With only the amber glow of urban light pollution to guide them, the three policemen picked their way cautiously along uneven dirt-tracks and through a disused railway yard. They were only a mile or so from a densely-populated West London borough, but the bleakness of their surroundings and the wind-chill smacked more of some far-flung outpost of the former Soviet Union.
Detective Sergeant Rob Trent clambered out of the thicket of frost-coated brambles and stumbled into a chain-linked fence. Seconds later two detective constables emerged from the same undergrowth, their gloved-hands now thrust deep into warm coat pockets. Stamping Doc Marten-booted feet almost rhythmically on the crinkly crisp white grass, they looked at Trent, then at the fence and back again at Trent.
‘What the fuck is this, sarge?’ said Farrow accusingly.
‘It’s a fence, what does it look like?’ said Trent, picking thorns from his sleeve.
‘I know it’s a fence but what’s it doing here?’
‘It shouldn’t be according to the A-to-Z,’ said Jindle, retrieving his dog-eared copy.
‘Perhaps not in your ancient edition,’ said Farrow. ‘But the good sergeant here was supposed to bring a proper detailed up-to-date map.’
Trent had ordered an Ordnance Survey Explorer from Central Registry and it had been delivered the day before and marked in block capitals; “URGENT-FAO DS TRENT”. Like his other correspondence both at work and on his doormat at home, it had remained unopened.
Trent knew he’d be crucified back at The Yard when this latest demonstration of incompetence was reported, but he was tired and way past caring. Nightshift often disrupted the body-clock, but he’d not slept properly since Sarah left.
‘Another thing, why leave the car behind?’ said Farrow. ‘We could all die of hypothermia stuck out here.’
‘Standard procedure,’ said Trent, with a look colder than the night. ‘Approach cautiously on foot undetected, or arrive in a nice warm Mondeo and get fucking shot.’
There was absolute silence for several moments as the three men contemplated their next move.
'What about digging underneath it?' Jindle suggested. 'It's got to be better than walking all the way round; it must be at least half a mile to the main gate.’
Farrow dropped to his haunches and tapped at the bare earth with his gloved knuckles.
‘No chance, Ajay, it’s rock-hard so we’d need a spade,’ he said, standing up again. ‘We’ve got one in the boot of the car, oh, almost forgot. The car’s at least a mile back that way.’
‘Somehow I don’t think a plastic snow shovel would be much use,’ said Jindle, leaping to Trent’s defence. ‘Had you said a pneumatic drill, well, now you’re talking tough tools.’
Almost simultaneously they turned their heads in the direction of the warehouse, its huge black profile jutting up into the night sky. It was at least fifty yards away, but it looked close enough to reach out and touch.
‘There’s a hole in the wire over here,’ said Farrow, walking towards it. ‘Probably kids breaking in to vandalise the place. We should be able unravel it a bit more to make it copper-sized.’
‘Thank goodness for that,’ said Trent, sounding relieved. ‘Well-spotted, that man.’
Once through the gap they stayed close to the perimeter in case they set off an alarm or triggered any security lights. They made slow progress towards the nearest corner of the building, using their minilite torches sparingly to identify rabbit-holes and other hazards of the darkness.
Just a few feet from the building, Trent’s torch beam danced along the blank wall until it came to rest upon a tiny half-open window twelve feet from the ground.
‘What d’you reckon, Ajay?’ asked Trent.
‘Why me?’ protested Jindle.
‘Why not?’ said Farrow. ‘You’re the youngest, the smallest and the fittest.’
‘And don’t forget the bestest-looking,’ added Jindle. ‘But what you really mean is that I’m the new boy and consequently I’m the twat who has to do all the crap jobs.’
‘On your Future Leader training you’re supposed to learn things from the ground-up,’ said Farrow with a smirk. ‘You can’t get more ground-up than climbing up to that window.’
‘I thought we were only supposed to observe the place and report back,’ Jindle replied. ‘From the outside, not in.’
‘How can we observe anything if we can’t see fuck all?’ said Farrow.
The three men looked up at the window in silence for several minutes, almost as if each was trying to work out the best way of climbing up to reach it.
‘Apart from having to do the Edmund Hilary bit,’ whispered Jindle. ‘Is breaking into someone’s warehouse strictly legal and above board, sarge?’
