TEN

Detective Inspector Paul Skinner stared down at the screen and chewed slowly on his top lip as he watched himself: walking along the street; stopping briefly to stare into a shop window; turning at one point and looking directly towards the camera. When the short video clip finished, frozen on a blurry shot of himself and a female passer-by, Skinner sucked his teeth and handed the phone back to Thorne.

‘Fucking weird, that is.’

Skinner, Thorne and Holland were standing in the large, dimly lit kitchen of a Victorian semi-detached house in Stoke Newington. It was a lively enough location: Clissold Park on the doorstep; a busy market on Church Street at the weekends. Once popular with dissenters and radicals, this area of north London retained a multi-ethnic, Bohemian feel, in the village at least; easygoing, peaceful. But Skinner’s house was no more than a few streets from where, in 1967, Reggie Kray had murdered Jack ‘The Hat’ McVitie, skewering him repeatedly with a carving knife. And not a million miles away from where, nearly forty years later, someone had done much the same thing to Deniz Sedat.

Skinner’s wife put her head around the door; asked again if Thorne or Holland would like anything to drink. Skinner said no on their behalf and sat back down at an orangey pine table.

He pointed to Thorne’s mobile phone. ‘That was yesterday.’

‘When?’ Holland said.

‘I’d nipped out to get a sandwich, same as usual. Half twelve, quarter to one, something like that.’ He pointed again. ‘That’s a hundred yards from my nick…’

Skinner was based at Albany Street station in Camden, on a borough public protection unit. It was a nice cushy number, the sort of job that most coppers would kill to get, towards the end of their thirty years in. Checking to see that the occasional sex offender was where they should be was about as stressful as it got. Meetings and beanbag sessions, as much tea and biscuits as you could handle, and no likelihood of anything eating into your weekends. Plenty of free time to garden or golf. Or to see how much beer you could get down your neck, which seemed to be the way Paul Skinner preferred to pass his Saturday mornings.

A can of bitter and the sports pages of the Daily Star were both open on the table in front of him. As he had known in advance that Thorne and Holland were coming, Paul Skinner was clearly not too bothered what sort of an impression he gave.

He was somewhere in his mid-fifties. An open-necked white shirt hung off a frame that was slight but still muscled. His sandy-coloured hair was thinning but just about doing its job, and the eyes were bright behind steel-rimmed specs.

‘So, Marcus Brooks still not ringing any bells?’ Thorne asked.

Skinner had a habit of licking his lips all the time, as though they were dry and sore, or he was contemplating taking a bite out of someone. He licked them again before taking a quick swig of beer. ‘Not even slightly,’ he said. The accent was pure south London; the voice gruff enough to go with it. ‘And I’ve got a decent memory for names, so…’

‘What about the Black Dogs?’

‘Bikers, right?’ Thorne nodded. ‘Nasty fuckers, I’ve heard.’

‘You’ve never had any dealings with them?’

‘I know people who have.’ Skinner looked from Thorne to Holland. ‘This bloke Brooks. One of them, is he?’

Thorne explained the part Marcus Brooks had once played in the history of the Black Dogs motorcycle club. His time in prison and the unsolved deaths of his family. The part he was playing now.

‘Jesus… you never know how people are going to react, do you? Something like that happens, tips them over the edge.’

‘Right,’ Holland pushed himself away from the worktop and leaned against the opposite wall. ‘And now he’s taking pictures of you.’

Skinner licked his lips, stared down through the hole in the top of his beer can.

‘We need to find out why,’ Thorne said.

‘Like I said, the name means bugger all, but I think I remember that original case, as it goes.’

‘July 2000…’

‘Yeah. Geezer getting done by a burglar, sounds familiar. I think I was just starting on the Flying Squad at the time, but I had a few mates on Organised Crime, you know? This was not long after I moved across from the old AMIP East, which was where I knew your guvnor from.’ He turned to look at Holland; explained himself as though he were talking to a wet-behind-the-ears trainee. ‘AMIP. Area Major Incident Pool. “Homicide East”, as it is now.’

Holland could see that Thorne was smirking and had to look away. ‘Cheers…’

‘Change the names of fucking everything,’ Skinner said. ‘Every ten minutes.’

‘You don’t have any connection with the officers who investigated the Tipper murder?’ Thorne asked.

‘Not that I can think of.’

‘You don’t know Sharon Lilley?’

Skinner shook his head; emptied his can. ‘Not surprised Russell Brigstocke made DCI, though. He was a decent bloke.’

‘Still is,’ Thorne said.

‘Can lick all the right arses if he has to, mind you. Knows the game.’

Thorne would normally have agreed, but he remembered Brigstocke’s face the day before, after his session with the DPS. ‘Listen, you might not know Marcus Brooks,’ he said, ‘or at least not know how you know him…’

‘I don’t know him.’

