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Margaret Duffy

Gillard's Sting - Sample Extract

The following extract is taken from chapter one. I hope you like it!


I had got over the local woman screaming at me, ‘What’s it like to be married to a murderer, eh?’ when she saw me in the the village high street as she was deemed to be mentally unbalanced. Privately, I had other terms for her conduct as I don’t go along with the modern thinking that nasty behaviour is explained if a medical term can be stuck on it.

No, if I was honest I hadn’t quite got over it but forced myself on this early spring morning to sit down and take stock of my life. It had already occurred to me that regarding my husband, Patrick, there was every possibility that once the State was in possession of an asset there was a reluctance to relinquish it. He had recently resigned from the National Crime Agency after a case where his family had been targeted by criminals. Outraged, he had conducted a highly unofficial one-man invasion of their London HQ where, after they had resisted arrest and opened fire on him, had shot dead several of them and was lucky not to have been subsequently charged with manslaughter. The inquests into all the deaths had been involved and very stressful. Finally, the verdict was that they had been lawfully killed. Whether his resignation, amazingly not demanded by anyone who mattered, would result in the criminal fraternity feeling all jolly or even notice would, I felt, remain a mystery.

Some years previously, when he left the Army, Patrick had worked for D12, a department of MI5, and it had become clear to me that he was still, very quietly, on the payroll of that organisation, although D12 itself had been disbanded. With this in mind I had been half-expecting, perhaps slightly dreading, a visit, or at least some kind of communication, from a man by the name of Charles Dixon. But nothing happened so I made no comment to Patrick about it and almost forgot about this enigmatic little man with the whispery voice whom we had met for the first time several months previously. Patrick reckoned that he had a far more senior position than we originally thought but the man had given no clue as to his role, or even in which department he worked. As just stated, enigmatic.

This author – I write crime novels with a spattering of romance under my maiden name, Ingrid Langley – had recently had a novel published, finishing it comparatively easily after the distractions of working as ‘consultant’ to my husband for the NCA. He used to refer to me as his ‘oracle’ and some of my ideas and gut feelings over the years had resulted in progress with cases. His role had officially been that of ‘adviser’, all these quotation marks necessary. That this had entailed his being armed with a Glock 17 might also indicate that the job had been more hands-on than the title suggested. Definitely. The presence of the weapon had been due partly to the fact that we’re still on the hit-lists of criminals and/or terrorist organisations. This is on account of Patrick’s activities in stowing them and their hitmen, oafs for hire, call them what you will, either in prison or snugly in body bags and this had not made surrendering the handgun easy. Not as far as his wife was concerned anyway. I no longer felt altogether safe.

Seemingly undeterred, Patrick had taken the job of claims investigator for the Bath branch of a national insurance company. Not all that long afterwards he had a couple of successes with cases involving people who had deliberately made false claims. One of these featured an aggressive character who, it turned out, had pulled down a section of his own garden wall because he wanted it rebuilt but saw no reason to pay for it himself. He had gone on to bully his neighbour, the roots of whose trees he was insisting were responsible and, also later, leaving the previous, female, insurance company investigator who had visited him feeling very threatened. For this triumph – Patrick can always out-Herod Herod – he was quite quickly promoted to ‘troubleshooter’ although this wasn’t reflected in his salary or on any paperwork that I clapped eyes on.

All this activity on his part was very safe for his family of course and there were no complaints from him. But I have known Patrick for a very long time. We met and I fell in love with him at school – it was something to do with this headboy’s black wavy hair and wonderful grey eyes – and what was in front of me now was a man being a good husband and family man while trying to brainwash himself into being happy. He wasn’t.

Still in introspective mood but with a lot to do in the house despite employing two home helps I carried on sitting in the living room and thought about it. During our years of working together first for MI5, then the Serious Organised Crime Agency, which was later absorbed into the NCA, there had been horrible moments. I had shot, and killed, thugs-for-hire in self-defence, there had been times when I thought Patrick would die, when we would both die, and the occasion, quite recently, when our family, the children and Patrick’s mother Elspeth, had been threatened by criminals. That apart, we had slogged through hours of routine desk-bound investigations, partly on-line. But there had also been laughter, enormous fun and, for me, the joy of working with someone I love. It was another of the reasons I fell in love with Patrick, his ability to make me laugh: he has a wonderful sense of humour and an uncanny flair for mimicry.

