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‘So who is he then? Who is Daniel Barker to you?’
Harris had been watching as Giles and Barker talked. Giles could understand his scepticism. In the five minutes that he had allowed them, Giles had gone from a commanding figure looking for answers to a near emotional wreck.
There was no doubt in her mind who Barker was – none at all. But the lack of uncertainty only made it worse for her. He represented everything that she hated – she despised. All the time he’d been running for election, Giles had wanted nothing more that to see him fail. She had even wished – although hoped might be a more accurate word for it – that justice would somehow prevail and that he would be exposed for the bigoted and pathetic shit that he was.
She had watched with despair and dismay as the election got closer – noting the polls with uncomfortable despondency as they showed Britain’s First inching further and further ahead. It had to be rubbish – she was almost sure of it. She regularly saw the very worst of humanity but she still couldn’t bring herself to accept that people would be stupid enough to vote for it.
Individuals are bad, she would say to herself. Individuals do selfish things. But fundamentally, people are good.
She believed that right up to the day she woke up to hear the results. The British people had voted in by a clear majority – Britain’s First now formed the government. Everyone she knew seemed to have voted for them…
‘They don’t mean you,’ he insisted when she found out. ‘They mean all the immigrants. You know? The ones who don’t pull their weight…’
They didn’t speak for a week.
The only silver lining in the whole horrendous affair was that Barker was totally trounced at the polls. Justice had finally prevailed – only it was a little too late.
The world had seemingly changed over night – at least for Giles. Racially motivated crime was on the rise and even her own superiors thought twice before praising her…
And it was all Barker’s fault.
She had been so eager to send him down. The opportunity to pin a murder on him had been too good to resist and the fact that he had made it so easy for her only added to her delight. She had ended him so completely…
And now it turned out he was her informant.
What kind of joke is that?
Giles dragged her eyes away from the man sat handcuffed on the floor. She had, at least, persuaded Harris not to haul him off to the station just yet. But time was wearing thin and there was little more for his team to do there.
‘I’ve never met Daniel Barker before in my life,’ she began, tightening the scarf around her neck. ‘But I’ve dealt with him before. Or – rather – I’ve had dealings with a man who called himself Max.’
‘Until a few moments ago, Max was little more than a voice on the end of a telephone. At the time, I was deep in a murder investigation…’
‘The Bluebell Killer,’ Harris interrupted. ‘I read about it…’
Everybody read about it.
‘Over six months, the Bluebell Killer murdered twenty men and women. Most were successful types: bankers, web designers and entrepreneurs. At each killing he left a small bunch of bluebells on their bodies somewhere – a sort of signature for his kills. But each murder was different. Each unique. It was like he was trying to challenge himself to come up with as many different ways of killing someone…’
Harris smiled. ‘But you got him.’
‘Yes, thanks to Max.’ She glanced over at Barker. ‘The Bluebell Killer had hit his stride. He was offing two – sometimes even three – people a week. Shortly after number sixteen, I got a call. I’d discovered that the latest victim had received a large payment into his account. Max encouraged me to follow the money that led me to six of the other victims – all of whom had received the same bank transfer shortly before they died.
‘The money turned out to be a dead end, but it gave us a connection. Those killings were special. It was almost like the others were designed to disguise them – to hide the real motive for their deaths. And the link led us right to the killer.’
The image of a dark garage flitted across Giles’ mind.
‘It’s funny,’ she mused. ‘Max was always so sure that there was some giant conspiracy to protect the Bluebell Killer from being identified. It never occurred to him that it was just some nutty kid living in his grandmother’s spare room…’
‘But that was nearly a year ago. What’s that got to do with this mess?’
Giles reached into her pocket and pulled out her phone.
‘Max fell off the radar after the bust,’ she explained. She tapped her phone a few times, selecting her text messages. ‘I didn’t hear from him for almost a year. And then, three days ago, I received this.’
She handed the phone over to Harris who stared down at it thoughtfully. The screen showed a text message from a number identified as ‘Max’.
It’s not over yet. Give me a few days and I’ll have proof. Keep an eye on your mailbox.
Harris looked up. ‘And what did he send you?’
Giles shook her head. ‘Nothing so far.’
‘And you think Barker is your informant?’
‘The only people who knew I had an informant on this were Max and myself. I never mentioned him to anyone. If Barker says he’s Max then I have no reason to doubt him…’
Harris threw a glance in Barker’s direction.
‘If he is, he’ll be able to tell you what he was planning to send to you.’
Giles laughed. ‘I’ve just ensured that he goes down for murder. He’s not going to give me anything.’
‘Not a lot I can do about that I’m afraid…’
Harris trailed off as he looked out towards the bridge. Stood by the near side, his sergeant and several constables stood waiting to move on. Everything else was packed up and gone – all they needed now was the suspect.
‘Actually,’ Giles muttered. ‘There is something you can do for me.’
Barker’s wrists were beginning to chafe against the harsh metal of the handcuffs. His legs had long since gone dead and his arms felt like they were going the same way. To top it all, he was gasping for a cigarette.
The two officers guarding him did little to help him. Every plea for assistance was met with the same disinterested silence or snide remarks. The only person who seemed remotely interested in even engaging him was Giles, and she wasn’t exactly on his side.