‘Of course, Ajay,’ Trent reassured him. ‘You’re seconded to The Bloc-Busters squad now. Everything we do is a hundred per cent kosher.’
‘Yeah, right,’ said Jindle, nodding. ‘I suppose that sawn-off shotgun in the boot of the Mondeo is Metropolitan Police standard issue is it?’
‘I found it at a crime scene,’ said Farrow. ‘I just haven’t got around to handing it in yet.’
‘What crime scene?’
‘A security van robbery in Ealing,’ he said. ‘We were sat in the pub watching Euro 2004 when we got the shout.’
‘That’s only like, nine years ago,’ said Jindle, shaking his head. ‘What happened?’
‘We beat Croatia 4-2.’
‘Not the football.’
‘The robbery was down to two Polish plumbers who’d thought they’d come over here and get rich quick, but there was less than ten grand in the plastic security case.’
‘They’d have made more as plumbers,’ said Jindle. ‘Especially in Ealing.’
Trent switched off his torch and moved across the frosty concrete towards the warehouse wall. Crouching down slightly, he put both hands against it for support.
‘Right, Ajay, you climb aboard my back,’ he instructed the junior man. ‘Then when I straighten-up just steady yourself against the wall, reach up and grab the window sill and pull yourself up.’
‘Do I have to, sarge, it’s so undignified,’ protested Jindle, walking over to the detective sergeant. ‘I’m supposed to be a fast-track graduate not a common housebreaker.’
‘Always good to have a trade to fall back on,’ suggested Farrow. ‘You know, just in case you don’t happen to make Metropolitan Police Commissioner by the age of twenty-five.’
‘Stop taking the piss, Farrow,’ said Jindle. ‘Or if I do become as a high-flyer I might have to sack you.’
‘You’ll be flying high in a minute, Ajay, with my boot up your arse,’ said Trent impatiently. ‘Just stop whinging and concentrate on the job in hand.’
The banter stopped dead as all three heard muffled explosions and electronic whizzing noises coming from the back of the building a few feet away. The policemen hid behind a stack of broken pallets, peering towards the rear corner of the warehouse into the gloom.
The silhouette of a large slow-moving figure came into view from around the side of the warehouse. A small bright light illuminated the lower part of his fat bearded face as he walked, and the unusual sounds seemed to be coming from the palm of his hand.
‘He’s playing a computer game on his mobile,’ whispered Jindle.
Before the man had covered another ten feet Trent slammed him hard against the warehouse wall.
‘Police,’ he said, raising a fist a few inches from the man’s frightened face, ‘Don’t make a sound.’
The detective sergeant shone his torch upwards from the man’s grubby designer-trainered feet, soiled grey track-suit bottoms and up to his chubby startled face. As Trent frisked him for weapons, Jindle grabbed the man’s mobile phone and checked the display.
‘He’s got Space Invaders,’ he exclaimed excitedly, turning to face the man. ‘Is it a one-off or did you download the retro pub games bundle?’
‘Never mind his apps,’ said Trent. ‘Here, take his keys and try them in the side door, but make sure it’s not alarmed before you open it.’
Trent handed the bunch over to his colleague before continuing his search of the man’s pockets.
‘What’s this, another mobile?’ he exclaimed, examining the small, cheap Nokia before shining his torch into the captive’s face again. ‘Why have you got two phones?’
‘Bet you a pound to a penny he doesn’t speak any English,’ said Farrow. ‘They usually forget when we need to question them.’
DC Jindle turned a key slowly into the side door lock, opening it slightly and shining his torch through the gap. He pushed his fingertips through, running them gingerly along the inside of the door-frame.
‘Did they teach that at Hendon?’ asked Farrow, sounding impressed.
‘No, I saw it on one of those fly-on-the-wall documentaries about the police, it was quite interesting,’ he replied, pushing the door open. ‘Come on, chaps, we’re in.’
Trent held on to the back of the fat man’s hooded top and walked him through the open door like a human shield. Jindle and Farrow followed closely behind, and silently they found refuge behind an abandoned fork-lift truck parked a few feet inside the building.
‘You’d better sit down,’ Trent instructed his captive. ‘We don’t want you legging to warn all your mates.’
