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The Bluebell Informant – Chapter 11

If you’re not up to speed on The Bluebell Informant so far, the previous chapters can be found here. Failing that, The Bluebell Informant is now available for free through Amazon.comiBooksKoboNookand Smashwords.

Chapter Eleven

Barker walked with the air of a man being sent to the gallows. To the casual observer, he seemed sullen and lacking in energy. He dragged his feet along the ground, kicking up dust and stones as he plodded along the pathway, whilst keeping his hands firmly bound together in front of his stomach. His head was angled down and yet, in the shadows beneath his brow, his eyes darted energetically about him.

The pair of them – Giles and Barker – moved slowly down the pathway. She muttered frantically, her hands jutting out this way and that as she pleaded with him. He said nothing at all.

Up ahead, Harris and the other detective began to cross the bridge. They stopped halfway across to check on Giles’ progress before disappearing over the other side as they emerged into the playing fields beyond.

A few minutes later, Giles and Barker arrived at the bridge themselves. Despite the melancholic plod in his stride, the politician revealed nothing of his emotions or feelings save for a sudden, uncontrollable shiver that seemed to grip his hands. He was jittery – that much was certain – but Giles observed this apparent display of fear with a cynical and professional eye, content in the knowledge that it was little more than an act for her benefit. She might have continued to believe this had it not been for the sudden crack of twigs in a nearby bush, which prompted the politician to yelp in fright and almost around the side of the bridge and into the shallow stream below.

He gripped a tight hold of the wooden barrier and peered nervously into the bracken as the creature – whatever it was – rustled its way unseen through the twigs and leaves. The longer he stared, the paler his face became. His brow was punctuated with small globules of milky sweat and his skin appeared no longer clean and youthful, but waxy and wrinkled as though premature aging had struck him in that very instant. In a moment or two, the rustling became instinct against the gentle swishing of swaying trees and grass, and Daniel Barker relaxed a little.

But the cracks were showing.

He was terrified.

And he wasn’t the only one.

Giles worked hard to control her breathing as her heart pounded ferociously inside her chest. She had been given a finite time. She had the length of the walk back to the cars to get what she needed from Barker – after that she would have to wait her turn. Beyond the footbridge, she knew she had two hundred metres – two hundred metres of rugby and football pitches – before she would have to hand him over.

They would walk across the fields, avoiding the games being played by the Bank Holiday crowd, and head across to the clubhouse where the fleet of police vehicles would wait in readiness. And when they arrived, a squad of constables would descend on him, pin him up against a patrol car and restrain his hands once more.

Giles didn’t know if Barker would cry out, but she supposed he wouldn’t. With such an audience of sporting fans, he would want to retain some element of dignity. He wouldn’t want to be remembered as the corrupt politician who was dragged away in chains. He’d want to be the noble martyr being led to quietly to his confinement. Wrongfully imprisoned but defiant to the last.

The portrait of an English gentleman…

She allowed Barker to step ahead of her on to the bridge. Her hands trembled with trepidation as they gripped the wooden handrail. This would be her chance – she knew it all too well. Harris would never allow Barker to simply go free – she knew that as well. If Barker didn’t talk now, if he didn’t tell her what she knew, she might never get another chance. He might sulk in silence, clinging on to his last trump card – never playing it as long as he was locked away from the world…

Then all this would have been for nothing…

Her mind flitted back to Jason, his face contorted with anger as he ranted about how her job was taking over her life. He had known she was a career woman when he married her, but something had changed in the past few months. All of his friends now had bouncing babies, families – and Jason had become more than a little broody.

But he knew the deal. Giles would work ten years on the force before she stopped to have children, and there were still three more to go. In truth, Giles couldn’t face the idea of bringing children into the world. Not this world at any rate.

‘If you want my help, you’re going to have to give me something,’ she said, pausing on the bridge to watch the stream trickle quietly below.

The water of the weir crashed loudly a short distance away. The easterly wind whipped up harder through the trees, causing them to sway and creak and rustle. Barker stopped to ponder the nature as well. Standing side by side the two were in perfect isolation – no one could hear them speak or catch them off guard. And yet, despite their remoteness, Giles couldn’t help shaking the feeling that they were being watched.

