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To Commander William Hucklesby QPM
My thanks for their invaluable advice and research to:
Simon Bainbridge; Jonathan Caplan QC; Gregory Edmund; Colin Emson; Eric Franks; Vicki Mellor; Alison Prince; Ellen Radley, Forensic Handwriting and Document Examiner (Ret.); Catherine Richards; Susan Watt and Johnny Van Haeften
Special thanks to Detective Sergeant Michelle Roycroft (Ret.) and Chief Superintendent John Sutherland (Ret.)
After I finished writing the last of the Clifton Chronicles, several readers wrote to tell me they’d like to know more about William Warwick, the eponymous hero of Harry Clifton’s novels.
I confess that I had already given the idea some thought before I began working on Nothing Ventured, the first in the William Warwick series.
Nothing Ventured opens when William leaves school and, much to his father’s dismay, decides he wants to join the Metropolitan Police, rather than become a pupil in his father’s chambers. William perseveres, and in this opening novel we follow his life on the beat with a cast of characters, some good, some not so good, who cross his path as he tries to become a detective and transfers to Scotland Yard.
During the series, you will follow William’s fortunes as he progresses from detective constable to the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.
I’m currently working on the second novel in the series which will focus on William’s time as a young detective sergeant in the elite drugs unit.
Should he ever make it to commissioner will depend as much on William Warwick’s determination and ability as my hopes for longevity—mine, not yours.
This is not a detective story,
this is a story about a detective.
July 14, 1979
“You can’t be serious.”
“I couldn’t be more serious, Father, as you’d realize if you’d ever listened to anything I’ve been saying for the past ten years.”
“But you’ve been offered a place at my old college at Oxford to read law, and after you graduate, you’ll be able to join me in chambers. What more could a young man ask for?”
“To be allowed to pursue a career of his own choosing, and not just be expected to follow in his father’s footsteps.”
“Would that be such a bad thing? After all, I’ve enjoyed a fascinating and worthwhile career, and, dare I suggest, been moderately successful.”
“Brilliantly successful, Father, but it isn’t your career we’re discussing, it’s mine. And perhaps I don’t want to be a leading criminal barrister who spends his whole life defending a bunch of villains he’d never consider inviting to lunch at his club.”
“You seem to have forgotten that those same villains paid for your education, and the lifestyle you presently enjoy.”
“I’m never allowed to forget it, Father, which is the reason I intend to spend my life making sure those same villains are locked up for long periods of time, and not allowed to go free and continue a life of crime thanks to your skillful advocacy.”
William thought he’d finally silenced his father, but he was wrong.
“Perhaps we could agree on a compromise, dear boy?”
“Not a chance, Father,” said William firmly. “You’re sounding like a barrister who’s pleading for a reduced sentence, when he knows he’s defending a weak case. But for once, your eloquent words are falling on deaf ears.”
“Won’t you even allow me to put my case before you dismiss it out of hand?” responded his father.
“No, because I’m not guilty, and I don’t have to prove to a jury that I’m innocent, just to please you.”
“But would you be willing to do something to please me, my dear?”
In the heat of battle William had quite forgotten that his mother had been sitting silently at the other end of the table, closely following the jousting between her husband and son. William was well prepared to take on his father but knew he was no match for his mother. He fell silent once again. A silence that his father took advantage of.
“What do you have in mind, m’lud?” said Sir Julian, tugging at the lapels of his jacket, and addressing his wife as if she were a high court judge.
“William will be allowed to go to the university of his choice,” said Marjorie, “select the subject he wishes to study, and once he’s graduated, follow the career he wants to pursue. And more important, when he does, you will give in gracefully and never raise the subject again.”
“I confess,” said Sir Julian, “that while accepting your wise judgment, I might find the last part difficult.”
Mother and son burst out laughing.
“Am I allowed a plea in mitigation?” asked Sir Julian innocently.
“No,” said William, “because I will only agree to Mother’s terms if in three years’ time you unreservedly support my decision to join the Metropolitan Police Force.”
Sir Julian Warwick QC rose from his place at the head of the table, gave his wife a slight bow, and reluctantly said, “If it so please Your Lordship.”
* * *
William Warwick had wanted to be a detective from the age of eight, when he’d solved “the case of the missing Mars bars.” It was a simple paper trail, he explained to his housemaster, that didn’t require a magnifying glass.
The evidence—sweet papers—had been found in the wastepaper basket of the guilty party’s study, and the culprit wasn’t able to prove he’d spent any of his pocket money in the tuck shop that term. And what made it worse for William was that Adrian Heath was one of his closest pals, and he’d assumed it would be a lifelong friendship. When he discussed it with his father at half term, the old man said, “We must hope that Adrian has learned from the experience, otherwise who knows what will became of the boy.”
Despite William being mocked by his fellow pupils, who dreamed of becoming doctors, lawyers, teachers, even accountants, the careers master showed no surprise when William informed him that he was going to be a detective. After all, the other boys had nicknamed him Sherlock before the end of his first term.
William’s father, Sir Julian Warwick Bt, had wanted his son to go up to Oxford and read law, just as he’d done thirty years before. But despite his father’s best efforts, William had remained determined to join the police force the day he left school. The two stubborn men finally reached a compromise approved of by his mother. William would go to London University and read art history—a subject his father refused to take seriously—and if, after three years, his son still wanted to be a policeman, Sir Julian agreed to give in gracefully. William knew that would never happen.
William enjoyed every moment of his three years at King’s College London, where he fell in love several times. First with Hannah and Rembrandt, followed by Judy and Turner, and finally Rachel and Hockney, before settling down with Caravaggio: an affair that would last a lifetime, even though his father had pointed out that the great Italian artist had been a murderer and should have been hanged. A good enough reason to abolish the death penalty, William suggested. Once again, father and son didn’t agree.
During the summer holidays after he’d left school, William backpacked his way across Europe to Rome, Paris, Berlin, and on to St. Petersburg, to join long queues of other devotees who wished to worship the past masters. When he finally graduated, his professor suggested that he should consider a PhD on the darker side of Caravaggio. The darker side, replied William, was exactly what he intended to research, but he wanted to learn more about criminals in the twentieth century, rather than the sixteenth.
* * *
At five minutes to three on the afternoon of Sunday, September 5, 1982, William reported to Hendon Police College in north London. He enjoyed almost every minute of the training course from the moment he swore allegiance to the Queen to his passing-out parade sixteen weeks later.
The following day, he was issued with a navy-blue serge uniform, helmet, and truncheon, and couldn’t resist glancing at his reflection whenever he passed a window. A police uniform, he was warned by the commander on his first day on parade, could change a person’s personality, and not always for the better.
Lessons at Hendon had begun on the second day and were divided between the classroom and the gym. William learned whole sections of the law until he could repeat them verbatim. He reveled in forensic and crime scene analysis, even though he quickly discovered when he was introduced to the skid pad that his driving skills were fairly rudimentary.
Having endured years of cut and thrust with his father across the breakfast table, William felt at ease in the mock courtroom, where instructing officers cross-examined him in the witness box, and he even held his own during self-defense classes, where he learned how to disarm, handcuff, and restrain someone who was far bigger than him. He was also taught about a constable’s powers of arrest, search and entry, the use of reasonable force, and, most important of all, discretion. “Don’t always stick to the rule book,” his instructor advised him. “Sometimes you have to use common sense, which, when you’re dealing with the public, you’ll find isn’t that common.”
Exams were as regular as clockwork, compared to his days at university, and he wasn’t surprised that several candidates fell by the wayside long before the course had ended.
After what felt like an interminable two-week break following his passing-out parade, William finally received a letter instructing him to report to Lambeth police station at 8 a.m. the following Monday. An area of London he had never visited before.
* * *
Police Constable 565LD had joined the Metropolitan Police Force as a graduate but decided not to take advantage of the accelerated promotion scheme that would have allowed him to progress more quickly up the ladder, as he wanted to line up on his first day with every other new recruit on equal terms. He accepted that, as a probationer, he would have to spend at least two years on the beat before he could hope to become a detective, and in truth, he couldn’t wait to be thrown in at the deep end.
From his first day as a probationer William was guided by his mentor, Constable Fred Yates, who had twenty-eight years of police service under his belt, and had been told by the nick’s chief inspector to “look after the boy.” The two men had little in common other than that they’d both wanted to be coppers from an early age, and their fathers had done everything in their power to prevent them pursuing their chosen career.
“ABC,” was the first thing Fred said when he was introduced to the wet-behind-the-ears young sprog. He didn’t wait for William to ask.
“Accept nothing, Believe no one, Challenge everything. It’s the only law I live by.”
During the next few months, Fred introduced William to the world of burglars, drug dealers, and pimps, as well as his first dead body. With the zeal of Sir Galahad, William wanted to lock up every offender and make the world a better place; Fred was more realistic, but he never once attempted to douse the flames of William’s youthful enthusiasm. The young probationer quickly found out that the public don’t know if a policeman has been in uniform for a couple of days or a couple of years on William’s second day on the beat.
“Time to stop your first car,” said Fred, coming to a halt by a set of traffic lights. “We’ll hang about until someone runs a red, and then you can step out into the road and flag them down.” William looked apprehensive. “Leave the rest to me. See that tree about a hundred yards away? Go and hide behind it, and wait until I give you the signal.”
William could hear his heart pounding as he stood behind the tree. He didn’t have long to wait before Fred raised a hand and shouted, “The blue Hillman! Grab him!”
William stepped out into the road, put his arm up, and directed the car to pull over to the curb.
“Say nothing,” said Fred as he joined the raw recruit. “Watch carefully and take note.” They both walked up to the car as the driver wound down his window.
“Good morning, sir,” said Fred. “Are you aware that you drove through a red light?”
The driver nodded but didn’t speak.
“Could I see your driving license?”
The driver opened his glove box, extracted his license, and handed it to Fred. After studying the document for a few moments, Fred said, “It’s particularly dangerous at this time in the morning, sir, as there are two schools nearby.”
“I’m sorry,” said the driver. “It won’t happen again.”
Fred handed him back his license. “It will just be a warning this time,” he said, while William wrote down the car’s number plate in his notebook. “But perhaps you could be a little more careful in future, sir.”
“Thank you, officer,” said the driver.
