STRANGE BODIES (a gripping crime thriller) (4 page)

BOOK: STRANGE BODIES (a gripping crime thriller)
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Interlude

London – January 2067

The ancient heart of London was suffering a long, slow and painful decline. The Thames had flooded again, now an almost daily occurrence, and each high tide seemed fuller than the previous one. An evil grey smog coiled itself permanently around the old stone buildings, and the surviving tower blocks were coated with an ever-present film of grimy soot, most of them showing signs of damage, broken glass and missing panels. A filthy flotsam of random junk littered the streets, and bodies or parts of them, well chewed by rats and other scavenging animals, still washed up occasionally.

After the terrorist attacks destroyed the Thames Barrier and the abandoned, half-finished barrier across the Thames Estuary from Sheerness to Southend, London was left vulnerable to the increasingly higher tides and rising sea levels, as were the low lying parts of Europe, especially the Netherlands, now almost completely under water.

In the Pacific, the well-named Ring of Fire had triggered massive earthquakes and devastated many island groups, some of which had disappeared beneath the waves. Millions had died, thousands tried to get to overburdened neighbouring countries only to be turned away, at gunpoint or worse, many to perish at sea in overcrowded boats.

In London, thirty-one years before, a massive storm surge coinciding with a record monster high tide had flooded out the dregs of the old oil storage depots down-river and swept the potentially deadly remnants up the Thames to the heart of London and beyond. The rainbow oil slick travelled fast. On the first of September, a fire started by a stray spark ignited the slick, a floating inferno which surged inexorably up the river to surpass the destruction of the Great Fire of London of 1666, happening almost exactly 400 years later.

Stark skeletons of burnt-out buildings still filled the depressing skyline. Millions had died; millions more had fled. Now the people seemed thin, grey, etiolated figures shuffling along on the slippery, icy footpaths. The few vehicles on the streets were commuter buses, small CAT cabs and ancient pushbikes. The Underground, now flooded beyond the capacity of the pumps to empty it, no longer ran.

Chapter 8

London, January 2067

Commander Nicholas Adams felt a deep sadness for the ancient city seeing these grim deserted streets as made his way from his small flat and entered the newest New Scotland Yard on Hampstead Heath. He passed through the security checks and went to his office on the tenth floor where Mrs Halifax greeted him.

‘Good morning, Commander. The Australian Ambassador called a few minutes ago asking if he could see you today, if that is possible. A holo-conference.’

Adams knew Angus Ferguson slightly, having met him at various functions. He was a highly regarded and likeable man, very charming with the ladies and very proud of both his Australian and Scottish roots.

‘Very well, Mrs Halifax. I can do it after lunch if that suits him.’

‘He suggested a holo-conference but I had to tell him our apparatus is out of order again.’

Adams gave Mrs Halifax a resigned look. ‘Again, ah well,’ he shrugged. ‘That’s beyond our electronic capabilities to fix. Any idea what he wants?’

‘No, sir. This afternoon about three, he suggested. Shall I tell him that will suit?’

‘Yes, of course,’ he said, glancing down at his late father’s old watch, most of its higher functions working only intermittently now.

Mrs Halifax bustled out and he could hear her cooing into the phone. Obviously the gallant Ambassador Ferguson had charmed the formidable Mrs Halifax. She was so efficient Nicholas idly wondered if there was a government department where they kept Mrs Halifax androids stacked away, ready to be dusted off then re-programmed as required. He couldn’t for the life of him imagine a
Mr
Halifax.

After two weeks away to attend his mother’s funeral and sort out the family estate there was no chance he could get through the reports and memos so on his return he’d requested some office help.

His sergeant, and closest colleague, Bob Fraser, had done his best, but as he said, tongue firmly in cheek, ‘Sorry sir, but there’s still a few villains around committing crimes and we have to dash away and try to catch them.’

And so Mrs Halifax. At the end of a week the backlog was gone. She was a miracle of efficiency and to watch her coping with the inevitable breakdowns of their ancient computer equipment or dealing with office security was a revelation. Adams was dreading her departure when he’d have to cope with the team reports, and all the bumpf, the bloody statistics, the bloody memos about leaving the washrooms tidy, et-bloody-cetera. He was trying to come up with a damned good reason to keep her a bit longer.