And now? Despite abuse from a lunatic I was left with what I can only call a virtuous emptiness. Rightly or wrongly, probably the latter, I felt that I could tell everyone that we were now ‘normal’, not engaged in undercover assignments during which we had seriously, seriously, tested the boundaries of what was lawful in order to get results. Patrick has always broken rules. But we had put the mobsters in prison, rescued those at the mercy of them, particularly trafficked women and that had made it all worthwhile.

I told myself that we could go on active, exciting holidays, trek in Nepal, take the Orient Express to Venice, journey along the Silk Road…

Are you serious? an inner voice shouted.

OK, no. I got on with organising the household.

We have five children: Matthew and Katie, Patrick’s late brother’s children whom we adopted after he was killed, and three of our own, Justin, Vicky and baby Mark. They are lovely young people but take up a lot of our time even with the help of a nanny. Elspeth lives with us in an annexe to our old rectory home in Hinton Littlemoor, a village in Somerset. John, Patrick’s father, who recently died, had been rector of Saint Michael’s church and Patrick had bought the rectory when the diocese put it on the market, planning to rehouse the couple in a bungalow on an ugly new estate at the bottom of the village.

Still with MI5 in mind I had a surprise then when I answered a ring at the front door on a chilly, and actually starting to snow, morning a few days later – it was early April – and there stood Patrick’s old boss in the NCA, Commander Michael Greenway. He hastened in, almost before I had invited him to and stood in our wide hallway in the manner of someone who would prefer not to be out in the open for reasons other than it being cold out there. It is important to mention here that he is a big man, still built like the rugby football player he once was and is taller than Patrick who is six foot two.

‘I’m not here, you haven’t seen me and if anyone asks you have an idea I’m abroad on a fact-finding mission to the States,’ he said. ‘Is Patrick around?’

As this kind of opening remark is usual for him – he hates anyone other than his immediate family knowing where he is when he’s outside the London HQ – I wasn’t at this stage unduly worried.

‘He’s at work,’ I told him. ‘Didn’t he tell you that he’d got a job?’

The man sort of wilted. ‘God, yes, so he did. Is there any chance that you can contact him? I really need to have a chat.’

It occurred to me that he must have Patrick’s private mobile number and then remembered that when he resigned he changed it for security reasons.

It turned out that the man in my life was in the office writing up his findings on a claim, something he assured me he could do at home. That he turned up around twenty minutes later rather reinforced my views on a certain matter. Please see paragraph five.

Meanwhile I had plied the commander with coffee and biscuits as he’d admitted that he’d left home without having breakfast. The house was quiet, the three older children at school, Vicky and Mark at Toddlers’ Club with Carrie, our nanny. Greenway had seemed in no mood to break the quietness to engage in conversation, which was a little strange, so I had left him with his thoughts and elevenses and got on with something else. But I too had been closely involved with the NCA and definitely wasn’t going to stay away when Patrick got home.

The first thing the commander did when the two had shaken hands was to open his briefcase, which had the kind of security locks on it it that meant he had to key in a code number to access it, and remove a Glock 17, shoulder harness and ammunition. He placed them on the low table before him.

‘It’s yours,’ he said to Patrick. ‘I want you to have it back.’

Patrick shook his head. ‘I’m no longer entitled to carry a weapon.’

‘I’ve been ordered to give it to you.’


‘We’re worried that after years of being able to protect yourself and Ingrid from any number of criminals you’ve brought to justice you’re now no longer able to do so – and I haven’t said a word to anyone about the knife you carry most of the time.’

We’re worried?’ Patrick queried. ‘Who’s ‘we’?’

‘I can’t give you all the details I know you want.’

‘And you know damned well that I won’t tolerate any kind of smoke and mirrors stuff.’

The commander sighed. ‘That’s what I told her.’

