Authors: Trevor Burton
Also by Trevor Burton
Countdown to Terror
Published by Trevor Burton
Printed by Createspace.com
Copyright © 2015 Trevor Burton
This book is a work of fiction, and any resemblance of characters to real persons, living or dead is entirely coincidental.
All Rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, copied, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior written consent of the copyright holder, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
All thanks to family and friends who read draft copy manuscripts and provided invaluable advice on titles and names of characters and their characteristics.
To my wife Sue, who once again served as editor throughout the whole process
Who seek to find eternal treasure must use no guile in weight or measure.
Quote around the middle dome of the trading floor at the Royal Exchange Manchester
When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous, but terror to evildoers.
Suzy Meredith was chatting to work colleagues in the River Bar of the Lowry Hotel in Salford, Manchester, in the UK, a popular watering hole for soccer stars and other celebrities. It had been sold two months earlier by the Rocco-Forte group for a sum rumoured to be close to £40m.
Suzy and her close colleagues Marian Clowes and Sophia Peroni had called in at the upmarket Lowry for a couple of drinks after work on Friday night to celebrate Marian’s thirtieth birthday, before making the commute home. Suzy was closest to Marian in age, Sophia some years younger.
Suzy was worried about becoming a whistle-blower. Being colleagues, work topics were bound to surface as they chatted. They worked for a company in Salford with government contracts that paid out thousands of pounds for getting unemployed people into work. The girls were employed as recruiters, and a large proportion of their earnings came in the form of monthly bonuses for each unemployed person that they helped back into work.
‘I’ve only done it the once,’ Marian said. ‘We needed the money, when my job claims for the month were nil. Barry said to just fudge it, and that no one would ever find out – they never check – and then he showed me how to do it.’
Suzy was shocked, and just stared down into her drink. At that point Barry, their boss, arrived along with other colleagues, all bonhomie and offering more drinks. Suzy declined, telling Barry that she and Sophia would have to be leaving to catch their train, as it was now seven o’clock and totally dark. The girls would normally head for Piccadilly mainline railway station to catch the same train back home – Suzy to Macclesfield and Sophia to leafy Prestbury, one of the most desirable villages in Cheshire. Marian lived in north Manchester. Suzy hugged Marian and was in the process of wishing her colleagues a good weekend when Sophia overheard the conversation.
‘Wait she cried. ‘We don’t need to go so early. My dad will give us a lift when he finishes at the restaurant. We can have a pizza while we wait for him to finish up.’
Sophia’s father Carlo owned an Italian restaurant in a street just off Albert Square in the city centre, a ten-minute walk away. He would be working until eleven o’clock, so they could stay at the Lowry until the party ended and then walk on over.
‘Oh! I never thought,’ Suzy replied. ‘Fantastic. Perhaps we will have that drink, then,’ she added, loud enough for Barry to hear. He turned his head and grinned in acquiescence.
An hour or so later Marian bade her remaining colleagues’ goodnight to head home to a waiting husband and two young children. She left the hotel by the rear entrance and walked down the steps, now much quieter after the rush hour had subsided, where she turned left to take a shortcut along the riverbank on the Salford side of the river Irwell towards Blackfriars Bridge. As she approached a fence of construction boards hiding a temporary car park, it became much darker. At that moment she felt the vibration of her mobile phone.
She paused, rummaging in her handbag. When she placed the phone to her ear, it felt warm to the touch. Peering to see who the caller was, she paused again before pressing the answer button. It was to be the last time she would ever do so, as the time it took was enough for her follower to sneak up on her unnoticed.
He had planned to confront Marian and remonstrate with her, but as he was about to call out to her, she paused and he panicked. She gasped as the attacker grabbed her around the waist with one strong arm, whilst his other hand snatched her scarf and smothered her mouth and nose with it. A shoe scraped on the concrete path and came off as she was dragged backwards the few feet towards the river Irwell. It took an eternity, and the stars winked knowingly as she looked up into the night sky. It was an easy task for a strong man to haul the petite woman, by now in a faint, over the low railings and heave her into the murky waters below. The cold water revived her, and she clawed at the bricked-up bank of the river… It was in vain, for the river was flowing fast after days of rain. As she opened her mouth, muddy water rushed in and stifled all attempts to scream. She was washed quickly downstream, back past the Lowry Hotel and under Bridge Street Bridge. The dead body of Marian Clowes eventually washed up on the flagged landing stage under the windows of the Mark Addy public house, named after the famous-nineteenth century publican and superb oarsman who was awarded the Albert Medal (George Cross) for the rescue of over fifty people from the river Irwell.
