Authors: Neil Cross
‘I can see that. What pressure?’
‘I’ll stay,’ she said.
‘You can’t. You’ve got exams.’
‘Not for months. It’s the vacation.’
‘Caroline,’ he said. ‘Please.’
But she would have none of it.
He kicked off his shoes and lay otherwise fully clothed on the bed. Caroline woke him at 8.45. He had been dreaming about Derek Bliss. He sat up with a start. It took some time to work out where he was and how Caroline came to be there. He thought he might have dreamed Leeds until he saw the dry brown splatter pattern on his blue shirt.
The station had called. ‘You have to go in right now,’ she said. ‘It’s urgent.’
Before he had time to clean his teeth, a police car was waiting outside, its blue light silently spinning. He made them wait until he was at least presentable and kissed Caroline goodbye. He knew the driver well and bid a grim hello. They stopped off on the way to the station and he bought breakfast, American Hard Gums, a KitKat and two cans of Coke.
That morning the station had received a ransom demand, a laser-printed sheet of A5, postmarked Cardiff and addressed to James Ireland, the chief investigating officer. Among other things, the letter specified that Detective Sergeant William Holloway should deliver the ransom.
The criminal psychologist assigned to the abduction did not consider this demand exceptional. In fact, such an injunction accorded with the psychological profile she had compiled of the suspect. Despite the use of the first person plural in all communications received thus far, she believed him to be a white male in his mid-forties or early fifties, working alone. He would be of high intelligence but largely self-taught and without advanced formal qualifications. He was likely to be a working-class grammar-school boy. He lived alone—plenty of time to deliberate and plan—but had at least one failed marriage behind him, possibly two or more. He was prone to brooding, did not relate well to women and had few close friends. There was a high probability of previous convictions, although he had not gone so far as kidnapping. Possibly he had tried to blackmail an employer or corporation that had provoked his wrath. Perhaps he had threatened to tamper with baby food, or off-the-shelf medications. He had some knowledge of police procedure and may have applied to join the force and been rejected. There might be a physical disability or—given his probable age—perhaps he hadn’t met previous height restrictions.
The suspect believed the world to have done him a great and sustained wrong, for which he in some way held the constabulary responsible. Why else demand ransom from the police, if not to humiliate and taunt them with his intellectual superiority? A more uncomplicated kidnapper would seek to avoid the authorities altogether. A great deal of thought had gone into formulating and executing this plan, which must have altered from revenge fantasy to workable reality in tiny increments over many years. The crime was not sexually motivated: at its heart lay his drive to personal vindication. He saw the kidnapping of Joanne as a matter of logistics. He would prefer to release her alive because he believed the public would then admire him as a latterday Robin Hood. But he would kill her if he felt he had to.
Possibly Holloway had arrested him in the past (this was already being looked into). But it was equally possible the two had struck up a conversation in a pub or on a train or in a café.
Either way, he wanted Holloway to be the bagman.
Jim Ireland was long, dolorous and hunched. He told Holloway that the ransom demand had only been received following an interminable season of taunts and threats.
The amount requested, £185,000, was uncommonly specific and relatively low considering the effort entered into. It was likely to have a specific, highly symbolic significance. It might relate to money the suspect believed was owed to him. He had also demanded that £25,000 be paid into two bank accounts, for which two cash cards and a PIN would be provided. Since cash withdrawals could easily be traced, this was probably the kidnapper again asserting the superiority of his cunning. Acting on the psychologist’s advice, the police had decided to meet these demands.
Then Ireland showed Holloway the letter that had arrived that morning:
The monies will be delivered by Detective Sergeant William Holloway.
From 7 p.m. tonight, W. H. will drive clockwise round the one-way system in Bristol city centre. He must have petrol sufficient for at least 200 miles. He should carry a pen, paper, and a pocket A–Z of Bristol and the West Country, but no radio or other transmitter.
We will send a message to him via the POLICE STATION. It will not be possible to trace this message. The message will be relayed to W. H. on a mobile phone provided for this purpose. W. H. will be instructed to proceed to a certain telephone box at a certain time, where he will receive further instruction. The mobile phone must then be discarded from the driver’s side window. We will be observing to ensure this happens. If it does not happen you will not see Joanne again.
