Distractions (Gray Fisher #3)
Adrenaline had powered him to the station, through the short train journey and the five-minute walk to Reardon House: officially a Metropolitan Police administrative base but also headquarters of the Special Investigations Unit. Rob had arrived before him and loitered impatiently while Gray exchanged his shaky signature for a visitor's pass. The comedown had hit as they stepped into the lift.
Half an hour on, the nausea had dwindled to the occasional stomach cramp and dull ache behind his eyes; Gray was well into the exhaustion stage. He hadn't called Will yet to pull out of their plans for the evening, and he didn't want to, but it was looking increasingly like he had no choice.
If there was one point he could make in DCI Chris Tant's favour, it was that she made no secret of where her loyalties lay. Suffice to say, they were not with the SIU, which, given she was acting head, was problematic at best. She flipped through the printouts of cached text chat between Lucas and 'Tempest', lingering for less than a second on each before she slid them back into the folder and clapped it shut, pushing it across her desk - Dom's desk. She sat back, contemplating Rob then Gray over the top of her glasses.
"There's nothing we can do."
"Ma'am - " Rob began, but Gray jumped in.
"We can't confirm this Tempest is Folden - "
"It's him," Rob said with dead certainty.
"I only have your word for that, Mr. Simpson-Stone."
"With respect - " Gray said, and this time she cut him off.
"Save your breath, Mr. Fisher. I know what you're going to say." She took off her glasses, chewing the earpiece as she studied Rob at length. He was in Gray's peripheral vision, but he'd be holding Tant's gaze, attentive, deferent, reading her intent. Finally, she put down her glasses. "Let's assume, for now, you're right that it's Folden. He's using a VPN, and we have no means to trace him. He could be anywhere in the world."
"Or he could be in a house across the street from Rob's son," Gray argued.
"The Clifton residence is Thames Valley."
"The SIU has national jurisdiction."
"Under the current structure, the SIU is restricted to MPD operations." She ploughed on with her point, flattening potential opposition. "The Cliftons' internet is a protected connection. It's unlikely anyone could pinpoint Lucas's location from that alone."
"So that's it?" Too late, Gray realised he'd raised his voice. However angry he was, in police service or out, he could usually keep his temper in check. Tant was a mere pen-pusher, there to ensure the SIU faded out of existence with a poof! rather than a bang, certainly not worth getting het up over.
To her credit, she responded reasonably to Gray's outburst. "I understand how worried you must both be, and I take your son's safety very seriously, Robert."
Rob stiffened at the use of his full first name.
Tant picked up the folder of printouts. "The best I can do is ensure this gets to the right people."
"Thank you, Ma'am," Rob said.
Her eyes flicked to Gray - he looked away, thanking her for nothing - and back to Rob. "If you feel your wife and son need alternative accommodation, I can certainly look into it."
"We've already made arrangements, Ma'am."
"All right, then. Is there anything else?"
"No, thank you."
Gray shook his head and pushed out his chair. "I'll have the Scheiffer report back to you first thing tomorrow."
"Oh? I wasn't aware you were still consulting for us."
"Only accounts ledgers."
"Good to know we're giving you the fun jobs," Tant said drolly. "Well, I have a meeting in - " she glanced at her bare wrist " - damn. I keep forgetting I didn't put my watch on. What time is it?" She was already on her feet and striding across the room.
Gray and Rob both glanced at the clock above the door and made eye contact. "Quarter to five," Gray said.
No acknowledgement from Tant; she opened the door and waved them past. "I'll find someone to escort you back to reception." Before Gray could tell her they'd make their own way down, she called, "Excuse me!" to DS Isobel Barnes, who'd emerged from the storeroom opposite with a box the size of a microwave oven. "See Mr. Fisher and Mr. Simpson-Stone out, please."
"Yes, Ma'am." If Isobel's weary, apathetic tone were purely for effect, it was entirely wasted on her current boss. Tant's door - Dom's door - clicked shut against Gray's back.
Isobel gave a resigned sigh, though there was determination in her eyes. Gray sensed her readiness to escape from the drudgery of the new SIU.
"Can you give me a sec, Sir? I'll just stick this on my desk."
"No rush," Gray assured her with a smile that he hoped hid his devastation at what was happening to his unit. In most respects, the office appeared as it had in the SIU's hay day, with the few officers onsite engaged in admin duties, the difference being that in Gray's time, the rest would have been out in the field whereas those present constituted the entire staff. The SIU was dying before his eyes - right when they needed it most.
"Hmm?" With some effort, he clicked back to reality. "Sorry, Rob. Did you say something?"
"Yeah...I'll tell you later." Rob nodded to indicate Isobel was on her way back, empty-handed. She continued past them, gesturing that they follow her. She, too, looked as if she had something to say but couldn't safely do so in the office. She called the lift and kept her eyes on the doors.
Gray opted for functional small talk. "Are Zoë and Lucas staying put?"
"For the time being," Rob confirmed.
"How did Zoë take it?"
