Here Be Dragons: A Short Story (4 page)

BOOK: Here Be Dragons: A Short Story
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‘Sex slaves don’t live long. That much isn’t news.’

‘Might your gang be responsible?’

Joesbury thinks for a moment. ‘I wouldn’t rule it out, but the women I’ve seen in that place look more Eastern European to me. And wasn’t there something a bit ritualistic about the floater Lacey found? I’ve seen nothing to suggest those sort of shenanigans.’

‘We’re no closer, are we? And every day increases the chance of you being spotted and recognized. Even if you do look and smell like a hobo.’

‘Give me a couple of days. I can look round the place. We might find something that’ll give us a clue.’

‘Well, let’s frigging hope so. Because as things stand, we’ve got nothing.’

4
 

THE NIGHT AIR
is thick with exotic spices, petrol fumes and the stench of bins that have gone too long without being emptied. In the darkness of the back alley, away from the harsh neon lights of the main street, Joesbury steals along the line of shadow in the lee of the high brick wall. There are no CCTV cameras either in or just outside the strip club, but he isn’t taking any chances.

Thanks to Beenie and his recently discovered talent for petty theft, he has a key to the back door.

Inside the club, he heads for the cellar. The building is as quiet and still as stone at just after four in the morning. Even the women upstairs will be asleep, or in whatever drug-addled state passes for it. He needs to watch it, though. Three members of Rich’s security staff sleep in the club.

It takes him longer than he would like to pick the lock, but he gets in eventually and shines his torch down the steps. He isn’t entirely confident that he won’t find people down here, and people – especially those who have been held captive – are unpredictable.

There is no movement in the darkness, no scuffling, panicking sounds. He can smell nothing that suggests bodies – living or dead. He steps carefully down, and looks around at the gym equipment, the tools, the beer barrels and the shelves of crisps and canned drinks.

Shining the torch on to shelves and into corners, he makes his way around the room, looking for anything that might give him some clue. Drugs. Guns. Counterfeit cash.

There is nothing down here but bar supplies and old furniture. A broken mirror makes him jump, but only for a second.

He is about to leave when he steps on something that hurts, even through the sole of his shoe.

On the linoleum of the cellar floor is a cluster of nails. He bends down. Assorted nails, screws, nuts, and several shards of metal. There is even a ball bearing. It could be nothing, an accident with a maintenance man’s tool kit. Or it could be the shrapnel that accompanies a homemade explosive device. He picks them up and drops them in his pocket.

Closing the basement door carefully, he makes his way back upstairs and then on to the upper floor. This, at the far side of the building from the girls’ rooms, is where Rich has his office.

It is locked, of course, and getting past this lock takes him ten precious minutes. Once inside, he closes the door and takes stock. Four filing cabinets and three drawers in the desk. Rich does not keep a computer in this room. When he needs to use the internet or send an email, he uses a laptop which never leaves his side. If there is anything to be found here, it will be on paper.

Joesbury finds the spare keys where Beenie told him they’d be, hanging on a hook on the underside of the desk, and he slides open the first cabinet. He starts with the top drawer. Instruction manuals. Nothing of interest. The next drawer down has stationery. The next has receipts for goods and services, all neatly alphabetized, all of them for the current financial year.

Movement on the floor below. He freezes, not entirely sure whether he imagined it or not. He waits for seconds that stretch to a minute. Nothing else.

The next cabinet has maps of London in the top drawer, including several charts of the river. The next drawer down has tide charts. The bottom drawer has paperwork relating to the ownership and mooring of a yacht in St Katherine’s dock.

Footsteps are coming up the stairs.

As gently as he can, Joesbury slides the drawer closed and checks that there is nothing in the room that looks out of place. Then he squeezes himself into the space beneath the desk.

He will have no excuse for being found in here. If he is found, and taken, he is unlikely to live. Five months ago, the body of a man was found floating in the river at Bermondsey. His teeth had been broken beyond recognition and his hands cut off. The post-mortem said that he’d drowned, that the mutilations had been ante mortem.

As the footsteps draw closer, Joesbury shuts his eyes; he can see Lacey on duty in the morning, pulling out her second floater in two days and recognizing him immediately, because no matter what they do to him, she’ll know him.

