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Signature Thirteen


Bill was intrigued to read in the Herald and Courier that the police had appointed a special investigator. At last they’re getting on with it, he thought, and then smiled when the significance hit him: they had to bring in a special investigator, because suspicion lay on one of their own. He looked admiringly at the picture of her. Later that morning the phone rang. It was an unusually excited Bob Mitchell.
“It’s her. You seen the paper?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Bob.” Bill continued to type into his laptop.
“This woman in the paper. She’s the one who came round here.”
“I’m not clued up on your women, Bob.” Bill continued typing.
“The one who layed into me, Bill.” Bill understood, and immediately thought this was the opportunity to  throw Bob to the wolves, but then remembered he had used Bob as an alibi.
“I’ll think about it, Bob. They haven’t got anything, but we’ll think up some kind of subterfuge.” Bill hung up. 

The next day a letter arrived for the attention of the special investigator, and it was immediately delivered to the Captain. 

Dear Madam,

I write to seek an explanation from you on behalf of my friend Bob Mitchell. He is reluctant to write for reasons that you may appreciate. We are baffled.

Arriving at his house with my video equipment, I saw you leaving. We recognised your picture in the Herald and Courier today. I found Bob out cold, his lounge in disarray. He has limited memory of what happened, but believes himself to have been subjected to an unprovoked personal attack by you. Now he is worried that you will construe against him the fact that he was armed at the time.

I wish to point out that Bob and I are home movie aficionados. I was coming to his house to shoot a scene in which he was playing a Russian agent. The plot required him to conceal weapons on his person. The entire sequence was planned to be filmed in his house.

I know Bob to be a law-abiding citizen, and am baffled by this apparently extraordinary situation. My immediate intention was to write to your superiors, but Bob persuaded me to allow you the opportunity of an explanation.

Jim Duggan.

The Captain smiled, as he read the letter. The two alibis, he said to himself, and, of course, the mysterious threat to Giles’ wife that Giles did not wish to talk about. How many psychopaths do we have around here? I think I am as baffled as Jim Duggan claims to be. He screwed the letter up and slung it in the bin. We already have one officer on suspension. Let’s not have our fictitious special investigator fictitiously suspended. He called in Ross.

“Ross, the suspicion’s back on Hadley, the man with the right voice. Our hypothesis is that he wants to frame Ralphs. Got that?”
“Yes, Sir.”
“So I’m keeping Ralphs on suspension, even though they cleared him yesterday.”
“To mislead Hadley?” Ross asked.
“Exactly. Talk to Ralphs. I want you to work with him, on the quiet. Don’t tell anyone else.”
Ross left the room and a huge weight fell from him. For the first time in weeks he felt normal.

The days had again been dragging for John Ralphs. Inertia, boredom, you name it, he had it. He was surprised to open the door and see Ross standing outside. Ross shook his hand and congratulated him as he came in. He then filled John in on the situation. Giles had told John that he thought things were looking up for him, but this was excellent news. As they talked it over, the phone rang. It was Giles.
“John, I’ve talked to the Captain. Now you’re in the clear we can see about what to do. I suggest we meet. All of us.”
“Including Ross?” John asked.
“Especially Ross. He’s our legitimation, as long as you’re on suspension. Four today. Here.” Giles hung up. Ross suggested they head out of town for a break and some lunch, before going across to Giles. John improvised a hamper from the fridge and packed it in a backpack.

They parked the car in the shade under some trees and headed out on a path that extended endlessly across the plains. The horizon was almost a full circle, broken only by the hills they had just come through. Just half an hour south of town and it was total peace. The sky above was clear with a few stray white clouds. They walked in silence, enjoying the freedom of the open countryside. They chose a cluster of trees to stop for lunch. John spread out on a cloth the contents of the backpack, bread, ham, cheese, fruit and mineral water. Finally, John broke the silence.
“You know it’s down to you and me. The others are well-meaning.”
“But they don’t know police work.” Ross completed the sentence for him.
“We should use Giles,” John added. “Get his insights into Hadley.”
“And then what do we do,” Ross asked.
“If Hadley thinks he’s got it figured, that has to be his weak point,” John replied.
“Because he doesn’t know we know.” John fell silent and considered what he had just said. “Problem is…that doesn’t get us anywhere.” He packed the bag. They stood and set off back to the car. It was as if they had all the time in the world: they just did not know how to structure that time to trap Hadley, if it was Hadley.

