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Barker remained by the carriage doors watching the countryside race by.
He pressed his hand hard against his chest as he attempted to steady his breathing. He wiped the dribbles of sweat from his brow and took a few short, sharp breaths as though he were trying calm himself down. Every so often, he closed his eyes in deep contemplation and then would shake his head, shuffle his feet and lean up against the door as he screwed up his face in some hidden agony.
Giles watched him through the reflection of her window. Barker pushed himself a little up from the doorway and tilted his head towards her. Beneath the shadow of his brow, his keen eyes glanced at her with deceptive coolness before returning to his tormented state.
Giles smiled and shook her head.
This is all for my benefit, she thought.
This act continued for a short while. Giles had to admire the man’s staying power – he was determined that she should see what horror he was going through and seemed reluctant to move away from the door until he’d seen her notice it. Giles might have ignored him for the whole journey were it not for her own need for answers.
She turned her head away from the window and peered cautiously over the seats in front of her. She eyed the politician, willing him to look up so the façade could be over and, sensing her gaze, he too looked up and allowed himself to stare into her eyes. It only lasted for a moment and then, seeming to remember himself, Barker dropped his stare to the floor and began pacing back and forth across the carriage with such over-stated determination that Giles couldn’t help but laugh to herself.
So over dramatic.
However, despite the intensity of his desire for Giles’ attention, there was definitely something troubling Barker. His brow was arched with worry and his hands consistently rose up to his face to rub his temples. Beneath the mask of conceited emotions, there was a man who genuinely struggled with a great problem; a dark worry that had clouded over his mind and turned his skin pale.
Whatever thoughts were plaguing his mind evaporated in an instant.
Barker stared into the carriage window and used his reflection to brush himself down. His back grew straighter and his clothes were repositioned until he almost looked respectable. He glanced up at Giles and confidently stepped away from the train door, swaggering down the carriage towards her. As he collapsed in the chair opposite, he lounged back into it with the air of a man without a care in the world.
Beneath this confident guise, his eyes betrayed the fear in his mind. They slowly crept around the train, surveying each passenger with absolute scrutiny as they made their way along from seat to seat. Once satisfied that he wasn’t in any immediate danger, Barker looked at a point somewhere down the far end of the aisle and remained like that, in absolute stillness, long after Giles lost interest.
Giles had almost recovered from their race to the train. She felt normal for the most part, save for the damp patch of sweat that had accumulated in the small of her back. She squirmed in her seat a little to dispel the discomfort but she could feel it all the same.
Needing a distraction, she removed her phone from her jacket pocket and engaged the Internet browser application. Silently stuttering, the phone tried to open the National Rail webpage but, despite the abundance of signal, the screen remained infuriatingly blank.
She refreshed the browser in the vain, hoping that it might make a difference but – infuriatingly – the progress bar advanced no further.
She felt a small tap on her leg. Barker had leant forward and pressed a single digit on Giles’ knee. He smiled at her coyly and nodded knowingly towards the phone.
‘The 12.15 is a fast train,’ he declared. ‘It has only one stop. East Croydon.’
Giles nodded but continued to concentrate on her phone, closing down the web browser and pulling up her message menu. The smile slowly disappeared from Barker’s face.
‘Don’t you believe me?’
Giles’ eyes flickered up. ‘I believe you…’ Her eyes returned to the phone’s screen.
Barker peered cautiously at her from the opposing seat. ‘What are you doing?’
‘And what does that mean?’ Barker asked, his face immediately clouding over with suspicion.
‘You don’t need to know.’
Barker collapsed back into his chair, sniggering to himself. ‘You know, you’re going to have to trust me some time.’
‘Quid pro quo, Mister Barker. I don’t have to trust you with anything.’
The comment sounded as blunt as Giles had intended, but she hadn’t banked on the effect it would have on the man sat opposite. His smile lingered for a moment longer before disappearing with a gulp. His face fell – he looked positively crestfallen – and his hands nervously cupped each other as he rubbed the thumb of one against the palm of the other.
Giles glanced up, feeling a pang of guilt. Barker was an enigma. One minute he exuded confidence and the next he retreated into himself like a scolded schoolboy. He was weak, out of control – waiting for his misdemeanours to be tolled against him…
Misdemeanours? Don’t give him your sympathy. He doesn’t deserve it.
Giles shook her head and cleared her throat.
‘We may have a fast route in to London, but there is still very little room for manoeuver,’ she said. ‘If Harris is half as good as I think he is, we will still have a reception committee waiting for us when the train pulls in at London Bridge.’