She had been his only bridge, his only life-line, and he – with his callous manner – had burned it before he’d even had the opportunity to use the leverage he held. Her response had been brutal – as though she was descended from Genghis Khan himself…
Was Genghis Khan even Chinese?
Who cares? A chink is a chink.
But he had information that Giles wanted. That would keep him alive…
Had he not spurned her…
Women can be so unreasonable.
Wandering by the pillbox, Giles and Harris walked side-by-side, talking animatedly and occasionally glancing in his direction. Giles had put aside her disliking of him – her irrational hatred – Barker was sure of it. Her face was pulsing with nervous energy and her eyes and voice were pleading to Harris with the manipulative prowess that only a woman can achieve.
He wondered what favours she was promising him – what pleasures she would be parting with to allow Barker to go free. Was she tempting Harris with a night of passion that he would never forget? Was she describing the indulgence of her skin against his, her tongue gently caressing…?
Barker caught himself out. He wiped the smile off his face and tried his best to replace the energetic feeling in his loins with his usual demeanour of distaste…
He thrust his hands into his pocket and adjusted himself. His jeans were tight against his skin, but not so tight that he could hope to conceal himself from his two guards – not with his hands restrained behind his back and his jacket zipped up in an evidence bag.
Police can be so unreasonable.
Hope is a powerful ally. It was that blind, obedient hope that had seen Barker do so well in life up until recently – the same unproven optimism that told him now that Giles would be convincing enough to win him his freedom.
It was only slight – but it was hope nonetheless.
Giles had done such a good job of pinning the blame on him that it would take a masterstroke for her to undo it all. If Harris was even half-decent at his job, Barker would find himself in a police cell within the hour – locked away behind a solid metal door in a barred room. He would be as good as on display in a public gallery.
And then he would become the Bluebell Killer’s next victim…
But he had that hope.
As repugnant as it was, Giles was his one chance – his one chance of reaching the end of today in one piece.
She would want something in return, of course.
He would give her something to chew on. Something important enough for her to let him go. After all, the gorillas in their white shirts and stab-proof vests had already searched him today; she wouldn’t expect him to produce the evidence immediately…
Barker watched the spirited discussion between the two detectives, hearing nothing of it but imagining the toing and froing all the same.
‘He is a witness to a bigger crime. If the Bluebell Killer is still out there…’
‘The Bluebell Killer is long gone, you said it yourself.’
‘But what if he isn’t?’
‘Then you can have Barker when we’re through with him.’
‘But by then it might be too late.’
Yes, it would be too late.
Time was not on Barker’s side and the thought of the restricted, small concrete police cell filled him with more dread than a death warrant. He wouldn’t be safe until he was far away from here – out of the reach of Harris of his cronies, out of sight from the public and the do-gooders…
Somewhere where the Bluebell Killer couldn’t find him.
Far from everything…
The debate had come to a close.
Harris turned his back on Giles and marched straight towards Barker, his eyes set and sure, his true emotions hidden behind a mask of professionalism.
As the detective drew closer, Barker’s dead legs swelled with pumping blood as he readied to run. Yes, he would run if he had to. If Giles couldn’t get him out of this, his only hope would be to leg it and hope for the best. He’d been a triathlete in his younger days – he might have a chance of outrunning them all on a normal day. But with his hands fastened behind his back…?
Harris stopped a metre or so away from him, stared hard at Barker for a moment and gestured to the officers around him. Barker braced himself to flee but found to his surprise that – instead of being hoisted to his feet and dragged towards the bridge – they bent down and carefully unfastened his handcuffs before strolling off to join the rest of the team.
Massaging his wrists, Barker stared quizzically up at Harris who, with the most strained smile that Barker had ever thought possible, gave him a subtle nod and said:
‘Thank you, Mister Barker.’
He span on his heels and followed the retreating officers. He didn’t utter a sound as he passed by Giles who slowly walked forward to help the former politician to his feet. Barker would have thrown his arms out in celebration had it not been for the concerned, and somewhat apprehensive, look that was plastered across Giles’ face.
Barker paid it little heed. Whatever Giles had promised to Harris was her own affair.
For the first time in his life, Barker found himself absolutely speechless. He took a victorious deep breath and placed his hands on his hips as he stared about at the Kentish countryside, taking in the view as though he were a new-born experiencing the world for the first time.
‘I knew I could count on you,’ he whispered, smiling to his saviour gratefully and – perhaps for the first time in his life – honestly.
Giles peered cautiously over her shoulder. Harris’s team were slowly trudging over the bridge, shaking their heads in disbelief and utter confusion. Harris himself had stopped at the near side of the bridge to converse angrily with his sergeant. Barker hadn’t even noticed the sly glances they were shooting in his direction until Giles pointed it out to him.
As he looked to see what she was talking about, Giles tilted her head towards the ground and lowered her voice to an almost indistinct murmur.
‘Listen very carefully,’ she muttered. ‘We don’t have much time.’
Nick R B Tingley is a crime writer from the UK. After several years working as a ghostwriter, Nick released his debut novel The Bluebell Informant– the first in his DS Evelyn Giles series. He is currently working on the second in the series – The Court of Obsessions – as well as a Victorian-era mystery novella called The Butcher of Barclay’s Hollow.
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