Hide and Seek

 

Author's Note: It's a police story, with the plot very loosely inspired by the British police drama, "The Bill" (check out www.thebill.com if you're interested), but it is primarily a flight of fancy. And a break from uni!

NB: There may be the occasional bit of coarse language and violence within this story. Nothing extreme, but certain things do go with the job. I hope I don't offend anyone; that's certainly not my intention. In addition, I hope most of the British dialect I've attempted to use is reasonably accurate, or at least vaguely comprehensible!

 

PROLOGUE

In which our tale begins

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

The paperwork was immaculate; there were no cryptic messages in his diary, no unusual files on his computer.

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

She slammed the desk in frustration. There HAD to be something. Cases dropped for no good reason, the friendships with the local 'businessmen', the suits, the car, all on his salary. Something wasn't right. But there was nothing. Absolutely nothing.

She glanced at her watch. He was due back soon, and she couldn't afford for her private crusade to become public knowledge. She tidied up the files scattered on his desk, and checked to make sure there were no visible signs she had been browsing. But everything seemed in order, even down to the form guide tucked into his bottom drawer. Everything was there, except the evidence she needed.

He strode into the office jauntily. He did everything with the air of a man in control of his own destiny. Well, perhaps he was. Certainly she wasn't going to have an effect on his life. She couldn't find proof that he'd ever accepted a free cup of coffee from a suspect, let alone a bribe. Yet she suspected.

That wasn't enough, though. Not to get him. With what she had, she'd be lucky if her boss didn't laugh her out of his office. She'd be even luckier if she didn't get an official reprimand for meddling in her colleague's affairs. And if he was clean, then she'd deserve one. But she didn't think he was. He was as corrupt as they came. But she just couldn't find the evidence.

"Hi Meg!" he called out. "Still grinding away at that paperwork?"

I hate being called Meg.

"I am, worse luck. The DCI wants it in the morning."

"You know what they say, all work and no play..."

Not a problem he was likely to suffer from. All play and no work, perhaps.

"Makes Jill a dull girl. Perhaps, but I'd rather be dull than face the DCI tomorrow without this lot finished."

Better dull than under the thumb of one of London's nastiest villains.

"Touché. I take it you're not coming down to the pub then?"

Not if you're going to try it on all evening, thanks all the same.

"Too right I'm not. Have a pint on me though."

Drink to your own doom. I wish.

"Ta, will do."

With that he marched out the door. On to the pub, for a night out with the lads, to discuss the events of the day over a few beers and even more laughs.

She was left alone in the darkened office, still trying to find the evidence that would finish him. But he'd hidden it well.

Maybe too well.

She hadn't found anything yet. No sign of anything even vaguely suspicious, not a single scrap of evidence. Still, she'd keep looking. He couldn't keep getting away with it. Eventually she'd be able to pin something on him. And then she'd nail him.

He was bent. And one day she'd be able to prove it.

 

THE STORY

In which our Heroine, and Assorted Others, are introduced

At the Station

Detective Sergeant Megan Kincaid was tired. Extremely tired. Her boss caught her eye as she was trying to hide her fifth yawn of the morning behind a folder of finished interview transcripts.

"Rough night?"

She blushed. Trust her inspector to notice. Had he been watching her all morning?

"Not really. Just finishing the transcripts from that drugs case."

Megan hadn't left the office until nearly three in the morning. She'd been transcribing a miserable series of interviews relating to a recent drug investigation, during which the suspect wouldn't stop sneezing, and had spoken in an incomprehensible accent combining the worst parts of Russian and cockney street slang.

"In Moscow, {achoo} zere vas this tasty bird, da? Natasha, da? {splutter}". She'd spent half the night rewinding the interview tape in order to hear past Vassily's asthmatic sniffles.

He nodded. "Ah yes. The snivelling Slav. But I thought John was helping you with those?"

She fiddled nervously with her plait.

"Megan?"

"He was, guv..."

"But?"

"But nothing."

He grimaced. "You mean he was helping until something more interesting came up, and then he left the rest for you. What was it this time?"

Megan gave a half smile. He knew John rather too well. "I think one of his snouts had some info about the Andrews stabbing. I didn't mind, really."

"I do, though. You're not his secretary. You're just as good a copper as he is! Better even. Your work in the team on that last case..." DI Chris Scott turned abruptly and went back to his office, as if afraid of revealing too much.

What had he been about to say?

Megan sighed. That was her second problem. Her boss.

She knew all the pitfalls. All those stories about women who'd slept their way to the top. The jokes, the stares. The careers thrown away over a glass of wine and a cheap hotel room.

Knowledge didn't change the facts, though. She'd tossed and turned at night, trying to escape the inevitable. But there had been no fighting it.

She'd fallen for him. Done what she'd always sworn she'd never do. She'd been so careful to avoid getting involved with colleagues, and now...

He was her boss. It could never work. She was a fool to even think about it, when there was so much to lose.