‘There must be other reasons, important to the NCA, for giving me back the gun,’ Patrick persisted.

There was a short silence and then the commander said, ‘I also told her I wouldn’t get anywhere with you unless you had the full story.’

‘I take it the person you’re referring to is the director.’


Patrick glanced at me, dubiously, and then said, ‘What’s it all about then?’

‘A contract to locate someone to enable him to be arrested, which the Met’s been unable to do for lack of evidence for quite a long time. But you get to keep the Glock for as long as you like, and its authorisation, whether you’re successful or not. And you’ll be able to carry on with your new job.’

Without hesitation Patrick said, ‘As you’re well aware I resigned because the personal risks came too close to home. We almost had to move house. No.’

‘It’s highly unlikely that those kind of risks will be attached to this job.’

‘Who is this person?’ I asked, not wanting there to be any grey areas right now.

‘A senior cop who’s just retired and gone right off the map. His boss, now an assistant commissioner, had him in his sights but couldn’t at the time collect sufficient evidence against him due to what he rather quaintly described as the cunning of the man involved. It would appear that he was in the pay of mobsters in London. It’s felt important that no serving police officer should go after him and –’

‘Why not?’ Patrick interrupted to ask.

‘To keep it under wraps.’

I tried again. ‘What’s his name?’

‘John Brinkley. Commander, as was. I believe you’ve both met him.’

Patrick groaned. ‘We have. He used to be the Liaison Officer for D12, the department of MI5 where Ingrid and I worked, and ought to have had a government health warning. He was devious to the point of being dangerous to those who worked under him and on one of the last occasions I saw him he was such a picture of well-groomed fat-cat self-satisfaction that I told him he smelt like the inside of a knocking-shop. He worried me actually. Starting to have his hair blow-dried seemed to affect what was going on inside his head.’

Greenway brightened slightly. ‘Does that mean that you might change your mind?’

‘No. I’d be very suspicious of any accusations of actual criminality against him.’

‘I understand that his old boss has quite a dossier of information.’

‘OK. I’d like to see it.’

‘I don’t think it would be that easy,’ the commander said with a tight little smile.

Gazing at the ceiling for a moment Patrick said, ‘It occurs to me that I don’t owe the NCA anything. Also, I seem to recollect a case where a man by the name of Mladan Beckovic assumed a false identity and got himself into the Metropolitan Police. He already had a criminal record for murder at home and came over to the UK hoping to track down those who had murdered his father in Bosnia quite a few years previously. They were known to be in London. DCI James Carrick – the reason for his involvement in the case slips my mind right now – and I planned to arrest Beckovic at a nightclub and, having pretended to be an old chum of his, I had arranged a time to meet him. I deliberately gave you the wrong time as I didn’t want you to be there. But you guessed I’d do something like that, got yourself into the place early as a replacement bouncer – God knows what happened to the real one – and thoroughly dusted up the pair of us in a fit of pique thus risking the entire job. For which you’ve never apologised.’

Without warning he had crashed the pair of them together like cymbals with no chance to defend themselves or take evasive action. At the time I’d thought he’d done it to help preserve his own cover as James and Patrick had been acting drunk and ‘fighting’ in the road outside to preserve theirs. Despite everything, Beckovic had been arrested.

When Greenway said nothing Patrick continued, ‘Another point in my saying this is that I’ve learned to be careful when dealing with senior cops, Brinkley especially. Not only that, what you’re suggesting has all the makings of a very large can of worms. Why has the NCA become involved?’

‘I understand it’s because we’re working on cases involving the mobsters in question.’

Patrick shook his head. ‘Let the Met dig their own dirt and find him.’

There was a short silence and then Greenway got to his feet. ‘I’ll tell her you’re thinking about it.’

I went with him to the front door but he paused on the threshold and dug in an inside pocket for his wallet. Extracting a small plastic card from it he said, ‘Almost forgot. He’ll need this. It’s the authorisation for the weapon in case any cops stop him.’

‘I have a question.’ I said. ‘You’ve just said that you can’t see there would be risks involved so why does he need a weapon in order to track down John Brinkley? The man might have merely retired to Frinton.’