“Why just a caution,” asked William as the car drove slowly away, “when you could have booked him?”
“Attitude,” said Fred. “The gentleman was polite, acknowledged his mistake, and apologized. Why piss off a normally law-abiding member of the public?”
“So what would have made you book him?”
“If he’d said, ‘Haven’t you got anything better to do, officer?’ Or worse, ‘Shouldn’t you be chasing some real criminals?’ Or my favorite, ‘Don’t you realize I pay your wages?’ Any of those and I would have booked him without hesitation. Mind you, there was one blighter I had to cart off to the station and lock up for a couple of hours.”
“Did he get violent?”
“No, far worse. Told me he was a close friend of the commissioner, and I’d be hearing from him. So I told him he could phone him from the station.” William burst out laughing. “Right,” said Fred, “get back behind the tree. Next time you can conduct the interview and I’ll observe.”
* * *
Sir Julian Warwick QC sat at one end of the table, his head buried in The Daily Telegraph. He muttered the occasional tut-tut, while his wife, seated at the other end, continued her daily battle with The Times crossword. On a good day, Marjorie would have filled in the final clue before her husband rose from the table to leave for Lincoln’s Inn. On a bad day, she would have to seek his advice, a service for which he usually charged a hundred pounds an hour. He regularly reminded her that to date, she owed him over twenty thousand pounds. Ten across and four down were holding her up.
Sir Julian had reached the leaders by the time his wife was wrestling with the final clue. He still wasn’t convinced that the death penalty should have been abolished, particularly when a police officer or a public servant was the victim, but then neither was the Telegraph. He turned to the back page to find out how Blackheath rugby club had fared against Richmond in their annual derby. After reading the match report he abandoned the sports pages, as he considered the paper gave far too much coverage to soccer. Yet another sign that the nation was going to the dogs.
“Delightful picture of Charles and Diana in The Times,” said Marjorie.
“It will never last,” said Julian as he rose from his place and walked to the other end of the table and, as he did every morning, kissed his wife on the forehead. They exchanged newspapers, so he could study the law reports on the train journey to London.
“Don’t forget the children are coming down for lunch on Sunday,” Marjorie reminded him.
“Has William passed his detective’s exam yet?” he asked.
“As you well know, my dear, he isn’t allowed to take the exam until he’s completed two years on the beat, which won’t be for at least another six months.”
“If he’d listened to me, he would have been a qualified barrister by now.”
“And if you’d listened to him, you’d know he’s far more interested in locking up criminals than finding ways of getting them off.”
“I haven’t given up yet,” said Sir Julian.
“Just be thankful that at least our daughter has followed in your footsteps.”
“Grace has done nothing of the sort,” snorted Sir Julian. “That girl will defend any penniless no-hoper she comes across.”
“She has a heart of gold.”
“Then she takes after you,” said Sir Julian, studying the one clue his wife had failed to fill in: Slender private man who ended up with a baton. Five, seven, and four.
“Field Marshal Slim,” said Sir Julian triumphantly. “The only man to join the army as a private soldier and end up as a field marshal.”
“Sounds like William,” said Marjorie. But not until the door had closed.
William and Fred left the nick just after eight to set out on their morning patrol. “Not much crime at this time of day,” Fred assured the young probationer. “Criminals are like the rich, they don’t get up much before ten.” Over the past eighteen months William had become used to Fred’s oft-repeated pearls of wisdom, which had proved far more useful than anything to be found in the Met’s handbook on the duties of a police officer.
“When do you take your detective’s exam?” asked Fred as they ambled down Lambeth Walk.
“In a few weeks’ time,” replied William. “But I don’t think you’ll be getting rid of me quite yet,” he added as they approached the local newsagent. He glanced at the headline: “PC Yvonne Fletcher killed outside the Libyan Embassy.”
“Murdered, more like,” said Fred. “Poor lass.” He didn’t speak again for some time. “I’ve been a constable all my life,” he eventually managed, “which suits me just fine. But you—”
“If I make it,” said William, “I’ll have you to thank.”
“I’m not like you, Choirboy,” said Fred. William feared that he would be stuck with that nickname for the rest of his career. He preferred Sherlock. He had never admitted to any of his mates at the station that he had been a choirboy, and always wished he looked older, although his mother had once told him, “The moment you do, you’ll want to look younger.” Is no one ever satisfied with the age they are? he wondered. “By the time you become commissioner,” continued Fred, “I’ll be shacked up in an old people’s home, and you’ll have forgotten my name.”
It had never crossed William’s mind that he might end up as commissioner, although he felt sure he would never forget Constable Fred Yates.
Fred spotted the young lad as he came running out of the newsagent’s. Mr. Patel followed a moment later, but he was never going to catch him. William set off in pursuit, with Fred only a yard behind. They both overtook Mr. Patel as the boy turned the corner. But it was another hundred yards before William was able to grab him. The two of them led the young lad back to the shop, where he handed over a packet of Capstan to Mr. Patel.
“Will you be pressing charges, sir?” asked William, who already had his notebook open, pencil poised.
“What’s the point?” said the shopkeeper, placing the cigarette packet back on the shelf. “If you lock him up, his younger brother will only take his place.”
“It’s your lucky day, Tomkins,” said Fred, clipping the boy around the ear. “Just make sure you’re in school by the time we turn up, otherwise I might tell your old man what you were up to. Mind you,” he added, turning to William, “the fags were probably for his old man.”
Tomkins bolted. When he reached the end of the street he stopped, turned around and shouted, “Police scum!” and gave them both a ‘V’ sign.
“Perhaps you should have pinned his ears back.”
“What are you talking about?” asked Fred.
“In the sixteenth century, when a boy was caught stealing, he would be nailed to a post by one of his ears, and the only way he could escape was to tear himself free.”
“Not a bad idea,” said Fred. “Because I have to admit I can’t get to grips with modern police practice. By the time you retire, you’ll probably have to call the criminals ‘sir.’ Still, I’ve only got another eighteen months to go before I collect my pension, and by then you’ll be at Scotland Yard. Although,” Fred added, about to dispense his daily dose of wisdom, “when I joined the force nearly thirty years ago, we used to handcuff lads like that to a radiator, turn the heat full on, and not release them until they’d confessed.”
William burst out laughing.
“I wasn’t joking,” said Fred.
“How long do you think it will be before Tomkins ends up in jail?”
“A spell in borstal before he goes to prison, would be my bet. The really maddening thing is that once he’s locked up he’ll have his own cell, three meals a day, and be surrounded by career criminals who’ll be only too happy to teach him his trade before he graduates from the University of Crime.”
Every day William was reminded how lucky he’d been to be born in a middle-class cot, with loving parents and an older sister who doted on him. Although he never admitted to any of his colleagues that he’d been educated at one of England’s leading public schools before taking an art history degree at King’s College London. And he certainly never mentioned that his father regularly received large payments from some of the nation’s most notorious criminals.
As they continued on their round, several local people acknowledged Fred, and some even said good morning to William.
When they returned to the nick a couple of hours later, Fred didn’t bother to report young Tomkins to the desk sergeant, as he felt the same way about paperwork as he did about modern police practice.
“Feel like a cuppa?” said Fred, heading toward the canteen.
“Warwick!” shouted a voice from behind them.
William turned round to see the custody sergeant pointing at him. “A prisoner’s collapsed in his cell. Take this prescription to the nearest chemist and have it made up. And be quick about it.”
“Yes, Sarge,” said William. He grabbed the envelope, and ran all the way to Boots on the high street, where he found a small queue waiting patiently at the dispensary counter. He apologized to the woman at the front of the queue before handing the envelope to the pharmacist. “It’s an emergency,” he said.
The young woman opened the envelope and carefully read the instructions before saying, “That will be one pound sixty, constable.”
William fumbled for some change, which he gave to the pharmacist. She rang up the sale, turned around, took a packet of condoms off the shelf, and handed it to him. William’s mouth opened, but no words came out. He was painfully aware that several people in the queue were grinning. He was about to slip away when the pharmacist said, “Don’t forget your prescription, constable.” She passed the envelope back to William.
Several amused pairs of eyes followed him as he slipped out into the street. He waited until he was out of sight before he opened the envelope and read the enclosed note.
Dear Sir or Madam,
I am a shy young constable, who’s finally got a girl to come out with me, and I’m hoping to get lucky tonight. But as I don’t want to get her pregnant, can you help?
William burst out laughing, put the packet of condoms in his pocket, and made his way back to the station; his first thought: I only wish I did have a girlfriend.
Constable Warwick screwed the top back onto his fountain pen, confident he had passed his detective’s exam with what his father would have called flying colors.
When he returned to his single room in Trenchard House that evening, the flying colors had been lowered to half mast, and by the time he switched off his bedside lamp, he was sure he would remain in uniform and be on the beat for at least another year.
“How did you do?” the station officer asked when he reported back on duty the following morning.
“Failed hopelessly,” said William, as he checked the parade book. He and Fred were down to patrol the Barton estate, if only to remind the local criminals that London still had a few bobbies on the beat.
“Then you’ll have to try again next year,” said the sergeant, unwilling to indulge the young man. If Constable Warwick wanted to wallow in self-doubt, he had no intention of rescuing the lad.
* * *
Sir Julian continued sharpening the carving knife until he was confident blood would run.
“Two slices or one, my boy?” he asked his son.
“Two please, Father.”
Sir Julian sliced the roast with the skill of a seasoned carver.
“So did you pass your detective’s exam?” he asked William as he handed him his plate.
“I won’t know for at least another couple of weeks,” said William, passing his mother a bowl of brussel sprouts. “But I’m not optimistic. However, you’ll be pleased to hear I’m in the final of the station’s snooker championship.”
“Snooker?” said his father, as if it were a game he was unfamiliar with.
“Yes, something else I’ve learned in the last two years.”
“But will you win?” demanded his father.
“Unlikely. I’m up against the favorite, who’s won the cup for the past six years.”
“So you’ve failed your detective’s exam and are about to be runner-up in the—”
“I’ve always wondered why they’re called brussel sprouts, and not just sprouts, like carrots or potatoes,” said Marjorie, trying to head off another duel between father and son.