Pull yourself together, Megan. Be sensible. This is real life, not a fairy tale. Happy endings only happen at the movies. Forget about him.

It was something about Chris. He was more than a boss, he was a friend. He'd always been there when she needed support. And he made her laugh. On those bad days when she'd forgotten why she did the job, his determination kept her going. They shared the joy on the days when they really did seem to make a difference.

He's a professional. It's just good leadership. Team spirit. Nothing more. Anyway, as if he'd be interested in you!

She sighed again. She was good at her job. Intelligent. Reasonably attractive. Why not...?

Why not? After last time? Who are you kidding? The whole thing's ridiculous!

Megan prided herself on her professionalism. It was time to get back to work. Shaking herself out of her reverie, she got up and poured herself a fresh cup of coffee. Then she returned to her desk and tried to concentrate on her paperwork. But she couldn't settle.

The detective turned on the office radio. Perhaps some decent background music would help.

The DJ's dulcet tones echoed around the room. "And now it's time for LOVE SONG REQUESTS!"

DS Megan Kincaid had never been so glad to hear a phone ring in her life.


"CID, DS Kincaid speaking."

"Hi Megan, Inspector Blake here."

Inspector Bob Blake managed the "A" Relief of uniformed officers downstairs. He tended to treat anyone not in uniform with a degree of disdain, but he and Megan had a good working relationship nonetheless. Then again, Megan was companionable, if not friendly, with most of the officers in the station.

Most of them. Except the one I want to be friendly with...

She realised Blake was waiting for an answer. "What can I do you for, Sir?"

"Two of my boys just stopped Bonzo Wilson for running a red light. He tried to do a runner, so they searched his car, and..." Bob Blake was partial to smidge of drama.

"And?"

"His boot was full of computer gear. They ran the serial numbers, and it all comes from that nasty warehouse robbery last month - the one you couldn't get any leads on."

Megan gasped. "You're joking! We'd almost given up on that one! What are you doing with Bonzo?"

"The lads are just bringing him in. We thought you lot might like to have a word with him."

She laughed. "Too right we would! I'll be down in five."

"Not a problem. You owe us one, mind."

"I'll remember. Thanks again, Sir."

Megan felt too stunned to move. CID had made no progress with the investigation into an armed robbery at a major local computer factory. A security guard had been badly beaten, and was still lying unconscious in hospital. Several names had been in the frame, but there'd been nothing concrete. The constables downstairs had inadvertently given them their first decent break in five weeks.

Blinking several times, she got up to share the good news with her boss. Knocking timidly on his office door, she was surprised to hear an enthusiastic, "Come in!" DI Chris Scott didn't normally like to be disturbed.

I'm just a distraction from paperwork. Nothing more.

The detective inspector glanced up from a pile of papers as Megan came in. "You'll never believe this, guv, but Blake just rang from downstairs. Apparently uniform picked up Bonzo Wilson with a car boot full of stolen computers from the warehouse job."

Chris looked dumbfounded, and almost dropped his calculator. "You're joking! Uniform being useful for a change?"

"Well, I wouldn't have put it quite like that, but..."

"That's what you thought."

Megan blushed. Again.

Damn! Why can't I keep my face under control when I'm around him?

"Well, yes. I never thought over-vigilant traffic control would come in handy. But I don't know how far having Bonzo's going to get us, guv. He hasn't got form for violence, and I can't see him being the mastermind on a job like this."

"Neither can I. Frankly, he hasn't the brains, or the patience. And I doubt he could have kept his mouth shut for over a month if he'd pulled off something that big. I think he's just fencing the gear. Still, we might get lucky. If we threaten to pin the whole thing on him, he might panic and give us another name or two. We should be able to drag the muscle out of him, if not the ringleader."

"You never know. He might just drop Anders Linden in it, for example."

Chris chuckled. "That is wishful thinking, my dear."

Did he mean that? My dear?

He went on. "You know he's walked twice in the last six months. Phil almost had him last time, but he got off on a technicality. Phil visited Anders in his cell, and the defence made a meal of it. But that Swede has got half the local villains in his pocket, and I doubt one of them is going to grass him up. Pointing the finger at him would almost certainly guarantee one a long spell in intensive care."

Megan nodded. "We can but hope." She laughed. "And pray. Anyway, can you spare me anyone to help with the interview?"

"Sorry, no can do. Tom, Craig and Mick are on that training course; Beth's off with the flu; Phil and Angus are in court; John is..."

"Tied up with the Andrews stabbing."

"That's right. I gave him a bell on his mobile and asked him to take David along with him, so he's out too."

Megan looked inquiringly at Chris.

"Nope. I've got a budget meeting with the DCI. Still, I'm sure one of the chicks downstairs will be more than willing to help you with your inquiries."

Megan groaned. "Just what I need, Constable Eager Beaver on my tail."

Chris smiled. "We all have to start somewhere. I daresay you were just as eager when you were in uniform!"