The man looked at the policeman blankly but appeared to understand the instruction. He sank to his knees with difficulty, shuffling his bulk into a more comfortable position on the cold hard floor.
The policemen looked towards the internal loading bay area, which was illuminated by neon lights. A container lorry had been reversed up to the loading ramp and through its open rear doors Trent could see a group of young men and women huddled together inside a grimy shipping container. One or two were weeping but most were silent, as if hopelessly resigned to their fate.
What horrors lay in store for the human cargo were well-known to Trent and his team from Scotland Yard’s Organised Crime Task Force. Better known as The Bloc-Busters, the
squad had been formed in 2004 after the largest single expansion of the European Union.
New member states included seven former Eastern Bloc countries, and as well as legitimate migrants heading for UK shores in their tens of thousands. High-quality forged EU passports, driving licences and other official documentation was easily obtainable on the black market, and so many illegal migrants also headed west.
Criminal gangs saw it as the perfect opportunity to exploit new markets in the UK, with almost carte blanche to ply their lucrative trade in human trafficking and prostitution. They enjoyed such freedom and anonymity that multi-million pound criminal empires quickly became established, affording key-players almost Hollywood star lifestyles and suburban respectability.
The fresh batch of human cargo in the West London warehouse would be cleaned up, photographed and either be sold online or auctioned off at private parties held in country houses, isolated farms or disused factory units. The lucky ones would escape or be rescued by the authorities, but most were destined to spend the rest of their short miserable lives doing unthinkable things with unspeakable bastards.
Trent reached down and prodded the fat man’s shoulder.
‘Tell me your name?’
‘My name is Pierre Henri Auberge.’
‘Your real name please, not the one in your stolen passport.’
‘Lupescu, my name is Grigore Lupescu, I am come from Romania.’
‘So, how many men are in here, Grigore?’
Lupescu shrugged, his bottom lip pouting in an expression of either not knowing, or not really caring.
‘My English, I speak it not very good.’
‘You’ll speak it even worse with a broken jaw,’ said Trent. ‘Now, how many men?’
‘I don’t know, three, maybe four,’ Lupescu mumbled in reply before attempting to stand up.
‘Stay where you are, I haven’t told you to move’ said Trent. ‘Now is it three or four?’
The man slumped down again, shaking his head and looking as if he had better things to do than talk to these policemen in the early hours.
‘I don’t know,’ he insisted. ‘A man in the pub pay me forty pounds to patrol outside building and keep watch, in case any bugger come. I don’t see if he had friends.’
‘Forty pounds?’ said Trent. ‘You’ve got yourself involved in serious crime for forty quid?’
‘In my country it’s a great deal of money.’
‘Yes, but we’re not in your country, Grigore,’ Trent replied. ‘It’s not a lot of money here in London, is it?’
The man looked down at the floor as Trent tapped one of the detective constables on the shoulder.
‘Hey, Ajay,’ he whispered. ‘What can you buy these days for forty quid?’
Jindle pondered for a few moments before replying.
‘I bought my gran a DVD boxed-set of Dad’s Army for Christmas, that was £39.99.’
‘A DVD boxed-set,’ Trent repeated, his eyes falling on Lupescu again. ‘You mean to tell me you’re mixed-up in all this for the price of a DVD boxed-set?’
‘I have other income streams,’ Lupescu replied. ‘A few odd-jobs here and there, it all adds up to a nice tidy sum.’
DC Farrow had been in the job for so long that his tolerance level was well into minus figures.
‘There’s nothing nice or tidy about taking money from these bastards,’ he said, through gritted yellow teeth. ‘Don’t you realise, scum like this thrive because of selfish twats like you?’
‘I am a poor man, I needed money.’
‘You wanted it, you mean,’ said Farrow. ‘You didn’t need it.’
Tears formed in the corners of Lupescu’s dark sorrowful eyes, and he wiped them way with his stubby bear-like hand.
‘Please, you don’t understand. I am very poor man.’
If the Romanian was hoping to find a glimmer of compassion in the faces of his captors, he was to be disappointed. His tearful gaze darted between three pairs of cold eyes glowering down at him.