“They started life as Brussels sprouts,” said Grace, “and over the years the ‘B’ became small, and the ‘s’ disappeared, until finally everyone has come to accept brussel as a word, except the more pedantic among us.”
“Like the OED,” suggested Marjorie, smiling at her daughter.
“And if you have passed,” said Sir Julian, refusing to be distracted by the etymology of the brussel sprout, “how long will it be before you become a detective?”
“Six months, possibly a year. I’ll have to wait for a vacancy to arise in another patch.”
“Perhaps you’ll go straight to Scotland Yard?” said his father, raising an eyebrow.
“That’s not possible. You have to prove yourself in another division before you can even apply for a job at the holy grail. Although I will be visiting the Yard tomorrow for the first time.”
Sir Julian stopped carving. “Why?” he demanded.
“I’m not sure myself,” admitted William. “The super called me in on Friday and told me to report to a Commander Hawksby at nine on Monday morning, but he didn’t give any clue why.”
“Hawksby … Hawksby…” said Sir Julian, the lines on his forehead growing more pronounced. “Why do I know that name? Ah yes, we once crossed swords on a fraud case when he was a chief inspector. An impressive witness. He’d done his homework and was so well prepared I couldn’t lay a glove on him. Not a man to be underestimated.”
“Tell me more,” said William.
“Unusually short for a policeman. Beware of them; they often have bigger brains. He’s known as the Hawk. Hovers over you before swooping down and carrying all before him.”
“You included, it would seem,” said Marjorie.
“What makes you say that?” asked Sir Julian, as he poured himself a glass of wine.
“You only ever remember witnesses who get the better of you.”
“Touché,” said Sir Julian, raising his glass as Grace and William burst into spontaneous applause.
“Please give Commander Hawksby my best wishes,” added Sir Julian, ignoring the outburst.
“That’s the last thing I’m going to do,” said William. “I’m hoping to make a good impression, not an enemy for life.”
“Is my reputation that bad?” said Sir Julian, with an exasperated sigh worthy of a rejected lover.
“I’m afraid your reputation is that good,” said William. “The mere mention of your name in the nick evokes groans of despair, with the realization that yet another criminal who should be locked up for life will be set free.”
“Who am I to disagree with twelve good men and true?”
“It may have slipped your notice, Father,” said Grace, “but women have been sitting on juries since 1920.”
“More’s the pity,” said Sir Julian. “I would never have given them the vote.”
“Don’t rise, Grace,” said her mother. “He’s only trying to provoke you.”
“So what is the next hopeless cause you will be championing?” Sir Julian asked his daughter, thrusting the knife in deeper.
“Hereditary rights,” said Grace, as she took a sip of wine.
“Whose in particular, dare I ask?”
“Mine. You may well be Sir Julian Warwick Bt, but when you die—”
“Not for some time, I hope,” said Marjorie.
“William will inherit your title,” continued Grace, ignoring the interruption, “despite the fact that I was the firstborn.”
“A disgraceful state of affairs,” mocked Sir Julian.
“It’s no laughing matter, Father, and I predict that you’ll see the law changed in your lifetime.”
“I can’t imagine their lordships will readily fall in with your proposal.”
“And that’s why they’ll be next in line, because once the Commons realizes there are votes in it, another sacred citadel will collapse under the weight of its own absurdity.”
“How will you go about it?” asked Marjorie.
“We’ll start at the top, with the Royal Family. We already have a life peer willing to present a primogeniture bill to the House, which would allow a woman to succeed as monarch if she was the first born, and not be pushed aside by a younger brother. No one has ever suggested that Princess Anne wouldn’t do as good a job as Prince Charles. And we’ll cite Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria, and Queen Elizabeth II to prove our case.”
“It will never happen.”
“In your lifetime, Dad,” Grace repeated.
“But I thought you disapproved of titles, Grace,” said William.
“I do. But in this case it’s a matter of principle.”
“Well, I’ll support you. I’ve never wanted to be Sir William.”
“What if you became commissioner, and earned it in your own right?” said his father. William hesitated for long enough for his father to shrug his shoulders.
“Did that poor young woman you were defending last week manage to get off?” Marjorie asked Grace, hoping for a break in hostilities.
“No, she got six months.”
“And will be out in three,” said her father, “when she will no doubt go straight back on the street.”
“Don’t get me onto that subject, Dad.”
“What about her pimp?” asked William. “He’s the one who should be locked up.”
“I’d happily boil him in oil,” said Grace, “but he wasn’t even charged.”
“In oil?” said her father. “We’ll have you voting Conservative yet.”
“Never,” Grace responded.
Sir Julian picked up the carving knife. “Anyone for seconds?”
“Dare I ask if you’ve met anyone recently?” asked Marjorie, turning to her son.
“Several people, Mama,” said William, amused by his mother’s euphemism.
“You know exactly what I meant,” she chided.
“Fat chance. I’ve been working on the roster for the past month, seven nights in a row, finishing up at six in the morning, by which time all you want to do is sleep. Then you’re expected to report back for duty two days later, to start an early shift. So let’s face it, Mum, PC Warwick isn’t much of a catch.”
“Whereas if you’d taken my advice,” said his father, “by now you’d be an eligible barrister, and I can assure you there are several attractive young women in chambers.”
“I’ve met someone,” said Grace, which silenced her father for the first time. He put down his knife and fork and listened intently. “She’s a solicitor in the City, but I’m afraid Dad wouldn’t approve of her as she specializes in divorce.”
“I can’t wait to meet her,” said Marjorie.
“Whenever you like, Mama, but be warned, I haven’t told her who my father is.”
“Am I a cross between Rasputin and Judge Jeffreys?” asked Sir Julian, placing the tip of the carving knife next to his heart.
“You’re not that nice,” said his wife, “but you do have your uses.”
“Name one,” said Grace.
“There’s a clue in yesterday’s crossword that is still baffling me.”
“I’m available to be consulted,” said Sir Julian.
“Out of sorts family? Thirteen letters. Third letter is ‘s,’ tenth letter ‘o.’”
“Dysfunctional!” the other three cried in unison, and burst out laughing.
“Anyone for humble pie?” said Sir Julian.
* * *
William had told his father that he was unlikely to win, but now it was in the bag, or to be more accurate, in the corner pocket. He was about to pot the last ball on the table and win the Lambeth station snooker championship, and end a run of six victories for Fred Yates.
Somewhat ironic, William thought, as it was Fred who’d taught him to play the game. In fact, William wouldn’t have ventured into the snooker room if Fred hadn’t suggested it might help him get to know some of the lads who weren’t too sure about the choirboy.
Fred had taught his charge to play snooker with the same zeal he had applied to introducing the lad to life on the beat, and now, for the first time, William was going to beat his mentor at his own game.
At school, William had excelled on the rugby pitch in the winter as a wing three-quarter, and during the summer as a sprinter on the track. In his final year at London University, he’d been awarded the coveted Purple after winning the Intercollegiate Championship. Even his father managed a wry smile whenever William broke the tape in the 100-yard dash, as he called it, although William suspected that “re-rack,” “maximum break,” and “in off” weren’t yet part of his father’s vocabulary.
William checked the scoreboard. Three games all. It now rested on the final frame. He had started well with a break of 42, but Fred had taken his time, eating away at the lead until the game was finely poised. Although William was still leading by 26 points, all the colors were on their spots, so that when Fred returned to the table, all he had to do was clear the last seven balls to capture the trophy.
The basement room was packed with officers of every rank; some were perched on the radiators while others sat on the stairs. A silence fell on the gathering as Fred leaned across the table to address the yellow. William resigned himself to having lost his chance of becoming champion, as he watched the yellow, green, brown, and blue disappear into the pockets, leaving Fred with just the pink and black to clear the table and win the match.
Fred lined up the object ball before setting the cue ball on its way. But he’d struck it a little too firmly, and although the pink shot toward the middle pocket and disappeared down the hole, the white ended up on a side cushion, leaving a difficult cue, even for a pro.
The crowd held its breath as Fred bent down. He took his time lining up the final ball which, if he potted, would take him over the line: 73–72, making him the first person to win the title seven years in a row.
He stood back up, clearly nervous, and chalked his cue once again as he tried to compose himself before returning to the table. He bent down, fingers splayed, and concentrated before he struck the cue ball. He watched anxiously as the black headed toward the corner pocket; several of his supporters willed it on its way, but to their dismay, it came to a halt just inches from the edge. There was an exasperated sigh from the crowd, who were aware William had been left with a shot even a novice could have pocketed, and they accepted that a new name was about to be added to the honors board.
The contender took a deep breath before glancing at the honors board, to be reminded that Fred’s name was printed in gold for 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, and 1982. But not 1983, thought William, as he chalked his cue. He felt like Steve Davis moments before he became world champion.
He was about to sink the final black when he spotted Fred standing on the other side of the table, looking resigned and dejected.
William leaned over the table, lined up the two balls, and hit the cue ball perfectly. He watched as the black touched the rim of the pocket, wobbled precariously over the hole, but remained tantalizingly balanced on the lip, and failed to drop. The stunned crowd gasped in disbelief. The lad had buckled under pressure.
Fred didn’t squander a second chance, and the room erupted when he sank the final ball to win the frame, and the championship, 73–72.
The two men shook hands while several officers surrounded them, patting both men on the back, with “Well done,” “Couldn’t have been closer,” and “Bad luck, William.” William stood to one side when the super presented Fred with the cup, which the champion raised high in the air to even louder cheers.
An older man, dressed in a smart double-breasted suit, whom neither of the gladiators had noticed, slipped quietly out of the room, left the station, and instructed his driver to take him home.
Everything he’d been told about the lad had turned out to be true, and he couldn’t wait for Constable Warwick to join his team at Scotland Yard.
When Constable Warwick emerged from St. James’s Park tube station, the first thing he saw on the far side of the road was the iconic revolving triangular sign announcing NEW SCOTLAND YARD. He gazed across with awe and apprehension, as an aspiring actor might approaching the National Theatre, or an artist entering the courtyard of the Royal Academy for the first time. He pulled up his collar to protect himself from the biting wind, and joined the stampede of early morning lemmings on their way to work.
William crossed Broadway and continued walking toward the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police Force, a nineteen-story building covered in decades of grime and crime. He presented his warrant card to the policeman on the door, and headed for the reception desk. A young woman smiled up at him.
