Thursday, 28 April 2016
“You have no evidence!” Richard cried. “This is just ridiculous speculation.”
“On the contrary,” I said, “my friends have made quite the discovery. Robin, Rachel, if you’d like to go ahead?”
Robin grinned. The bar was silent, as our ambush had ensured, and Robin had the attention of the undercover police officers the room was littered with. She swung off her stool and took a few steps forwards. “Allow me to set the scene. A billionaire’s daughter is kidnapped, the ransom to be dropped off in an abandoned flat. A ransom note is sent out, created using the typography from the column of the man who the flat belonged to. The man? An investigative journalist who has more than enough experience in the world of law breaking to carry off such a crime perfectly.”
“Exactly!” Richard cried. “No offence Gabe, but it’s obviously him behind him.”
“Wrong.” Rachel said. “Because anybody with even an ounce of intelligence about them wouldn’t make it so blazingly obvious that they were behind it. The only conclusion, someone must be attempting to frame him.”
“But who?” Robin continued. “And why? We intend to at least answer the first question. Our first clue was the identity of the kidnapped kid. Nadeera Javid. The daughter of the owner of Celtic Rangers, a wealthy football club. The kidnapping was carried out during a private party at the Javid household, the sort of party that only two types of people would know about. The first is the selection of people who were invited, but they’re already rich enough. They don’t need to kidnap. Who are the second type, Rachel?”
Rachel grinned. “Sports reporters. They’d know when something big and expensive like that was being carried out, they’d know it was the perfect opportunity.”
“Anyone with access to the Internet could find out that party was going ahead.” Richard argued, but he didn’t sound overly confident in his words. “That’s nonsense.”
“I’m glad you mentioned the Internet.” Rachel said. “For that was our second clue. Mrs Javid, Nadeera’s mother, identified Gabriel as the kidnapper.”
“Well, of course she did!” Richard cried. “That’s because he was the kidnapper.”
“No.” Rachel continued. “It’s because she was shown this picture and told to identify him.”
Robin displayed the image she had found on her phone.
“This is the first picture that shows up when you google Gabriel’s name which makes it sound like a rather pointless clue, however we did some further digging and discovered it’s actually quite crucial. The image shows a younger Gabriel, without the grey flecked hair and the creased skin.”
“Oi!” I cried.
Rachel shrugged and continued. “Why? Because this was the image that was taken of Gabriel when he first got his job as Amelia McCardle’s assistant all those many years ago. Click on the image and who took it? Why, Amelia McCardle’s other assistant of course. Robin, what’s his name?”
“Richard Burleigh.” Robin grinned. “Remember, Gabriel and Richard both worked as photographers on film when they first began. I could quite easily imagine that Richard might have a few physical copies of this very photograph lying around at home.”
“A coincidence. Nothing more.” Richard’s eyes cut furtively towards the door through which we’d entered. One of the under cover policemen noticed and quickly stepped over to bar the way.
“Oh really? Well, how about this? The flat in which the money was to be delivered?” Robin said. “Gabriel didn’t live there alone. He flat shared with his colleague, Richard.”
Richard said nothing.
“Then,” Rachel said, “there is of course the small matter of the tickets that myself and Gabriel received the morning of his arrest. Tickets out of the country, almost as if someone was trying to make it look like Gabriel was fleeing. We phoned up the airport and asked them to check their ordering system. Two tickets were bought by a Mr G. Rathbone two weeks ago, but the bank account used could be tracked back to a Mr R. Burleigh.”
“The clinching point, however,” Robin said, “was the answer to a different investigation altogether.”
“And what clinching point was that?” Richard demanded.
“The body in the sewer.” Robin grinned. “On the morning that he was arrested, Gabriel and I were investigating a body found in the the sewer plant. It was eroded beyond recognition, however dental records have just come through. Guess who it is.”
“Who?” Richard said, but there was something about his tone that suggested he already knew the answer.
“Brian Sanders.” Robin said.
“Not Brian!” I cried. I liked Brian.
“Brian Sanders; the old Sports Reporter of the Pavilion.” Robin said. “Who, strangely, retired after over twenty years of reporting a few weeks ago without so much as a word; just there one day and gone the next. Like someone had caved his head in and then pushed him into the sewers. And Brian’s sudden retirement opened up a perfect gap at the Pavilion, a gap with which Richard could sneak back into the publication.”
“You have no proof.” Richard said. “This is nothing more than ridiculous speculation.”
“We have the tickets.” Rachel said. “And a picture of you is being taken to Mrs Javid now. As soon as we find Nadeera, she’ll be able to identify you too. Make this all a lot easier for us, Richard. Give in already.”