Barker’s eyes flickered. ‘So what now?’
‘I’ve texted ahead. I need my team on standby to head Harris off. They’ll give us safe passage for the time being…’
‘And you trust your team?’
As though all injury to his pride had been forgotten, Barker leant back against his chair and calmly flung his right hand over the back of the seat beside him. His right leg crossed over his left and started to bounce rhythmically in the air. Giles had seen this image of Barker before – it had been on a late-night chat-show interview not long before the election.
Not long before everything had gone wrong for him…
Barker watched intently as Giles pocketed her phone and leant back in to her chair. There was something of an attractive quality about her, he supposed, although there was never any doubt that she wasn’t remotely his type. Still, as she stared out of the window at the countryside skimming past, he allowed his eyes to slowly wander down her face, skipping over her hidden neck until they arrived on her chest. He felt himself smile as his eyes traced the line of her bosom beneath her cotton shirt before allowing them to saunter further south.
‘You are remarkable woman, DS Giles,’ he announced, quickly flickering his eyes back up to her face before Giles had a chance to glance back towards him. ‘Most other detectives would have thrown me to the wolves and to hell with the consequences. But you risked everything – your whole career – just to protect me.’
Giles stared back at him blankly and said: ‘I still might,’ before returning her gaze back to the window.
Barker smacked his lips. He could see the tension building across Giles’ brow – the unmistakable pulse of frustration and anger. He wondered how difficult this was for her – undoubtedly nowhere near as difficult as it was for him – but probably not a walk in the park all the same. She was no happier about protecting him than he was of being in her debt. Although – she had some added benefits. She would be able to dine out on this story for years, if she didn’t end up in prison first.
It was almost a shame really.
He leant forward a little closer, his eyes shining with mischief.
‘So, Giles is your husband’s name?’ he mused. ‘I bet adopting an English sounding name suited you right down to the ground, didn’t it? Although I imagine your parents did the same thing when they arrived here. They adopted an English name to fit in I suppose?’ Giles’ eyes returned to stare daggers at him. ‘I mean, you hear it all the time – Chinese people giving themselves Western names to try to hide how different they are…’
Giles blinked once.
‘My father was British,’ she replied curtly.
‘Oh, I see,’ Barker replied, beginning to feel a familiar surge of supremacy coursing through his body. He was enjoying himself. ‘He was one of those. Doesn’t mind watering down the blood as long as he gets himself a child who becomes a top doctor or something. He must’ve been so disappointed when he found out you were joining the Police.’ He chuckled quietly. ‘But I bet your mother was happy. She got a free ticket to just wander into this country and enjoy the society that we spent hundreds of years crafting. She ran away from her own homeland because she couldn’t be bothered to change the things that she didn’t agree with – too lazy to make a difference to her own country. I bet she’s living off the state and your father as we speak.’
This time, Giles didn’t blink, although her jaw visibly tightened as she clenched her teeth.
‘My mother died giving birth to me,’ she said, sullenly.
Barker raised an eyebrow. ‘Well, I guess that’s something…’
‘She was a political activist,’ Giles continued, feeling the anger surging through her. ‘She devoted her life to fighting the government in China, to bring about change for her and her people. She wasn’t a militant – never that brutal. She was peaceful. She was kind. She wanted to make a difference. And one day, they arrested her. She was put in a prison where she was raped and tortured for months on end. I was born in that prison and she died bringing me into this world…’
Barker smirked. ‘So, not even a real Brit!’ He clapped his hands together scathingly. ‘I suppose that’s one way to deal with the problem. You were the daughter of an undesirable. They just flung you out and you ended up sponging off my country. Maybe we could learn a thing or two from the Chinese after all…’
A flicker of anger shot across Giles’ face. A surge of triumph filled Barker’s mind.
At last, he thought. Time to see how far DS Giles is willing to go to…
Giles stared hard into Barker’s eyes, her fists clenched and shaking with rage. He was trying to provoke her – she knew that. He wanted to test her. He needed her to be able to put aside her own anger for him. He needed to know that he could trust her.
This was a hurdle she had to clear if he was going to give her anything – she knew that all too well. But that didn’t make it any easier.
She could cope with the meaningless flirtation, with the sly smiles that suggested there could be some attraction between the two of them – but listening to his insults was a heavy load and Giles wasn’t sure how much she could bear.