"Not well, and I had to log Lu out of his Xbox account - told him to stay off it until further notice. I'm not very popular just now."
"I can imagine. Was he able to tell you if he'd let anything slip?"
"He says not, but when he's in the zone he chats rubbish."
The lift arrived, and the three of them stepped inside. Isobel pressed the button for the ground floor; the doors closed. She stood at ease, staring dead ahead. Gray cleared his throat, and she looked his way - eyes only.
"Permission granted," he said.
"Is this about who I think it is, Sir?"
"Gray," he corrected. She smiled apologetically, but he doubted she'd ever feel comfortable calling him that. They'd worked together too long. "Yes," he said, "I'm afraid so."
She held her position, the only tell a slight clenching of her jaw. "Is there anything I can do?"
There was plenty, but it wasn't the time, and the lift was slowing down. It stopped and the doors opened. The people waiting to get in moved aside, and Gray and Rob got out, as did Isobel. She led them over to the reception desk, waited while they returned their visitors' passes and signed out, then walked with them to the external doors.
"I think we can manage from here," Gray said, standing by while Rob shook Isobel's hand; when it came to Gray's turn, he delayed releasing her and held her gaze. "See you soon, Iz - take care."
"You too, Sir." Her voice remained neutral, though her solemn expression made clear she'd understood his words were more than a nicety. He couldn't risk saying more until he'd established the seed he'd planted had germinated. He followed Rob outside, only then registering the absence of crash helmet. "How did you get here?"
"Tube. The bike's still in storage."
"You didn't fancy driving in?"
Rob smirked at Gray's tongue-in-cheek question, and they set off together towards the Underground station. "I'm gonna give it a run out tonight."
"Not the Fiesta."
"No." Rob managed a chuckle but quickly became serious again. He was a cool operator who rarely shared his thoughts or feelings unless someone asked for them - other than his loathing of the entry-level Fiesta, of which Gray had heard plenty over the past year. Dom hadn't involved Rob in the decision beyond justifying his choice as the car that would give Rob the best chance of blending in and living a normal life without drawing Folden's attention - the very opposite of the big, roaring Suzuki that was Rob's pride and joy.
Now, after months of resisting the temptation, he was talking about taking the bike out on the road, not coincidentally on the day he'd discovered Folden had been talking to Lucas, and nothing Gray could say would stop him. He couldn't order Rob to leave the bike where it was; nor would he insult him by pointing out the obvious risk. If the only way Rob could clear his head was through spending a couple of hours zooming up and down the North Circular in the dead of night, then the best Gray could do was pray Folden wasn't hiding close by.
They were almost at the station before either of them said anything else, and it was Rob who spoke first.
"We need to figure out what we're gonna do. If the SIU won't intervene..."
"It's more a case of they can't."
Rob bristled. "I should've known you'd stick up for Tant." It was a defensive blow, and Gray flinched at the truth of it, but he knew better than to take it personally.
"Believe me, Rob, I don't like this either, but she's been given a job to do, and it isn't leading the SIU. Six months from now, there'll be no SIU."
"Did Dom tell you that?"
"Dom's out of the loop, but I've seen it before, the first time I applied for promotion. Customs and excise secondment - there was some hoo-ha that ended in the team leader resigning. They appointed Martin Winstanley over me."
"That must've stung," Rob said.
"At the time." Gray hadn't long finished his probationary period and was being primed for greater things, but he hadn't known that then. "It was a sideways move for Winstanley, and he was just there to oversee the operation winding down. After that, he came back to CID, and we worked one more case together - Scheiffer the diamond smuggler, we never caught him - before I got promotion and Martin moved to internal affairs.
"Scheiffer..." Rob frowned. "Hold up. The case you mentioned to Tant? She acted like she knew what you were talking about."
"And then promptly sent us on our way."
After a beat, Rob's frown lifted as he figured out what Gray was up to. "You're dangling a hook."
Gray grinned. "Now all we have to do is wait for the wily shark to notice the interim head of the SIU is sticking her nose into his old cases."
"Wouldn't it be easier to phone him?"
"I already tried after you called, but his old number's out of service. He's gone up in the world since we last saw him. Getting hold of a deputy chief constable by phone without a direct line involves talking to half the police officers in the country, and I don't want to alert anyone. On which note..." Gray took out his phone and unlocked the screen. "I still need to call Will. We were going out this evening."
"Don't change your plans, Gray - unless you're looking for a get-out."
Am I? Will's number was onscreen, but he hadn't yet clicked the call button. "No, I'm not," he confirmed for the both of them and put his phone back in his pocket. "Keep me updated, though."
They arrived at the station and went through adjacent ticket barriers, slowing as they approached the stairs down to the platforms; they were going in opposite directions.
"So are we hanging fire until you've talked to Winstanley?" Rob asked.
Gray nodded. "That's step one. I'm still in touch with a couple of Jean's colleagues in Interpol. I can probably talk them into sharing anything they've got on Folden. Other than that...we're on our own."
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