Part of me was proud of Rachel and Robin, impressed that their detective skills had managed to solve this case with such relative ease. Another part of me, however, was ashamed of Richard, for making the answer so obvious to those with experience. The main section of my consciousness was the most ashamed with myself. What kind of man did it make me if my old friends were so keen to frame me for kidnapping?
Richard sighed. “You’ll prove it sooner or later, but I’ll save you the time. I did it. I set Gabriel up.”
“Why?” I said. “I mean, I know I got you a couple of parking tickets ages back but this is a bit ridiculous.”
Richard looked at me and shook his head. “Me, you and Amelia, back in the day, we were the dream team. We were pals. No crime stood in the way. We were fantastic.”
“We were.” I smiled. The Old Days never failed to make me smile.
“And then there were all those cuts to the paper. Back when they got rid of Jim, y’know, Jim on the Cartoon Desk? Back when they got rid of him. Every department lost half a dozen staff members. I remember when they told us that Amelia could only have one assistant, that we had to apply for our own job. We came down here, Gabe. Do you remember? We came here and drowned our sorrows.”
I nodded. I remembered the start of the evening well.
“The thing was, the thing that got me, was that evening was a pointless gesture. We both knew which one of us was going to get the job, both knew which one of us she would choose. The favoured son. You. She always treated you better than she treated me. We can’t deny that, no matter how hard we try. She always preferred you better than me and look what that preferential treatment achieved. You’re an award winning investigative journalist with their own column and I cover the cricket results. They don’t even play cricket for half the bloody year!”
Rachel stepped forwards. “It’s not just that, Richard. Gabriel is a better man than you too. Take him away.”
The undercover police officers did just that and dragged him towards the door. There was silence for a second, except for the sound of Richard’s rights being read to him. And then, I said, “Was I the only one who expected him to say, ‘And I would have gotten away with it too if it weren’t for you meddling kids!’?”
Rachel laughed and strolled over to me, sliding an arm through mine. “You okay?”
“Yeah.” I said. “Of course.”
Inside, I wasn’t. All I kept thinking was, what kind of man did it make me if my old friends were so keen to frame me for kidnapping?
Friday, 22 April 2016
My Series One Land Rover pulled up outside a block of flats but I wasn’t sat in it. Instead, I was in a jail cell elsewhere, waiting for a bowl of lukewarm soup. Driving the Land Rover was my girlfriend Rachel and sat in it’s passenger seat was my partner in crime, metaphorically rather than literally, Robin. They both looked rather determined.
The block of flats formed an intimidating and looming reflection in the windscreen. The fences, which were scuffed and beaten from years of kids scrambling over to carry out dares in the abandoned buildings, were now addressed in flapping crime scene tape. A tent similar to the one that had been set up at the sewage works was erected and a selection of officers were stood outside on their fag break. One of the few who wasn’t smoking saw Robin and Rachel and smiled.
“Inspector Lodsbury.” Robin said. “Why did you arrest Gabriel?”
“Anyone else, we would have pulled them in regardless.” Lodders said, looking slightly embarrassed. “To do otherwise with Gabriel would have been bias.”
“And you’re completely above that.” Rachel said. “How many inspectors does Glasgow Nick have?”
“Well, I was just wondering why you’re always on the case. A little suspicious, hm?”
Robin shook her head. “You don’t threaten suspects until you’ve got evidence.”
“Oh.” Rachel said, turning to Lodders. “Sorry.”
There was a moment of awkward silence and then Robin said, “So, what have we got?”
“Nothing yet. We’re having to wait for the fire service to turn up before we’re legally allowed to enter; too dangerous apparently. Gabriel’s old flat is rather high.”
“You do realise how pointless this is?” Rachel said. “Gabriel’s a detective; why would he make it so easy for you to solve the crime?”
“Are you saying that he’s being set up?” Lodders said.
“It’s more likely than the alternative.”
“That he’s an idiot.” Rachel replied. She itched her head. “Who would want to set him up?”
“Do you want me to make a list?” Robin asked. “Because if so, I’m gonna need a hell of a lot of paper.”
“Are there really that many?”
“We write a column where we arrest someone almost every week!” Robin cried. “That’s at least forty five potential enemies a year.”
Rachel said nothing.
Lodders looked at his feet and then reached into one of his pockets, flipping out his notebook. “So far, we know that the culprit has kidnapped Nadeera Javid, that he’s an IC1- that’s white, Rachel.”
“I know. I date a detective.”