‘All this trouble you’ve brought on yourself, Grigore, and for what?’ said Trent. ‘The price of a DVD boxed-set.’
‘No criminal, I swear it,’ he said, his hands gesturing like a Moroccan market trader reaching his rock-bottom price. ‘I didn’t know nothing, I am just the lookout.’
‘You should give that bloke his money back, Grigore,’ added Jindle. ‘A herd of elephants in clogs carrying flaming torches could have got by you unnoticed.’
‘You’re not even worth a single DVD,’ said Trent. ‘Let alone a whole boxed-set.’
Lupescu stared at the floor like an admonished child before breathing-in deeply, his nostrils flaring defiantly. Tilting back his balding head, he stretched his neck and pushed out his chin proudly.
'I was a captain in Rumanian army,' he said. ‘I served my countrymen for seventeen years.’
‘How lucky they must be,’ said Trent, turning away.
The policemen looked towards the truck again and watched as a young woman dressed in a filthy night-dress squatted over a plastic washing-up bowl. She was urinating in full view of her travelling companions, none of whom seemed bothered about allowing her any privacy.
‘If we were armed I’d save the tax-payer a fortune in court costs and prison accommodation,’ said Farrow, grinding his teeth.
‘Killing someone in cold blood is not easy, Farrow,’ said Jindle. ‘I don’t think I could do it.’
‘But even if the bastards responsible get put away they’ll be out again in a few months,’ Farrow replied, sounding frustrated. ‘After living the life of Reilly they’re hardly likely to settle down to a nine-to-five job, rent a bedsit and drive an ‘R’ reg fuckin’ Astra are they?’
‘No, of course not,’ said Jindle. ‘But our job is just to catch them, it’s not down to us to punish them as well.’
‘But they’re totally fuckin’ un-rehabilitationable, if there is such a word.’
‘There is now,’ said Jindle with a grin.
Trent crouched down next to Lupescu and clamped his hand firmly on his shoulder.
‘The men in here are they armed?’ he asked. ‘You know, guns, bang-bang?’
‘I only see one man, and I see no gun.’
The prisoner tried to clamber to his feet again but Trent tightened his grip, forcing him to sit still.
‘If I have to tell you to sit down again one of us will end up getting hurt, and it won't be me.’
‘Look can I go home now,’ said Lupescu, ‘I don’t want no trouble with police.’
‘Too late,’ said Farrow. ‘You’re already in it up to your fat neck.’
Trent retrieved a pair of handcuffs from his belt and Lupescu looked at him horrified.
‘Why you need those things? Please, I want go home now and get supper.'
Trent squatted down again and secured the man's wrists behind his back.
‘If you behave yourself I'll get you a home-made Cornish pasty from the police canteen,’ he said cheerfully. ‘If you don’t, I’ll make you eat two.’
‘I am not criminal.’
‘Shut the fuck up,’ said Farrow. ‘You boxed-set bastard.’
Trent smirked and retrieved Lupescu’s confiscated Nokia and waggled it in front of the man’s face.
‘The man who pay you, did he give you this?’
Lupescu nodded once before looking down at the floor shamefacedly.
‘If I see anything I call number he put in Contacts, or run to find him inside warehouse.’
Trent navigated through the menu and found the list and the solitary number under the name of “me”.
‘Hey, sarge, what if the good captain here called the bloke and told him he’d seen something?’ suggested Farrow. ‘They might all go outside then.’
‘We’re supposed to observe the warehouse,’ protested Jindle. ‘I don’t remember any senior officer at the briefing telling us to act like complete tossers and get ourselves killed.’
‘I know, Ajay, but if we take them out we can secure the building and help the poor sods in the truck.’
‘How do you suggest we “take them out”, eh, stick our fingers in our jacket pockets and pretend we’ve got guns?’ Jindle replied angrily. ‘Even if we had your dodgy sawn-off it wouldn’t do any good. They usually carry automatic weapons, so we wouldn’t last five minutes.’
A few weeks before, a detective inspector shot dead a suspect after mistaking the metal pipe he’d been carrying for a rifle. Consequently, the procedures for issuing firearms had been tightened up to such an extent that Trent’s team would have been lucky to get so much as a water pistol and a bottle of Evian.