He doesn’t expect you to shrug it off. Don’t try to hide who you are…
‘My father was a good man,’ she replied defiantly. ‘He couldn’t have children of his own, so he came to China to help those less fortunate than himself. He saved me and brought me back here, and now I am working hard to better this country.’
‘You’re only as strong as your weakest link,’ Barker replied casually. ‘If your kind wanted our country to be better, you wouldn’t be sitting on a British train.’
Giles jutted her head towards Barker, her lips snarling with anger.
‘And who are you to make that call? What makes you so damn special that you can discriminate and pass judgement on people just because of the colour of their skin?’
‘It’s not just the colour that makes the weed…’
‘You and your pathetic party of racist bigots – too short sighted to see that the people you attack are people too. Too self-righteous to believe that anyone who isn’t like you can make a positive difference in this world. Too stupid to even realise how pathetically pointless you all really are…’ She paused for a moment to draw breath. ‘You tell me something, what exactly is so great about being British…?’
Barker faked a laugh. ‘There was once a time when the rest of the world was intelligent enough that they didn’t need to ask that question. When our Empire ruled the world, everyone knew their place…’
‘What gives you the right to judge anyone as being inferior? You’re nothing but a criminal…’
Giles turned her head back towards the window. Almost as soon as the rage had appeared, it now began to subside as though the heavy weight had been lifted from her mind. After all these months of ranting into mirrors, imagining conversations and strutting away in triumph she had finally had her moment. She had faced down the man who had encouraged the destruction of her world – of her way of life.
And yet it didn’t feel good.
There was still an empty, sick feeling in the pit of her stomach.
It wasn’t over for her yet.
‘It’s interesting,’ Barker mused. ‘You have as much anger and disgust for me as I have for you…’
‘Maybe I should’ve left you for the wolves after all…’
‘Maybe you should’ve. But you didn’t.’ Barker’s voice had softened and, when Giles finally looked back at him, his face had relaxed from its mischievous demeanour to something more sincere. ‘You hate everything I stand for and everything about me. You deny my right to believe what I chose to believe and belittle the opinions of the British people. And yet you risk everything to help me…’
‘I don’t have a choice,’ Giles replied bitterly. ‘You have information I need.’
‘There’s always a choice, Giles. The question is, when you get what you want, are you going to be honourable enough to put your anger aside and let me walk free?’
‘I was brought up to be an honourable person…’
‘Not to DI Harris,’ Barker said. ‘You left him well and truly in the lurch. Did it never occur to you that he will probably lose his job over this? That you’ve condemned an innocent man to a lifetime of shame?’
‘This is important…’
‘Important enough to ruin a man’s career?’
Giles’ eyes narrowed.
‘I’m not you,’ she replied firmly, allowing the last of the tension to drain from her body.
They fell into silence. Barker’s eyes covertly drifted away from Giles and began to stare back down the train.
‘Who was the man you killed?’
The question caught Barker off guard. In a flash, his hand rose to his lips and his darting eyes once again took in those around him to see if anyone had heard. With an expression panged with discomfort, he replied: ‘I really have no idea.’
‘Bollocks. He knew who you were. And you knew he was coming.’
Giles fell back into her seat and gazed out of the window. She wasn’t looking at anything in particular – something spectacular could have been happening outside those windows and she wouldn’t have noticed it. She was far away, lost in a river of her own thoughts – a collection of streams; each one filled with its own doubts and fears as it congregated a single image in her mind.
She had hoped to forget that day, but in truth she never could. It was all such a betrayal…
‘You did what?’
Giles stared at Jason, her eyes boring deep into him as her body shook and swelled with unadulterated rage. Standing before her, Jason’s mouth dropped open and he seemed to freeze to the spot as the television in the corner proudly announced the election results.
‘I don’t get what the problem is,’ he replied. ‘It’s not like I’m the only one…’
‘You bloody fool…’
‘Why? For doing what I thought was right?’
‘What was right? Do you have any understanding about what this will do to me?’
‘Oh, stop being so over-dramatic…’
That was his favourite line. Jason often used it when he thought it would win an argument, and today was one of those days. Giles shook her head in utter dismay.
‘Over dramatic?’ she repeated, her eyes ablaze with fury. ‘Did you not listen to any of the things that man was spouting?’
‘They don’t mean you,’ he replied. ‘They mean all the immigrants. You know? The ones who don’t pull their weight…’
‘Don’t be so naïve…’
Jason shook his head and strolled across the room. For a moment this seemed like the end of the argument but, no sooner had he reached the kitchen, Jason turned back around and marched straight over to her.