“Good point. The culprit’s an IC1 male, approximately six foot three, wearing a hoodie and a long jacket over it, brown hair, sturdy boots. Pretty much Gabriel’s exact description.”
“Read me the exact description.” Robin said.
“The exact description you got from the witness. There’s something not quite right about this.”
Lodders flicked back a few pages and then squinted. He must have left his reading glasses at home. “Here we go. ‘He was tall, maybe six foot three. He had brown hair, not curly brown hair but straight, and he was really pale. I saw him getting into a white van, a red hood up and a long black jacket over it. He was wearing-‘“
“Got it.” Robin grinned. “Read that last bit.”
“‘He was wearing-‘“
“No. The bit before.”
“‘I saw him getting into a white van, a red hood up and a long black jacket over it.’ What, are you going to tell me Gabriel doesn’t have a driver’s license or something?”
“No. The red hood is up.” Robin beamed. “If the hood is up, how does she know that he has brown hair. If he was getting into the van, how can she see his face; surely his back would be to her?”
“That’s clever.” Rachel said.
“It’s tenuous, to say the least, but it may be worth a try. We’ll go and reinterview Mrs Javid, see if she can clarify her statement.” Lodders turned to the nearest officer. “We’ll be back in about an hour. Radio me if there are any developments.”
“Sure thing, Inspector.” The officer said.
Lodders hurried across towards the rank of police cars parked along the pavement. He gestured for Robin and Rachel to get in but Robin shook her head. “We’ve left Rachel’s car in the station’s car park; we don’t need to dump anymore.”
“Right, well follow me then.” Lodders said. “And prepare to drive fast; I don’t go anywhere without the sirens on.”
They reached the Javid Household in next to no time, screeching to a stop and forming a small cloud of dust in the process. The doors of the two cars swung open and then the three of them jumped out, hurrying across the court towards the huge, circular wooden door. It was answered pretty quickly by a maid who smiled at them and then referred them through the various corridors into the living room.
Mrs Javid was a young woman, maybe half of Haamid Javid, who smiled weakly when she saw Lodders and his two companions. He explained that they were there to ask her a couple of questions and then gestured to Robin to go ahead and ask them. “Mrs Javid, we were wondering if you could clarify your description of the person you believed kidnapped your daughter?”
“Have you found her yet?” Mrs Javid snapped.
“No.” Robin said. “But if you answer our questions, we should be able to.”
Mrs Javid considered it for a second and then told them a paraphrased account of what Lodders had told them. Robin nodded, thanked her and then said, “If I were to show you a picture of a suspect, would you be able to identify them for me?”
“I will try.” Mrs Javid said.
Robin smiled, thanked her again and then drew her phone. “Just this gentleman here, Mrs Javid.”
She stared at the image. Her eyes widened and she nodded. “That’s him. That’s the man who took my Nadeera!”
Haamid stood, infuriated. “Have you caught this man?!”
“Not yet.” Robin smiled. “But we will.”
They left quickly but, as they rushed towards the car, Lodders took hold of Robin’s arm and drew her to the side. “You just led the witness! You could have shown that lady a picture of anybody who matched that description and she would have said it was him!”
“But I didn’t. I showed her this image.” Robin said, and showed Lodders the picture. It was Gabriel, but maybe five years younger. His hair was brown, his skin was pale, he was wearing a long black jacket and a red hoodie and his shoes certainly looked sturdy.
“So you admit that Gabriel must have done it?”
“No.” Robin said. “I admit that Mrs Javid has seen the first image that comes up when you google ‘Gabriel Rathbone Glasgow,’ just like I did in the car on the way here. The kidnapper, if they were framing Gabe, probably showed her this exact image and said, ‘Identify this person to the police.’”
“It would make sense.” Rachel said.
Lodders went to reply but his phone began to ring. “Give me a second.”
They watched him wander off and speak to someone on the phone. After a few moments and a lot of head nodding, he hung up and wandered back over. “Right.” He said. “That was the CSIs from the sewage works. They’ve identified the corpse.”
“They said it’d take a few weeks!” Robin cried.
“The fella had had recent dental work, apparently. His records were automatically uploaded.”
“Right.” Robin said. “Who’s the unlucky sap, then?”
“His name is Brian Sanders.”
Robin suddenly had a eureka moment. She slapped her hand over her mouth.
“Robin?” Rachel said. “Are you alright?”
“I know who framed Gabriel.” Robin said. “Oh my god. I’ve worked it all out.”
“Yes.” Robin said. She clicked on the phone application and dialled a number. “Lodders, tell them to free Gabriel. I’ll set up an ambush for the culprit.”
“Who is it?” Lodders said, pulling his phone.