“My name is Constable Warwick. I have an appointment with Commander Hawksby.”
She ran a finger down the morning schedule.
“Ah, yes. You’ll find the commander’s office on the fifth floor, at the far end of the corridor.”
William thanked her and headed toward a bank of lifts, but when he saw how many people were waiting, he decided to take the stairs. When he reached the first floor, DRUGS, he continued climbing. He passed FRAUD on the second floor, and MURDER on the third, before finally reaching the fifth floor, where he was greeted by MONEY LAUNDERING, ART AND ANTIQUES.
He pushed open a door that led into a long, brightly lit corridor. He walked slowly, aware that he still had a little time to spare. Better to be a few minutes early than a minute late, according to the gospel of St. Julian. Lights were blazing in every room he passed. The fight against crime knew no hours. One door was ajar, and William caught his breath when he spotted a painting that was propped up against the far wall.
Two men and a young woman were examining the picture carefully.
“Well done, Jackie,” said the older man, in a distinct Scottish accent. “A personal triumph.”
“Thank you, guv,” she replied.
“Let’s hope,” said the younger man, pointing at the picture, “this will put Faulkner behind bars for at least six years. God knows we’ve waited long enough to nail the bastard.”
“Agreed, DC Hogan,” said the older man, who turned and spotted William standing in the doorway. “Can I help you?” he asked sharply.
“No, thank you, sir.”
While you’re still a constable, Fred had warned him, call anything that moves “sir.” That way you can’t go far wrong. “I was just admiring the painting.” The older man was about to close the door when William added, “I’ve seen the original.”
The three officers turned to take a closer look at the intruder.
“This is the original,” said the young woman, sounding irritated.
“That’s not possible,” said William.
“What makes you so sure?” demanded her colleague.
“The original used to hang in the Fitzmolean Museum in Kensington until it was stolen some years ago. A crime that still hasn’t been solved.”
“We’ve just solved it,” said the woman with conviction.
“I don’t think so,” responded William. “The original was signed by Rembrandt in the bottom right-hand corner with his initials, RvR.”
The three officers peered at the right-hand corner of the canvas, but there was no sign of any initials.
“Tim Knox, the director of the Fitzmolean, will be joining us in a few minutes’ time, laddie,” said the older man. “I think I’ll rely on his judgment rather than yours.”
“Of course, sir,” said William.
“Do you have any idea how much this painting is worth?” asked the young woman.
William stepped into the room and took a closer look. He thought it best not to remind her of Oscar Wilde’s comment on the difference between value and price.
“I’m not an expert,” he said, “but I would think somewhere between two and three hundred pounds.”
“And the original?” asked the young woman, no longer sounding quite as confident.
“No idea, but every major gallery on earth would want to add such a masterpiece to its collection, not to mention several leading collectors, for whom money wouldn’t be an object.”
“So you haven’t got a clue what it’s worth?” said the younger officer.
“No, sir. A Rembrandt of this quality is rarely seen on the open market. The last one to come under the hammer was at Sotheby Parke Bernet in New York.”
“We know where Sotheby Parke Bernet is,” said the older man, making no attempt to hide his sarcasm.
“Then you’ll know it went for twenty-three million dollars,” said William, immediately regretting his words.
“We are all grateful for your opinion, laddie, but don’t let us hold you up any longer, as I am sure you have more important things to do,” he said, nodding toward the door.
William tried to retreat gracefully as he stepped back into the corridor only to hear the door close firmly behind him. He checked his watch 7:57. He hurried on toward the far end of the corridor, not wanting to be late for his appointment.
He knocked on a door that announced in gold lettering, COMMANDER JACK HAWKSBY OBE, and walked in to find a secretary seated behind a desk. She stopped typing, looked up and said, “PC Warwick?”
“Yes,” said William nervously.
“The commander is expecting you. Please go straight through,” she said, pointing to another door.
William knocked a second time, and waited until he heard the word, “Come.”
A smartly dressed, middle-aged man with penetrating blue eyes and a lined forehead, making him look older than his years, rose from behind his desk. Hawksby shook William’s outstretched hand and pointed to a chair on the other side of the desk. He opened a file and studied it for a few moments before he spoke. “Let me begin by asking you if you are by any chance related to Sir Julian Warwick QC?”
William’s heart sank. “He’s my father,” he said, presuming that the interview was about to come to a premature end.
“A man I greatly admire,” said Hawksby. “Never breaks the rules, never bends the law, but still defends even the most dubious charlatans as if they were saints, and I don’t suppose he’s come across many of those in his professional capacity.” William laughed nervously.
“I wanted to see you personally,” continued Hawksby, clearly not a man who wasted time on small talk, “as you passed out top in your detective’s exam, and by a considerable margin.”
William hadn’t even realized he’d passed.
“Congratulations,” the commander added. “I also noted that you’re a graduate, but chose not to take advantage of our accelerated promotion scheme.”
“No, sir. I wanted to—”
“Prove yourself. As I did myself. Now, as you know, Warwick, if you are to become a detective, you will have to be transferred to another patch. With that in mind, I’ve decided to send you to Peckham to learn the ropes. If you’re any good, I’ll be seeing you again in a couple of years’ time, and then I’ll decide if you’re ready to join us here at Scotland Yard, and take on the first division criminals, or if you should remain in the outer reaches and continue your apprenticeship.”
William allowed himself a smile, and settled back in his chair only to be shocked by the commander’s next question.
“Are you absolutely sure you want to be a detective?”
“Yes, sir. From the age of eight.”
“It’s not the white-collar criminals your father comes across that you’ll be dealing with, but the worst scum on earth. You’ll be expected to cope with everything from the suicide of a pregnant mother who can’t take being abused by her partner any longer, to finding a young drug addict with a needle sticking out of his arm who’s not much older than you. Frankly, you won’t always be able to sleep at night. And you’ll get paid less than a manager at Tesco.”
“You sound like my father, sir, and he couldn’t put me off.”
The commander stood up. “Then so be it, Warwick. See you in two years’ time.” They shook hands again; the obligatory interview over.
“Thank you, sir,” said William. After closing the door quietly behind him he wanted to leap in the air and cry Hallelujah, until he saw three figures standing in the outer office looking directly at him.
“Name and rank?” said the older man he’d seen earlier.
“Warwick, sir. Constable William Warwick.”
“Make sure Constable Warwick doesn’t move, sergeant,” said the older man to the young woman, before knocking on the commander’s door and going in.
“Good morning, Bruce,” said Hawksby. “I hear you’re about to arrest Miles Faulkner. Not a moment too soon.”
“I’m afraid not, sir. But that wasn’t why I wanted to see you…” was all William heard before the door closed.
“Who’s he?” William asked the young woman.
“Detective Chief Inspector Lamont. He heads up the Art and Antiques unit and reports directly to Commander Hawksby.”
“Do you also work for the art squad?”
“Yes. I’m DS Roycroft, and the chief’s my gaffer.”
“Am I in trouble?”
“Up to your neck, constable. Let’s just say I’m glad I’m not in your shoes.”
“But I was only trying to help…”
“And thanks to your help, you’ve single-handedly managed to scupper a six-month undercover operation.”
“I suspect you’re about to find out,” said DS Roycroft as the door swung open and Detective Chief Inspector Lamont reappeared, glaring at William.
“Come in, Warwick,” he said. “The commander wants another word with you.”
William walked tentatively into Hawksby’s office, assuming he was about to be told that he was back on the beat. The commander’s smile had been replaced by a grim look, and this time he didn’t bother to shake hands with PC 565LD.
“You’re a nuisance, Warwick,” he said, “and I can tell you now, you won’t be going to Peckham.”
“Your last day in uniform,” said Fred as they left the nick and set out on their evening patrol.
“Unless I’m not cut out to be a detective,” said William. “In which case, I’ll be back on the beat in no time.”
“Balls. You’ll make a name for yourself, and everyone knows it.”
“Only thanks to you, Fred. You’ve taught me more about the real world than I ever learned at university.”
“Only because you’ve led such a sheltered life, Choirboy. Unlike me. So which unit will you be attached to?”
“Art and Antiques.”
“I thought that was just a hobby for people with too much time and money on their hands, not a crime.”
“It can be a very lucrative crime for those who’ve worked out how to find a way around the law.”
“There’s a scam going on at the moment,” said William, “where professional criminals steal paintings without any intention of selling them.”
“You’ve lost me,” said Fred. “Why steal something you don’t intend to sell or pass on to a fence?”
“Insurance companies are sometimes willing to make a deal with a go-between rather than pay out the full amount on a policy.”
“A fence in an Armani suit?” said Fred. “So how do you nick ’em?”
“You have to wait until they get too greedy, and the insurance company refuses to pay up.”
“Sounds like a lot of paperwork to me, so I’d never have made a detective.”
“Where are we patrolling tonight?” asked William, well aware that Fred didn’t always follow daily orders to the letter.
“Saturday night. Better check the Barton estate and make sure the Suttons and Tuckers aren’t spoiling for a fight. Then we’ll head back to Luscombe Road before the pubs close. Might even find a drunk and disorderly for you to arrest on your last night on the beat.”
Although William had spent two years on probation with Fred, he knew almost nothing about his private life. He could hardly complain, because he himself was just as secretive, but as it would be their final patrol together, he decided to ask Fred something that had often puzzled him.
“What made you join the force in the first place?”
Fred didn’t answer for some time, almost as if he was ignoring the question. “As I’m never going to see you again, Choirboy,” he eventually replied, “I’ll tell you. To start with, it wasn’t in the first place. And was more by accident than design.”
William remained silent as they turned into an alley that led to the back of the Barton estate.
“I was born in a tenement block in Glasgow. My father spent most of his life on the dole, so my mother was our only source of income.”
“What did she do?”
“She was a barmaid, who learned soon enough that she could earn a damn sight more doing favors on the side. Trouble is, I’m still not sure if I was the result of one of those favors.”
William didn’t comment.
“But the cash dried up when she began to lose her looks, and it didn’t help that my father gave her a regular black eye if she didn’t come home on a Saturday night with enough cash to pay for his next bottle of whiskey and the chance to back another fourth-place nag.”