‘You never know.’ He smiled a little sadly. ‘Ingrid, I do understand but it was a shame Patrick felt the need to resign. I really miss working with you.’

So was that the pair of us he missed or just me?

‘If I hear anything useful I’ll be in touch,’ he said as he left.

I returned to the living room, gave Patrick the authorisation card, which was in fact a proper police warrant card with his photograph on it, and, he having realised that there was something in the office that he needed for the case with which he was involved, went back to work. I put the weapon and the things that went with it in the wall safe and pondered. The commander had been very casually dressed in sweat shirt, jeans and a jacket that had seen better days. That wasn’t like him at all as he usually leans to being formal. The thing that really bothered me about his visit was that I had never before seen the commander look distracted and nervous. It bothered me to the extent of voicing my worries when Patrick got home that evening.

‘I would have expected him to air any personal concerns with us,’ Patrick said, fixing himself a tot of whisky.

‘Perhaps not after you’d told him you’d only trust a senior cop when hell froze over.’

‘Ingrid, I wasn’t that rude. Didn’t he say anything to you? You used to have a certain rapport with him.’

OK, I did once quite fancy the guy. Once. For about ten seconds. ‘No, he didn’t.’

‘What does the oracle say?’

I regarded my husband steadily. ‘She says you’re trying to shift the responsibility of making a decision about this on to her.’

‘I thought you’d say that.’

Patrick obviously felt the need to consult someone else as, a little later, he suggested that we ask James Carrick and his wife Joanna, who was once his CID sergeant and has rejoined the police, if they would like to have a meal with us the following evening, Saturday, at the village pub, the Ring o’ Bells. This occurs on quite a regular basis anyway, the Carricks living only a few miles away in an old farmhouse they’ve restored, so I was more than happy to contact them.

The Ring o’ Bells is situated across the village green from Saint Michael’s church and the rectory, ‘a short staggersworth’ as Patrick puts it. Elements of it are very old, especially the cellars, and there is local argument as to whether it was originally constructed as accommodation for the men who built the church. Our deeds suggest that they were quartered in a building on the site of the rectory, the present one being the third. The inn, long and low, with a massive oak tree at the rear and creepers on the walls, is now an almost organic part of the village.

When the four of us met in the saloon bar, all shiny brass, copper and bits of horse harness, James Carrick regarded my husband appraisingly. ‘Not getting shot up by mobsters regularly seems to be suiting you,’ he went on to say, his Scottish accent crisp.

‘Greenway’s trying to change all that,’ Patrick told him.

‘They want you back!’

‘For a contract. And gave me back the Glock.’

There was then the serious business of the men choosing what they were going to drink, the pub having several guest beers, and Joanna and I uttered hollow laughs when they settled for Jail Ale, which is brewed on Dartmoor. They then remembered our glasses of white wine, which were still on the bar.

‘What?’ Carrick asked Patrick. ‘Or, rather, who?’

‘John Brinkley – newly retired commander of the Met. Apparently his boss has a file on his misdemeanours along the lines of taking bribes from criminals.’

‘I don’t think I ever met him. Does that gel with what you know about him?’

Patrick sampled his pint. ‘Well, he was a conniving bastard and would do just about anything to smooze with higher authority. He wasn’t a particularly good cop either. But soil his hands taking money from low-life? Somehow I doubt it.’

‘So the Met’s kept it under wraps until now to ensure that there hasn’t been the scandal of a serving officer being implicated.’

‘Precisely. I have an idea they don’t want to investigate it themselves for the same reason. Greenway said he’d been told that it was because the mobsters involved are on the NCA’s radar so they ought to do it.’

‘D’you believe that?’

‘Right now I don’t know what to believe.’

‘What about Complaints?’

‘Not mentioned.’

‘Greenway was twitchy,’ I observed. ‘I’ve never seen him like that before.’

‘That’s a most significant detail,’ Joanna said thoughtfully, flicking her long titian hair off her face. And to Patrick, ‘Why the weapon though? Bribery so you and your family will feel safe again? Do they expect you’ll get entangled with the mobsters in question? Or do they want you to kill him?’