Christ, if there were a pill that could cure an overactive imagination, he’d be taking it. He opens his eyes and sees a small, silver key hanging on a hook screwed into the underside of the desk. Further under than the others, one that Beenie doesn’t know about.

Outside in the corridor, the footsteps pause. The handle is turned, but the Yale lock is stiff enough to give the impression that the door is properly locked, and whoever is out there moves on. After several more minutes, Joesbury can hear footsteps descending.

He squeezes out and makes for the final cabinet. This is where Rich keeps invoices for the business, and salary slips for the people who work for him legitimately. By the time Joesbury has flicked past the last delivery note for wine, beer and spirits, he is losing hope.

Just the desk to check. The drawers are locked, but he retrieves the small hidden key from under the desk. The first drawer contains a small bundle of cash, some cheque- and bank-deposit books and some larger items of stationery.

The second drawer has an assortment of pens, pencils, paper clips, drawing pins. Nothing. This has been a dangerous waste of time.

And then, something else. An embroidered velvet case, about the size of a large jewellery box, but masculine-looking. Flicking it open, Joesbury sees narrow, black-leather straps, tightly coiled, and two square, leather objects that appear to be small, thin boxes. He recognizes them immediately, knows their significance, but is at a loss to understand their place in the puzzle.

And one last thing, tucked away right at the back. Or rather, two things, fastened together with an elastic band. Passports. The first is an EU passport, Union européenne République française, in the name of Richard Richman. The second is dark blue, with Hebrew script and the distinctive emblem of a seven-candle Hebrew lamp surrounded by an olive branch. The emblem of Israel. Rich is a French national with an Israeli passport.

The black-leather boxes are Tefillin, Jewish religious paraphernalia, aids to prayer for Orthodox Jews. One box is to be attached to the forehead, the other to an arm. Rich is Jewish.

5
 


NOT ONLY IS
he Jewish, Mark, he’s a passionate supporter of the State of Israel. His family were Holocaust survivors; several of them campaigned for decades to have Nazi war criminals hunted down. This is not a guy who will tolerate any opposition to Israel.’

Phone clamped to his ear, Joesbury stands in the shadow of the dredger’s wheelhouse, watching Lacey paddle her slender white canoe back to her own boat. He still can’t work out whether catching the occasional glimpse of her hurts more than it helps. Back at Scotland Yard, Philips is still talking.

‘He’s made massive personal donations over the years to Likud – that’s one of the most right-wing of Israel’s numerous political parties. And he’s believed to be a sympathizer of the Jewish Defence League.’

‘Which is?’

‘A Jewish far-right religious political organization with the goal of protecting Jews from anti-Semitism by whatever means necessary.’

‘So why are a bunch of young Arab men, who are believed to have terrorist connections, working for a wealthy, pro-Israel, Orthodox Jew?’

‘We can only assume they don’t know he’s Jewish. We didn’t, until you found his passports, and I like to think we have the edge when it comes to finding stuff out. As for what’s motivating him, he wouldn’t be the first terrorist to throw the blame on to another group entirely to provoke a response. Point is, we’ve been brainstorming potential Muslim targets. We’re going to look at that one again now.’

‘Anything on that bag of shrapnel I gave you?’

‘Nothing. Tests came back empty. I tell you what, Mark, we could bring the lot of them in now. Search that place. If explosives have been kept in the basement, we’ll find traces. One of them will tell us where they are.’

‘And if you don’t? If they don’t? We don’t have enough. You have to give me more time. You have to hold your nerve.’

Behind him, he hears footsteps coming along the deck.

‘Got to go. Beenie’s just arrived and I need to fire up the barbecue.’

He cuts the call on his boss’s cursing and joins Beenie. There is a pile of tyres on deck they can sit beside. And the beers have been sitting in a cool bag for the last hour. He opens two bottles and hands one over.

The younger man lowers himself to the steel deck, wincing at the heat of it, and looks around. ‘Love what you’ve done to the place.’

Joesbury chinks his bottle against Beenie’s. ‘What’ve you got for me?’