“All in good time.” Robin said. She put the phone to her ear. “Hello? Hi, it’s me. Robin. Yeah. I just wanted to tell you, the Victoria’s back on.”
I was back with the Gang. It felt good. Me, Robin, Rachel, Lodders. The A-Team, but Scottish. Little Green Bags should have been playing as we marched through the doorway into the Victoria. It’s character hadn’t improved in the time since I was last here, so many years ago. The lights were still dim, the tables were still sticky. The clientele were still the type of people who would get kicked out of a rural village. I walked over to the bar and took a stool. The others did the same. My shoulder was hurting me; the bed in the cell hadn’t been so comfortable. Ah well, I thought. It was good that I was free now.
“Hey, Gabriel!” Said a voice from behind me. “What’re you doing here? I thought you’d been banged up?”
“No thanks to you.” Robin said for me. “We worked out who did it, hence why we got him freed.”
“Who?” The voice asked.
“It was you, Richard.” Robin said, pointing her finger accusingly. “You framed Gabriel for kidnapping.”
Richard, my old friend and colleague, gulped.
Friday, 15 April 2016
When I got arrested, I had two thoughts. The first thought was composed of so many stars between letters that it would make the average galaxy look empty. It spoke of the ridiculousness and the stupidity with which an arrest such as this could be made. There wasn’t a scrap of evidence and Lodsbury would know that. I was about to articulate this thought, when the second one hit me.
I bet Robin is delighted that she’ll get to write up the article on the case.
As it turned out, she wasn’t. Apparently, work interrupts her life flow, and furthermore she only attends cases with me for the Sherlockian feel she gets, rather than for the actual journalistic parts. I could see where she was coming from; most of my readers would agree that scanning a crime scene is more interesting than a cup of coffee going cold next to a plugged in laptop. It is for that reason that I find myself typing up most of the rest of this case in the third person, from reports and recounts that I gathered after the case had been solved. An interesting thing that I discovered from a certain report was that it made Robin out to be quite the young Miss Marple. I have reset the balance of the universe by attempting to be increasingly negative in the following prose.
Robin left the police station where I was being held to see Rachel’s car pulling up. Quite understandably, Rachel was rather flustered, rushed out of a busy meeting with whoever the hell it was this time. She hurried over to Robin, laying both her hands on the ginger girl’s shoulders. “Where is he?” She demanded.
“In the station, in an interrogation room, probably.” Robin said. “I’ve been talking to the desk sergeant; it’s not looking good.”
“The guy on the phone, he said Gabriel’s been arrested on suspicion of kidnapping?”
“He wasn’t mistaken.” Robin said. “Come on. I drove Gabe’s car here. I’ll fill you in on everything.”
“No.” Rachel argued. “I want to go in there. Make them see sense.”
“We can do that, but we can’t do it with conjecture. We need evidence and we need investigation and then, using proof, we’ll explain what’s going on as we always do: with hard evidence and a flair for the dramatic? Okay?”
Rachel nodded and followed Robin to my car, which had been parked in a police carpark by an uninsured driver. Rachel, realising this, climbed into the drivers seat in case a policeman walked past. “Tell me everything.”
“There’s been a kidnapping.” Robin said. “Desk sergeant couldn’t tell me who, but he did tell me they were loaded. A ransom note’s been found, written in letters cut out from the newspaper. All the letters were cut from Rathbone Investigates columns.”
“And they arrested him on that?”
“No. That was part of it but mainly they arrested him on the address that the money is to be dropped at.”
“An old flat on the outskirts, which has been abandoned since all the residents were moved out due to asbestos. The owner of the flat when it was closed was Gabriel. To all intents and purposes, he still has access to it.”
“Right. Let’s go investigate it.”
“Let’s go find the flat. Search through it. The kidnapper, if they’ve got a moneybags to ransom, will probably have taken the luxury of installing a surveillance system of some kind. We could use that to track them down.”
“A. No. It’s full of asbestos. B. The police are already there. I’ve called Inspector Lodsbury and left him about fifty messages. He’s running the case according to the desk sergeant, so he must have signed the arrest warrant. I’ve asked him a hundred times to liaise on the case so we’ll see if he gets back to me.”
“Right.” Rachel said. “What’s plan of action then?”
“There’s a media blackout on the case due to the high profile, so we’re not going to find out who’s missing for quite a while, unless we take destiny into our own hands.”
“And what does that mean?”
“The case that me and Gabe are currently working has a significant similarity with this kidnapping.”