Early the next morning, a dog-walker stopped to investigate why his faithful pet, a Giant Schnauzer, on a long elasticated lead, was barking furiously and refusing to budge from the spot on the opposite bank of the river from the Mark Addy public house. The owner retraced his steps and leaned over the railing for closer inspection. As he peered across the river, he was shocked to see what appeared to be the body of a female on the stone-flagged jetty of the pub. The body was later revealed to be that of Marian Clowes, a recruitment consultant employed as an administrator by Salford into Work Ltd. The erstwhile hero Mark Addy was not at hand on this fateful day, so the dog-walker immediately used his mobile phone to contact emergency police services.
On Saturday morning, Detective Chief Inspector Bill Lambert sat reading a missing person report of a thirty-year-old female who had not returned home the night before, after an office party. She had two young children, and the husband was distraught. It was completely out of character and all calls to friends and family had drawn a blank, but from a police perspective it was only mere hours later – too early for concern or conjecture. He put the report to one side and carried on working through the rest of his paper mountain.
An hour later Detective Constable Maurice Evans knocked at the door and entered without waiting for the usual invitation.
‘Think you need to see this right away, sir,’ he said, thrusting a single sheet of paper onto the desk. DCI Lambert scanned it quickly.
This morning, Saturday November 14
2014, the body of a female was found washed up on the flagstone jetty of the Mark Addy Public House, on the Salford bank of the River Irwell. It was discovered by a man walking his dog on the opposite Manchester bank, who was alerted by the frantic barking of the dog.
‘These are the first notes as taken from the recorded message phoned in by the man,’ Evans advised.
Too much of a coincidence, surely
, Lambert thought, grasping the missing person report he had read earlier and passing it over to Evans
It took less than a minute for both policemen to read the respective reports.
‘Bit of a coincidence’, they echoed simultaneously.
‘What was the cause of death?’ Lambert asked.
‘Bit too early to say,’ Evans stated. ‘We should know later today.’
‘On the jetty of the Mark Addy… Was she drunk, perhaps? Could she have just fallen out of the pub?’
‘We don’t know if she was in the pub, sir,’ Evans advised.
Lambert looked back at the note. ‘Ah! It does say washed up.’
‘It does,’ Evans agreed.
‘Is it possible to fall in? Is it properly fenced off, or what?’
‘Not rightly sure, sir. Should I bring the first responder in?’
‘No, let’s wait for the facts first. Any identification on the body, though?’
‘None noted. We’ll have full details later.’
‘Let me see as soon as.’
‘Righto, sir,’ Evans replied. ‘Um, I thought you were playing golf with your mate the Gent today, though.’
‘I was, but he has pulled a muscle in his back. He’s got to lay off the golf for a bit and get treatment from the physio.’
‘Ah! Golf can be like that,’ Evans observed sagely, leaving the room.
I arrive at the Enodo offices at 8:45am on Monday morning after a quiet weekend. I am surprised to see Amelia, my partner at the agency, looking as though she has been slaving away for hours, with several pages of print already set out on her desk. My look is quickly interpreted as a question.
‘I’m just finishing the report for that farmer on the consultancy job we’re doing about the feasibility of fracking operations on his land. He emailed last thing on Friday, but I forgot to tell you when you phoned in on your way home from your bank meeting. It seems we’re not the only ones with bank problems. He needs to generate cash big-time, apparently, so although this report will keep the bank off his back, obviously he needs it to get the ball rolling with the fracking company.’
I nod wisely and reply, ‘Yeah, it was a no-brainer in terms of the bank, but that is the least of his worries. He needs to accept the offer from the fracking company before they get cold feet.’
Amelia looks at me. ‘What do you mean?’
‘Where do I start? I’ve been researching more about the industry for him. It began in the seventies in the UK as part of the north-sea oil exploration process. It’s now big business in the US. There was a report in the
Manchester Evening News,
that the fracking firm IGas say Manchester could be a centre of excellence. Fracking is now becoming big business in the UK too. IGas’s chief operating officer said the findings of the report highlight that the Ocean Gateway Region – under the north-west – is sitting on a potential £10bn investment opportunity.’
Amelia was amazed. ‘Sounds like a gold rush. North-sea oil all over again.’
‘That’s the PR spin, but the protest movements against fracking are gaining momentum and the Greens are getting in on the act too. It’s not all good press from the US either, whatever the government would have us believe. There are some alarming reports of water pollution from carcinogenic chemicals, and people being able to set alight the vapour from their water taps, and there have been many protests over here – even anti-fracking protests outside Greater Manchester Police headquarters in Newton Heath.’
‘Oh my God!’ she exclaims. ‘That is frightening.’