A little before ten, Mrs Halifax came to his door. ‘Commander, Ambassador Ferguson will be on line at three with ...’ she paused, frowned slightly, ‘a colleague, he said.’

‘Thank you, Mrs Halifax. And full security precautions, please.’

Mrs Halifax looked surprised, but merely said, ‘Yes, sir.’

The Commander said, ‘This is not a social call. The fact that he wants a tele-conference rather suggests he doesn’t want it to get around that he’s dealing with Scotland Yard or with me.’

He softened his voice. ‘Have you had morning tea, Mrs Halifax?’

‘Not yet, I’m not sure I’ll bother. It’s herbal, sir, no new office rations till next week.’

‘Please take this—I brought my mother’s tea ration back with me. No sense in letting it go to waste.’

‘Thank you, Commander, that’s most welcome. I’ll bring you a coffee … there’s a bit left.’

‘Tell me something, Mrs Halifax. Is there anything I can do to keep you here? I’m not sure I could manage without you now.’

She looked startled, then gave a small laugh. ‘I’ll have to think about that, Commander. It’s a real pleasure working for you. Maybe there’ll be a sudden crime wave,’ she said.

He laughed. ‘We can only hope,’ he said.

 

At three o’clock he heard Mrs Halifax in the outer office. He walked from behind his desk as she came to the door, slightly pink in the face, ‘Ambassador Ferguson,’ she announced, ‘and Sir Marcus Havington. I’ve engaged level two security in the seating area. Wall screen two.’

Angus Ferguson appeared on the screen together with the other man. ‘Commander Adams, good afternoon. I believe you know Sir Marcus Havington.’

‘Of course. How are you, sir.’ He hid his surprise at seeing the Ambassador’s guest.

Marcus Havington said, ‘Very well, thanks Nicholas. Haven’t seen you since your dear mother’s funeral. How are you, my boy?’

‘I’m well, thank you. I gather you know Mrs Halifax, Ambassador,’ said Adams, curious to know what the connection was.

‘Yes, I met her a while ago in Sir Marcus’s office,’ said Ferguson.

‘Ah, yes, she was filling in while my PA was away.’

‘My condolences again, Commander,’ the Ambassador said. ‘However, if I may … I assume we have full security here.’

‘Of course. Please continue, Ambassador,’ said Adams.

‘Commander, to put it bluntly, we’d like you to consider moving to Australia permanently to head a new police division.’

Startled, Nicholas had nothing to say but thought furiously, considering: what to do? And why me?

Chapter 9

The thing that struck Nicholas Adams most forcefully in his first few weeks in Australia was the energy of the place. Vibrant Sydney, with its brilliant sunshine and the sparkling waters of the harbour, was nothing like the damp, grey London he’d left a short time ago. In Britain, in Europe and in some of the American cities he visited, there was a grimness, a dull resignation in the way people went about their business. It wasn’t surprising given what they’d suffered in the recent past, and still did: the on-going food shortages, rampant disease, the ever-present terrorist threats and the extremes of unpredictable weather.

Scientific research and technology lagged as scarce resources were diverted to finding enough food to sustain life for millions. New equipment had become unobtainable.

Adams enjoyed a free hand in setting up the unit, the Australian National Major Crime, Organised Crime and Terrorism Interforce Liaison Division, dubbed MOCAT. Some wags called it, in a faintly derogatory sense, the “Flying Squad”. He was still astounded at the quality of the high-tech resources available to him, including cars, a personal heli-jet and a couple of large police ‘copters. The office equipment was the latest, all beyond anything he had previously had access to. Mrs Halifax took to it as if born.

He had thought security fairly tight in the UK, but security here appeared absolute. Every street and every building in this bustling city, even the country roads, was monitored, with skycams hovering or swooping where needed.