“Both involve a missing person.” Robin filled her in on the details of the body in the sewer. “Captain Dental Records is unidentifiable, but we might not need to identify the body if we can look through the missing persons’ record. Unfortunately, that might mean we accidentally stumble across the kidnap victim too, but what can you do?”
Rachel grinned. “Can you do that?”
“I don’t see why not. You stay here. I’ll go and chat with my best mate in the entire world- the desk sergeant.”
Robin climbed from my car and wandered back into the station, passing once more under the metallic gaze of the CCTV. The desk sergeant waved her into the room Missing Persons’ record, even so far as offering to get her a drink after work. Of all the incredible things that I’ve come across in my many years of investigative journalism, that was something I could believe.
It didn’t take her long to go through the Missing Records. The body had been down there for maybe a month or so, so she flicked back that far. As she’d expected, there were a lot of files, as there always were in a city as big as Glasgow. None of them stood out to her but she made a note in her pocketbook of all the names, just in case they came up. You were seven times more likely to remember something if you wrote it down instead of just reading it. Or something like that. She couldn’t remember the exact statistic because she’d only read it instead of writing it down.
She found the kidnap victim pretty easily. They’d been reported missing two days earlier, and the letter had come through that morning. Robin had to read the name twice, partially because it was a shock but almost because it was little hard to pronounce. The missing person was the daughter of the Celtic Rangers’ owner, the esteemed oil baron Haamid Javid. The daughter, called Nadeera Javid, had been kidnapped from her bedroom during a huge party to celebrate a new deal her father had made. Robin was going to continue reading when she heard footsteps. She dropped the file in it’s correct place and raced back to the car.
“Did you find anything?” Rachel demanded.
“Nadeera Javid.” Robin said. “The kidnap victim is the daughter of the owner of Celtic Rangers. Must be worth billions.”
“And they reckon Gabriel kidnapped her?”
“I can see why they’ve leapt to that conclusion but we both know it’s rubbish.” Robin itched her head. “I suppose we can look into it soon.”
“What’s next, then?”
“We go to the Post. Check with Brooks if we can follow the case.”
“What if he says no?”
“Then we’ll follow the case secretly.” Robin said, with a hint of criminal glee. “We’re solving this one, whether he wants us to or not.”
“Thank you.” Rachel said. Now, I should stress that in Robin’s account, Rachel then declared that Rachel exclaimed, “You’re my hero!” Somehow, however, I doubt that actually happened.
We now cut to the Pavilion Post, sentinel of news, justice, crosswords and horoscopes. Robin and Rachel raced up, taking the stairs rather than the faulty lift, and by the time they got to the news floor, they were out of breath and sweaty. Robin described to me that their eyes were set intently on the entrance to Brooks’ office, and that they walked with a devil may care attitude and Little Green Bags blasting at full volume. Seeing that they’d just climbed twenty flights of stairs, I doubted that greatly too.
“Robin! Are you okay?” Said a voice to their side.
The two detectives turned and saw Richard approaching. “I heard about Gabriel.” He said. “Is everything okay?”
“Yeah, yeah, it’s fine.” Robin said, probably determined not to make a mess of herself in front of him again. “For obvious reasons, we’re going to have to cancel the drink down the pub tonight.”
“Yeah, of course. If I can do anything to help, ask straight away.”
“Well, I don’t suppose you know who the culprit is?” Rachel said, testily. The sooner they could talk to Brooks, the sooner they could solve the mystery. This was just holding them up.
“Isn’t that Robin’s job?” Richard laughed. “I didn’t think we’d had the pleasure of being introduced.”
“Rachel.” She said. “Gabriel’s girlfriend. Now, if you don’t mind, we’ve got a crime to solve.”
“Yes, of course.” Richard said. “Good luck.”
As they marched away, Robin’s phone rang. She pulled it out and answered it, listening to the voice on the other side. “Right. Thank you.” She said, turning around.
“Brooks’ office is the other way.” Rachel said.
“I know, but that doesn’t matter.” Robin replied. “We’ve just had the go ahead from Inspector Lodsbury. Stuff Brooks; we’ve got a crime scene to investigate.”
Friday, 8 April 2016
“Right, answer me this: Do I look like a flipping postman to you?” Robin said, stood in the doorway of my apartment. I was eating a piece of toast and struggling to answer any of the questions she was posing me. Luckily, however, she didn’t expect a reply. This was a one sided conversation, but then I suppose all conversations with her were. “I mean, where on me does it say postman? Do I have a hoard of black and white cats following me? I could accept it if I were called Patricia, but I’m not!”