Megan blushed. For a third time. But she had to agree.

The DI continued. "Go a couple of rounds with Bonzo and see what you find out. Just let me know if anything interesting comes up. I'll be in the DCI's office. Last month's overtime budget took several years off his life, and I've got to calm him down."

"Will do."

DI Scott focused on his budget documents again, then looked up at the door. It was clearly a dismissal.

But a reluctant one?

Megan shook her head angrily. She had a crime to investigate. And she couldn't let her own emotions get in the way.

Wake up! If I can't stop my heart from ruling my head, I shouldn't be doing this job. Snap out of it!

DS Kincaid made her way purposefully downstairs. It was time to talk to Bonzo Wilson.


In the interview room

"This is a recorded interview with Bonzo Wilson. The time is 12:30 p.m. Officers present are DS Kincaid and..."

"PC Sutton."

"For the record, let me remind you that you are still under caution, and that you have refused legal advice. Is that correct?"

Bonzo Wilson smiled and nodded.

"For the tape, Mr. Wilson has just nodded."

Bonzo Wilson was well known in the local area. If something dodgy was going down, chances were that he would be in the thick of things. A perpetually inebriated Scottish ex-jockey with a ready smile, Bonzo was a constant irritation to CID He was also one of the most frustrating suspects ever to grace an interview room, as the young constable working with Megan was about to discover.

PC Alex Sutton hadn't been out on the street all that long, and was eager to make an impression. Stopping Wilson with a bootful of bent gear had been a stroke of good fortune, and Sutton was determined to make the most of his opportunity.

Megan glanced at the constable sitting beside her; his face glowing with excitement, his uniform crisply pressed.

Pity that overwhelming enthusiasm never seems to equate with overwhelming ability. Still, I could be wrong. He deserves a chance.

PC Sutton began the questioning.

"Mr. Wilson, where did you get the computers that were found in your car?"

Bonzo nodded sagely. "A good question, me lad. I bought them! I'm a legitimate businessman, ye ken. None of this thieving for me!"

Sutton saw an opening. "Well, then, Bonzo, if that's the case, what would you say if I told you that all the computer equipment found in your boot was stolen?"

Bonzo smiled again. "Och, was the stuff stolen? Who'd have thought it! Just goes to show ye never can tell!"

PC Sutton chuckled inwardly. Obviously those who thought Bonzo Wilson was a big time criminal hadn't interviewed him recently. The man was washed up! Alex Sutton had visions of the commissioner pinning a medal on him, and congratulating him on his wonderful investigative skills. "Are you saying that you didn't know the computers were stolen?"

Bonzo glanced cheerily at Megan. "He's a bright boy, isn't he? Aye, son, I dinna know the gear was nicked."

Feeling confused, Sutton pressed ahead anyway. "Well, all those computer products were stolen in a vicious warehouse robbery over a month ago, where a security guard was savagely beaten. What do you say about that, then?"

Bonzo's face fell. "That do be a pity for the poor wee man."

PC Sutton spoke severely. "I doubt you thought it was such a pity during the robbery when the guard was about to call for help. A stroke of luck, that beating. The guard hasn't been able to identify anyone. What do you think, Bonzo?"

Bonzo looked indignant. "Ye canna be accusin' me of anything. I was tucked up in me bed that night!"

Sutton was triumphant. "Really? So, which night would that be, then, Bonzo? And can anyone vouch for you?"

Wilson puffed out his chest with pride. "Any night ye care to mention, laddie. I've got a beautiful wife, ye ken, and a lovely babby. I got no need to be roaming the streets at night. I think you've got the wrong man."

PC Sutton began to feel a little desperate. "If you hadn't done anything, why did you try and run away when you were stopped by the police in the High Street?"

Bonzo eyed him narrowly. "I was after fearing I'd be robbed. Some terribly nasty people around these days. Ye never can tell."

PC Sutton raised his voice. "I'll tell you why you ran. Because you had a boot full of computers stolen in a vicious robbery and you wanted to get away. Well Bonzo, you won't be getting away with anything! We've got you bang to rights on this one. You do know what the sentence for armed robbery is, Mr. Wilson?"

The aforementioned Mr. Wilson raised an eyebrow at Megan Kincaid. "I think talkin' about lockin' me up might just be a wee bit premature, lad. I dinna see any evidence yet, except the computers. And I bought those legit, from a man in a pub. Ye canna prove different; I've got a receipt and ye won't be able to find him. Ye've got nothin' that says I was part of any robbery. So if that's all, I'm a-thinking it's time to go."

He made to rise.

Megan decided things had gone far enough. She'd given PC Keen enough of a chance, and it was time to add some muscle.

"Not so fast, Bonzo. Playtime's over."

Bonzo sat down again. "Och, ma'am, I was wondering when you'd be takin' a hand. No offence, laddie, but I think the lassie's got a bit more between the ears than you."

Alex Sutton blushed painfully.