‘You get me out of this and I’ll tell you everything you need to know.’

‘You know I can’t do that.’

‘Well, you’re going to have to,’ replied Barker, taking on the air of the party leader once more. ‘If I end up in a police cell, I will be dead before sunrise tomorrow morning.’

‘I can assure you, you will be perfectly safe.’

Barker scoffed. ‘You don’t even know who you are protecting me from.’

‘Then tell me.’

‘I told you, when I’m safely away from here and out of police custody.’

‘Harris’ team are more than capable of protecting you…’

‘And you trust Harris?’

In the distance, Harris stopped and looked back at them, almost as though he’d been beckoned by his own name. He stood watching them for a moment until Giles finally gave Barker a slight nudge and the two descended off the footbridge onto to the perfectly cut grass of the recreation field. The police cordon had long since been removed and already several dog walkers were pacing purposefully across the field in the direction of the bridge.

Barker eyed a Jack Russell suspiciously as it bounded past them, ignoring the curious glances of recognition from its owner. Up ahead, Harris turned again and continued walking, although he continued to throw the occasional glance back at the meandering pair.

‘They have evidence that you committed a murder, Mr Barker. They’re not just going to let me walk you out of here.’

‘Then you have two problems…’

‘So, tell me what I want to know and I will have you in protective custody in a matter of hours.’

Barker laughed again. ‘I spent years relying on other people to protect me. All it ever got me was one great, big, colossal failure on the largest stage in Britain.’ His voice hissed with bitterness:

‘Do you what they told me during the election? They said there was no need to focus on my own constituency – they said it was a sure thing. The public were going to back us to the hilt and all I had to do was focus on discrediting the government.’

Giles shrugged. ‘You needed better advisors…’

Barker scowled. ‘Then, on results day, it was my constituency that didn’t fall into line – myvoters that left me out in the cold. So, I think I’m right in saying that I’ve learnt the hard way that relying on other people leads to nothing but failure. And, when my life is the stake I’m playing for, I don’t much relish the idea of putting my faith of success in someone else’s hands – especially yours…’

‘You don’t really understand your position, do you?’

‘Quid pro quo, Giles,’ he shot back. ‘You need to think of another way to get me out of this mess, because if I’m in a police cell you won’t get what you want. If I’m locked away, my information is locked away with me…’

‘The Bluebell Killer.’

Barker gave her a cold, hard look. ‘You know what? When you killed that boy, he laughed. As he lay dying on the floor, he stared into your eyes and cackled with glee. He was so pleased with himself. – so delighted with what he’d done. He’d played you like a fucking fiddle – and there you were, basking in the triumph of it all…’

It was as though Giles’ whole body shut down. Her feet staggered to a halt as the weight of memories came crashing down around her. She could see him now. Alex Donnovan lying sprawled on the floor, staring up at her as his laughter echoed through the garage. His eyes sparkling with victory.

‘How the hell do you know that?’

Barker turned and smiled. ‘Curious, isn’t it?’

He waited for Giles to take hold of herself and start walking again.

‘Alright, let’s say I believe you,’ Giles muttered. ‘Who is he? Who is the Bluebell Killer if not Donnovan?’

A curious smile crept over Barker’s face. His hand emerged from his right trouser pocket and he waggled a lone finger at the detective, tutting playfully as he did so. ‘Quid pro quo, Giles. You don’t have much time.’

Giles slowed her pace a little more. They passed through the shadow of a rugby post, momentarily flickering their faces into darkness before emerging into the light once again. She stared thoughtfully at Barker. Her hair and scarf fluttered enthusiastically in the breeze as though the wind were strong enough to swoop her right off her feet. And yet, Barker remained perfectly still – his hair didn’t twitch and his clothes didn’t quiver – unmoveable against the elements.

‘You’re not even bothering to proclaim your innocence anymore.’

‘It wouldn’t make any difference if I did,’ Barker replied, shrugging his shoulders. ‘Your situation would still be the same.’ A slight smile crept across his face as his eyes flickered across Giles’ face. ‘They say you Chinese types are good with numbers. Let’s see what odds you can come up with for a successful escape. Tick-tock.

