care of yourself, son. You know where I am.’

Ray’s boots clang on the metal steps as he climbs below. He and Eileen sleep in a cabin at the bow, some fifty feet away. Joesbury hunkers down in the stern so that his voice won’t carry. ‘Talk to me, Guv.’

‘The kid’s going to be fine, you lucky bastard. Equally good news for you is that he remembers that Rich character giving the order to shoot. And the other idiot will testify you saved his neck. We’re moving them both up north to recuperate. And it looks as though you were right about the gang themselves calling the police. The call came from a mobile, very close to that strip club where you met them, a matter of minutes after you left.’

Joesbury lets go the breath he’s been holding. ‘So where do I stand?’

‘Christ knows. It’s a frigging difficult one, to be honest. We can’t formally announce Townsend’s death, or it’ll make the papers, people will be expecting a funeral with full service honours. We can’t put out a formal warrant for your arrest, or it will blow your cover out of the water, not to mention Beenie’s. Sergeant Mick Jackson will have to go AWOL. All we can do is say nothing officially, tip the wink in a few places that you’re a wanted man without actually processing the paperwork and hope the rumour mill does its job. It’ll buy us days, Mark, weeks at the most, and all the time the risk to you will be growing.’

‘Noted.’

‘And another thing, this’ll almost certainly be the end of your career with us. When it all comes out, you can wave goodbye to anonymity.’

He has expected this, knows it is for the best, and yet, in spite of everything, Joesbury feels a pang at realizing the job he’s excelled at for so long is coming to an end. ‘Well, that’ll make my mum happy. I’ll be in touch soon. Thanks, Guv’nor.’

 

As silence – or as close to silence as this part of London ever experiences – creeps around the marina, Joesbury sits as still as the old industrial buildings around him. The railway above his head has long since stopped running, the nearby roads have fallen quiet. The tide is high and the waves splash gently against the creek walls and the moored boats. He watches the moon move behind a cloud and the darkness deepening.

In the distance, just before the water curves out of sight, he sees the hulk of a long-abandoned dredger moored by a gravel yard. It is a massive ship, a ghost of London’s industrial past. As far as he knows, no one has been near it in years.

The yellow yacht, to which his eyes have been continually returning since Ray said goodnight, rocks a little more vigorously than the waves could be accountable for and Joesbury hunkers down further in the stern cockpit. She’s awake.

The washboard on the yellow yacht is pulled up. He sees her pale, slender hands and wrists, then her head. She jumps out and stands in the cockpit, her body stiff with tension. He’s tempted to think she looks scared, but Lacey Flint doesn’t scare easily. She is one of the most reckless people he knows. And there was a time, not so long ago, when she scared the shit out of him. Sometimes, he wonders if she still does.

Barefoot, she walks to the rear of her boat and shines a torch into the water. He is about to speak, but something – curiosity, just the pleasure of watching her – keeps him quiet. She is dressed in soft cotton jogging shorts and a matching vest. He has never seen so much of her body before, although God knows he’s imagined it many times. Her hair is loose and seems longer than when he last saw it unconfined. In the moonlight it looks dark, but the last time he saw her, the sun had bleached fair streaks in its usual light brown. Her long, slim limbs gleam paler than the moonlight as she moves again, tiptoeing gracefully along the side deck of her boat. When Lacey stands close to him, he is always surprised by how tiny she is, and yet her body is so perfectly proportionated that at a distance she appears tall.

She passes within two feet of him, shining the torch down into the narrow gap between the boats. He can hear the soft pad of her footsteps, imagines he can smell the orangey sweetness of her perfume, and he opens his mouth to speak, but she moves on to the bow.

Unable to resist, he gets up silently and, on Ray’s sturdy boat, steps to the side rail without any movement registering. Lacey’s yacht is a much flimsier vessel and lower in the water, but Joesbury has been around boats for as long as he can remember. He waits until she moves, crouching down at the bow, and he steps from one to the other. Once in the cockpit, it is a couple of steps and a forward swing and he is in the cabin.

Instantly, the heat of the summer night seems to flee, leaving him in a softly lit, faintly scented and, above all, cool interior. The entire cabin, from floor to ceiling, is panelled in mahogany, and green glass lamps glow gently on the walls. The seats are padded leather. The galley is neat and the chart table has been fashioned to look like an antique desk. There is even a bookcase filled with hardback books.

She’s had a guest this evening. There are two mugs in the sink and a packet of sugar on the table. The thought of her sharing this space with anyone other than him gives him an unreasonable stab of jealousy.

Some months ago, she had asked his opinion about buying the boat. He told her that it was overpriced, that she’d never get her money back, that she’d have no security of tenure and could be made to leave the makeshift marina at any time, that it would be one of the most inconvenient places in London to live, but that the boat itself was as fine an example of a 1950s sailing yacht as he’d ever seen, that it was beautifully constructed and, from what he could judge, perfectly sound.

She’d gone ahead and bought it. Now, for the first time, he fully understands why.

She is coming back. He hears her jump lightly down into the cockpit. Grinning, he sits down on the leather sofa as her bare feet appear on the steps. He sees the look of shocked wonder on her face, and thinks there is nothing he can’t deal with, as long as she is in his life.