Everyone knew they were there, had grown up with them and didn’t even notice them. No citizen needed an ID card as they had all been palm, finger and retina printed at birth. DNA had been registered since ‘fifty-seven and for the past ten years each newborn child had been micro-chipped, also annually updated electronically, or at major milestones. It was voluntary for all older than ten but most approved and accepted it. All immigrants and all visitors to Australia, no matter how important, were chipped—no exceptions and had to hold an ID card as well. Everyone knew the requirements for entry and anyone who objected was sent back on the next available transport, at their own expense. In theory at least, all people could be identified within seconds.

It certainly made a policeman’s work a lot easier, Adams soon realised.

Nick’s first few months had been so busy he still hadn’t unpacked most of the stuff he’d brought with him. A holo of his parents and one of his old Scotland Yard team were the only personal items he’d put out so far.

There were none of his late wife.

The people he’d selected to come with him settled in well, only one opting to return to England after two months. ‘Too much bleedin’ sunshine,’ he said. ‘It’s not natural.’

Adams met with some resistance amongst the local police but they were mostly a good natured bunch. He and Sergeant Bob Fraser travelled around Australia with a senior Australian officer for the first month. They got to know some of the country, the people and the officers he would be interacting with. Once the liaison concept was explained and they realised he wasn’t about to arbitrarily take over their cases or breathe down their necks, he’d established a good working relationship with the various divisional chiefs and staff. So he had good reason to be satisfied with his relocation and the people he worked with. His teams contained the familiar faces he’d brought from London plus some highly recommended locals, eager to join this new unit.

When he stopped to think about it he realised he was a little lonely. He was looking forward to visiting his brother Christopher and family in Melbourne at Christmas.

As he had been warned, the Sydney socialites had pounced and issued invitations to endless dinners and cocktail parties He’d accepted a few at first but after the fourth or fifth matchmaking attempt and other more blatant invitations he cited pressure of work and accepted no more. There was nothing coy about the Australian ladies!

 

MOCAT occupied three floors of Fortuna House in Paddington, built over the old reservoir bombed during a terrorist attack. It had been leased by a company, the directors of which were now enjoying the hospitality of Keepsake Island, the prison island off the north west coast of Tasmania.

One of the briefing papers explained that many islands were now prison farms as it was considered a waste of land to build mainland prisons, so factories and farms had been built on those that had land above high tide. Defunct off-shore oil drilling platforms housed some of the worst offenders. All the old prisons had been converted to apartments, with short-term holding cells at police stations.

Suspects were subjected to questioning using chemical and psychological methods. It was rumoured there were even machines that could read brainwaves and project images.

The Major Crime Liaison unit filled three floors, which included Adams’ suite, well guarded by Mrs Halifax, large and small conference rooms, various offices for team members, an open plan area for clerical and admin staff and three interview rooms, fully equipped with recording devices and viewing screens.

The Cyber and Electronic Crime Investigation lab (CECI) filled one floor and there was a small forensics laboratory. The lower floors were occupied by uniformed and civilian staff for the local police station, now on the ground floor. There were also four sub-basements of parking for police and VIP vehicles, monitored by security cameras.

 

The security monitor recognised his code. The barrier slid up as Adams drove in to his personal slot. He headed for the elevator and his office on the sixteenth floor. Although he was a few minutes late for the morning meeting, he made time for a few words with Mrs Halifax who followed him into the big conference room.

As in London, she was immaculate in a soft blue dress, a string of pearls and low heeled shoes. ‘There’s fresh coffee,’ she said. ‘And you might find some cake in the tin.’

‘Thanks, Mrs. H. You’re a gem. Still don’t know how you—or the Commander—managed to persuade London to let you go,’ Fraser said.

She exchanged a brief glance with Commander Adams, a smile touching her lips. He nodded slightly to her before she turned and went out of the room.

Everyone grabbed coffee then found seats around the table, docking their minicomps with the
BigSys
network.

Commander Adams asked, as usual, ‘Anything we should be looking at? Anything turn up on the central computer? Who’s monitoring what this week?’

‘I’ve got the CATCR roster here. I’ll put it up on the screen.’ The information from the police crime computer, Crime And Terrorism Central Register appeared.

‘Alright, I see it. Anyone got a buzz, calls from any areas?’