 

Harris came to a halt next to his car and turned back to look across the playing fields. Nearby, a football match had just finished. The players and supporters cheered and applauded each other whilst the two distant figures of Giles and Barker meandered across the far rugby field.

Harris felt Detective Sergeant Parsons slide into the spot next to him.

‘They’re taking their time,’ he observed. ‘Where are they going – a funeral?’

Harris turned to his colleague. Parsons was still relatively inexperienced as a sergeant, but his keen eyes breathed in his surrounding with the air of one who had seen it all. His trimmed muscles bulged beneath his cotton shirt and his neat, short hair spoke of a time before the police force.

Once a soldier…

‘DS Giles is attempting to extract some information from the suspect before he take him in.’

‘Don’t see the point, if you ask me. Anything she gets wouldn’t stand in court.’

‘It’s to do with another case. Giles asked for some time alone with him before he gets lost in a sea of paperwork. I figured it was the least we could do after her work in the pillbox…’

‘We would have got him eventually, sir.’ Parsons’ eyes narrowed on the pair as they made a slight turn towards the bushes at the side of the playing field to lengthen their journey. ‘I don’t like it.’

Harris could see what Parsons meant. Barker was still his prisoner, no matter how much Giles had to do with him getting caught.

His prisoner. His responsibility.

His neck if something went wrong.

He turned to the rest of the team, mostly uniformed officers now, who tried to loiter causally by their patrol cars.

‘Get the rest of the team out of here,’ he ordered. ‘We don’t want Barker clocking our reception committee.’

Parsons barked some clipped orders and the officers clambered into their cars. In a moment, the engines roared into life and the cars disappeared up the lane towards the centre of town. Giles and Harris were still a fair distance away when Parsons returned.

‘How long has Giles got?’

Harris seemed to ignore the question. The footballers were making their preparations to leave the pitch, chanting and singing, clapping and excitedly recalling their own personal highlights.

But, for Harris, the game wasn’t over yet.

nick1Nick 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. 

To stay up to date with Nick’s latest releases, subscribe to his newsletter now. They’ll be no spamming – I promise!

The Bluebell Informant – Chapter 10

If you’re not up to speed on The Bluebell Informant so far, the previous chapters can be found here. Failing that, The Bluebell Informant is now available for free through Amazon.comiBooksKoboNookand Smashwords.

Chapter Ten

‘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…

Even Jason…

‘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.’

‘Max?’

Giles nodded.

‘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…’

Harris sniffed.

‘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…

Chink slut…

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…

Would she?

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.

Somewhere safe.

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.’

nick1Nick 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. 

To stay up to date with Nick’s latest releases, subscribe to his newsletter now. They’ll be no spamming – I promise!

The Bluebell Informant – Chapter 6

If you’re not up to speed on The Bluebell Informant so far, the first five chapters can be found here.

Chapter Six

The crime scene was a hive of activity with the pillbox at its centre. No one had notice Giles slip away into the next field – they were all far too preoccupied. She slipped back into the cordon and moved her way through the waiting constables. She stepped up beside Harris who gave her an excited wink before peering into the dark, damp of the pillbox.

‘I owe you an apology, Giles,’ he said casually. ‘You were right about the pillbox.’

‘You found the bullet casing?’

He shook his head. ‘No, not so far. We’re doing a final sweep of the inside but it doesn’t seem to be in there.’

‘But it must be…’

Giles stepped up to the opening and peered inside. It took her eyes a few seconds to adjust to the dark and the damp, concrete walls appeared before her. Several SOCOs moved slowly from one side of the bunker to the other, carefully searching the floor with their fingertips – moving aside crisp packets and empty tins, disintegrated leaves and clumps of soil in the search across the pillbox.

It has to be in there.

Harris pushed himself away from the opening and stared curiously at Giles. ‘Not to worry,’ he replied. ‘If it’s there, it will turn up.’ He grabbed her by the arm and gently pulled her away. ‘But we did find something interesting. Follow me.’

He led her over to the forensics table and barked at the evidence officer: ‘Do you have it?’

‘Yes, sir.’