 

He leaves early the next morning, while the light on the river is silver and Lacey’s hair gleams a dark gold on the pillow. He thinks about leaving a note, but notes are a messy trace that he can’t risk and, besides, how could he even begin? Instead, he puts his hand inside the open packet of sugar and lets the tiny white grains trickle from his hand as he draws a simple shape on the table that he hopes will say everything she needs to know. A heart.

Then he takes the borrowed boat and heads downstream towards the abandoned dredger he spotted last night. It won’t be the most comfortable place to spend the next few days, but mobile phone reception is good, no one will think to look for him there, and at nights he’ll be able to sit on deck and look across the water at Lacey’s boat.

3
 

‘YOU DAFT GIT,’
whispers the elongated stone head in the enormous tank of water. ‘You’re on the run. Everyone you care about thinks you’re a killer and in five days you’ve learned nothing.’

Can’t argue with that.

A slender gunmetal-grey creature with black-tipped fins lifts slowly through the water and heads towards where Joesbury is sitting. For a second, he and the shark make eye contact. Then a cluster of smaller fish emerges from behind the stone head and takes fright at something in the silvery water. They dart in a dozen directions before floating together again and sinking down towards the gleaming white sand. In the darker corners of the tank, a large ray is moving in a creeping, furtive way, like the secrets in Joesbury’s new world that seemed destined to stay forever out of reach.

Someone joins him on the bench and they watch the fish in silence, until the newcomer takes a cigarette packet out of his jacket pocket. Philips cannot smoke in here, but he will slide the smooth cardboard packet through his fingers all the time they are talking. Joesbury’s boss is a bundle of nervous energy. Or possibly – and this has never occurred to him before – just when he’s with Joesbury.

‘Not sure what Accounts are going to say about an expenses claim for the London Aquarium.’ Philips taps the packet down on his thigh.

‘Code it to personal therapy. The place soothes me.’

‘If you’re going to get mushy on me I’ve got paperwork up to my neck back at the Yard. What’s been happening?’

‘Other than going out of my mind with boredom, bugger all.’

In the five days since he shot Nathan Townsend, Joesbury has been doing what so much undercover work boils down to. Killing time. Every morning, he buys papers at a different newsagent and combs through them in a different café while he eats the same breakfast, keeping up to speed with events in the UK, and in London in particular, because there might just be something that will give him some clue.

He reads the foreign news too, because what is happening in other parts of the world can impact upon the activities of terrorists at home. He knows that the arrival of summer always heralds an influx of Taliban fighters in the Zhari district of Afghanistan, because the thick summer vegetation makes it difficult for thermal imaging cameras to see hiding insurgents. He knows that the US President’s apparent softening towards the Palestinians is angering the Jewish lobby, both in the US and overseas. He is becoming something of an expert on Middle Eastern and South Asian politics.

‘Have they called you in at all?’

‘Nope. I’ve been along to the club a couple of nights, just to show my face. They’re polite enough, but they don’t have anything for me yet. Oh, and I met the other two that Beenie seems to think are part of the inner circle. What are they called again – Safar? Kouri? Those two are devout Muslims, that much is for sure. They don’t drink, they disappear off to the mosque when the call to prayer rings out. The other three, not so much.’

‘And Rich?’

‘Difficult to say. No obvious religious leanings, but he does look a lot like the others. He could be Palestinian.’

‘How’s Beenie doing?’ Philips says.

‘Holding up. I tell you what I did want to run past you. I’ve been going through the reports he’s sent in and there was one last November that made me sit up.’

At his side, Philips is instantly more alert. ‘What’s that?’

‘He said the club took a delivery late one night. Van arrived, several blokes went outside to unload, but when he showed his face he was told to go back in. Whatever it was went into the basement.’

‘I remember. He hasn’t seen it being moved again. Trouble is, the basement’s always kept locked and he can’t be there all the time. And I’m not asking him to take any risks.’

‘I might be able to get in. If Beenie can get me a key to the back door, I can pick the lock to the basement.’

‘I don’t particularly want you taking any risks.’

‘This job needs a kick-start. I’d say it’s worth a small risk.’

‘OK, but I want you back online.’ Philips hands over a slim white envelope in which several small objects are clinking together. ‘The watch has a short-range recording device in it and the GPS transmitter goes in your pocket at all times. By the way, I had a chat with Dave Cook today.’

Dave Cook is head of the Marine Unit. Lacey’s boss.

‘That girlfriend of yours – Lacey Flint, is she called? She’s been stirring up the shit again.’

Just hearing her name hurts. She’ll know by now that he shot a police officer, will believe him to be a murderer. ‘Nobody does it better,’ he says. ‘What’s she up to now?’

‘She and her crew intercepted a small boat of illegal immigrants late last week. She thinks Asian girls are being smuggled up the Thames, then held somewhere around the Greenwich area before being moved into the city. She thinks some of them are ending up dead and in the river.’

BOOK: Here Be Dragons: A Short Story
11.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Returning to Earth by Jim Harrison
Half a Life by V. S. Naipaul
The Punishing Game by Nathan Gottlieb
Strike Back by Ryan, Chris
Forever Innocent by Deanna Roy
Anyone But You by Kim Askew