Megan hid a grin behind her hand. "OK Bonzo, you and I both know that you haven't been robbing warehouses. What I want to know is, where did the computer equipment come from?"

Bonzo Wilson looked surprised. "I thought better of you, dearie. I already told your lad here, I bought 'em from a respectable gent in a pub."

"So you said. Which pub was that in?"

"I canna be remembering everything exactly. It wasna yesterday!"

"Try harder."

"It might have been the Dog and Duck, might have been the Polly Woodside. Mayhap it was the Greenhill Arms. I dinna ken exactly.

It was Megan's turn to raise an eyebrow. "For a respectable businessman, you seem a bit vague about the details. I hope your tax return's a bit clearer!"

Bonzo blushed. "Weeeell, the man kinda asked me if I could keep the tax department out o' things. Pay in cash. Ye know what it's like."

"I don't but I daresay the people at Customs House would have a fair idea. Or the people at the Fraud Squad."

Bonzo shook his head. "Surely ye don't need to get those geezers involved!"

"It'll be difficult to keep them out of it, Bonzo. But it might just help your cause if you were able to describe this fellow businessman."

Bonzo didn't notice the sarcasm in her voice. "Well, he be a wee bit taller that meself, with a bloody great beard and a leather jacket. Big ugly mug."

"Sounds charming."

Bonzo leaned back and began to whistle. "Aye, whatever ye say, me love."

Megan tried not to let her irritation show. "For the tape, Mr. Wilson has just started to whistle, 'Coming Through the Rye'."

Bonzo made a gesture of approval. "Ye know your Scots music, lassie." He hiccupped.

"And I know my villains. Come on Bonzo; tell the truth. That man in the pub doesn't exist, does he?"

"Would I tell ye a lie?"

Megan answered dryly. "I'll take that as a rhetorical question."

Bonzo seemed impressed. "A rhe-whatsical question? Pretty and intelligent too! I think I'm in love! Willya marry me?"

"Thanks for the compliment, but I don't think we'd suit. But if we're talking about love and marriage, let's talk about Kirstie. Didn't she say she'd leave you if you went back to your old tricks? If you go inside again, she'll not wait for you to get out."

"Surely there's no need for Kirstie to know. Ye wouldna tell!"

"I wouldna have to. If I turned up at your gaff with a warrant, I think she'd want to know why. And I wouldn't want to be in your shoes when she finds out all about it."

"I can talk Kirstie round." But his voice lacked conviction.

"Perhaps. On the other hand, if you told me who you were fencing the goods for, there'd be no need for it to go much further."

"You mean I dinna have to go to court?"

"I didn't say that. But if you were prepared to co-operate, I might be prepared to have a word with the CPS. Tell then how helpful you were and encourage them to drop the charges."

Bonzo's face fell. "Ye canna expect me to be a grass. It's more than me life's worth!"

Megan shook her head. "It's up to you. If you don't give us a name, we'll just have to assume it was down to you."

Bonzo moaned, "I dinna do nothing!"

Megan redoubled her attack. "You do know that a security guard was badly injured in the robbery, Bonzo. He's still in a coma. If he dies, it won't be robbery you're going down for; it'll be murder. That's a life sentence."

Bonzo started rocking back and forth in distress. "You know me, sarge. I wouldna hurt a fly. But I canna give you any names!"

Megan stared angrily at him. "You're facing a murder charge, Bonzo, unless you give me something that I can use to prove otherwise!" She stopped. "It's your choice."

Bonzo sat back in his chair, acknowledging defeat. "It seems I havena got any real choice. You're a hard woman, Sassenach."

DS Kincaid shrugged. "I've been called worse. Bonzo, who was it?"

He talked. "Bugs Maloney provided the muscle. I think he did the geezer, but I really can't be sure. He hasn't been talking, but I heard him bragging in the local boozer. He's the one who offered me the gear."

Megan winced. Maloney was one of the hardest of local villains, with a string of convictions for GBH. Last time they had tried to arrest him, it had taken four men to control him, and DC Tom Fraser had spent a week in hospital.

But he was also one of the thickest men around.

"Bonzo, everyone knows Bugs is as thick as two planks. He hasn't got enough brains to plan a shopping expedition, let alone an armed robbery. Who was behind it?"

"Maybe one or two o' his mates gave him a hand."

"Not good enough. Who was behind it?"

Bonzo shook his head. "That I canna tell you. If I do, I'm a dead man. The bairn and Kirstie'd no' be safe either. I dinna want to say more."

Megan could see that she wouldn't get anything else. Not with the tape running.

"Interview terminated at 1:25 p.m."

She stretched and looked over towards PC Sutton. "Alex, would you go and get Mr. Wilson a cup of tea? Grab me a coffee while you're at it, please."

Alex sourly left the room. His first big case: after being made to look a fool he'd been reduced to errand boy. Detective work was fast losing its allure.

Megan watched him leave.