The officer’s hand plunged into the sea of clear bags and plucked one out. He handed it over to Harris who held it up for Giles to see.

‘The missing piece of the puzzle,’ he announced.

Giles’ eyes grew wider as she stared at what was inside – at first glance the small, orange and white ticket appeared no different to the one she’d seen before except that it was crumpled and deformed, but the data printed on it told a different story:

‘You found it,’ she whispered, stepping forward a little to see it more clearly. ‘The second ticket.’

Harris’ eyes widened a little as he nodded excitedly.

‘And is there a name on the back?’

‘Oh, yes.’

Slowly, Harris turned the ticket around to face her. There it was – scrawled inside the endorsements box – the distinct impression of two words. Giles studied the words closely, not immediately seeing what the letters spelt out until she finished translating the first of the two. The second word appeared almost instantaneously and Giles could taste the unpleasant tang of metal on her tongue the moment she recognised it.

‘You have to be joking,’ she said, staring up at Harris, who beamed happily back at her.

‘I have to say I’m relieved,’ he boasted, placing the bag back in the evidence pile. ‘I didn’t much fancy going up against him myself…’

Giles didn’t respond. The words were burned into her mind. Two scrawled collections of letters that had changed everything…

Daniel Barker.

‘He’s not in the clear yet,’ she shot back at Harris, turning back towards the pillbox. ‘You still haven’t found the casing.’

Harris smiled delicately at her – he even placed a comforting hand on her shoulder as he said:

‘Giles, it will turn up. It’s probably just been trampled into the ground by a careless constable or by Barker himself by accident…’

‘Or deliberately thrown away,’ Giles fired back. ‘The appearance of one ticket doesn’t prove his innocence.’

‘No,’ Harris agreed. ‘We’ll need to take his statement first. Perhaps you would like to be in on it as it was you who helped prove there is more to this than meets the eye…’

‘I’ve suffered enough of that man’s lies for one lifetime…’

She marched off in the direction of the pillbox. She didn’t look back to see if Harris was following her, but she was sure he was. As she reached the opening, the last of the SOCOs was already climbing out, grasping in her hand another clear plastic bag.

‘Did you find it?’ Giles demanded, barely waiting for her to finish climbing out of the opening.

The SOCO inspected Giles with an air of irritation as she clambered awkwardly out of the opening and landed gingerly on her feet on the hard ground. Harris stepped out from behind Giles and, giving the SOCO a quick nod, said:

‘It’s all right, Bellamy, answer her questions.’

Bellamy pondered Giles for a moment longer before turning towards Harris.

‘It’s all clear,’ she announced. ‘No bullet casing but it looks like the pillbox has been occupied recently: empty food wrappings, a sodden sleeping bag, a couple of beer bottles…’

‘Anything to suggest someone has been there recently?’

‘Possibly,’ Bellamy replied. ‘There’s a queer smell of smoke in there, almost like someone has been smoking…’

‘Smoking?’ Giles burst out.

‘Yes,’ Bellamy answered, eyeing her with annoyance. ‘But I can’t find any evidence of cigarettes in there. No butts, no ash.’

‘So there is a potentially a witness who hasn’t come forwards?’ Harris mused.

‘Perhaps,’ the SOCO replied. ‘Or another suspect.’

Giles shook her head frantically. ‘Can I see for myself?’

Bellamy shrugged. ‘Be my guest. It’s cleared now so you can pootle around to your heart’s content.’

Giles was already halfway through the opening before Bellamy had finished speaking. As she grabbed hold of the wall and swung her legs up to climb through, Harris said:

‘Don’t you want to hear what Barker has to say?’

Giles didn’t reply. Holding on tightly to the roof of the pillbox, she wiggled her legs through the narrow opening until her feet clattered to the ground. Then she let go of the roof and, with the grace of an acrobat, gently arched her back and slid the rest of her body inside.

Reaching into her pocket, Giles pulled out her smartphone and, with a few flicks of her nimble fingers, quickly found the torch application. The pillbox exploded into white light as the torch lit every corner and crevice of the old structure, even sending Giles’ own shadow dancing across the concrete floor as she manoeuvred it to hold more securely.