In Giles’ office it was John who took charge this time. Now that he was suspended only in appearance, he was the senior officer. John sat at the head of the table with Ross on his right, Giles on his left and Jenny and Diane on either side at the foot of the table.
“This is police work from now on,” John opened. “That means that we will consult with you, Giles, as appropriate in line with the course of the investigation. Jenny, Diane, we will interview you as appropriate, but I’m sure you’ll be pleased to hear that your roles are limited to that. As far as the world and the rest of the police department are concerned I am still suspended. Therefore Ross will act as my liaison. I report to the Captain. I’d like to thank you all for your confidence in me and your help.”
“Well,” Giles said, “I think the ladies can leave. Diane, you look relieved.”
“I truly am. Come on, Jenny.” Diane stood up and she and Jenny left together.
“That’s one way of making friends,” Giles said with a benign smile. “So what do you want?”
“What’s Hadley’s next move?” John asked.
“I think you can prompt it, John,” Giles said. “As long as you are the prime suspect you’re safe from him. He wants you to carry the can. And Jenny’s safe until you’re in jail. Play the Jenny card.”
“What do you mean,” John asked cautiously.
“Rile him, threaten him,” Giles suggested.
“And what’s that about Jenny?” John looked at Giles questioningly.
“If he took the photo, then he might be developing a fixation. Make him jealous. Make him do something stupid.” Giles did not like giving this advice, but it looked like the most efficient way forward. John did not like receiving this advice, but he appreciated its merit.”
“OK. Come on, Ross. Let’s go.” John looked at Giles. “We’ll get the bastard now. Thanks, Giles.”
“Oh, and John. While you’re talking to Hadley, try and work out a way to bait the trap.” These were Giles’ parting words.

No time like the present, John thought, as Ross dropped him off. He walked across to his car. As John drove north to Hadley’s office, he had time to think about how he would tackle this. He had to be careful not to raise suspicions, but at the same time, somehow or other he had to hook Hadley into a conversation and get him to give something away. It struck him that he should act as if he wanted Hadley on his side. If Hadley really had a fixation on Jenny, wouldn’t he go for this? A chance to see her? Get closer? And the bait. What could the bait be. Well, he would have to play that by ear.

The first thing that struck John was the affable manner in which Hadley received him. Was he just very cool under fire, or was it something else?
“You were kind to show concern for us, Mr Hadley.”
“Call me Bill,” Hadley responded with warmth.
“I need help. Your brother.”
“Nothing came of the photo I gave your colleague?” Hadley asked.
“The truth is, Bill, I’m not working at the moment. An internal problem.” John cast his eyes down as if embarrassed by his admission.
“Why were you investigating me, John?”
“I guess it was because of your brother. Don’t worry. Jenny’s set my mind at rest about you. Said she couldn’t for one second believe anything bad, after she met you here, and then you came round.” Hadley listened to John and for a moment his eyes flashed.
“I’d like to help you and Jenny, John. I don’t know how, but I would.” Hadley reached across to shake John’s hand.
“If I can’t straighten this out, I’m leaving the police,” John said, acting as if seeking sympathy. You bet you are, Hadley thought. Jailbirds don’t get to keep their jobs.
John continued, “All I ask for now is that you think about it and let me know of any ideas.”
I will, Hadley thought, ideas that hasten your prosecution. You drivelling idiot. You’re playing right into my hands.
"Thanks for coming, John. I’m glad there are no hard feelings. I will help.” Short but sweet, Hadley thought, as he showed John out.