Steady on, there. You've a lot to learn yet. No need to go around with a chip on your shoulder.

Then she leant forward to try one last time. "Bonzo, this is off the record. Just between you and me. Tell me. Was Anders Linden behind this?"

Bonzo Wilson looked her straight in the face, any signs of tipsiness gone. "He might have been. But you didna hear that from me."

She nodded.

Bonzo hadn't finished. He spoke with such intensity, his accent could barely be heard. "Be very sure you know what you're up against, Kincaid. Anders isn't the kind of man ye can afford to cross."

Megan shivered.

If Bonzo Wilson was afraid...

After a moment of silence, he continued so softly that she could barely hear him. "Ye never know which apple's got the worm in it. Remember that. And watch your back."

 

In which the Plot thickens

When PC Sutton returned with the drinks, Megan grabbed her coffee and hurried out of the room, leaving the resentful constable to escort Bonzo back to his cell. Her head was spinning.

What on earth was that all about?

She needed some air. Megan made her way past the custody area and almost bolted out through the heavy double doors that led to the station carpark, spilling the hot drink along the way.

Ouch!

She took a few deep breaths. The London atmosphere tasted metallic, but at least the shock of the cold winter air hitting her lungs allowed her to regain some measure of composure.

Megan Kincaid had always considered herself to be fairly hard-bitten, accustomed to dealing with the horrors that were an inescapable part of the job. But Bonzo's revelation had shocked her to the core. She was hardly naïve enough to think police officers were infallible. Or incorruptible. Yet if Bonzo was telling the truth, this involved much more than someone collecting a few pounds under the table and taking a bung.

I've come across bent coppers before. People taking shortcuts, accepting bribes. Playing the margins, 'saving for retirement'. That's all. I never expected hear of anything like this. Not about a colleague!

Should she believe Bonzo? He had no reason to help the authorities. For a petty criminal like him, lying to the police was second nature. He could easily be stringing them a yarn, hoping to save his own neck. Megan hoped it was just a story. Snouts were hardly reliable.

But Bonzo's not the sort to drop anyone else in it. He never has been. He'd sooner cheer for Manchester United than grass up a mate. So either he's lying, or...

Megan shuddered, and took a gulp of her lukewarm drink. The station coffee tasted mediocre at best, and the drop in temperature had not improved the beverage. Still, the caffeine hit forced her to concentrate.

...Or else there's someone in CID working with the other side. No, Megan corrected herself disgustedly, For the other side.

Bonzo Wilson warning her of trouble was as much a betrayal of his ideals as supporting the Germans at Euro 2000. Anything he thought important enough to tell her about would have to be big. And dangerous.

She gave a bitter half-smile.

I suppose the fact that someone sworn to uphold the law is breaking it on a daily basis could be considered fairly dangerous.

"A copper is consorting with criminals and perverting justice to suit himself. A police officer is endangering their colleagues out of malice and greed. Someone here at Meadowbank Station is bent," Megan muttered to herself, to see if saying things out loud would make a difference. It didn't.

You'd think I'd have noticed if something like this were going down. You'd think someone would have noticed! Bloody hell, what a mess.

Megan suddenly realised she'd already made up her mind. Vocalising the problem had merely confirmed the rightness of her decision, whatever the consequences. She believed Bonzo.

DS Kincaid closed her eyes, trying to come to terms with what that acknowledgment entailed. She hugged herself, trying desperately to chase away some inner chill that had nothing to do with the weather.

"G-d help us all."

And she knew not of whom she spoke.


A distinct lack of feeling in her nose forced Megan to return to the relative warmth of the station. As she made her way wearily towards the detectives' office, she took another sip of coffee. The once-lukewarm beverage was now glacial.

"URGH!" she couldn't help exclaiming.

DS John Lawton was on his way down the stairs when he heard Megan's cry.

"I take it the canteen hasn't yet employed Italy's finest barista?"

Megan looked startled. "What?"

John smiled, amused by his normally immaculate colleague's vagueness. "The coffee. I assume it's as bad as usual?"

Megan jumped, shaken out of her reverie. "I think the canteen staff must have special powers to be able to make a cup of coffee taste as foul as this." She paused. "What are you doing here? I thought you were out and about with the Andrews stabbing. At least, that's what I told the DI."

She looked inquiringly at John. He was as ruthless as they came, when it came to the job, but she couldn't imagine him being that corrupt.

Then again, I can't imagine anyone being that evil. But someone is.

John nodded. "I was. I took a few uniforms down and we turned over that pool hall where Andrews spent all his time. But there was nothing. Someone must have tipped 'em off."

Megan was puzzled. John wasn't the sort to drop by the station in the middle of an investigation. Not unless he had to. "Still, what are you doing back so soon?"

He grimaced. "I thought you'd 'ave known. The DI phoned me and asked me to swing past. He wanted a word about leaving you with that mountain of paperwork yesterday. He weren't too 'appy about the raid not going down, either."