Fred fell silent, while William thought about his own parents, who usually went out to dinner and the theater on a Saturday night. He still found it difficult to comprehend the tyranny of domestic violence. He’d never once heard his father raise his voice in front of his mother.
“London’s a long way from Glasgow,” prompted William, hoping to learn more.
“It wasn’t far enough for me,” said Fred, flashing his torch down an alley and grinning when a young couple scurried away. “I was fourteen when I left home. I jumped on the first tramp steamer that would have me. I’d seen half the world by the time I was eighteen and landed up in London.”
“Is that when you joined the force?”
“No. I still looked on them as the enemy. I spent a few months stacking supermarket shelves before becoming a bus conductor. Soon got bored with that, so decided to join either the army or the police. If the police hadn’t interviewed me first, I might be a general by now.”
“Or dead,” said William, as they walked onto the estate.
“You’re just as likely to be killed in this job as you are in the modern army,” said Fred. “I’ve lost seven colleagues in the past twenty years, and far too many others, injured and invalided out of the force. And at least in the army you know who the enemy is, and you’re allowed to kill them. We’re expected to handle drug dealers, knife crime, and gang warfare, while most of the public prefer not to know.”
“So why did you stick at it when you could have chosen a far easier life?”
“We may have come from opposite sides of the tracks, Choirboy,” said Fred, “but we do have one thing in common—we’re both a bit bonkers, but at least we’re doing the job we were destined for. And let’s face it, I’ve never had a job that’s half as exciting or rewarding as being a Met copper.”
“I don’t mean financially, although if you put in the overtime, the pay’s not too bad. Deprehendo Deprehensio Vitum,” said Fred. “Overtime Solves Crime.”
William couldn’t stop laughing, and Fred added, “Don’t worry, it’s the only Latin I know. What I enjoy most about the job is that no two days are ever the same. And, more importantly, this is my manor, and I know almost everyone who lives here. They may not always be one big happy family, but they’re my family, and although I’d never admit it in the canteen, I like to kid myself that I’ve made a difference.”
“And you’ve got two commendations to prove it.”
“Not to mention three suspensions, but as I’ve only got a few months left before I hang up my truncheon, I won’t be stepping out of line again. Wouldn’t want to do anything that would affect my pension,” he added as they strolled off the Barton estate.
“It’s quiet tonight,” said William.
“They saw us coming, and like rats, they disappeared down the nearest drain. They’ll reappear the minute we’re out of sight. But then, we wouldn’t want any trouble on your last night on the beat, would we, detective?”
William laughed, and was about to ask another question, when Fred glanced across the road and said, “Silly old moo. But I don’t suppose she knows any better.”
William suspected that another piece of homespun philosophy was about to be dispensed, although he couldn’t see what Fred was going on about.
“Number twenty-three,” said Fred. “Mrs. Perkins.”
“Burgled a couple of weeks ago,” said William. “A TV and a VCR, if I remember correctly.”
“Five out of ten,” said Fred. “Now earn the other five.”
William stared at number 23 but was none the wiser.
“What do you see, Choirboy?”
“Two empty cardboard boxes.”
“And what does that tell you?
William tried to think like a thief catcher, an accolade only given to those who, like Fred, could smell a crime even before it took place.
Fred let out an exaggerated sigh. “Mrs. Perkins’s insurance company must have paid up, so she’s now the proud owner of a new television and VCR. But what she doesn’t know is that a burglar often returns to the scene of the crime a few weeks later, well aware there will probably be a brand-new TV set for them to steal. And in her case, she’s actually advertising the fact. All the villain has to do is wait until she goes out one evening to visit her friend Mrs. Cassidy at number ninety-one, then pop back in and rob her a second time.”
“So what should we do?” asked William.
“Have a quiet word with her, and suggest she destroys the evidence,” said Fred as he knocked on the door of number 23. Mrs. Perkins answered almost immediately, and once Fred had explained why two policemen were standing on her doorstep, she hastily removed the boxes, thanked him, and offered them a cup of tea.
“That’s good of you, Mrs. Perkins, but I’d better get on.” He touched the rim of his helmet before they continued on their round.
“When do you start your new job?” Fred asked after they’d walked a few more yards.
“I’m taking a couple of weeks’ holiday in Italy before reporting to Scotland Yard on the first of October.”
“Lots of pretty girls in Italy, I’m told.”
“Most of them framed.”
Fred laughed. “I’ve never been to Italy, or even Scotland Yard for that matter, but I’m told they’ve got the finest snooker room in the Met.”
“I’ll come back and tell you what it’s like…”
“You’ll never come back, Choirboy. Lambeth has just been the first rung on what I expect will be a very long ladder. But be warned, on your way up you’ll come across plenty of snakes who’ll be only too happy to send you back down a ladder, and some of them will be wearing blue uniforms,” he said, rattling a shop door to make sure it was locked.
William chuckled. Never a shift went by when he didn’t learn something from Fred.
William looked down at a man who was sitting cross-legged on the pavement, nursing a half-empty bottle of whiskey. When he was first on the beat, Fred had taught him that there were four types of drunks: the sleepers, who fall into a drunken stupor, and when they eventually wake up, go home; the harmless, who are usually drowning their sorrows and are rarely any trouble; the lovers, who want to take you home and try on your uniform; and the aggressive ones, who are looking for a fight and consider a policeman fair game. Fred could identify each category at a dozen paces, especially those looking for a fight, who regularly ended up spending the night in a cell, and were often a completely different person the following morning. William had come across all four types over the past couple of years, and thanks to Fred’s common sense and strong right arm, he only had one or two bruises to show for it.
“Which category?” asked William.
“Drowning his sorrows. Spurs must have lost this afternoon.”
“How do you know that?”
“Jacob’s as good as gold when they win, but if they lose, he’s a lost cause.”
They turned into Luscombe Road to see a few locals making their way home from the Marlborough Arms.
“Disappointing,” said Fred. “Luscombe Road isn’t what it used to be since the council cleaned it up. I was hoping we might come across a drug dealer, or even Lenny the Snitch, so you’d have something to remember from your last night on the beat.”
“We could always arrest her,” said William, pointing to a girl in a short black leather skirt who was chatting to a man through an open car window.
“What’s the point? She’ll only spend the night in a cell, pay a fine in the morning, and be back on the game tomorrow evening. It’s not the girls I’d like to nick, but the pimps who live off them. And one in particular,” Fred added.
The car sped away when the driver spotted two policemen in his rearview mirror. They ambled on toward the town center, Fred regaling William with stories, some of which he’d heard before but were worth a second outing, and others that he wasn’t sure hadn’t been embellished with the passing of the years.
William was going to ask Fred about his retirement plans when his mentor grabbed his arm and pulled him into the nearest doorway, suddenly no longer the friendly neighborhood bobby but transformed into a policeman who’d spotted a real criminal.
“It’s our lucky night,” said Fred, nodding in the direction of a giant of a man clutching a terrified girl by the neck. “I’ve been after that bastard for years. Don’t bother reading him his rights. That can wait until he’s banged up in a cell.”
Fred drew his truncheon, leaped out from the shadows, and began running toward the assailant, causing several other girls to scatter like pigeons in every direction the moment they saw him. William followed and quickly overtook the old-timer, who was not only thirty years older, but hadn’t won the 100 yards in his last year at school.
The thug looked around and, seeing William heading toward him, let go of the girl, who fell on her knees, whimpering. That was when William saw the knife, but he was only a couple of strides away and committed to the tackle. He dived low, hitting the man just below the knees, causing them both to crash onto the pavement. By the time William had recovered, the man was already back on his feet. William instinctively raised an arm to protect himself as the knife was thrust down. The last thing he remembered was the shock of the blade entering his chest.
“Officer down, officer down! Urgent assistance required in Luscombe Road!” shouted Fred over his radio, as he leaped on the assailant.
* * *
His eyes opened. He blinked and looked around the unfamiliar room. His parents and sister were standing by the side of the bed, and a senior officer he didn’t recognize was stationed by the door. Three pips on each epaulette indicated that he was a chief inspector.
William gave his family a weak smile as he tried to sit up, but he could only manage a few inches, suddenly aware that his chest was heavily bandaged. He slumped back down.
“How’s Fred?” were his first faltering words.
None of them seemed willing to answer the question. Finally the police officer stepped forward and said, “I’m Chief Inspector Cuthbert, and I’m sorry about this Constable Warwick, but I have to ask you some questions about what happened on Saturday night, because as you well know, we can’t hold a suspect for more than twenty-four hours unless we have enough evidence to charge them.”
“Of course, sir,” said William, once again trying to sit up.
The chief inspector opened a large brown envelope and extracted several black-and-white photos of different men, one of whom William would never forget.
“Is that the man you attempted to arrest on Saturday night?” asked Cuthbert.
William nodded. “But why do you need to ask me, when Fred could identify him in person?”
Chief Inspector Cuthbert remained silent as he placed the photographs back in the envelope.
* * *
The parish church of St. Michael and St. George was rarely full, even for the mayor’s annual carol concert, but on this occasion the pews were packed long before the choir had entered the nave. PC Fred Yates QGM had been granted a full police service funeral, while a uniformed guard of honor lined the approach to the church.
The funeral cortege was escorted by mounted officers, and Fred’s coffin was draped in the blue and silver colors of the Metropolitan Police, along with the Queen’s Gallantry Medal and a silver trophy resting on top. Inside the church, senior officers were seated at the front, while those who couldn’t find a seat had to be satisfied with standing at the back. William, seated in a wheelchair, was pushed down the aisle by his father, and the congregation rose to acknowledge him. A church warden guided them to reserved places in the front row.
He who would valiant be …
William held up well, until the coffin, borne on the shoulders of eight serving officers, made its slow progress down the aisle toward the chancel, when he was unable to hold back the tears. The parish priest looked down from the altar steps and offered prayers for the locals from Fred’s patch, many of whom rarely, if ever, attended a church service. They had come to pay their respects, even though some of them didn’t know Fred’s second name. William looked around and spotted Mrs. Perkins among the mourners.
To be a pilgrim …
When the congregation knelt to pray, William bowed his head and recalled Fred’s words: I like to kid myself that I’ve made a difference. He only wished that Fred could have been there to witness what a difference he’d made.