All messages will be prerecorded. No further communication will be entered into. The monies should be in equal quantities of £50, £20 and £10 notes, wrapped with the cashcards in polythene of at least 120 microns, then taped with parcel tape. The package will then be wrapped in a double layer of brown paper and tied by a nylon cord with a looped handle. The package is to measure no more than 400 mm x 400 mm x 100 mm.
Detective W. H. must keep this package visible at all times, under his right arm. He will be directed to a series of different telephone boxes. In one he will find a plastic box about the size of a paperback book, on top of which will be two LED bulbs: one red, one green. The red light is an ANTI-TAMPER device. Any attempt to interfere with the box will cause this light to illuminate. The green light is a TRANSMITTER-DETECTOR.
If either of these lights illuminate no further communication will be entered into and Joanne will remain nowhere, forever. In addition, within seven days, we will derail a passenger train using two rigid steel joists. This will result in multiple fatalities.
Any attempt to use road blocks, bugging devices, helicopters, satellite observation, marker dye or hidden transmitters will be detected and will result in the death of Joanne and the derailing of a passenger train with massive loss of life.
No attempt should be made to follow Detective W. H. He will be followed over quiet roads that can easily be checked and any pursuing aircraft will be heard.
If these instructions are carried out to the letter and the monies found to be in a fit state, the location of Joanne will be made known to you and you will never hear from us again.
The Friends of George Bailey
Holloway read the letter three or four times. He asked if the stuff about anti-tamper devices and transmitter detectors could be true.
‘Who knows?’ said Ireland. ‘Who wants to take the risk?’ Ireland talked him through options that had already been discussed at great length: if they ignored his threats and tried to negotiate, there was a good chance the kidnapper would act on them. A dead girl would be bad enough, a derailed passenger train quite another. Two rigid steel joists hammered upright between rail tracks would project an express train off the rails like a missile.
They could disseminate a false profile to the media, calling the kidnapper sexually immature, homosexual and educationally subnormal, hoping to provoke him into unplanned action that revealed his whereabouts. But Ireland called this ‘pretty dangerous stuff’. If the kidnapper hated the police now, how would he feel then? He might derail a train just to punish them.
The only option available was to concede to the kidnapper’s demands: pay the ransom and trust the psychologist that he was likely to give the girl back. Then they could concentrate on catching him. Such men always slipped up eventually. It was a question of patience.
It was not thought necessary or desirable that Holloway learn the mechanics of the investigation, so for an hour or two he was left to his own devices. He went to his desk and waited. All incoming calls were diverted and monitored. He stared at some paperwork. Then he picked up a copy of the psychological profile and read it through again.
Aspects of it described Bliss as far as Holloway knew him. But it also described Holloway to an acceptable degree of accuracy. The resentment for the police force could be recalibrated as the repressed fury of a man passed over for promotion once too often.
He switched on his mobile and called Caroline. ‘I’ll be home late,’ he said. ‘Look. I’ll leave my keys behind the desk. Why don’t you and Robert pop round and get a copy cut? I’ll leave you a few quid to spend. Go for a drink. See the sights of Bristol.’
Arranging this killed a few minutes: putting keys in the envelope, looking for a marker pen, writing her name carefully in block capitals, walking to the desk, leaving the envelope and instructions with the desk sergeant.
When he got back, the criminal psychologist was waiting for him. In kitten heels, she topped six feet and, ample as she was, moved with expansive theatricality. She wore a rather glamorous trouser suit.
Holloway shook her hand.
‘Right,’ she said, and indicated that he should follow her into Ireland’s purloined office. ‘We don’t have much time.’
Holloway and Dr Lowe spent several hours role-playing future scenarios. Lowe played the kidnapper, extrapolating from her profile how he might behave under stress.
This involved the psychologist bellowing at and insulting Holloway like an enraged sergeant major until her throat hurt and his head rang. She made him flustered and confused. He wondered how much worse the day could get.
Because there was no way to know if the kidnapper was bluffing about his technical expertise, wiring the car was not deemed worth the risk. Nor was concealing an armed officer in the boot or attempting to follow Holloway by car or helicopter.
At 5.30, he climbed behind the wheel of the tomato-red Micra. His peculiar apathy was exaggerated by the seven or eight trips he took clockwise round Bristol’s central one-way system. He found himself stopping at the same lights, reading and rereading the same billboard posters; overtaking and being trapped behind the same buses.