‘And that’s the most significant thing anyone’s said so far,’ Patrick told her soberly. ‘I confess that I’d thought of the first two but but not the third.’

‘The NCA doesn’t tend to murder retired Met officers,’ I pointed out, hoping that I didn’t sound too sarcastic. ‘But the order to Greenway did come from the director.’

‘Which raises two questions,’ Joanna said, getting the bit between her teeth. ‘Did it really come from her? And is the commander under some kind of duress from another quarter? My guess, Patrick, is that if he was you’d be the first person he’d approach.’

‘Then why not come out with it right at the beginning?’ her husband enquired.

‘Reluctance to get Patrick involved again in something he clearly doesn’t want to be? Ashamed of admitting that he’s under pressure – that he’s scared? Perhaps he had intended to say something and then couldn’t bring himself to.’

‘It might be worth letting it brew for a bit,’ I suggested.

‘Good idea, ‘Patrick said. He chuckled and said to me, ‘Remember when Brinkley offered me a job in his new department saying it was in “a sort of a branch of a branch?” – so we referred to him as His Twigship?’

If we had then known the real story behind what was going on we wouldn’t have laughed.

In practice the ploy of ‘letting it brew’ metamophosised into the affair being placed firmly on the back-burner. The reason for this was the foot or so of snow, with deeper drifts, that was dumped in our little valley a couple of days later. Most of it had been blown off fields by a ferocious and icy north-easterly wind. Snowbound, the primary school was closed and the narrow lanes out of the village were impassable, even with a Range Rover. Patrick tried to set off for work on the first morning but the five foot drift on the bend just passed the church defeated him. All we could do was wait for a snowplough to arrive but the village would not be a priority.

On the fifth day the road was cleared by a group of local farmers with snowploughs on their tractors. All other human activities apart this was a relief to those who, latterly, had been trying to feed their families on a strange collection of what is referred to in this household as ‘UFOs’, Unidentified Frozen Objects, found at the bottom of the chest freezer. There were a few surprises but nobody went hungry.

At last, life returned to near normal and I was able to sit down in my writing room, which at one time had been Patrick’s father’s study, with a view to planning my next novel. But the only plot I could think of concerned a retired police commander who had apparently disappeared and was wanted for questioning, a one-time NCA operative asked to find him and another commander, his boss, who shouldn’t be nervous but was. The stuff of crime novels indeed.

John Brinkley. I hadn’t had to work closely with him as Patrick had done and had found him pleasant enough but basically unhelpful. Nevertheless, I was sure that Patrick’s summing up of the man was accurate and not engendered by resentment after his disastrous handling of a couple of cases. But I couldn’t imagine him in the pay of criminals, serious or otherwise. Did a commander need the money? Did he have a secret gambling addiction? Was he being blackmailed? Would someone so fastidious about his appearance be interested in consorting with low-life? And on the same subject, would he have the first idea on how to dress down in order to blend in at the kind of clubs and strip joints some mobsters frequent? On the other hand of course he might be chums with the kind of career criminals who can be found at private gatherings at Royal Ascot or in high-class West End restaurants.

Flippantly, a bad fault of mine, I thought that perhaps I ought to write the book in order to find the answers. Then, more seriously, wondered if we ought to look for Brinkley anyway, the NCA or no. Was he in trouble? Was the case his one-time superior officer making against him on the level? And, most important of all, what on earth was going on with Michael Greenway? There were far too many questions with no logical answers.

‘Confession,’ Patrick said when he got home that evening. ‘I emailed Greenway and said I’d consider looking into this business of Brinkley but only on condition that I got to see the file with the evidence against him.’

‘Because it stinks?’ I hazarded.

‘Something’s not right.’

‘Where does he live?’

‘He once told me that he had a house in Dorset and a bedsit in Hammersmith for during the week.’

‘Which presumably have been visited by interested parties and he’s not at either.’

Patrick shrugged. ‘All very vague, innit? What’s for dinner?’