The hymns were sung lustily by Fred’s colleagues and friends, which William knew Fred would have appreciated, although he would have described the eulogy delivered by the station’s chief superintendent as way over the top. William could hear Fred chuckling away when the super talked about his commendations. What about my suspensions? he could hear him saying.
After the priest had given the final blessing, the congregation stood and the pallbearers resumed their duties, bearing the coffin back down the aisle and out of the church to the burial plot. William tried to stand as it passed by, but he couldn’t quite manage it until the desk sergeant and the super came to his aid.
When they got home that night, his father suggested that it wouldn’t be a disgrace if William felt he had to leave the force. He was sure his colleagues would understand. “You could go to night school, study law, and then join me in chambers, where you could still fight criminals, but in the safety of a courtroom by day, rather than on the streets at night.”
William knew his father was right. But it was Fred who had the last word.
We may have come from opposite sides of the tracks, Choirboy, but we do have one thing in common—we’re both a bit bonkers, but at least we’re doing the job we were destined for.
Commander Hawksby sat at the head of the table, as befitted the chairman of the board. The other three directors waited for him to open the meeting.
“I would like to begin by welcoming a new recruit to our team. Although DC Warwick doesn’t have a great deal of experience as a detective—” that’s putting it mildly, thought William—“he has considerable expertise in the field of art, which was his chosen subject at university. In fact he turned down the chance to do a PhD so he could join the Met. So I’m rather hoping that his specialized knowledge will make a difference when it comes to finally nailing Miles Faulkner. Bruce,” he said, turning to the senior officer on the case, “perhaps you can bring us up to date.”
Detective Chief Inspector Lamont had several files in front of him, but he didn’t need to open any of them as most of the contents were indelibly lodged in his mind. He looked directly at Detective Constable Warwick, as he didn’t have anything new to tell his two colleagues.
“For the past seven years we’ve been trying to catch a thief who by any standards is a master criminal, and to date he’s been running rings around us. Miles Faulkner has developed an almost infallible system that allows him to steal major works of art and make a fortune without appearing to break the law.” Several questions had already occurred to William, but he decided not to interrupt his new boss.
“First, you’ll need to realize, Bill—”
Lamont frowned. “You’ll need to realize that if you’ve ever seen the film The Thomas Crown Affair, you should dismiss it for what it is. Pure fiction. Entertaining, I accept, but nevertheless, fiction. Miles Faulkner is no Steve McQueen. He doesn’t steal masterpieces for the sheer pleasure of it and then hide them in his basement where he alone can spend hours admiring them. That’s for filmgoers who want to enjoy a couple of hours imagining what it would be like to fool our colleagues in Boston, while sleeping with a beautiful woman who just happens to be the insurance broker working on the case. Although that’s the one person in the film who does bear some similarity to the real world: the insurance broker—except in our case he’s more likely to be a middle-aged, middle-management pen pusher who goes home at six every evening to his wife and two children. And more important, he won’t be in Faulkner’s league.”
“Still with us, Warwick?” asked Hawksby.
“Then you’ll be able to tell us what DCI Lamont is going to say next.”
“That Faulkner steals valuable pictures from galleries or collectors with the intention of making a deal with the relevant insurance company, which is willing to settle for considerably less than the sum insured.”
“Usually about half,” said Lamont. “But Faulkner still ends up making a handsome profit.”
“Clever as he may be,” said William, “he can’t be carrying out such a complex operation on his own.”
“No, he isn’t. He has a small, highly professional team working alongside him, but whenever we’ve caught any of his associates, they’ve kept their mouths firmly shut.”
“On one occasion,” said Detective Sergeant Roycroft, “we even caught two of the thieves red-handed. But Faulkner was in Monte Carlo at the time of the robbery, sleeping peacefully in bed with a wife to confirm his alibi.”
“And do we think his wife is also one of his most trusted associates?” asked William.
“She’s covered for him several times in the past,” said Hawksby, “but we’ve recently discovered that Faulkner has a mistress.”
“That’s not yet a crime,” said William.
“True. But if she were to find out…”
“Weren’t you able to turn either of the gang you arrested, and make a plea bargain?” was William’s next question.
“Not a chance,” said Lamont. “Faulkner had an unsigned contract with both of them, with no get-out clause.”
“They were both sentenced to six years,” said Hawksby, picking up the thread, “and their families on the outside were well looked after, although we’ve never been able to connect the crime to Faulkner. A third villain, who was involved in the Fitzmolean break-in, had his lips sewn together just to remind him what would happen if he decided to turn Queen’s evidence.”
“But if Faulkner is the fence…”
“Faulkner, according to his tax return,” said Lamont, “is a farmer. He lives in a nine-bedroom mansion in Hampshire surrounded by three hundred acres on which a few cows graze, but never go to market.”
“But presumably someone has to carry out the negotiations with the insurance companies?”
“Faulkner leaves that to another of his acolytes,” said Lamont. “Mr. Booth Watson QC. A barrister who always acts on behalf of an unnamed client. However hard we press him, he simply reminds us about lawyer-client confidentiality.”
“But if Booth Watson knows he’s dealing directly with a criminal, isn’t it his professional responsibility to report—”
“We aren’t dealing with your father in this case, Warwick,” said Hawksby, “but a man who has twice appeared before the Bar Council for conduct unworthy of his profession. On both occasions, he narrowly escaped being disbarred.”
“But he still practices,” said William.
“Yes, but he rarely appears in court nowadays,” said Hawksby, “having discovered a way of charging exorbitant fees without ever having to leave his chambers. Whenever a major work of art is stolen, it’s no coincidence that the first call the insurance company makes is to Mr. Booth Watson, who they ask to act as an intermediary. Surprise, surprise, the picture reappears a few days later in perfect condition, and the insurance company settles, often without even bothering to inform us.”
“I find it hard to believe,” said William, “that Faulkner’s enjoyed a seamless record of success. This sounds as much like the stuff of fiction as The Thomas Crown Affair.”
“Quite right,” said Hawksby. “At least one of the more established insurance companies has refused to pay the piper, and if the gallery concerned doesn’t have the resources to offer a reward, then Faulkner can find himself stuck with the picture.”
“If that’s the case,” said William, “the Rembrandt stolen from the Fitzmolean could still be out there.”
“Unless Faulkner has destroyed it, to make sure the theft can never be traced back to him.”
“Surely no one would destroy a Rembrandt?”
“I’d wait until you meet the man before you jump to that conclusion. We’re not dealing with an art lover here, but someone who would shop his own mother, if it meant he would get off.”
“What else do we know about Faulkner?” asked William, chastened.
This time it was DS Roycroft who opened a file. “Born in Sevenoaks in 1942, the only child of an estate agent and a hairdresser. Although that isn’t what he tells his friends at the golf club. Awarded an open scholarship to Harrow at the age of eleven, and in his final year he won the school’s art prize. After leaving Harrow, he took up a place at the Slade School of Art, but soon realized that although he was one of the brightest students of his year, he was, to quote the principal’s graduation report, ‘never going to make a living as an artist.’ They recommended that he consider a career in teaching. He ignored their advice.”
“By the time he left the Slade,” said Lamont, taking over, “he’d worked out exactly what role he was going to play in the art world. But he needed to gain some experience before he could branch out on his own. He joined a leading West End gallery as a trainee, where he learned in the art world how much money could be made, especially if you were unscrupulous. He was sacked after a couple of years in circumstances that we’re not altogether sure about, although we do know that no other gallery would employ him. For some time he disappeared off the scene, until a Salvador Dalí went missing from the Courtauld, long before the Art and Antiques squad had been set up.”
“What makes you think he was involved in that theft?” asked William.
“We picked him up on a surveillance camera taking a photograph of the painting a month before it was stolen. A mistake he hasn’t made since,” said Hawksby.
“And he must have made a good enough profit from that deal, among others, because once again he disappeared off our radar until the Rembrandt was stolen from the Fitzmolean some seven years ago. But on that occasion Mr. Booth Watson was unable to reach a deal with the insurers, which looks like his only failure to date. Although the manner in which he carried out the theft would have impressed even Thomas Crown.”
William didn’t interrupt.
“A squad car turned up outside the Fitzmolean on a Saturday afternoon just after the gallery had closed. Two men dressed as policemen entered the museum claiming an alarm had gone off, coshed the door-man, and tied him up. Ten minutes later, they walked out of the front door with the Rembrandt tucked under their arms.”
“Where were the security guards?”
“They said they were patrolling the top floor and didn’t report back to the ground floor until half an hour later, at four forty-eight p.m.”
“Is four forty-eight relevant?” asked William.
“He’s sharp,” said Lamont.
“Manchester United were playing Liverpool in the FA Cup that afternoon, and the match was being shown live on BBC One. The final whistle went at four forty-six.”
“Where was the television?” asked William.
“In the staff canteen in the basement,” said Lamont, “which I suspect Faulkner was well aware of, because the thieves arrived just after the whistle blew for the start of the second half, and we later discovered that both guards were Manchester United supporters, which I’ve no doubt Faulkner knew only too well.”
“If the devil’s in the details, he’s the devil,” added Hawsky.
“So now you know what we’re up against,” said DS Roycroft. “A highly professional, well-organized criminal, who only has to steal one major painting every few years to live the life of Riley, and can carry out the whole operation in a matter of minutes.”
“I must have missed something,” said William. “Why didn’t Booth Watson make a deal with the insurers and settle the claim soon after Faulkner had stolen the Rembrandt?”
“The Fitzmolean were lamentably underinsured. A problem several leading galleries face at the moment. Their paintings and sculptures have soared in value over the years, and they simply can’t afford to insure them for realistic sums.”
“However,” chipped in Lamont, “the setback will have taught Faulkner one lesson. Don’t steal from galleries that aren’t fully insured or don’t have sufficient resources to offer a reward.”
“Any questions, Warwick?” said Hawksby.
“Yes, sir,” said William. “We now know that the Rembrandt you thought was the original is in fact a copy.”
“What’s your point?” said Jackie, still smarting from her mistake.
“Someone must have painted that copy.”
“Faulkner perhaps?” suggested Lamont. “After all, he began life as an art student.”
“Not if the Slade’s opinion of his talent is to be believed. But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t know an artist who was capable of doing the job. They might well have been contemporaries at the Slade.”