The floor was littered with rubbish: crisp packets, empty bottles and tin cans – half packs of mouldy bread, the sleeping bag that Bellamy had mentioned. As her light hit the far wall, a rat scurried around the edge, fleeing the light as it clambered up the wall and disappeared through a tiny hole in the outer wall. The murmurs of discussion outside the walls were somehow muffled by the structure and as Giles turned around to peer through the opening she could see Harris and Bellamy walking away from the pillbox, deep in conversation.

At the far side of the crime scene, a pair of SOCOs walked smartly across the grass towards her, taking care to avoid the patch of blood in the centre of the clearing. They carried a black body bag in their hands, which they unzipped and placed down on the ground just out of sight. Giles couldn’t see the body being moved, but she could hear the grunts as the SOCOs gently lifted it into the rubbery plastic and zipped it back up again.

Giles turned back to face the rest of the pillbox, shining her light towards the back where the entrance had been bricked up. At the foot of the hastily blocked doorway was the red sleeping bag – reeking of sweat and urine and crumpled in a heap against the wall. Giles used this as a starting point as she diligently traced her way across the structure, her eyes glued to the floor and her fingers flicking items out of the way as she made her search.

She did this three or four times before eventually giving up. There was no bullet casing – just as Bellamy had said. Giles moved across the room and stood in the opening, watching as Bellamy’s team carted the body off across the clearing and towards the bridge. As they passed the blood splatter on the ground, Giles raised a hand to form a gun with her index finger and thumb and pointed it at their retreating backs.

‘So question number one,’ Giles muttered to herself. ‘Why did the body end up against the pillbox wall?’

And question number two?

Giles sniffed deeply.

‘The smoke smell…’

Damp cigarettes or gun powder?

‘Exactly…’

 

Giles sat perched on a steep section of the riverbank, watching the water trickle and flow downstream on its way to Edenbridge. The first she noticed of Harris was as he arrived and crouched down beside her. Together they watched as an emerald green dragonfly flitted back and forth between the long grass, floating elegantly towards the carpet of bluebells a little further up river from them.

For a long time he didn’t say anything. It was hard to tell whether he was relieved or troubled. Giles could appreciate his dilemma.

‘Well,’ he muttered, picking a blade of long grass and tossing it towards the river. ‘That was interesting.’

Giles wondered how long it would take Harris to carry on speaking. She certainly wasn’t going to pry into what absurdity Barker had sold him, but she was almost certain that the DI was eager to share his new information. It was almost as though he wanted her approval…

Not that your approval matters.

Harris picked another blade of grass and spun it between his fingers, watching as the green end flickered from side to side.

‘Barker’s story seemed to tally with what he know so far,’ he announced. ‘It seems pretty open-and-shut to me.’

‘Congratulations,’ Giles replied bitterly.

She said nothing more. Her mind was awash with a dozen more questions; facts that didn’t make sense and missing evidence that should be there. It didn’t surprise her that Harris had a theory:

‘Barker said he was attacked by our John Doe and I believe him,’ he said, his eyes flickering to the scarf around Giles’ neck.

She should be used to it by now. She’d had these scars for almost a year now and still it surprised her that people would try to look beyond her scarf to see them. Everyone knew they were there – the papers had made a big deal of them. What made it worse was that Giles was plastered all over the front pages…

And yet, as she sensed Harris staring at her, she instinctively reached up and pulled the silk a little tighter, ensuring her disfigured skin was hidden from view.

Harris turned away again, staring out at the river. It was so serene. The water flowed softly past them, unaware of the terrible scene it was passing by – unaware of the great torrent of crashing weirs that it was pouring towards.

Giles would give anything to feel like that again…

‘It makes sense,’ Harris continued. ‘From what Barker tells me, this John Doe was a bit of a professional. He even carried a dog leash around so that Barker wouldn’t suspect who he was until it was too late.’ He nodded self-approvingly. ‘That would account for his lack of identification. A professional hitman wouldn’t carry around his own wallet and ID – he wouldn’t want anything to link him back to whoever employed him, right?’

Giles shook her head. ‘It doesn’t explain the tickets.’

Harris observed her nervously.