Beenie is serious again. ‘I went into Rich’s office the other night. Rich, Assaf and Haddad were in there. They weren’t expecting me and I think I caught them off guard.’

‘Go on.’

‘They were looking at plans. You know, those big architectural plans that builders and surveyors use?’

Joesbury nods. ‘A building? Don’t suppose you recognized it, by any chance?’

‘Actually, I think I did. I think it was the Barrier.’

Joesbury spins round on his bum to face east. The Thames Barrier isn’t visible from Deptford Creek, but everyone who lives and works on the river is conscious of its presence. ‘That’s a frigging big piece of engineering, mate.’

‘It is, and tell me if I’m talking bollocks, but you wouldn’t need to take the whole thing out, would you? Just incapacitate the gates, stop them lifting?’

The gates – huge curved steel shells – sit for most of their lives on the riverbed. When raised, they can hold back the tide.

‘What are you thinking?’

‘I’ve been looking into it today. On the website. I’ve even driven down, gone into that visitors’ centre they have there.’

‘And?’

‘And I was thinking, how would I do it, if I wanted to make the Barrier ineffective? The piers themselves are massive, the gates are under the water, so almost impossible to get at, but the weak point of the whole operation has to be the – what are they called? – the big levers that lift the gates.’

Joesbury has been on the Barrier several times. The big levers are hydraulic cylinders. ‘Makes sense. If you want to attack anything, you go for its weakest point.’

‘That’s what I’m thinking. Relatively small explosives at the most vulnerable point of each lift mechanism. There are ten, by the way. I’m not an engineer, I couldn’t do it, but I’m sure there are plenty of people who could. And you know that mate of Assaf’s? The quiet one?’

‘Chiraq Malouf?’ A tall, thin, bearded man, who hasn’t hidden the fact that he despises Joesbury.

‘That’s him. He studied chemical engineering at Imperial College.’

‘I don’t know, buddy. Even with ten boats packed with C4 and ten suicide drivers willing to aim directly at the cylinders, you still couldn’t get close enough to do any real damage.’

‘I agree. The explosives would have to be in direct contact with the cylinders.’

‘And that’s impossible. The public can’t access the Barrier. Say you stage an armed hijack of the place. It would take hours to put that much explosive in place.’

‘What if it’s already there?’

Joesbury turns back to face the younger man. ‘Come again?’

‘Something else I overheard. It was Rich. He said something like, “We did the hard work back in January, my friend. That’s when we planted the seed. We have been tending it carefully ever since and now is the time to pluck the ripe fruit. A good farmer does not walk away at the time of harvest.” Mate, these guys have been working on this for months. That’s why we haven’t been able to find any trace of explosives or detonators or anything. The bomb – the bombs – they’re already in place.’

‘And all they have to do is press the button. Shit.’

‘How bad would it be if the Barrier was taken out?’

‘A million homes vulnerable to flooding. The commercial costs could run into billions. And then it depends how quickly they could repair the damage. I think it was raised nearly thirty times last winter. Half that number of serious tidal floods would devastate London, throw the economy into meltdown.’

‘What can we do?’

Joesbury finishes his beer. ‘I’ll let the guv’nor know. He can instigate very discreet searches. If anything is found, we can get the devices made safe while we focus on getting these guys banged to rights. Well done, youngster.’

‘Oh, and another thing. They want to see you. Tonight.’

6
 

THE TIDE IS
high when Joesbury steers his boat towards the entrance to St Katherine’s dock. A focal point of river trade for over a thousand years, the dock has long been the gateway for the arrival of exotic goods into the capital city. Traders from the West Indies, the Far East and Africa unloaded their cargoes of marble, indigo, ivory and spices on to the harbourside here. Nowadays, luxury and wealth are still very much in evidence in the high-value dockside apartments and the array of gleaming white yachts.

Joesbury turns into the marina entrance and passes through the lock. The
Vestal Virgin
is a fifty-foot Swan and as he nears it he cuts his engine.

There are lights in the main cabin, and several of the tiny windows are ajar. He lets his boat float until he can touch the side of the Swan. Standing carefully, he can hold on to the guard-rail and press close to the window.

BOOK: Here Be Dragons: A Short Story
7.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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