As Jindle and Farrow continued their bickering, a high-pitched scream rang out a few yards away. All four men turned their heads in the direction of the darkened corridor, and Trent crept towards the front of forklift.
‘You two watch Eagle Eyes here while I take a closer look’ he said. ‘Ajay, phone in and get a back-up team here, pronto.’
‘Why go at all, sarge?’ said Jindle. ‘You may have a death-wish but I’ve still got my whole life ahead of me.’
‘Yes, sarge,’ said Farrow. ‘I’ve got three young daughters who’d quite like to see their daddy make it home in one piece after his shift.’
‘If you’re caught you’ll be putting us all at risk,’ added Jindle.
‘Any trouble, just get Grigore to make that call,’ said Trent, offering the mobile to Farrow. ‘It may cause enough of a diversion to save both your arses.’
‘Don’t do anything stupid and they won’t need saving,’ said the disgruntled DC, snatching the phone.
Trent moved quietly along the passage and an involuntary shiver ran down the back of his neck. He didn’t want to be there, he never wanted to be anywhere these days. He just wanted to be left alone in his flat waiting for Sarah to call. She never would of course, but hope was all he had left. After almost twenty years of scrabbling around in the gutter hunting down lowlifes, Trent had started to feel good about the world again and it was all down to Sarah.
As he moved silently along the corridor the subdued hum of the portable heating units was interrupted by another scream. Higher-pitched this time, it lasted for several seconds longer. He quickened his pace, heading towards light spilling from an open doorway some thirty feet away.
Trent peered cautiously around the open doorway and saw a well-built man stocky man standing sideways on to him, clutching a small digital camera. The man suddenly moved forward and slapped the face of a small blonde-haired girl sitting naked on a red plastic chair. She couldn’t have been much older than her mid-teens, and her terrified eyes were drowning in tears as she clutched her cheek and tried to shield her nudity with her thin pale arms.
‘If you want me to stop hurting you, do as you’re told,’ the photographer instructed in an almost movie-like East European English accent. ‘Put your arms down, push-out your titties and smile, you fucking bitch.’
If the girl understood his instructions she didn’t show it. Instead she slid off the chair and pushed herself backwards along the floor away from him, until she was pressed firmly against the whitewashed breeze-block wall. Raising her knees, she pulled them tightly into her chest, burying her puffed-up face behind her skinny thighs.
As the photographer moved towards her with the flat of his right hand raised, Trent rushed into the room and planted the sole of his boot into the man’s midriff like a half-hearted karate kick. The man was sent clattering into a grey metal filing cabinet, his camera falling and shattering on the quarry-tiled floor.
The girl squealed like a piglet and brought her hands up to cover her head, as Trent hauled the photographer back on to his feet. He spun him around and pulled him close to his unshaven face, the policeman’s stubble more derelict than designer.
The man looked away from Trent’s tired blue and bloodshot eyes and tried to wriggle free, but the detective sergeant’s left hand tightened against the lapels his Levi jacket and pressing hard against his throat.
‘Police, and don’t even think about coming quietly,’ said Trent, waggling his police warrant card a few inches from a worried-looking face. ‘I’d hate to see you get out of here unscathed.’
The man struggled violently to free himself, throwing a token punch into the policeman’s upper body. Before he could land a second Trent’s hand slapped him hard across the cheek.
‘Hurts doesn’t it?’ said Trent, matter-of-factly. ‘But don’t worry, by the time I’ve finished you won’t feel a fucking thing.’
He struck the man’s face repeatedly, each slap hitting home harder than the previous one and making the inside of Trent’s fingers sting. The photographer was making almost childlike whimpers as he jerked his head from side to side, unable to escape the relentless slapping.
Two pairs of powerful arms seized the big detective sergeant from behind, wrenching him away from the man and forcing him to relinquish his hold. The photographer dropped to his knees clutching his face and sobbing, as Trent shrugged himself free. Spinning around with fists at the ready he looked bewildered, like a washed-up boxer prepared to take on all-comers.
‘Take it easy, sarge, it’s only us’ said Farrow. ‘We could hear the commotion right down the fuckin’ corridor.’
‘Yeah, what the hell are playing at?’ said Jindle. ‘The back-up team’s fifteen minutes away, so if rest of his mates heard we’ll be right in the shit.’