Thorne held up his hands, said, ‘Right, whatever,’ but he was keen to move this along. They’d explained about the picture messages when they’d called the night before, gone through it again when they’d first arrived, but Skinner did not seem to have grasped the seriousness of the situation. It was as though he’d been shown a clip of somebody else. ‘The bad news is that he seems to know you.’

‘And that’s not good for anyone’s health,’ Holland added. ‘The people whose photos we get sent have definitely looked better.’

Skinner thought about it. ‘Why is Brooks sending you these messages, anyway?’

‘He was in prison with someone I put away,’ Thorne said. ‘Someone who thought it might be fun to get me involved.’

‘Well, maybe that’s what the connection is to me.’

‘Sorry?’

‘Like that, through a third party.’

‘It’s possible…’

‘Maybe I put a friend of his away some time. One of his family.’

‘Maybe.’ Thorne thought it was unlikely. And he knew that Skinner thought it was unlikely, too. While they were talking long shots, Thorne decided to chance his arm. ‘I don’t suppose the names Jennings and Squire mean anything, do they? Coppers.’

Skinner looked blank. ‘I’ve met a lot of coppers.’ He shrugged. ‘I had a skipper called Jenner, when I worked in Kennington…’

‘Doesn’t matter,’ Thorne said. ‘We’ll check into that third-party thing, but in the meantime, if you think of anything…’ Skinner nodded, pushing himself up and stepping around Holland to get to the fridge. ‘Obviously we’ll be putting a watch on the house, clearing some time off with your DCI.’

Skinner shut the fridge door. There was another beer in his hand. ‘Will you fuck,’ he said. ‘I can watch out for myself and I certainly don’t need time off. I think I’m safe enough at work, don’t you?’

‘Brooks killed his second victim in a busy hospital,’ Holland said.

‘Yeah, well, he’s not going to walk into a police station, is he? However fucked up he is.’

Thorne could see little point in arguing. Whatever needed to be done would happen. He moved to let Skinner back to his chair and threw a look at Holland. ‘We’d better get out of your way,’ he said.

That seemed to be fine with Skinner. He began flicking through the back pages of his newspaper. ‘What are you, Arsenal?’

‘Spurs,’ Thorne said. ‘Yourself?’

‘Millwall, tragically. I’ll be there this afternoon, watching us get stuffed.’

‘Character building, though,’ Holland said. ‘Right?’

‘Christ.’ Skinner popped the ring-pull on his can. Sucked froth from around its rim. ‘How much fucking character does one man need?’

Turning from the doorstep – Skinner watching them all the way and his wife peeking, somewhat nervously around him, from further back down the hall – Thorne and Holland were all but flattened by a big man barrelling across the front garden.

Holland held up a hand. ‘Easy, mate.’

The man stopped but stood his ground, waiting for Holland to move aside and let him past.

Thorne could smell the Job on him.

Skinner stepped down on to the path, made the introductions. Richard Rawlings was an old mate, he said. A fellow masochist who was off to the New Den with him to see Millwall destroy the beautiful game.

‘That’s nice,’ Thorne said. ‘And he just happened to pop in four hours before kick-off, did he?’

‘I don’t see as it’s your business,’ Rawlings said.

Skinner smiled at Thorne and shrugged. ‘You know how it goes,’ he said. ‘Always good to have a bit of moral support when a couple of lads like you come knocking and you’re not sure what’s happening.’

Thorne smiled back. ‘What is it you’re not sure about, exactly?’ When Skinner’s answer was not forthcoming, Thorne turned his attention to the new man. ‘Should have got here half an hour ago. We’re just leaving, I’m afraid. I’m sure your friend will fill you in.’

Rawlings grinned and stuck a cigarette in his mouth. He had a large head, bad skin. A well-tended gut hanging over the top of his grey tracksuit bottoms. He moved, none too politely, past Thorne and Holland, jabbing a thumb towards the main road while the other worked at a lighter. ‘Traffic’s fucked all along Green Lanes,’ he said. He nodded to Skinner. ‘Sorry, mate…’

As Thorne and Holland moved away, Thorne was aware of Rawlings sauntering into the house to be warmly greeted by Skinner’s wife. And of Skinner’s eyes on his back, as Holland opened the gate and they stepped on to the street.

Holland had picked Thorne up first thing. They’d eaten bacon sandwiches on the drive from Kentish Town and found a parking space in the street next to Skinner’s. Now, the wind was picking up as they walked back to Holland’s car. Newly fallen leaves skittering across the pavement, and older ones gathered into a slick, mud-coloured mulch in gutters and against walls.

‘What did you make of Skinner?’ Holland asked.

‘I think, bearing in mind what we told him, he made a very good job of not looking shit scared.’

‘Maybe he wasn’t.’

‘Well, he’s a fucking idiot then.’