‘You know what your problem is, Eve? You’re too clever for your own good.’
‘Too clever? How can you be too clever?’
‘You see things as fact and fiction,’ Jason continued, pointing an angry finger at her. ‘You only see the truth you want to see and any other fact is just a lie…’
‘A lie? Jason, Daniel Barker said that there is no such thing as a good foreigner. As a man who married a Chinese-born detective, you would have thought you might see through something like that…’
‘There you go again.’ He slapped his hands on his thighs, before raising them up in victory. ‘Everything has to come back to your job, doesn’t it?’
‘No,’ Giles returned, thrusting her own finger at Jason – he wasn’t going to turn this into something else. Not this time. ‘This is nothing to do with my job – it’s about you making a stupid decision and trusting a man who would have your own wife deported if he had the chance…’
Jason could do little else but shake his head.
‘Maybe I’m not the one being stupid. Maybe – just for once – you can look at a man and, instead of deciding that you know everything there is to know about him, try seeing the world from where he stands.’ He turned towards the bedroom door. ‘Try defending Daniel Barker for once – then you might realise how wrong you are…’
He disappeared into the bedroom and slammed closed the door.
Try defending Daniel Barker for once…
Giles shook the words from her head. It had been such a bitter argument – it had almost torn them apart. In many ways, it still could.
And yet, as Giles’s eyes began to focus on a small collection of buildings on the horizon, his words began to rattle around her head, getting louder and clearer with each passing moment.
You might realise how wrong you are…
Her eyes flickered over to Barker. Maybe Jason was right – maybe she was dealing with Barker in the wrong way. The man was hiding something, that was true enough, but was he really a murderer? Had she found proof of his guilt, or simply found what she wanted to find…?
‘Try seeing the evidence from Barker’s view,’ she muttered under her breath.
It couldn’t hurt, a voice in her head replied. At worst, you’ll convince Barker that you’re willing to back him up. What do you have to lose?
From the opposite seat, Barker’s eyes narrowed on her and his brow fell into a frown. ‘Sorry?’
Giles dismissed him with a shake of the head.
It couldn’t hurt…
She leant back again, her eyes narrowing and glazing over as she remembered the smell in the pillbox. That musky, smoke smell that she struggled to identify…
Damp cigarettes or gunpowder?
She closed her eyes and concentrated on that smell. As it filled her nostrils, a flood of memories coursed through her mind and she slowly began to piece the crime scene back together. For the first time that day, she was beginning to be honest with herself. She had wanted Barker to be guilty, and everything she’d found at that crime scene had only convinced her of his guilt.
But is there another explanation?
DI Harris had said something about the pillboxes. It was one of the very first things he’d said to her.
‘Besides some of the homeless use them as shelters…’
No, not that. Giles raised a hand to gently massage her temple.
True, there had been evidence of someone staying there, but there had been no sign of a second witness. If Barker had murdered the victim, anyone in the pillbox would have stayed well hidden until the coast was clear. There was no one in there when the police arrived…
So, who was in the pillbox? The voice whispered. What did Harris say?
Giles screwed up her face and concentrated hard. The pillbox was significant – that smell had to have come from somewhere. Someone must have been in the pillbox, but no one left.
What was it Harris said?
She replayed the day in her mind – every second from the moment Harris first clapped eyes on her to the second she first saw the body lying collapsed against the pillbox. She remembered every word he’d said – how the pillboxes had been built in the Second World War to defend the River Eden from…
That’s it, the voice muttered triumphantly. Self-defence…
Giles imagined the scene. She was stood in the pillbox, staring out at the SOCOs as they took away the victim’s body. She formed a gun with her fingers and pointed it out towards the patch of blood in the middle of the clearing…
She could see him now. Daniel Barker crouching in the pillbox, aiming a gun out at the victim – slowly pulling the trigger and watching as the air around him filled with gun powder smoke.
Giles’ eyes snapped open.
Try defending him for once…
She leant forward and stared hard into Barker’s eyes.
‘Why the pillbox?’
‘I don’t understand…’
‘Why did you climb into the pillbox?’
‘I…’ he hesitated ‘… I didn’t.’
‘There was grey powder on your shoes – powder that’s consistent with the concrete on the floor of the pillbox. The inside smelt of smoke, Barker – smoke from the gun you fired.’
‘No,’ Barker replied, shaking his head violently. ‘It was self-defence.’