Life went along in fairly normal fashion. It rained, heavily, the snow cleared from the roads but for dirty heaps in corners where the winter sun never penetrated and, in the garden, the first snowdrops began to peep through the leaf litter. Except for Mark, all the children went down with colds which they promptly gave to their parents and grandmother. The only bright spot, if it could be described as that, was that Patrick was made Colleague of the Month. When we had both stopped falling about with laughter over this he went on to tell me that the prize was an all expenses paid weekend trip for two to London.

‘Sorry, but what makes you so popular?’ I had to know.

Patrick said, ‘Apparently that bloke who pulled down his garden wall and tried to claim on his neighbour – the company reported him to the police for attempted fraud and threatening behaviour –had adopted a false identity and was wanted having escaped from a prison van some years ago. It’s all there in the company magazine complete with cheesy grins: “Eagle-eyed ex-cop employee spots escaped convict.” I didn’t, he just looked downright dodgy. So, loads of publicity for the company. I’m just praying that it doesn’t get ito the media.’

‘When are we going to London?’

‘This weekend?’

‘No, I’ve just remembered, you promised to take Matthew clay-pigeon shooting on Saturday.’

‘So I did. Next weekend then. I intend to have a snoop round Brinkley’s bedsit.’

‘OK, I’ll hit the shops and meet you somewhere afterwards.’

He gazed at me, a little smile twitching his lips. ‘Sure?’


Not at all sure actually.

The bedsit was on the top floor of an Edwardian semi-detached house in one of the tree-lined residential streets of which London has thousands. I knew the first of these details because we had just climbed three flights of narrow stairs circumnavigating parked prams and buggies on the landings. It crossed my mind that it was a good place for a senior police officer to live if he wanted to be anonymous, to disappear into the madding crowd. But then again Brinkley hadn’t been like that, he had rather flaunted himself and his rank. Another enigma. Perhaps I was over-thinking the situation.

We had travelled to the capital by train, to drive up was pointless especially as Patrick’s ‘prize’ had included first class rail tickets. Even if he hadn’t spotted a potential criminal who had pulled down his own garden wall I’m sure this is precisely where we would have been this weekend. One complication was that Commander Greenway had emailed to say that he was out of office on leave for a fortnight so there had been no reaction to Patrick’s conditional agreement to make a few enquiries nor his requirement for the appearance of the file in question.

All the pass codes for the NCA websites being changed on a regular basis I had been wondering where Patrick would get the relevant addresses from but it appeared that he still had contacts who had obtained the information for him. In view of the arrival of the Glock it seemed rather important to insist of being kept in the frame for these too. But Greenway was on leave.

We had no keys of course but this was of no account as we had been pleased to discover that the place was for sale with no one in residence. So all we had had to do was approach the estate agent and ask to have a look round. Naturally they were reluctant to allow us to do this without someone from the agency being present so Patrick was forced to show the warrant card that Greenway had given him, utterly surreal in the circumstances. No, I kept telling myself, he wasn’t back working for the NCA. This was all completely off the record and I don’t like working in these circumstances any more than he does.

We had been told there was a security system but the alarm had not been set, this particular estate agency having been plagued in the past by vendors who had set it, having previously said they wouldn’t, and then couldn’t be contacted.

And yes, I had come along, mainly out of sheer curiosity.

‘Please look on Rightmove or some similar outfit and see if his other property’s for sale as well. It just might well be,’ Patrick requested as he inserted a key in one of the locks on the front door. He gave me the address, which was in Glastonbury, Somerset, and added that at some stage Brinkley must have moved as he was sure he lived in Dorset.

‘I happen to know that full addresses aren’t listed,’ I told him. ‘Are there any more details?’

‘Try detached houses – he was a detached house sort of bloke.’

‘Yes, but in the town centre, within a mile radius, a three mile radius? There are loads of them.’

I decided to work on it later.

The bedsitter – it was large enough to be described as a small apartment in the particulars – was fully furnished, the decor tasteful but faded. The living area we immediately entered through the front door was light and bright with quite large windows on two sides. There were two sofas, one of which obviously converted into a bed, and close to that a door giving access to a bathroom. A tiny kitchen – no cooker, just a microwave – was in an alcove on the other side of the room. Everything seemed to be clean as well as tidy although there seemed to be a lingering fusty smell.