The mobile phone they’d given him rang at 7.40 p.m. Somebody had programmed it to play
(Everybody Was) Kung Fu Fighting
Ireland directed him to a phone box outside a Thresher’s off-licence on the Wells Road, not far from the Three Lamps. He reminded him to discard the mobile: Holloway tossed it mock-ostentatiously from the window. Then he nudged the accelerator.
He was outside the off-licence by 7.50. He parked, walked to the phone box: ran back to the car, picked up the package, jammed it under his right arm and walked to the phone again. It rang on the stroke of 8 p.m. and he lifted the receiver.
The recorded voice on the line belonged to Joanne Grayling. She read haltingly, like someone struggling to decipher bad handwriting.
There was a noise in his head like a television tuned to static.
She directed him to a telephone box in Dutton Road, Stockwood, BS14. He would receive further instructions at 8.20. He should remember he was being watched.
Returning to the car, he paused to dry-heave into his fist. Behind the wheel, he consulted the
. Dutton Road was a long, crosier-shaped street that ran off Sturminster Road, which was the main conduit to Stockwood, a council estate on the south-east edge of town. He drove there at speed.
It was a narrow street, lined by identical council houses. Cars had parked on either kerb and it took him some time to negotiate the main length of the road and find the telephone box. The phone had been ringing for perhaps thirty seconds when he lifted the receiver.
In the same monotone Joanne told him to run his hand over the base of the telephone unit, where he found taped a set of car keys. They belonged to a patched and dented Ford Capri parked opposite the booth. This was to be his vehicle for the rest of the journey.
He looked left and right. A mixed group of adolescents passed by and a local hard man with a mullet walked a Staffordshire bull terrier to the fields. On the corner, two young women in short skirts were deep in conference over a pushchair. Nobody seemed interested in him.
Briefly, he familiarized himself with the dashboard of the Capri. Then he drove through a low-rise shopping centre and along a road lined by matching houses. The late summer sun was setting and clouds were beginning to gather. Soon a fat droplet of rain exploded on his windscreen. Stockwood faded away behind him and he found himself in the countryside. He experienced some difficulty negotiating Bristol Hill, a steep, twisting lane leading into Keynsham. Here he took another set of instructions in a public payphone outside the Methodist church.
He was directed to Stanton Drew. It would have been a long drive even had he not been in an unfamiliar car that did not handle well, and had there not been heavy rain, and had he not taken one wrong turn after another, reversing from roads that revealed themselves to be treacherous muddy lanes, back on to directionless B roads, and into shifting curtains of rain.
Eventually he found it: a small village that spiralled from the hub of an ancient pub, whitewashed and thatched. In its grounds stood the remains of a druidic stone circle.
A red phone box stood on a small green outside the pub, next to a rotting park bench. Holloway was ten minutes late. The journey from car to phone left him sodden; he stood in the phone box jogging from foot to foot, pleading under his breath for it to ring. When at last it did, he snatched it up and barked: ‘Hello.’
Joanne’s recorded voice did not mention his tardiness. As he listened, a bead of water vibrated on the tip of his nose.
On the way back to the car, he slipped into the pub. Inside was polished mahogany and winking horsebrass. The rain drummed insistently on the walls and windows. He ordered a pint of Coca-Cola, no ice, and drank it in a single draft. He belched off the excess gas outside, as thunder cracked and rolled above him. The rain turned to hail.
He rested his forehead on the wheel until the spasm of hail had passed, then drove on.
At a phone box on the junction of two B roads near Somerton, he was given a long set of instructions that he hurried to get on paper, balancing the package on one raised knee and using it as a writing surface. He was told to search the long grass behind the phone box. Outside, on his hands and knees (the package still tucked under his right arm and his spiral-bound notebook stuffed in his inside jacket pocket) he found what one might expect to find in the long grass outside a rural call box. He also found a Huntley and Palmer biscuit tin that had been sealed with waterproof tape.
In the humid interior of the Capri, his wet hair in spikes, he picked and bit at the end of the tape as the rain drummed on the roof. Inside the tin he found a plastic package about the size of a paperback book. On its upper surface were two LEDs. After testing its convincing weight in the palm of his hand, Holloway set the box on the dashboard, as instructed. There was also a Motorola consumer walkie-talkie handset in there. He’d seen them in Dixons. He lay it on the passenger seat, face up.