“If that’s the case,” said Lamont, “you’re the obvious man to find out who that person is.”
“Agreed,” said Commander Hawksby, checking his watch. “Do you have any more questions, DC Warwick?”
“Just one, sir. How did you get hold of the copy?”
“We were able to convince a local magistrate that we had reason to believe Faulkner might be in possession of an important work of art that had been stolen from the Fitzmolean. He signed a search warrant, and we raided Faulkner’s home later that night. Until you appeared, we thought we’d hit the jackpot.”
“Did you get a chance to study the rest of his collection while you were in his home?”
“Yes,” said Lamont, “and not one of them was on our list of missing pictures, and he was also able to produce receipts for all his other paintings.”
“So he reinvests his ill-gotten gains in artwork, which makes me even more convinced he won’t have destroyed the Rembrandt.”
“Don’t bet your pensions on it,” said Hawksby as he closed his file. “That brings us up to date, and I don’t need to remind you that this is not the only case we are currently investigating. So don’t neglect the others gathering dust on your desks. I’m finding it difficult enough to justify any further expense to the commissioner, and a few convictions, however minor, would assist our cause. This government seems to be more interested in the numbers game than in catching real criminals. So let’s get back to work.”
Everyone around the table gathered up their files and headed for the door. But before William could leave the room, Hawksby said, “I’d like a word, Warwick.”
The commander waited until the door had been closed before he spoke again.
“William, I know you’re bright, your colleagues also know you’re bright, so you don’t have to continually remind them you turned what they had thought was a triumph into a disaster. If you want to end up in this chair one day, don’t spend any more time pissing off the people you’ll be working with. I suggest you occasionally seek advice, and don’t just dispense it. Perhaps you should spend a little more time in the snooker room, as it didn’t seem to do you any harm in Lambeth.”
William recalled his father’s words. Not a man to be underestimated.
Quietly he left the room, his head bowed. He thought about the commander’s words as he walked slowly down the corridor. He hadn’t yet visited the snooker room at Scotland Yard. When he returned to the office he shared with his colleagues, he found two case files had been dumped on his desk. He was halfway through one labeled CHURCHILL, when DS Roycroft appeared by his side.
“Which one do you think I should start on, sarge?” he asked her.
“Remind me,” said Jackie.
“Winston Churchill, or moon dust?”
“Moon dust should be pretty easy to deal with. The professor is clearly not a criminal, and frankly, Mr. Underwood, the undersecretary at the American Embassy, is overreacting. But we don’t want a diplomatic incident, so make sure you tread carefully.”
“Churchill will be more of a challenge, but as the Hawk reminded us, nowadays it’s all about numbers, so make sure you apprehend the culprit and charge him, even though I suspect he’ll only get a six-month suspended sentence. At least it will be one more for the record. More importantly, I’m sure you haven’t forgotten that you’re single-handedly going to find the Rembrandt forger in the hope he’ll lead us to Faulkner. One piece of advice, Bill,” she said pointedly. “Don’t even think about going home before the light under the Hawk’s door has been switched off.”
“Thanks for the advice,” said William, as he reopened the moon dust file. After reading all the details of the case, he had to agree with Jackie that the professor may have been naive, even culpable, but he certainly wasn’t a criminal.
When Big Ben struck six times, William decided it was too late to phone the undersecretary at the American Embassy, as Mr. Underwood wouldn’t have to wait until the light in the Hawk’s office had been switched off before he could go home.
“Can you put me through to Mr. Chuck Underwood?”
“Detective Constable William Warwick, from Scotland Yard.”
“I’ll see if the undersecretary is available.”
William had to wait so long, he wondered if the line had gone dead. Finally a voice came on the line.
“What’s happened to DS Roycroft?”
“I’ve taken over the case, sir.”
“Is there anything lower than a detective constable?”
“Only a probationer, sir, and I was one of those not so long ago.”
“And you will be again if I don’t get my moon dust back.”
“I’m working on it, sir, but I need to ask you a few questions.”
“Did the American government originally give the phial of moon dust to Professor Francis Denning of Manchester University as a gift?”
“Yes, we did. But there were conditions attached. We made it clear it was never to be passed on to anyone else, and that under no circumstances was it to be sold to a third party.”
“And was that put in writing at the time?”
“It most certainly was, and we have the documentation to prove it. And now, as I’m sure you are aware, a Dr. Keith Talbot has put the phial up for sale at Sotheby’s.”
“Yes, I did know, sir. I have the catalog in front of me.”
“Then you will see on page thirty-one, lot nineteen, a phial of moon dust, rare, brought back from the Apollo 11 mission by Mr. Neil Armstrong.”
“However,” said William, “the late Professor Denning left the phial to Dr. Talbot in his will.”
“It wasn’t his to leave, Detective Constable Warwick, as I made clear to DS Roycroft.”
“You did indeed, sir. But I am sure you understand that we must follow the letter of the law.”
“At a snail’s pace, it would seem, despite the fact that our legal team is at your disposal.”
“That’s good to know, sir, because we wouldn’t want to do anything to harm the special relationship between our two countries, would we?”
“Cut out the sarcasm, Warwick, and just get my moon dust back.”
The phone went dead. William swiveled around in his chair to see Jackie grinning at him.
“He grows on you,” she said, “but Underwood’s one of those Americans who considers Britain to be one of their smaller states. It won’t be long before he reminds you that Texas is almost three times the size of the United Kingdom. So if you want to avoid a major diplomatic incident, I suggest you get his moon dust back.”
“I hear you,” said William. “But equally important, how do I get a train ticket to Manchester?”
“You report to Mavis in Travel on the ground floor. But I warn you, if you think Mr. Underwood is tough, compared to Mavis, he’s a softie. If it was up to her, the Queen would travel second class, and the likes of us would be shoveling coal into the engine’s furnace.”
“Thanks for the warning.”
* * *
“Mrs. Walters to you, young man. You can’t call me Mavis until you’re at least a chief inspector. Start again.”
“I’m sorry,” said William. “Mrs. Walters, I need—”
“Name, rank, and department?”
“Warwick, DC, Art and Antiques.”
“So what were you hoping for?”
“To be the commissioner.”
“Try again,” said Mrs. Walters, but she did at least manage a smile.
“A return train ticket to Manchester.”
“What is the purpose of your trip, and how long will you be in Manchester?”
“I’ll be visiting the university, and hope to go there and back on the same day.”
“Then you’ll have to catch the seven forty-two from Euston, and the last train back on a weekday is the ten forty-three. If you miss it, you’ll be spending the night on a bench on platform twelve. You are entitled to one meal, at a cost of no more than two pounds eighty, which you can claim on your duty sheet 232, but I’ll require a receipt.” Mrs. Walters began to write out a train warrant for Manchester Piccadilly. “If you’re going to the university, you’ll have to catch the 147 bus. You’ll also need an umbrella.”
“You’ve obviously never been to Manchester before.”
* * *
“Good morning, Mr. Warwick,” said the young woman who met him at the front desk. “I’m Melanie Clore. How can I help you?”
“You have a sale coming up on July the seventeenth—”
“Which lot number do you want us to withdraw?”
“How could you possibly know—”
“The police don’t visit Sotheby’s to put something up for sale.”
William smiled. “Lot number nineteen. A phial of moon dust brought back on the Apollo 11 mission by Neil Armstrong.”
Miss Clore checked the catalog. “Offered to us by a Dr. Keith Talbot, who produced a will to confirm that the moon dust had been left to him.”
“The American Embassy is claiming ownership and say they will sue everybody in sight if you go ahead with the sale.”
“And we wouldn’t want that, would we, Mr. Warwick?”
“It wouldn’t worry me,” said William, “if I thought Dr. Talbot had the law on his side.”
“Even if he does, the legal battle could last for years.”
“My boss is expecting me to solve this one in a couple of days.”
“Is he? Well, if Dr. Talbot is willing to sign a standard release form, we will be happy to hand over the phial, and leave you to return it to the Americans. Let’s just hope Dr. Talbot isn’t another Mr. Finlay Isles.”
“Dare I ask who Mr. Finlay Isles is?”
“He sued us in 1949 over a watercolor worth a hundred pounds, and we’re still waiting for the courts to decide who the rightful owner is.”
“How come?” asked William.
“It’s a Turner which is now worth over a million.”
* * *
As the train rattled over the points on its progress to Manchester the following morning, William studied the moon dust file yet again, but learned nothing new.
He allowed his thoughts to return to the missing Rembrandt and how he could possibly find out the name of the artist who’d made the copy. He was convinced that in order to create such a convincing reproduction, the painter must have worked from the original. William still had difficulty believing that anyone who had been educated at the Slade would be capable of destroying a national treasure, but then he recalled the Hawk’s words—“Wait until you meet the man before you jump to that conclusion.”
William had read Faulkner’s file from cover to cover, and although he didn’t appear in public very often, one event he never missed was the opening night of a new James Bond film, and he was also a collector of first editions of Ian Fleming’s books. William had recently read a diary piece in The Daily Mail reporting that A View to a Kill would be opening at the Odeon Leicester Square in a month’s time. But how could he possibly get hold of a ticket? And even if he did, he couldn’t see Mrs. Walters sanctioning it as a legitimate expense.
His mind returned to Dr. Talbot. One phone call had elicited the information that the professor would be delivering a talk in the geology department’s lecture theater at eleven o’clock. William wondered what sort of man Talbot was, amused by the thought of the American empire bearing down on an innocent geology lecturer from the north of England. He knew where his sympathies lay. He placed the file back in his briefcase and picked up the latest edition of RA Magazine, but after flicking through a few pages decided it would have to wait until the return journey.
When the train pulled into Manchester Piccadilly at 10:49, William was among the first to hand over his ticket at the barrier. He jogged past a row of taxis to the nearest bus stop and joined a queue. A few minutes later he climbed onto the 147, which dropped him outside the main entrance to the university. How could Mrs. Walters possibly have known that? He smiled when he saw a group of students ambling through the gates and onto the campus at a leisurely pace he’d quite forgotten since joining the Met. He asked one of them for directions to the geology department, and arrived a few minutes late, but then he wasn’t there to attend the lecture. He climbed the steps to the first floor, entered the theater by the back door, and joined the dozen or so students who were listening intently to Dr. Talbot.