Thirty minutes later Bob Mitchell and Jim Duggan arrived. Bob was feeling good. He had just returned from the shooting range, where he had scored a personal best. He walked in and gave Hadley a hearty punch on the shoulder, before moving across to the fridge and extracting three beers, passing two to the others. Hadley motioned to them to take a seat and started to speak even as they sat.
“It’s looking good. This guy’s gonna take the fall for us.”
“So we hit a few more banks before they take him in?” Jim asked in his off-key whine.
“It’s time to build an organisation.” Bill thought this was so obvious that he was moving straight on, when Bob interrupted.
“Build a what? You crazy? That costs money.”
“We’ve got to use our potential, Bob,” Bill said calmly.
But Bob was not calm. “I don’t make money to spend on some organisation, which is always there and always wants money."
“We make more money, Bob.”
“You got it wrong, Bill. Forget it.” Bob was adamant. “My share’s one third, whatever. I spend it.”
“Your share’s one third of what we make as three, not when we make more,” Bill reasoned.
“One third. Period.” Bob drew his gun and slammed it on the table.
“Have it your way. One third of what I do with you. I’m working other deals.” Bill slid Bob’s gun back across the table. There was no argument to this, but Bob glowered at Bill.
“I’m with Bob,” Jim said. “Anyone else hears what I do, I’ll tell Bob to shoot ‘em. There are six ears here, and six ears it stays. Never am I looking inside a prison cell.”
“We have a class circus act,” Bob said. “We do our thing. No one lives to tell the tale, and that’s the way it stays.”
“I’m the leader here,” Bill started.
“You ain’t no goddamn leader,” Bob interrupted. “You’re the planner. Day you stop planning, Jim and me plan. You got that?” Bill was thrown by Bob’s vicious, derisive tone, and by Jim’s nodded agreement.
“I can’t believe you guys. I put this together,” he started, but saw a rock face in front of him and stopped. “You’re right we don’t need no organisation.” These bastards are dead meat, as soon as I can afford to ditch them, Bill thought.

Watching Bill, Bob’s thoughts were different: he’s going out of control, so I’ll watch him, and when he’s no use – bang, bang. He picked his gun up off the table and holstered it. Bob had few illusions about Bill’s mental stability, despite Bill’s outward appearance of calm.
Bob took the floor. “Bill, you got some planning to do. Me and Jim, we like what you do here. Right, Jim?”
“Right.” Jim moved to the fridge for more beers.
“We got cash, mucho dinero. Right, Jim?” Bob glared at Jim.
“Bill, we do stuff. We don’t sit on our arses. We lie low here. OK.”
“So what do you want?” Bill asked.
“Planning, Bill. We do something somewhere else. Right?”
This man truly does not know me, Bill thought. He dares to treat me like his flunky. Bill seethed inwardly. Bob grabbed another beer and smiled winningly at Bill. Bill’s smart, but he can’t control himself, he judged. He’s easy meat when it comes down to it. Still, his special skills are very valuable to me for the moment. He laughed inwardly, and passed a beer across to Jim. To hell with them, Jim thought. When the shit hits the fan, I’m outta here, like yesterday, and it will hit the fan, with these jerks, one day, one day soon. As if to presage this turn of events, Jim stood up and walked through the door, flicking the lights off as he went.
“I’m outta here,” he called back to them, where they sat in the dark.

In the darkness of her bedroom, Diane nuzzled against Giles. She felt warm and content: she did not feel like a special investigator of the police, but then again maybe it had its advantages.
“I’m investigating you, Giles,” she whispered. “A very special investigation.” He prepared himself for the investigation, which proved long and arduous, as she extracted all he had to give. Finally, he submitted and she relented, confessing it was just a training exercise and not the real thing.
“You know, Giles, that guy has a hold over Jenny,” she said.
“I know. He’s manipulative. He can spot what she needs and exploit it.”
“And John?”
“She’d never have married him, if he exploited her like that. No offence meant to Jenny, but with Hadley, it’s like giving a kid sweets and saying to her get into my car.”
“You mean she’s weak.”
“I mean she’s nice.”
“I understand, Giles. I’m not nice?”
“To that you know the answer, Diane. I’ll say it anyway. No.”
“You didn’t have to tell me, Giles.” She gave him a kiss. “Jenny’s going to be the bait.”
“You’re right. Come what may. She is.” Giles gave a deep sigh, and then, succumbing to the effects of the earlier interrogation, fell asleep.