‘So, where better to take refuge than a pillbox?’ She leant back in her chair, staring aimlessly at the ceiling. ‘I’ve been such a fool.’
Barker’s eyes narrowed with concern.
‘What do you mean?’
‘I thought the evidence was pointing towards you being the murderer. But I see it now…’
She glanced towards Barker.
‘Someone wanted to stop you from talking. Someone who knew about you and what you were planning on doing…’
‘Planning on doing?’
‘The message,’ Giles shot back. ‘The message you sent me three days ago. ‘Keep an eye on your mailbox’. Someone had to know what you were planning on sending me – someone clever enough to know that if we ever met I would never believe that you were innocent, no matter what the evidence.’ She sighed, shaking her head in shame. ‘I was so wrapped up in my hatred that I didn’t realise that was precisely what they were counting on…’
She let her voice trail off. She didn’t know if she believed any of it – even as she’d constructed the argument for Barker’s innocence, she’d begun to feel sick to the stomach. Even by suggesting it, she was betraying her principles and morals. She was handing Barker a sturdy defence, one that she was sure he’d utilise if the case ever came to trial – and yet, it was as legitimate an explanation as anything she’d believed about him so far. It was no more far fetched than the idea that a politician would commit a murder in such an open place…
My God, she thought. I’m beginning to sound like him.
She was beginning to feel empty inside, like she’d sacrificed some part of her soul just by thinking it. But this was a necessary evil. If it got Barker to trust her, it was good enough for the moment.
She let out a half-hearted laugh and said:
‘This isn’t just about you, Barker. It’s about both of us. Someone wants to stop you from talking. They sent an assassin to make sure of that. But should it all go wrong and you were able to tell your story, they wanted to make sure that I’d never listen.’
‘The Bluebell Killer,’ Barker replied confidently. ‘I knew he had fingers in the government, but I had no idea he had the police in his pocket as well. He knew you were my contact. There’s nowhere else he could have got that information except through the police…’
Giles shook her head. ‘Not a hope. I kept your involvement a secret. Not even Bolton knew that I had an informant – you made it clear that’s what you wanted…’
‘Oh…’ Barker thought hard for a moment.
‘But it must be true,’ Giles continued, ignoring the awkward silence. ‘How else did the bullet casing vanish from the pillbox? Someone in Harris’ team wanted there to be missing evidence to make us question your version of events – to make sure there was no doubt in our minds that you were guilty…’
‘Or Harris himself?’ Barker muttered.
Giles shook her head. ‘Harris was sure you were innocent. It was only when I turned up that he got convinced otherwise…’
‘Thank God you turned up,’ Barker replied with a grimace. ‘But why did Harris even get your involved? Why did he bring you down to the crime scene? It certainly wasn’t just because I asked for you…’ He paused to think. ‘He needed you there to witness my downfall. He needed you to be convinced that I was nothing more than a liar and a murderer so that when I tried to talk…’
‘I wouldn’t listen.’
Barker nodded, sitting back in his chair with a strange posture – relaxed yet alert at the same time. He seemed almost like a man who’d just won a debate, savouring a moment of victory but ready for the inevitable counter argument.
Giles shook her head.
‘I can’t believe it was Harris…’
‘If not Harris, then someone on his team.’
Giles nodded. Leaning forward, she placed a comforting hand on Barker’s and smiled sweetly as she gazed into his troubled eyes.
‘Who are they, Daniel?’ She asked. ‘Who would go to this much trouble just for a back-up plan?’
Barker’s eyes twitched.
‘They work for Him,’ he said pointedly. ‘And He is more dangerous than you could possibly imagine.’
Barker let his words hang in the air. Giles waited with baited breath for him to continue, her eyes wide and ready to explore the possibilities. Barker had witnessed her mind finally open up to the world, watched as she breathed in a new way of thinking that had finally led her to realise that there was more to all of this than just her belief in his guilt.
There was truth as well.
Did he believe this newfound open-mindedness on her part was genuine?
Not a jot…
It had been all too easy. She’d been too willing to give up her convictions for the benefit of a man she didn’t like let alone trust. It was all too obvious.
She and Barker were two warriors, dancing around each other – each word they uttered was a thrust at each other’s armour; each parry another lie that they told. They were two mortals locked in a battle of wit and deceit from which only one could emerge victorious…
She may even have been as good at it as he was.
Regardless, Giles had demonstrated that she was at least willing to fake trust in him – even if she didn’t really believe it herself.
That was good enough for Barker – for the moment.
Maybe, I might just get what I want…
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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