Trent nodded curtly, breathing-in deeply as the adrenalin coursing through his veins slowed to a relative crawl. He looked over at the terrified young girl who was now crouching behind a desk in the corner of the room. He removed his ski jacket and walked over to hand it to her.
‘It’s okay,’ he said with a reassuring smile, ‘Don’t be scared, here take this.’
Her frightened staring eyes softened slightly, and he looked away as she covered up her nakedness.
Farrow stood by the office door as Jindle knelt down to check on the condition of the photographer. He handcuffed the man’s wrists behind his back and started quoting the police arrest caution.
‘I'm arresting you, whoever the fuck you are, for abduction, assault and loads of other offences we haven’t got round to pinning on you, you bastard.’
‘You can’t say that,’ said Farrow turning to face his junior colleague. ‘If you’re going to caution him at least do it properly.’
‘All right, Mr Picky, keep your hair on,’ said Jindle. ‘You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if you fail to mention when questioned something which…..’
Jindle stopped talking and his eyes darted towards the door as two men burst into the room, knocking DC Farrow backwards and over the top of the desk.
Trent recognised the pock-marked features of Kolia Janko, a small-time villain from nearby Shepherd’s Bush but the man standing in the doorway was of far greater interest. Vladimir Gobek was the leader of one of the largest criminal gangs in the south, and The Bloc-busters had been trying to find the Ukrainian for eighteen months. Without hesitation the detective sergeant strode purposefully towards the two men, his eyes blazing and his right fist clenched.
‘Police, don’t move,’ said Trent excitedly. ‘You’re under a-fucking-rest.’
Gobek rushed forwards and pushed Janko firmly in the back, sending his henchman stumbling into the arms of the advancing policeman. Running from the room, the Ukrainian slammed the door behind him as Trent struggled to push the giant Janko out of the way. After a brief scuffle he was despatched into the arms of a dazed-looking DC Farrow, who manhandled him to the floor. Trent almost wrenched the door off its hinges before giving chase towards the rear of the building.
Gobek was struggling to open the little-used bar-lever of a fire exit door, kicking at it repeatedly. He stopped as he heard the eerie sound of heavy footsteps echoing along the corridor, growing louder as they approached at speed. Seconds later sixteen stones of stroppy detective sergeant with no brakes collided with the Ukrainian, both men crashing into the bar-lever and instantly freeing the stubborn mechanism. The door sprang open, slamming loudly against the exterior brickwork and depositing the two men on to the concrete in the cold night air of Acton.
Trent fell heavily to his knees, but Gobek quickly scrambled to his feet and planted a kick into the side of the policeman’s thigh. He ran over to a Range Rover parked twenty yards away by the perimeter fence, and grabbed the handle of the driver’s door. It was locked and he frantically searched his pockets as the dead-legged detective sergeant struggled to close-in on him.
The policeman heard the blip of an electronic key fob and the clunk of the doors unlocking simultaneously, but was still some distance away. The building’s security lights came on and flooded the warehouse site like an evening kick-off football match. Trent shielded his eyes from the glare and saw Gobek reaching inside the open car door. The Ukrainian turned around slowly and the automatic pistol he was now holding was pointing straight at Trent.
The policeman was stranded in no-man’s-land, totally exposed and with nothing to defend himself. He raised his arms limply in a half-hearted gesture of optimistic surrender. The two men stared across at each other in silence, catching their breaths and exhaling plumes of carbon dioxide into the wintry night.
Trent realised that he would never make up the ground between himself and the gunman without risking a bullet, but by doing nothing there was every chance he would get shot anyway. He knew only too well how the Gobeks of this world operated, and extreme violence was just par for the course.
‘You may have a gun but you’re still under arrest, Gobek,’ Trent heard himself saying. ‘So you’d best put it down before you get into real trouble.’
By keeping Gobek talking, Trent at least had some hope that it may buy enough time until the back-up team arrived.
‘You honestly think I’m going to surrender to an unarmed cop?’
‘Well if I don’t nick you, Gobek, there’ll be plenty here soon who will,’ said Trent calmly. ‘And they will be armed.’
‘They won’t shoot me I’m too valuable, I know things.’