‘I’m afraid it does,’ he replied. ‘This will come as a bit of a shock.’ He paused, waiting until Giles finally turned her head to look at him. ‘We don’t think Daniel Barker was the only target.’

Giles stared blankly back. ‘What the hell are talking about?’

‘The tickets, Giles. We believe the man who attacked Barker had another target in mind as well – you.’

Giles struggled not to howl with laughter.

‘Me?’ she cackled. ‘You really have been taken in by him, haven’t you?’

‘I’m absolutely serious.’

‘What possible reason would anyone have to send someone after me? The whole idea is absurd…’

‘You’re a police detective, Giles,’ he replied forlornly. ‘I’m sure you have plenty of enemies.’

The ridiculousness was unbearable. Giles threw herself back into the grass and lay there sniggering up at the sky as Harris looked on. After a while, her sides began to hurt from the constant laughter, but she kept it up anyway. It wasn’t real – but it was the only thing she could do to stop her mind from giving in to panic. Regardless of how stupid the idea was, Giles knew her mind would eventually start to accept it as reality – and then she would hear the screaming again…

She sat upright, grinning at Harris as he studied her.

‘Don’t tell me, Barker told you this, right?’

Harris’ answer was not what she expected.

‘No,’ he said quietly. ‘Barker only told us what happened. He said he saw the man approaching him, calling out a name – he figured it was just a walker who’d lost his dog until he pulled out the gun. Barker ran at him – they struggled over the weapon and it went off. Barker was about call the police when the young woman found them…’

‘So why me?’ Giles interrupted. ‘Why am I on a hit list all of a sudden?’

Harris gazed at her. It was a look that Giles knew well. It was the look that people gave you when they felt sorry for you, when they would love to help you but there wasn’t anything they could physically do to. It was a look Giles knew all too well.

‘It’s like I said – the tickets. Two tickets – two parts of a return from London. On one ticket was written Barker’s name. On the other was yours…’

Giles shrugged disinterestedly. ‘Who’s to say Barker didn’t write them? He obviously wanted my attention…’

‘I asked him,’ Harris interrupted. ‘He denied it.’

‘Of course he did.’

‘But he didn’t deny knowing who you are. On the contrary, he says he knows what it’s all about, but he will only talk to you about it.’

‘I told you before, I have nothing to say to that man…’

In a smooth movement, she clambered to her feet and began to saunter down the riverbank. Harris sprung up energetically and jogged behind her until he was right alongside.

‘He even gave me a name,’ Harris insisted. ‘He said you’d be interested in what he has to say…’

Giles laughed once again. ‘He’s really spun you a line, hasn’t he? He murdered a man in cold blood and your buying into this rubbish. You said it first, he was obviously hoping I was some easy-to-manipulate bit of skirt that he could use to get himself off – but now that hasn’t worked, it isn’t me he’s got wrapped around his little finger…’

‘He mentioned the Bluebell Killer.’

Giles stopped dead in her tracks. The screaming echo had started…

‘He could’ve read that anywhere,’ she hissed. ‘Everybody knows about it…’

Harris nodded. ‘Well, he claims to know a little bit more.’

‘He really has you right where he wants you, doesn’t he?’

Harris didn’t reply. Some ridiculous things had been said today, but Harris at least seemed confident in himself. He was no longer the nervous, trembling voice on the end of a phone – he was a hero. A man who wanted to save the day – to protect Barker, to protect Giles…

Giles span back towards the pillbox. The SOCOs had all but packed away their equipment and were slowly moving towards the bridge. A short distance behind them, Barker sauntered along the path, escorted by half a dozen constables who stared out at the countryside – wide-eyed and alert. It was as though they expected someone to jump out from a nearby bush at any moment.

‘Come on then,’ Giles announced, pushing off her heels and marching in Barker’s direction.

Harris was taken completely by surprise.

‘What…?’ he muttered. ‘Where are you going?’

Giles kept up her pace but turned to look back at him. Her eyes sparkled and gleamed with excitement.

‘We’re going to talk to Daniel Barker,’ she announced. ‘And I’m going to show you what a liar looks like…’

nick1Nick 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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