‘Yes, it certainly is, but the more cynical among us would also question the need for the government to be offering communities £100k to speed the process of approving drilling sites.’
Amelia exclaims once again. ‘Is that not blackmail?’
‘I’m sure it could be interpreted as blackmail or corruption, but that is beyond our remit, so I’ll give our report the once-over later and we can get it off the desk today. I will be glad to see the back of it. High-tech it may be, but fracking is not the most exciting of subjects.’
Carlo Peroni, ex-professional footballer, still thought of himself as
. His wife Miriam, although attractive, was now in her late forties and probably could not be regarded as a WAG anymore. They lived in a mansion in Prestbury, with a holiday home on the shores of Lake Como in Italy. Carlo had invested wisely during his years as a soccer player, and still retained an interest in his parents’ restaurant in downtown Manchester. An interest in art formed part of his
image, and his gallery in Prestbury featured regularly in
magazine. Carlo’s two children had surprised him by choosing less glamourous careers than his own, with Sophia opting for accounting at Salford into Work, a recruitment and training company funded largely by government contracts, and Roberto studying Law in London.
It was Monday evening, and the Peroni evening meal – normally a lively affair –was quieter than usual. Sophia was particularly subdued, and after half an hour of failed attempts at conversation with his daughter, Carlo took the bull by the horns.
‘Sophia, what on earth is up with you today?’ he demanded with concern.
‘Oh, I’m sorry, Dad,’ she whispered. ‘It’s Marian, my friend from work. She didn’t come into the office today, and the police were round asking questions about her. I’m worried that something has happened to her.’
‘Maybe she was just a little off-colour,’ Carlo suggested.
‘No, no, quick, look! Sophia’s mother, Francesca!’ exclaimed, pointing excitedly at the TV as the local news anchor man announced details of a body having been found two days earlier. It had washed up on the flagstone jetty of the Mark Addy public house on the banks of the River Irwell, and was believed to be that of Marian Forbes, an employee of Salford into Work Ltd. The shot moved to a sharp-suited hack outside the Mark Addy, where he was reporting the grisly details.
The family was quiet as the tale unfolded, at the end of which Sophia was sobbing uncontrollably.
‘I told you something had happened!’ Sophia hiccupped between sobs.
Now suspicious, Carlo enquired, ‘But what made you so convinced there was something wrong, just because the police were asking about her?’
Cornered, Sophia answered reluctantly. ‘It wasn’t just that they were asking; it was what she said on Friday night. I thought maybe she was going to blow the whistle.’
Sophia’s mother Miriam joined the interrogation. ‘Blow the whistle? Blow the whistle? What do you mean?’ she said in alarm, rounding upon her daughter.
Sophia’s reply, murmured through head in hands, was almost inaudible. ‘She said she’d only done it the once herself, but she was wondering if she ought to tell someone about it.’
‘Tell someone about what?’ Carlo demanded.
‘Oh!’ Sophia wailed. ‘Some people were falsifying claims for employment.’
‘What does that mean?’ her mother asked. ‘How can they do that?’
‘Yes, yes, how can that be done?’ Carlo reiterated.
Sophia, now more composed, attempted to explain. ‘You know that when a client gets a job, Salford into Work puts in a claim and gets a payment.’
‘But surely that’s only right,’ Carlo stated in exasperation.
Equally exasperated, Sophia tried to explain. ‘The point is, they haven’t actually got a job. It’s just made up.’
‘How do they do that?’ Miriam asked.
‘It’s quite simple, really. What’s normally required for evidence is a signed company letterhead, so they steal some, put a name in and fudge the signature or even just Tippex out the name of an existing client who did get a job. Then they photocopy it, and type in the new name. Apparently the government department doesn’t do enough checks.’
‘Oh, my God!’ Carlo exclaimed. ‘That’s appalling. And it’s that simple?’
‘It certainly seems that way,’ Sophia agreed.
There was further discussion as to what else could be going on before Carlo asked, ‘Are you going to do anything about it?’
‘I’m not sure what I can do. I don’t want to end up like Marian, do I?’
‘Oh, my God. I hadn’t thought of that,’ Miriam observed.
‘Hey! Let’s not get carried away,’ urged Carlo. ‘We don’t know for sure that there is a connection yet. I mean, would anybody go that far over something like that? It doesn’t seem serious enough.’
The room fell into an awkward silence, before Sophia spoke again.
‘That’s not all: the police said they had received a report about possible fraud taking place and asked if I knew anything about it.’
‘What did you say?’ Carlo demanded.
‘Well, I couldn’t totally deny it, could I? Not with Barry going missing as well, and there were lots of rumours about the police being called in.’
Carlo looked at Miriam.
‘This is getting worse,’ he uttered.