I finished my piece of toast and, after wiping away a crumb suspended in honey on the side of my lips, shook my head. “Robin, I’ve no idea why the postman asks you to deliver our letters, but I imagine it’s probably because he’s got into a row with the receptionist again, doesn’t feel like walking the six flights of stairs to this very apartment, and then sees an athletic, kind hearted girl such as yourself and decides to ask you the favour instead. I don’t understand why you’re so angry with him.”
“It’s a matter of principle.” She said. “He should expect me to do his job. I don’t expect him to write brilliant real crime reports.”
“No.” I said. “You expect me to write them for you. When was the last time you actually wrote the article, by the way?”
Rachel entered by the corner, strolling across the course of the room and towards me. “You winding each other up again? You’re like children sometimes.”
“What do you mean sometimes?” I demanded.
Robin handed Rachel the envelope she’d carried up the steps. “This arrived for you. Addressed to a Mr and Mrs Rathbone, but I assume you wouldn’t go that far without telling me. “
Rachel accepted it and slid her finger under the lid. “How strange. Probably some old dear you’ve interviewed, Gabriel, getting confused.”
“Yeah. Probably.” I said, standing up and walking towards the top of the spiral staircase. I grabbed my jacket and my scarf- it may have been April but we were still in Scotland- and grabbed my car keys from the small bowl next to the coat wrack.
“Gabriel, have you booked up a holiday?” Rachel asked, a hint of confusion in her voice..
I turned and frowned at her. “No. I don’t think so.”
She showed me the contents of the envelope. Two tickets for a budget airline. “Where to?” I asked.
“South of France. It’s a one way ticket.”
“Sounds like someone’s trying to run you out of town.” Robin laughed.
“Lawrence Brooks if we’re late for our meeting.” I said. I turned back to Rachel and said, “Don’t worry about it; I’ll investigate later. Have a good day. You got another meeting?”
“The university is being taken into a trust and now that Tom’s passed over, I haven’t got a shield to bat away the meetings with.” She sighed. “Still, if it comes with a bigger check, I suppose it’s worth it.”
I grinned and rushed over to her, kissing her on the cheek. “See you tonight. Good luck.”
“You too. Don’t take any rubbish from Lawrence.”
“I’ll try not to.” I smiled and hurried down the steps, Robin quick to follow. Together, we followed the mass of steps and stairs that the postman had been so insistent to miss, passed by the scary receptionist, wandered into the garage and found my car. The engine was roaring and we were up the ramp onto the street in miutes.
Since the series of events that began with a bullet lodging itself in my shoulder (see Publishing Demands), security had come much tighter on the new, temporary offices of the Pavilion Post. Robin and I were searched once on the ground floor doors and then again before entering the waiting room outside Brook’s office. By the time I was able to sit down, a blessed relief considering how much my shoulder had been hurting me of recent, I felt throughly searched but for some reason no safer. Robin picked up a back issue of the paper, the type of pointless object that defined the Post, and was flicking to Page Eight when the door swung open and a man walked out. I stared at him for a second, my brain running a furious recognition program, and then realised who he was. “Richard!” I cried. “Good to see you my man!”
Richard caught my glimpse and grinned. “Gabriel Rathbone. Good God. How many years has it been?”
“Too many.” I went over and gave him a friendly, yet manly, hug. “God, I thought you were working at the Gazette nowadays. What’re you doing here?”
“I’ve just got a job here.” He said. “Brooks- he hasn’t changed a bit, has he?- wants someone to replace the sports reporter and here I am. It’s good to be home.”
I grinned. “We’ve got a meeting now but I’d be glad to catch up later. How about the Victoria tonight?”
“That old dive?” Richard cried. “Sounds good to me. Who’s your friend?”
Robin put down the back issue and stood. “Robin Greenhouse. I’m his partner.”
“In love or in work?”
I waited, ever so slightly worried, to hear what her answer would be. Rachel’s bombshell from almost two years earlier was in the forefront of my mind and making me comfortable. (See the Evolving Robber.)
“In work.” Robin laughed. “Me and him? God, god no. That would never happen. Not in a billion years. Nope. Never. No way, Jose. No, no, no, no. Huh, Gabe. No way would any of this be going on. Robriel, maybe even Gabin, is not a ship that will be leaving the harbour. Nope. No way.”
“Right, okay. Sure.” Richard said, shooting me a glance that asked me whether or not the girl was a loony.
“I am a free bird.” She continued. “Flapping through the air, no man, no responsibilities. Just an open mind, a happy heart and a sense of adventure. I am definitely single.”
“Maybe you should come along for a drink tonight, then?” He suggested.