Megan sympathised. Chris Scott never read anyone the riot act unless they deserved it, but one generally left his office after a dressing-down feeling about three feet tall and five years old.

"Sorry to hear that. Not a good morning, then?"

John shrugged. "I won't say I enjoyed it. The DI made some pretty harsh remarks about using colleagues as secretaries." He had the grace to look abashed.

Good grief! He cared enough to mention it?

She kicked herself mentally. Stop it! It was just good management. You can't have someone not pulling their weight on a team. It wasn't anything personal!

"And he had Inspector Blake bending his ear about my 'misuse of uniform manpower'." He mimicked Bob Blake's nasal London tones to perfection, as they both chuckled. "Still, I've had worse. I'm just off to pay my snout a visit. I hate being given duff information." He bounded off.

Megan realised she was still holding her coffee cup, and that in her anxiety she'd managed to puncture the Styrofoam with her fingers. Suppressing an oath, she threw the lot into the nearest bin.

Best place for it, really.

She slowly made her way up the stairs to CID, and sat down at her desk. The encounter with John on the stairs had made her wonder. What was he capable of? She knew he was tough and treated rules extremely flexibly when dealing with criminals, but she couldn't imagine him crossing the line.

But could she rely on her instincts? They'd led her astray before. And any minor corruption she'd dealt with in the past was nothing in comparison with the reality she was facing now. Could she be wrong this time?

Bonzo told me to watch my back. I can't afford to trust anyone. It could be any of them.

She needed to know what exactly what she was dealing with. DS Kincaid pulled out her notebook and started to work.


It could be anyone. The entire station's suspect. All of Meadowbank nick.

Well, perhaps not. Anders Linden was a professional villain. He'd hardly waste his time, or his money, on anything petty. If he owned a copper, it had to be worth his while. That more or less ruled out the idea of anyone in uniform being his primary contact. Uniform simply didn't have the clout in major investigations.

Unless it's the Chief Superintendent. But he's so bloody self-righteous, I doubt anyone would bother.

Which left CID.

Workmates. Colleagues. Friends.

It's one of them. Someone I trust. Someone I lov...

She didn't finish the thought.

I've just got to treat this like any other investigation. Don't assume anything. Be thorough. Look for evidence.

Megan recalled Bonzo's final words. "Watch your back", he had said.

I can't afford to take chances...but if I'm too cautious, I won't get anywhere near the truth. If I can't bear to take risks, I should be doing another job. I've got to be prepared to ruffle a few feathers.

She hoped they wouldn't turn out to be a crow's black plumage.


Megan's Notebook

Where on earth do I start? I've worked with these people for ages, and I can't believe they'd be corrupt. But someone is. Who?

OK, let's try and be rational about this. Who am I dealing with?

In CID

Constables:

Tom Fraser

Craig Archer

Mick Shanahan

Beth Short

Angus Murray

David Peters (Trainee Investigator)

I still can't believe it of any of them! But systematically...

I reckon there's a few possible leads I could give a whirl, but I can't see myself getting too far with 'em. Since Craig, Mick and Tom are away on that training course for a couple of days I could try poking 'round them a bit. I can check out a few of Beth's giggling friends in uniform; maybe they'll know something. Have to keep her from finding out, though. Angus: wait and see, I suppose.

Dave's a goody-goody two shoes with no imagination. If he's corrupt, I'll eat my hat! Which might be difficult, since I don't have one. Seriously though, Dave's so upright, it's useless asking him for any help. If he believed me he'd run straight to C.I.B; if he didn't he'd see it as his duty to inform the entire division. Thankfully, he's still doing a fair bit of work with uniform; hopefully I can avoid him. No change there...I've been doing my best to do that since he moved upstairs.

Sergeants:

Me

John Lawton

Phil Thompson

This is getting too damn close to home. It'd be so easy to turn a blind eye...

NO.

I'm not involved, unless I've developed multiple personality disorder and have been making contact in my sleep! Better keep an eye out for blackmail possibilities, though. A black mark would discredit me, but far worse - it'd also help whichever bastard is behind this wriggle out of things. Paranoia? Probably - but better be on the safe side. And I know how easily support can evaporate...even though that was different.

I've got bugger all out of this lot. It's got to be someone, but I don't know what I'm doing. Maybe I should just dump the lot in CIB's lap. But to be honest, I really don't want that lot breathing down my neck. Not that there's anything I'm hiding, but...well...it's been messy in the past. No one likes that lot - the social lepers of the force.

The Bosses:

DCI Andrew Rank

DI Chris Scott.

I swear I'm in over my head.

I rather doubt any villain would get any value for money out of Fat Andy. He's plump, lazy and too concerned with the accounts. Besides, he's got "ambitions". He wouldn't go looking for a blot on his records.