‘What about his boyfriend?’

‘Like he said. “Moral support”.’

‘Bollocks.’ Holland stepped to one side, let a woman with a buggy walk between them. ‘We went round to tell him to look out for himself. Maybe save the twat’s life. What’s he need back-up for?’

Thorne had to admit it was a fair question. Skinner hadn’t struck him as the type who would need his hand holding. Rawlings had been spiky all right, but the plain fact was that you didn’t have to be DPS to put the wind up other police officers. Or to put backs up. Whatever the situation, coppers were never happy being on the receiving end.

Holland took out his car keys as they approached a red Astra that still looked brand new. ‘He wasn’t keen on having any protection, was he?’

‘Sort it out with Brigstocke when you get back,’ Thorne said. ‘Skinner might have a point about being OK at work, but we should get someone at the house tonight and over the weekend.’

‘So where are you going?’

Thorne walked around to the passenger door, rubbed theatrically at a dirty spot on the car’s roof. ‘More fun and games, mate. Can you drop me off at Paddington?’

‘Eh?’

‘It’s on the way back, more or less, isn’t it?’

‘Not really.’

‘Cheers, Dave.’

It hadn’t taken him too long to find them.

They’d said enough, back when they were setting him up, for Brooks to work out that they were based in north-west London, so he’d had somewhere to start. Even after all his years out of the game, he’d still got enough contacts with high-level firms to get a decent list of coppers’ pubs in the area: Camden, Golders Green, Edgware, Muswell Hill…

He’d done a fair amount of drinking. He’d chatted to landlords and bar staff; to regulars with their own tankards behind the bar and warrant cards in their jacket pockets. He’d poked around and asked questions; leaned across bars to get a closer look at the photos of customers pinned up among the optics and the dry-roasted nuts.

The faces imprinted on his memory would be a bit older now, he knew that, so he’d tried to age up the descriptions. Although he’d been given a few names, none was mentioned more than once. He took to telling people that his dad had been a custody skipper at a number of different stations – Kentish Town, Swiss Cottage, Holborn. Said that cancer was getting a grip on the poor old sod, and that he’d thought, you know, it would be a nice idea to get all his old man’s mates together while he still had the chance.

They’d loved all that, the sentimental twats. Getting teary over their lager-tops and throwing ideas at him. Several people had offered to help, to pitch in and maybe raise a few quid. Then somebody had suggested The Job; told him that it might be a good way to trace his dad’s old muckers and that the paper was archived online…

It had only taken a couple of days after that. Hour after hour poring over pages on the Internet, until he’d finally seen a face he recognised; one that he would never forget. Posing like a prat, outside a station with French detectives who’d come across from Paris on some exchange scheme. He wouldn’t forget that headline in a hurry either: THE GENDARME OF THE LAW.

Now he had a name, a real one, and from then on it was a piece of piss. He’d rung around stations. Asked for him by name until he got a hit. Then all he’d had to do was watch, and wait; feeling fairly sure that once he’d started keeping tabs on one, the other fucker would turn up sooner or later.

Jennings and Squire.

He’d written to Angie the day it had all come together. It felt like it was serious then; that he was really going to go through with it. It had been one thing sitting in his cell, burning with it, making plans. But then, seeing them, the bastards responsible for everything, he’d known he would have to do exactly what he’d been fantasising about. So he’d written and explained what he had in mind.

And asked for her blessing.

Now he needed to get on. These were the ones that mattered. The bikers had it coming, no question, but there were others who shared the blame. No, who shouldered most of it. The ones who’d taken Angie and Robbie away to begin with; the ones who’d put him inside.

He trotted down the steps at Hammersmith Tube station. Half an hour on the Piccadilly Line to Finsbury Park, then he’d walk from there. He’d already scouted the place out, sorted himself a way in.

He drifted down on the escalator, wondering what Detective Inspector Tom Thorne was making of it all; asking himself why he was even bothering to do what Nicklin had asked.

The shit with the phones and the pictures.

Because he’d said he would, end of story. There wasn’t too much he believed in, but not grassing and paying your debts were what made you staunch, and people had always been able to count on him. Nicklin was a twisted fucker, no question, and not the sort he’d normally have anything to do with. But things changed in prison. The slate tended to get wiped clean once you were inside. Favours mattered. Small kindnesses mounted up, little things, and the bloke had been all right with him, so it had seemed a simple enough favour to grant in return. Nicklin had a way of making people do him favours, do the things he wanted. Some of the screws even.

Besides which, Brooks didn’t really care; certainly not about the likes of Thorne. Coppers hadn’t been his favourite people, even before any of this had happened, and sympathy was something he knew he would never feel again.

He dug in his pocket for the change to buy a newspaper, thinking about paying back what was owed. And about how you couldn’t let down the people who counted on you, even after they’d gone.

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