‘You may think you’re an important man, Gobek, but you’re the biggest pile of shit we’ve ever had in our records,’ said Trent, with an unconvincing half-smile. ‘We have to wash our hands after handling your file.’
‘What’s this, childish insults now?’ Gobek replied. ‘Don’t waste your breath on this amateur reverse psychology bullshit, it won’t save you.’
‘It’s you who’ll need saving, mate,’ said Trent, his voice now sounding surprisingly relaxed. ‘If you kill me, Gobek, my colleagues will break every bone in your head. You’ll either be dead or crippled for life before you even get to trial.’
‘They’ll need to catch me first.’
‘Don’t worry, they will,’ said Trent, ‘But if you drop the weapon now I promise I’ll put in a good word for you.’
Trent felt his heart pounding like an executioner’s drum, but he knew he had to try and keep the chat going.
‘So I’ll get twenty two years instead of twenty five,’ Gobek replied, looking puzzled. ‘What is it you English say when someone’s fucking you over, “bargain”.’
‘You’ll be out in eight,’ Trent reassured him. ‘Maybe even five if you behave yourself.’
‘I don’t think so, do you?’ Gobek replied, raising the weapon. ‘Probably easier all round if I end this right now.’
Trent’s right leg began to shake involuntarily and his mouth became parchment-dry as he desperately tried to think of a way out.
‘It doesn’t have to be like this, Gobek,’ he said, his tone no longer assertive. ‘You’ve had a good run and now it’s over, just accept it.’
‘You’re living in a dream-world, my friend.’
‘A nightmare more like.’
Gobek laughed at the retort, waving the pistol teasingly from side to side.
‘What is your name, unarmed cop?’
‘Detective Sergeant Trent, Rob Trent, why?’
‘One likes to know with whom one does business with, so to speak.’
‘It’s some funny fucking business this is.’
‘So why come after me, Rob?’ said Gobek, looking genuinely concerned. ‘You must realise that we carry guns, and from time to time we have been known to use them. Purely in self-defence I might add.’
‘Of course,’ replied Trent, nodding in agreement. ‘You definitely need automatic weapons when dealing with troublesome fourteen year old girls, Gobek. All drug-dependant and scared shitless they could easily sucker punch you and escape.’
‘Shut the fuck up.’
‘You must be so proud of the way you earn a living,’ Trent continued. ‘What joy you must get from spending all that blood money on tacky designer bling and pimp-mobile Range Rovers with stupid-looking tinted windows, it’s so passé, Gobek, so East European.’
‘I said shut the fuck up, Trent’ said Gobek, releasing the safety-catch and steadying his aim.
‘Trent is it now?’ replied Trent with a grin, ‘It was “Rob” a minute ago, have I upset you?’
The two men turned to look towards the rear of the car as they heard deep-throated growls coming from the shadows. A split-second later, two German Shepherd dogs launched themselves at the gunman, who fell backwards against the car door slamming it shut.
Gobek was trying to pull open the driver’s door again, fending off the dogs with clumsy kicks and punches. One animal sank his teeth into the sleeve of his jacket as the second closed its jaws around his ankle. Their powerful bodies lurched backwards low to the ground, dragging the gunman forcibly away from the vehicle. As sharp teeth made contact with soft flesh the Ukrainian clung on to the car’s front tyre with one hand, swiping wildly at each dog’s head with the barrel of the pistol with the other.
Trent spotted a small group of uniformed policemen crouching down by the vehicle’s tailgate, and acknowledged them with a raised thumb. He desperately wanted to run over and disarm Gobek, but he had to keep away from the lethal dogs; his police warrant card meant nothing to them.
Trent heard the deafening sound of a gunshot and he dropped to the ground. His left leg felt as if it had been stung by a giant wasp, and a warm sensation enveloped his hip almost as if someone was urinating on him. He reached down to his hip and gasped in shock as his fingertips disappeared deep into flesh he could no longer feel. Raising his hand slowly he looked up as the blood ran gently down his wrist, a few drops dripping on to his face like warm clean engine oil. In panic he tried to sit up but his temples pounded rhythmically and a cloud of tiny grey dots flew around behind his eyes, like summer midges above a twilight pond. He lay on his side shivering, and looked across at Gobek.