But...if-if...something was going on, he'd know about it - he always knows what's happening within the team. He's a really hands-on management type. Even if it's not him, he'd have to be aware of it, I guess. He's the one with the most control from day-to-day...he's always involved in major investigations. And he's got the rank and I suppose he'd-he'd-he'd- be the best one to buy off, really, since...since


Megan stopped writing abruptly, and sniffled. She wouldn't believe it was Chris. She couldn't. He cared about the job too much; that much was obvious from the few things he'd said privately to her. He would never willingly be confined to a desk, and was always prepared to get his hands dirty in the name of justice. DI Scott was the far and away the best guv'nor she'd ever worked under. He looked out for his team; he copped the flack when things went wrong. He wasn't perfect - he could be bitterly sarcastic when he thought you were in the wrong; if you fell below his exacting standards he wouldn't spare you the consequences. But all this only endeared him to the team - to her - more.

Yet how much do I really know about him? His background? His past record? I could well be assuming qualities that simply aren't there. I've never worked a case closely with him; only used him as a sounding board. I've had much more to do with the others. That last major investigation, I was working with the DCI. The time before, I helped the visiting inspector from the Drug Squad. I've got no evidence that I can trust him. Truly, I actually know much less about him than any of the others. I've talked to him so many times, and he's carefully avoided saying anything at all meaningful, or revealing. I don't know about his ambitions, his intentions. I know Chris is...what do I know?

She tried to dispute this.

My judgement couldn't be that skewed. He's just self-controlled. I'd have noticed if something was that wrong...I don't go for psychopaths!

"No," she remembered dryly. "They only go for me."

Yet her intellect stubbornly reasserted itself, and she muttered grimly under her breath. "Get a grip, Kincaid. You weren't looking for flaws. You fell in love with an ideal, and now you're paying for it. Use your brain, if you've still got one. He's just another suspect. One of the most likely. Investigate him. If you find something, tough. It's your job, dammit!"

But the only immediate result of this personal ultimatum was the single tear that ran down her cheek, dripping down onto her notebook and blurring her writing as it had blurred her vision.


Megan had only just wiped her face, child-like, with the sleeve of her shirt, when DI Scott walked back into the office. She gulped, and tried to appear calm.

"Guv", she said. "How was your meeting?"

Chris turned and shot her a peculiarly intense glance. Megan was left with the uneasy feeling that her attempt at normality had failed dismally, and that her DI knew that all was not well.

"Fine, thanks. You know what the DCI's like over his precious budget. He acts as if it was his own personal money we were spending! But I managed to convince him that we do need some overtime, since criminals don't tend to confine their actions to office hours."

Megan gave a watery grin. "So Andy-pandy's agreed to cough up then?"

Chris turned his chuckle into a cough. "DS Kincaid, you're supposed to treat your Chief Inspector with respect," he admonished. But he was smiling. "Even if he is overweight and overpaid".

He looked at Megan mischievously. "Is it true, the rumour doing the rounds?"

Megan looked wary. "Which rumour?"

"That Phil's running a book on whether the DCI will get through that refresher fitness and self-defence course next week. Isn't he offering 5-1 on the Fat Man flopping?"

Megan pursed her lips primly. "Guv, how could you think that I might be involved in this illegal betting?" She burst out laughing. "Actually, it's 2-1 on the DCI not making it. Of course, Phil's got to come up with photographic evidence."

Chris choked a bit at that. "Andy Rank in a tracksuit? That's an image I'd pay money not to see!"

It was this sort of camaraderie that Megan cherished in her relationship with Chris. It flourished despite the differences in rank and experience, even in age. For Chris was certainly somewhat older than Megan, and this generation gap had made her even more wary about attempting a relationship.

It's just some dodgy Freudian thing. Looking for a lost father figure. Nothing real. It wouldn't last. Anyway, after last time...how can I be willing to try again? I'd gladly settle for friendship here...almost...if I could prove he's not involved...

The moment of innocent fun was interrupted by the appearance of John Lawton, with David Peters trailing dismally at his heels.

DI Scott looked inquiringly at John. "Did your snout give you anything?"

John nodded. "After I tore a few strips off him for the duff info about the raid this morning, he was very eager to help."

Chris Scott raised an eyebrow. "Oh? And what was he so eager to offer you?"

John ignored the warning. "He seemed convinced that Bugs Maloney would be able to tell me something."

Megan sat up, interested, while David Peters stood staring at the floor and shuffling his feet. DI Scott noticed his discomfort.

"So, David, what did you think? Can we trust this informant of John's?"

David looked even more uncomfortable. "Well, sir, I don't really know. I'm still, um, learning, and...and...it was hard to tell...and..."

The inspector cut him off.

"Did you actually meet this man, David?"

"Well...I saw him...I...I..." David's voice trailed off as his DI glared at him.

"When I ask a question, Constable, I expect an answer. Were you with Sergeant Lawton when he met his informant? Yes or no will suffice."

David shook his head miserably.