DS Trevor Warne, monitoring the reports from stations immediately outside Sydney said, ‘There’s that Fig Tree murder, that wealthy couple, the Richardsons. A couple of officers from Penrith checked it out then called in Sydney CID. I haven’t gone into all the details yet but it sounded pretty gruesome. It’s been splashed all over the media since the bodies were found last week. The CID people haven’t approached us for assistance so I guess they’re handling it okay. Still, there’s been no progress all week as far as I can see.’

‘Anything more on the Daintree murder? Who’s looking at that?’

‘When we went up to Cairns last week I asked the bods there to keep us up to date. As far as I know nothing’s come through.’ said DCS Gabriel Thomas.

‘Not a lot we can do till they ID him. Now remind us of the details.’

‘Yes. Hang on, I’ll bring the shots up on the wall screens,’ said Warne.

The grisly photographs were stark. In the first picture a partially decomposed body was tied to a palm tree, upside down. There was not much left of his face which was about two metres from the ground.

‘Mmm. Not much left of the poor bugger. What predators are there?’

‘It’s mostly bugs, insects been at him … birds, probably. Then there’s mice and rats, frogs, snakes, goannas, bats. Crocs, but not near there. Hang on, I’ll find the local ME’s report. Here it is.’ He loaded the report on to everyone’s personal comps and the post-mortem shots on to the wall screens. ‘There’s video of the autopsy too if anyone wants to see it.’

No one did.

The latest pictures showed close-ups of the wounds that had been inflicted on the man. Whether done before or after death was impossible to ascertain at this stage, according to the ME’s report.

‘We’ve arranged to have the body shipped down to our people here for a second autopsy. Should be here in a few days.’

The intercom flashed. Mrs Halifax said, ‘Sorry to interrupt, sir, but I have a DI Kerry Jacobsen on hold. He’d like to speak to you about the Fig Tree murders.’

‘Thanks, Mrs Halifax. Hang on a sec.’ He turned to Fraser. ‘Talk about coincidence. DI Kerry Jacobsen. Find out where he’s based.’

Fraser punched it in then said, ‘Surry Hills CID. That’s not far away. He’s in charge of one of the murder squads there, heading the enquiry into the Fig Tree murders.’

‘Mrs Halifax, can you ask him if he can come here? Now if possible.

‘Bring up everything you can find on those murders, Fraser. Images on wall screens one and two, reports on personal units. Split those screens … eight at a time.’

There were low gasps at the horrific images.

‘Can we get a pictures of them before this? I want to see what they looked like before some sick bastard did that to them,’ said the Commander as he scrolled through the medical and forensic reports.

‘Yes sir, here, screen four. These are from the newspaper report. Bit blurry though.’

‘What do we know about them … let’s see … South African, been here two years. Visa application shows allegations of racial discrimination as grounds for entry. Wife mixed race. Do they still frown on that? Anyone have info on that?’

There were head shakes.

Mrs Halifax buzzed. ‘DI Jacobsen’s on his way, sir.’

‘Close the screens down for now, sergeant. Let’s grab some coffee, take a short break. I want you all to read those reports before DI Jacobsen gets here.

‘If we don’t get this wrapped by one we’d better make this a working lunch. Anyone got a problem with that?’

A chorus of no’s answered the commander.

Adams poured himself coffee then felt a vibration on his wrist. Annoyed at the interruption he glanced at the small display.
Marcus Havington
, he noted.
Damn, I’ll have to answer this
. Taking the mug with him he walked into his office.

‘Nicholas Adams, Sir Marcus. I didn’t realise you were in Australia. Look, I’m in a meeting. Can I call you back? It’ll have to be this afternoon some time.’

‘No need, my boy. I want to have a few words in person, important but not urgent. Later this week will do.’ He paused. ‘Any regrets about the move, Nicholas?’

‘No, no regrets. None at all.’

‘Why don’t we make it lunch then, a light lunch in my office … that suit you?’

‘Sounds fine. I look forward to it.’

Talking to Marcus Havington triggered memories of his final weeks in London. He marvelled at the extraordinary circumstances that had brought him here to Sydney. He sipped his coffee as he sat reminiscing and staring at nothing.

BOOK: STRANGE BODIES (a gripping crime thriller)
13.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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