We donned nitrile gloves, quite a store of which I had filched from Patrick’s office at the NCA’s HQ before he left.

‘There’s hardly anywhere to store anything,’ Patrick muttered, having investigated a cupboard that was stuffed to the doors with various belongings.

‘Have you ever lived in a bedsit?’ I enquired.

He shot me an amused look. ‘Barracks and then small flats. Then I shacked up with you and you had a cottage. Good move.’

‘So you only married me because of the house?’

‘Natch.’ He chuckled. ‘And sex, of course.’

‘But we’d been doing that already.’

‘Yes, but Dad was getting on at me.’

‘I never knew that!’

There was another cupboard with sliding doors that we hadn’t previously noticed and this was used as a wardrobe. The clothes within were all what I would call mens’ town-wear, expensive suits all carefully stored in plastic covers, casual trousers, shirts, mostly white and a couple of bath robes. Shoes in what looked like their original boxes were on the floor and a small chest of drawers by the sofa bed contained underwear and socks.

All very normal for a home that was used Monday to Friday. Obviously he hadn’t moved out.

‘No outdoor clothes,’ I commented.

‘He’s not a person to walk round the parks in the rain but chuck a coat in his car,’ Patrick said. ‘There’s probably a garage,’ he added to himself, examining another key on the ring.

I wandered into the tiny kitchen and opened a few cupboard doors. There were hardly any pots and pans, next to nothing in the way of non-perishable food and a table-top fridge was empty and switched off. The fusty smell was quite strong here. A blocked sink drain perhaps. I said, ‘If he left this place when he retired and put it on the market why didn’t he take his clothes and furniture?’

‘Perhaps he and his wife intend, or intended, to use it for the odd weekend in town and then changed their minds.’

I looked in the rubbish bin, one of those tall ones with a push to open lid. The smell, a thousand times worse, rose out of it and I instinctively backed away for a moment before looking closer. Then I said, ‘Did you say that people, the police, I mean, have already searched for Brinkley here?’

Patrick was gazing out of the window, perhaps trying to locate garages. ‘I don’t know for sure, but would have thought so. Why?’

‘They would have found a headless rat surely.’

He came over, had a look and shrugged. ‘That’s been dead for quite a while. Perhaps it was freshly dead when someone was last here and they didn’t look in the bin.’

Just the kind of pragmatic remark a one-time military man would make when he wanted his lunch and his thinking processes were as good as switched off. I said, ‘OK, if Brinkley was still living here then and found a headless rat outside somewhere would he put it in the kitchen bin? No. If he was sent one in the post by nasties unknown would he put it in the kitchen bin? No. Would a neighbour who hated his guts and is in possession of a key who came across a headless rat put it here to try to compromise any sale taking place? Possibly, but surely it would be easier to do nothing and hope he sells and moves out fast. Would someone threatening him get in somehow and dump the rat to pile on the pressure so that Brinkley didn’t feel safe even in his own home? Quite likely.’

‘That has a lot going for that,’ Patrick said slowly, perhaps still thinking about garages.

‘What are you going to do?’

‘What would you do?’

‘There are so many unanswered questions. Has his wife disappeared as well? If not, is she at home in Somerset?’

‘Shall we find that out before we do anything else?’

We persevered with our search though for any kind of evidence as to where Brinkley might have gone, carefully, not yanking stuff out of drawers but leaving things exactly as we found them. MI5 had taught us that. I was happy to leave the rat right where it was but did one tell the estate agent about it although the stench would eventually give away its presence? Did the wretched thing represent evidence in connection with the disappearance of the flat’s owner? We could hardly demand that the property be declared a crime scene. I wasn’t even sure if Patrick had left a message for Commander Greenway to tell him what we were doing. Was anything official? Was anyone looking for the man?

‘I wish I’d gone shopping now,’ I said when we’d finished without finding anything else. ‘The can of worms has been opened.’

‘I don’t think it was ever closed,’ Patrick observed quietly.

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