“Oh, you old flirt!” She cried, patting his arm. “Calm down! You’ll be suggesting we get married next.” She let out a grand laugh.
Richard frowned. “See you later, Gabe.” He said, and wandered off.
I waited until he’d gone and then said, “What the hell was that?”
“Shut up.” She said.
“Ooh, you old flirt.” I mocked her.
“Shut up.” She said again. “Who is he?”
“Richard Burleigh.” I said. “He was the other candidate for my column when I first began, Amelia’s other apprentice. When I got the job running our column, he went and worked for the Gazette. I haven’t seen him in years.”
“Well, he seems like a cracking fella.” Robin said.
“You certainly acted like he was.”
Brook’s secretary smiled at the two of us. “You can go in now.”
“Thank you.” I said, and knocked on the door. There was a pause a moment and then a voice cried, “Come in!”
I pushed the door open and we wandered into the office. There were a selection of pictures and covers from salvaged from the fire at the old building, (See A Breadcrumb Trail of Clues) with ashy corners and illegible headlines. They looked nice in the Sepia tinted glass frames, however, and the fact that one of the covers was one of my own brought a smile to my face. Brooks looked up from the papers he was reading, his stocky, ugly face reminding me perfectly why some called him the Ogre. “Alright, you two? How’re you doing?”
“Good, thanks.” I said, worried as to why he was being nice. Were we both going to be sacked? “How are you, sir?”
“I’m well, Gabriel. I’m well. Did you see Richard?”
“There was no missing him. How did you rope him over from the Gazette?”
“They owed us slightly after the kidnapping (See Publishing Demands), and considering that they’ve been downgrading their real crime section, I thought Richard was a perfect pick. Shame about Amelia, otherwise you could have had a little reunion.”
I smiled. “That would have been nice.”
“Just because I am actually in this room,” Robin interrupted, “why have you called us in, sir?”
“Good question.” Brooks leant in a little closer. “We’ve had a tip off. There’s been a murder. The police are currently attending it; I’ve liaised with them and got you access. Unfortunately it’s not Inspector Lodsbury, instead some other officer named Thompson but I said you wouldn’t mind.”
“Do we know who the corpse belongs to?”
“Well, that’s where it get’s interesting.” Brooks said. “Our tip told us that the body hasn’t been identified yet. That there isn’t enough of this corpse left for it to be identified.”
“Right.” I said. “Should be interesting. Where is this corpse? We’ll go now.”
“Hm. Before I tell you, just let me remind you, I’ve found you a nice, interesting murder to get your teeth into. So far, I’ve been pretty good to you.”
“Lawrence?” Robin said.
The Editor sighed. “I don’t think you’re going to like the crime scene very much.”
“Sewers.” Robin sighed. “Why is it always bloody sewers?”
“What do you mean always?” I cried. “We’ve only ever had one case in a sewer and I went in there on my own.”
We’d driven down from the Post’s building, racing through town until we left the thriving labyrinthine mass of lime rock and history for the polite roads of rural Scotland. It took us half an hour up the motorway, passing two petrol stations and a McDonald’s along the way, before we found where we were heading. The smell hit us before we even opened the car doors. I cringed as I turned off the ignition. “Why would anybody want to work here? I mean, like, seriously. Why in the name of sanity would you go to your careers officer and say, ‘Excuse me mate, I’d like to work at a massive cess pit.”
“Sewage treatment plant, thank you very much.” Robin corrected me.
I saw a couple of workers stood with policemen who looked as if they were doing their best not to break down in tears at the odour. “I wonder if anybody who works here actually has a partner. I mean, can you imagine it? Your partner comes home stinking of this every bloody day. It must drive you insane. Imagine if Richard smelt like this, you wouldn’t fancy him that much then.”
“Oh ha ha.” Robin said, climbing out of the car and pulling a face like she was choking to death. “I don’t fancy Richard.”
“Oh no. He was flirting with you, the old flirt.”
“I hate you so much.”
“I know you do.” I said and followed her across the car park towards where the police cars were waiting. A breeze, which was doing it’s best to suffocate us in the horrific scent of the sewers, played with the Do Not Cross Tape. Robin ducked under it and set about walking straight through the centre of the cars and towards a procession of white tents next to a porter cabin in front of the Sewage Treatment Plant itself. She was about halfway there when a police officer came over.
“Excuse me?” The officer said, her accent thick. “Who are you and where do you think you’re going?”
“Robin Greenhouse.” She said, drawing a business card. “Pavillion Post. That’s my assistant, Gabriel Rathbone.”
I caught up with her, ever so slightly out of breath. “Hi there.”