The gunman was still writhing on the ground trying to fight off the tenacious dogs, the pistol now gripped tightly in both hands. A second shot went off and was immediately followed by a sickening yelp from one of the dogs. It lay on its side whimpering, convulsing and trying unsuccessfully to stand-up.
The sleeve of Gobek’s leather jacket was in now tatters, his wrist and forearm a lacerated bloody mess of deep bites and ragged tears. In his weakened state Gobek tried to aim the pistol at the remaining dog, but the animal’s determination paid off. The gangster loosened his grip, allowing the weapon to clatter harmlessly to the ground.
‘Clear,’ shouted Trent excitedly. ‘He’s dropped the fuckin’ gun.’
A dog handler rushed over to gather up the firearm before calling off and restraining his canine charge, hugging it affectionately. The handler of the stricken animal was in tears as he knelt down to check on the condition of his beloved dog. He stood up slowly, his face contorted with rage as he hauled the injured Gobek on to his feet, slamming him against the side of the Range Rover and kneeing him in the groin.
Before Gobek could recover, the dog-handler wrapped a chromed dog chain around his fist like a steel bandage and punched the Ukrainian full in the face. With a broken nose, lips split like burst chipolatas and blood, snot and spittle running down his face the gangster raised his head and smiled defiantly.
‘That’s assault, my foolish friend,’ he said, in a mixture of broken English and broken teeth. ‘In a few hours my lawyers will crucify both you and your fucking dog.’
Gobek cried out as another officer forced his arms behind his back to handcuff his wrists, making no allowances for the deep wounds the dogs had inflicted. As he was being led away to a police van the Ukrainian spat out bloody saliva and pieces of gum tissue at the dog-handler, who had to be restrained from launching a further attack on the injured prisoner.
Returning to his wounded dog, he crouched down and patted him reassuringly on the head as he examined the wound. A group of police officers gathered around in a silent semi-circle, their concern giving way to smiles of relief as the handler grinned up at them.
‘Thankfully it’s only a flesh wound but it must have given him a nasty jolt, the poor sod.’
Just fifteen yards away Trent’s lips brushed against the ice cold concrete and he felt incredibly cold, tired and thirsty. Searing pain had started to kick-in, and he closed his eyes tightly pressing the flat of his hand against the wound.
He sensed someone kneeling down beside him and looked up through weighted eyelids. An overly youthful police constable in a Hi-Viz jacket was staring down at him, looking as frightened as the wounded detective felt.
‘Don’t worry son,’ said Trent. ‘Just try and remember the bits on the First Aid course when you started to nod-off.’
‘I only finished it last Friday,’ the young man replied, grinning sheepishly.
‘Top of the class?’ asked Trent, raising his eyebrows hopefully.
‘That’s me fucked then.’
The constable laughed as he unzipped the medical bag and snapped on a pair of surgical gloves before opening a sterile packet of scissors. Moments later Trent felt him cautiously cutting away his trouser leg. The diligent tailoring was soon followed by ham-fisted probing inside the wound and Trent screamed.
‘Sorry, sarge, but I have to try and stop the bleeding,’ the constable explained, sounding as upset as he looked.
‘How, by killing the fucking patient?’
As the pain intensified Trent couldn’t help but think about Sarah, and he knew that even if he survived he’d never see her again.
Would she even attend his funeral? - He wouldn’t mind if she sat at the back, as long as she came.
Would she even be told? - She wasn’t next-of-kin, far from it.
The shooting should at least make the front pages of the Evening Standard and Metro. - “Detective murdered on duty, ex-girlfriend blames herself.”
The constable applied overly firm pressure to a field dressing against the wound, and Trent couldn’t help sobbing and mouthing Sarah’s name as he slipped towards unconsciousness. Remembering the bit from his First Aid course about keeping the patient awake, the young constable leaned closer to Trent’s face.
‘Did you see that Gobek, sarge?’ he said, almost shouting. ‘The bastard nearly killed one of our dogs.’
Trent’s eyes flickered open and a trickle of snot dribbled on to his lips as he tried to stifle a grin.
‘Don’t waste your first-aid training on me then, constable,’ he said, snivelling into his shirt-sleeve. ‘Not if a fucking dog’s been shot.’