Chris Scott cleared his throat ominously, and turned to address John, who was trying to appear inconspicuous. "Detective Sergeant Lawton. Regulations are not there to be ignored. I know you don't like it. I don't like it either. But rules are rules. How many times have I told you? Nowadays you must have a co-handler with you when you go to meet a snout."

John groaned. "But guv! He wouldn't have talked if someone else had been there! I thought..."

The inspector silenced him with a gesture. "Frankly, John, I don't care what you think. If the case goes to court, the defence brief will have a field day! He mimicked a QC's mincing tones. "Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, the prosecution's whole case rests on the identification given by the police informant. However, I suggest to you that this evidence is irretrievably tainted. The police failed to observe the guidelines set down with regards to informants, and..."

John had turned red. "I get the point, Sir," he said.

"Do you? You're a good copper John, but CID's not big enough for mavericks. This is not the Wild West, and you're not Wyatt Earp. If you don't start following procedure, I might have to re-evaluate your position on this team. I have to be able to trust everyone, and at the moment, I simply cannot!"

Megan stifled an exclamation at that. It seemed to contain more of a threat than John's misdemeanour actually warranted.

What does he know?

The tension in the air was palpable, and David Peters couldn't help letting out a nervous giggle.

DI Scott scowled at him. "Constable Peters. I would appreciate it if you stopped acting like a nervous schoolboy. CID is not a game, or a prize. If you can't make an intelligent contribution here, I'm sure uniform would be quite willing to have you back."

There was silence.

Megan thought it tactful to say something. "John, you said that your snout mentioned Bugs Maloney?"

John nodded, still looking angry. "Yes. What of it?"

"Oh, nothing. It's just that I interviewed Bonzo Wilson this morning, and he put Bugs in the frame for the warehouse job last month. Bit of a coincidence, eh?"

DI Scott interrupted. "What did Bonzo actually say?"

Megan frowned.

How much do I tell him?

She settled for the edited highlights. "Not a great deal, guv. He said that Bugs offered him the computer gear. He'd heard that Bugs bashed the security guard during the raid, but he wasn't sure. That was it."

Chris looked at her intently. "Really? Nothing about who was behind the job?"

She stared at her desk. "Uh-uh. Apart from some guff about a couple of Bugs' mates, he refused to say."

Which isn't exactly a lie. There's nothing on tape, at any rate.

The inspector looked disappointed. "I see."

I wonder if he does. Then again, he could...he's come on pretty strong this afternoon...I'm not sure.

"So what do you intend to do, Megan?"

"I don't know. Maloney's an animal, but he knows the law. I wouldn't have dragged him in for an interview about the warehouse job on Bonzo's say-so alone, but if John's snout has pointed the finger at him for doing Andrews, that'd at least give us grounds for a friendly chat."

"I agree."

Megan was surprised. She'd expected Chris to opt for caution, given Bugs' reputation.

Chris noticed her reaction. "Ordinarily I wouldn't go near Mr. Maloney without an arrest warrant and an a few armed officers. But he's our only lead in the Andrews stabbing and the warehouse robbery, and I've got the DCI on my back. We'll have to take a chance."

"I'm up for it, guv." It was John, eager to redeem himself.

"That's all I need," Chris replied dryly. "At least I can usually trust Megan not to throw the rule book out the window in pursuit of a result." He continued as he saw John's sour expression. "It's all right, John. I'm not taking you off the case. You and DS Kincaid can go and have a talk with Bugs. But I'm laying down a few ground rules. You do NOT let each other out of your sight. Keep it low key. And on NO account try and arrest him. It's too dangerous and we haven't enough to hold him on. If Bugs does get aggressive, pull back and radio for backup. Understood?"

"Yes sir," chorused the sergeants in unison, eager to get started.

"You're a pair of rogues, the both of you." But his voice lacked malice. "Take care and keep in contact."

Trainee Constable Peters took the keys to one of the unmarked cars out of his pocket. He clearly thought he'd be tagging along. His boss didn't.

"Bugs Maloney is a vicious brute, and he needs careful handling. You haven't proven that you can handle a bar of soap yet! You can look over some witness statements for me. The daughter of a local magistrate is up on a possession charge, and the CPS wants to make sure the case is watertight."

David winced at the sarcasm in his DI's voice. "Yes sir."

Chris Scott sighed. "You don't have to like it. You just have to do it."

The constable dropped the keys back into his pocket and sloped off to his desk, squeezed into the space by the door. He was obviously unhappy, but Megan couldn't help agreeing with the inspector's assessment. TI Peters in his current state of inexperience was clearly a liability.

John looked over at the miserable specimen. "Keys, please," he said sweetly.

Peters instead tossed the bundle at Megan, who caught them expertly. She grabbed her coat and began to make her way out of the office, pausing in the doorway when she noticed that John hadn't stirred.

"Aren't you coming then?" she asked him, just as sweetly.

"Women!" John muttered, shrugging on his jacket as he followed his fellow sergeant out the door.

 

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