From his seat in the back row, William studied the lecturer carefully. Dr. Talbot couldn’t have been an inch over five foot, and had a shock of curly black hair that didn’t look as if it regularly came into contact with a brush or comb. He wore a corduroy jacket, a check shirt, and a bootlace tie. His long black gown was covered in chalk dust. He spoke in a clear, authoritative voice, only occasionally glancing down at his notes.
William became so engrossed in Talbot’s account of how the discovery of a previously unknown fossil in the early seventies had finally disproved the single species theory that he was disappointed when a buzzer sounded at twelve o’clock to indicate that the lecture was over. He waited until all the students had left and Dr. Talbot was gathering up his notes before walking casually down the center aisle to confront the master criminal.
Talbot looked up and peered at William through his National Health spectacles.
“Do I know you?” he asked. William produced his warrant card, and Talbot gripped the edge of the long wooden desk in front of him. “But I thought I’d paid that parking fine.”
“I’m sure you did, sir. But I still need to ask you a few questions.”
“Of course,” said Talbot, fidgeting with his gown.
“Can I begin by asking how you came into possession of a phial of moon dust?”
“Is that what this is all about?” said Talbot in disbelief.
“It is, sir.”
“It was a gift from the late Professor Denning, who left it to me in his will. The Americans presented it to him after he’d published his findings on the structure of the moon’s surface.”
“And why would he leave such an important historic artifact to you?”
“I was his research assistant at the time he wrote his dissertation, and after he retired, I took his place as head of department.”
“Well I’m sorry to have to inform you, Dr. Talbot, that the Americans want their moon dust back.”
“What makes them think it’s theirs? They don’t own the moon.”
“True, but they did bring the dust back on Apollo 11, and Professor Denning must have forgotten that he’d signed a binding agreement not to sell it or pass it on to a third party.”
“And if I refuse to give it back?” said Talbot, sounding a little more confident.
“The Americans will instigate legal proceedings, and I have a feeling their pockets might be deeper than yours.”
“Why don’t they just buy the damn phial when it comes up for auction at Sotheby’s?”
“I admit that would be the easy solution,” said William. “But they’re in no doubt that the moon dust now belongs to them, and Sotheby’s have already withdrawn the lot from their catalog. And, can you believe it, the phial is now locked in a high-security vault?”
Talbot burst out laughing, pointed a crooked forefinger at William, and in a feeble attempt to imitate Clint Eastwood, said, “Go ahead, make my day!”
“If you would be willing to sign a release form, sir, I could pick up the phial from Sotheby’s and return it to the American Embassy, which would solve both our problems.”
“You know, Mr. Warwick, if I were a millionaire I’d take on the Yanks, even though the moon dust will probably only fetch a couple of thousand pounds.”
“And I’d be on your side, but I suspect we’d still lose.”
“You’re probably right. So, where do I sign?”
William opened his briefcase, extracted three identical forms, and placed them on the desk.
“Here, here, and here.”
Talbot read the document carefully before adding his signature on three dotted lines.
“Thank you, sir,” said William, placing two of the forms back in his briefcase and handing the third to Talbot.
“Do you have time to join me for lunch?” asked Talbot, taking off his gown, accompanied by a cloud of chalk.
“Only if you know a pub with a two pound eighty upper limit.”
“I think we can do better than that.”
* * *
On the journey back to Euston, William checked Dr. Talbot’s signatures. He’d enjoyed an excellent lunch in the faculty dining room with the professor, who turned out to be a fellow art junkie and a keen follower of a local artist whom he’d met as an undergraduate. Dr. Talbot had purchased a drawing by L.S. Lowry of a back street in Salford for fifty pounds, which he couldn’t afford at the time, and certainly wouldn’t be able to afford to buy now, although he admitted to William that he’d never sell it.
“So which artists should I be looking out for now, remembering my salary?” William asked.
“Diana Armfield, Craigie Aitchison, and Sydney Harpley. You’ll find them all in the RA’s Summer Exhibition.”
William made a note of the names.
Over lunch William had jokingly suggested that they substitute a few grains of sand from Blackpool beach for the moon dust, as he was confident that the American undersecretary wouldn’t know the difference. Talbot had laughed, but pointed out that his opposite number at the Smithsonian certainly would, even though he’d probably never been to Blackpool.
William finally opened his RA Magazine to check which exhibitions were coming up that he couldn’t afford to miss. He selected three, circled them, and put the dates in his diary: Picasso, the early years; Hockney’s California or bust; and the annual Summer Exhibition at the RA, where he would check out the three artists Dr. Talbot had recommended. But they were all quickly forgotten when he turned the page to find that Dr. Tim Knox, the director of the Fitzmolean, would be giving a lecture on the history of the museum, followed by a guided tour, in a couple of weeks’ time. Tickets were five pounds, and only fifty people would be admitted. He wondered if Mrs. Walters would consider that a legitimate expense. Either way, he wasn’t going to miss it.
William didn’t sleep that night, although his only companion was a locked briefcase. He would have liked to tear up both copies of the release form, but he accepted that the Americans would get their way in the end.
* * *
William didn’t go straight to Scotland Yard the following morning, but took the tube to Green Park, before walking across to New Bond Street. He was standing outside the auction house long before a porter opened the doors at nine o’clock.
Melanie Clore studied Dr. Talbot’s signature carefully, and compared it to the one on the sale document, before she was willing to part with Lot 19. She then disappeared to collect the phial from its safe, returning a few minutes later.
William couldn’t believe it when he saw the phial for the first time. It was smaller than his little finger. He wrapped it in a tissue before putting it back in the box. More forms to sign before he could leave and make his way to Grosvenor Square. He climbed the steps of the American Embassy fifteen minutes later and reported to a marine sergeant on the front desk. He asked to see Mr. Underwood.
“Do you have an appointment, sir?”
“No,” he said, producing his warrant card.
The marine pressed three buttons on his phone, and when a voice came on the line he repeated William’s request.
“I’m afraid the undersecretary is in a meeting at the moment, but he could fit Mr. Warwick in at four this afternoon.”
“Tell him I’ve got his moon dust,” said William.
He could hear a voice saying, “Send him up.”
William took the lift to the fourth floor, to find the undersecretary standing in the corridor waiting for him. They shook hands before Underwood said, “Good morning, detective,” but didn’t speak again until he’d closed the door of his office. “You move quite quickly for an Englishman.”
William didn’t respond, but opened his briefcase and took out the little box. He opened it, unwrapped the tissue slowly, and like a conjurer, revealed the phial of moon dust.
“That’s it?” said Underwood in disbelief.
“Yes, sir,” said William as he handed over the cause of so much trouble.
“Thank you,” said Underwood, placing the box on his desk. “I’ll be sure to get in touch with you again should any other problems arise.”
“Not unless someone’s stolen one of your nuclear warheads,” said William.
“Can I claim five pounds on expenses to attend an art lecture at the Fitzmolean?”
“Is it directly connected to a crime you’re investigating?” asked Mrs. Walters.
“Yes and no.”
“Make up your mind.”
“Yes, it is connected to a crime I’m investigating, but I must admit I would have gone anyway.”
“Then the answer is no. Anything else?”
“Can you get me a ticket for the opening night of the new James Bond film?” William waited for the explosion.
“Is it directly connected to a crime you are working on?”
“Which row would you like to sit in?”
“I don’t joke, detective constable. Which row?”
“In the row behind Miles Faulkner. He’s—”
“We all know who Mr. Faulkner is. I’ll see what I can do.”
“Don’t ask. And if you don’t have any more requests, move on.”
* * *
William arrived at the Fitzmolean a few minutes early. He paused on the pavement of Prince Albert Crescent to admire the Palladian mansion that nestled behind Imperial College. He was well aware that, for security reasons, since the theft of the Rembrandt only fifty people could now visit the gallery at any one time. He had managed to get ticket number forty-seven for the evening lecture. Half an hour later and they would have been sold out.
He presented his ticket to the uniformed guard on the door and was directed to the second floor, where he joined a small gathering of chattering enthusiasts who were waiting impatiently for Dr. Knox, the nation’s leading authority on the Renaissance period, to make his entrance.
William was looking forward to the lecture, and hoped the director might even have a theory about what had happened to the missing Rembrandt.
At one minute to seven, a young woman made her way to the front of the group and clapped her hands a couple of times, before saying, “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Beth Rainsford, and I am one of the gallery’s research assistants.” She waited for complete silence before continuing. “I’m sorry to have to inform you that Dr. Knox is suffering from laryngitis and is barely able to speak. He sends his apologies.”
An audible groan went up, and one or two patrons began heading toward the exit.
“However, the director is confident that he will be fully recovered in a few days, so if you are able to return next Thursday evening, he will deliver his lecture then. For those unable to come back next week, your entrance fee will be refunded. Should anyone wish to remain, I will be happy to show you around the collection. But don’t worry,” she added, “your money will still be refunded even if you stay.” This caused a ripple of laughter.
What had begun as a gathering of fifty was quickly reduced to a dozen, William among them. But then he hadn’t been able to take his eyes off the director’s replacement. Her neatly cropped auburn hair framed an oval face that didn’t rely on makeup to make you look a second time. But it wasn’t that, or her slim figure, that he found so captivating. It was her infectious enthusiasm as she talked about the Dutch men who surrounded her, adorned in their black pantaloons and ruffled collars. William glanced at her left hand as she pointed to the first picture, delighted to see that there were no rings on that finger. Even so, he thought, this vision must surely have a boyfriend. But how could he find out?
“The Fitzmolean,” Beth was saying, her deep brown eyes sparkling as she spoke, “was the brainchild of Mrs. van Haasen, the wife of the distinguished economist Jacob van Haasen. A remarkable woman, who after her husband’s death built up a Dutch and Flemish collection that is considered second only to those of the Rijksmuseum and the Hermitage. In her will, she bequeathed the entire collection to the nation in memory of her husband, to be displayed in the house they had shared during their forty-three years of married life.” Beth turned and led her little band into the next gallery. She came to a halt in front of a portrait of a young man.
“Frans Hals,” she began, “was born in Antwerp around 1582. His most accomplished work is considered to be The Laughing Cavalier, which you can see in the Wallace Collection.”