“Our editor called ahead.” Robin said. “So if you wouldn’t mind letting us through, that’d be much appreciated.”
The officer gave Robin a curious glance and reached towards her radio. “This is PC McAvoy. Inspector Thompson, are you there?”
“Go ahead Constable McAvoy.” The Inspector said, his voice crackly.
“Got a couple of journalists from the Pavilion Post. Said their editor has phoned ahead?”
“Greenhouse and Rathbone.”
I stopped myself from announcing it was Rathbone and Greenhouse.
“Send them on, Constable. We’re in the tent.”
“Roger that.” McAvoy said and turned the radio off. She gestured for the two of us to go to the closest tent. “You’ll be needing to put on bunny suits before they let you through.”
“Thanks.” I said, hiding my grimace. I didn’t mind bunny suits; I’d got used to them after far too many years as an investigative journalist, but since I’d suffered the injury in my shoulder, they weren’t ideal. I sighed. The things we do for justice.
As we neared the tent, the smell got worse and worse. I mused to Robin that you’d think it would be this bad in a place where they treated the sewage, but she reminded me that we walking with the city to our backs, so we were probably approaching where the sewage entered.
Robin held the door for me as I went in. There were several policemen inside, drinking cups of coffee from polystyrene cups and trying not to concentrate on the smell. “Rathbone and Greenhouse.” I said. “Thompson is expecting us.”
“Bunny suits.” One of the officers said, pointing to the table to his side.
There were several packages holding never before used bunny suits. I threw one to Robin and then began to shrug my trench coat off, pulling the bunny suit on over my shirt and trousers. My shoulder screamed at me as I moved it but I’d learnt to put up with the pain. Once I’d got the suit ready, I pulled up the hood and looked at Robin. “Ready?”
She, being a youthful and energetic soul, had already got her suit on. “Sure.”
I looked to the officers who pointed to the door in the side. I smiled to thank them and we walked through.
Inspector Thompson was stood on the other side with a couple of forensic scientists and the source of the smell. Robin and I both stared at the half decomposed, half rat nawed body laying on the stretcher. They were right when they’d said it was unrecognisable; the face and fingers had been eaten and the rest of the body was either bloated beyond proportion or burrowed open. Any part of me that didn’t feel completely and utterly sickened by the body was repelled by the smell; a thousand times stronger than that outside. I could tell that Robin couldn’t wait to get out of there.
“Mr Rathbone, Miss Greenhouse.” The Inspector said. He was a young man, but his eyes were tired. A weary smile of greeting clambered slowly across his face. “You’ve joined us at the opportune moment; a few seconds earlier and you would have found us downstairs.”
“He was in the sewers?” Robin said.
Thompson nodded. “We’ve no idea how he got down there; security here is absolute and there are few places in the city accessible to the public where such a huge item could be disposed off. Needless to say, it’ll become much easier once we’ve identified him.”
“That might be harder than you’d wish.” One of the scientists said. “Finger prints are gone, as are the eyes, and there’s no clothes to check for labels. No tattoos, no accessories. We’re going to have to run this one by Dental Records.”
“How long will that take?” Robin said.
“Potentially a week or two.” The scientist said. “The Administrators have brought in a new system that’s taking a very long time to get working.”
“Right.” I said. “Notify us when you identify it; we’ll start our investigation in ernest then. Do you want us to have a look around any suitable entrance points for the sewers?”
I heard Robin sigh, “Great.”
Before Thompson could answer, an officer was sticking their head into the tent. “Inspector, can I have a word for a second?”
“Yeah, of course.” Thompson said. He turned to us. “Excuse me.”
He went out and I turned to Robin. “Damn inconvenience about the identification.”
“Bit of a coincidence, don’t you think?” She replied. “That every conceivable element for identification has been destroyed.”
“Besides the teeth.”
“Besides the teeth, that aren’t going to be any good for God knows how long.”
“Are you suggesting that one of the administrators is the murderer?”
She laughed. “I’m not going that far, but I think whoever’s being this is aware of what they’ve achieved.”
The tent flap opened and Thompson walked through. He had a grave look on his face. “Mr Rathbone. I’ve just had a call from Inspector Lodsbury.”
“Oh yes. How is he?”
“Confused. He’s investigating a case of kidnapping at the moment and they’ve just received a ransom note.”
“Does he want any assistance?”
“No.” Thompson said. “The note was written using letters cut from the paper, pretty old fashioned stuff really, and, well, all the letters are cut from your articles.”
Thompson nodded. “For that reason, Gabriel Rathbone, I’m arresting you on suspicion of conspiracy to kidnap.”