Chapter One: 1995- Part One
Greg drew a breath and enjoyed the moment. It was his first investigation as officer in charge of a crime scene.
He'd been called to a south London pub, just at closing time. According to the landlord who had called it in, there had been a brawl between two Russians, both of whom seemed to be cast from the same mould of tough guy- all white t-shirts and tattoos, but flashing a surprising amount of cash along with the muscles. They'd come in with a younger man, a lad actually, but he wasn't drinking, so the barmaid hadn't bothered to ask him for ID. After a few minutes, the boy had disappeared into the gents, and the two heavies then got into an argument. No, the landlord hadn't a clue what it was about; they were shouting in Russian, weren't they? The next thing he knew, the barmaid was screaming and one of the Russians was dead on the floor, blood streaming out of the back of his head. The other one bolted out the door at high speed. There was broken glass everywhere. Then the lad appeared, took one look at the dead thug and tried to scarper out the door, as well. The publican was fast enough, and big enough, to grab him in passing and bundle him into the office behind the bar, where he locked him in.
Lestrade had made a quick investigation of the scene- noted the position of the body, the blood, the broken glass. He wanted to get this right; it was his first one as a Detective Sergeant, and he needed to get a reputation as a safe pair of hands, or his governor wouldn't trust him again. As the constable who had accompanied him questioned the few customers who had not bolted at the first sign of trouble, Lestrade was quizzing the publican. There was an odd mechanical noise behind his back, then a blur of a running figure passed him. The publican grabbed but missed, and it was the constable who caught the lad with a flying tackle.
"Get off me!"
Lestrade gave the constable a hand as they hauled up the lanky teenager, whose hands werecuffed in front of him and then thrust down into an empty chair.
The publican was livid. "You bloody wanker! You've just broken the lock on my office door!"
Lestrade looked at the teenager, who wouldn't meet his eye. Dark hair in desperate need of a cut, typical clothing- a dark hoodie, skin tight jeans. He looked in need of a good meal, and a bit of TLC.
"Look at me, lad. You're not in trouble. You were in the loo when this murder went down. All I need is a little bit of information from you."
The thin shoulders stiffened a bit, and he looked around Lestrade to where the body lay.
"Isn't a murder; just an accident."
"What do you mean? Actually, no, let's back up, you came in with them, so presumably you know them."
"Know? Not exactly. I met them about fifteen minutes before arriving here." This was muttered as the boy continued to stare at a point on the floor, and Greg could only really see the top of his head, his face obscured by the long dark unruly hair.
Lestrade considered the boy. Posh accent, even if he was trying to mask it a bit. He wondered if he should revise his first thought that the teenager was a rent boy picked up by the pair of Russians. Public school boys didn't generally need to sell sexual favours for money. He watched the slim leg begin to jiggle; the kid was wound up tighter than a drum.
"Oh, hell, I can't be bothered with waiting for Scotland Yard's newest homicide crime scene officer to put the pieces together."
Lestrade gaped. "How do you know about my promotion?"
"Well, I hope you've never managed one before because this is a shambles, officer."
"Excuse me?" Lestrade could not keep his incredulity out of his tone. "You'd better shut it with the snide comments and just tell me what you know about the pair of Russians, or I might have a re-think and take you down to the station as an accessory."
The boy still wouldn't meet his eye, but he started talking, speaking to the floor: "Well, let's start with the fact that they're not Russians, they're Ukrainians. Off a ship from the Tilbury docks, and up to London for a quick bit of R&R before returning to the ship. You can catch up with the one who bolted by contacting the ship- Zelenko is the name of the vessel- he's too stupid to go anywhere but back to mother, that's мати, in both Russian and Ukrainian by the way. And it wasn't murder."
The blistering pace of delivery surprised Greg, as did the monotone in which it was delivered. Oh! Is he Asperger's? His nephew had Asperger's and a fixation with car models that was encyclopaedic in depth; he didn't like eye contact either. How many teenagers had Lestrade come across called cargo ships by the proper name of 'vessel'? This boy sitting with his eyes cast down at the floor was becoming more unusual by the minute.
"Ok, let's assume I agree that you met them fifteen minutes before walking through the door. Where and why did you meet them?"
"How does that matter? It's irrelevant." He kept his eyes firmly on the floor.
Definitely public school, using a polysyllabic word like irrelevant, when most teenagers are only capable of grunting. Lestrade decided on a tactic- "Look at me when you speak, boy. It's rude if you don't."
This brought a snigger in reply. "Oh, sergeant, your class prejudices are showing. Will you report me to the headmaster if I don't?"
Annoyed, Greg reached down and grasped the chin, feeling the boy flinch (yeah, my nephew doesn't like to be touched either). The DI gently lifted it up so he could see into his eyes properly for the first time. And took in a breath. The face was dominated by a pair of cheekbones and cupid's bow lips; the combination was unconventional yet undeniably beautiful. The teenager before him was in that almost magical place, half way between a boy and a man, with that heady mixture of innocence and street wise cockiness. Jailbait- for sure. And Lestrade also realised something as he looked into unusual grey green eyes with pupils so dilated that it was almost painful. High as a kite, too.
"What's your name?"
"That's irrelevant, too."
"Not anymore, you're coming back to the station with me, because you are under the influence of drugs. What's your name and have you got any ID on you?"
The boy pulled his head out of Greg's grip and looked back down at the floor. He took a deep breath and then replied; "Lars Sigerson- Uni ID's in my back left pocket. Sorry I can't get it out for you, but my hands seem to be otherwise engaged." He lifted his handcuffed wrists.
Greg pulled the ID out of a pair of impossibly tight jeans, and wondered with a pang what had driven this man-child to such dire straits as to be offering himself in exchange for drugs, as that was likely to be what he was doing in the toilet at the time of the murder. At first glance, the ID seemed to verify what the youth had said. The photo made him look older than he actually was in the flesh- 18 according to the date of birth stated. That made him suspicious and he examined the ID very, very carefully.
"Almost good enough- next time spend more money on the quality of the backing plastic. UCL uses a special supplier so it's hard to counterfeit. Now do you want to tell me your real name?"
The boy shot him a filthy look. "Irrelevant, Sergeant. As I said before, my name is not going to make one bit of difference to your reputation if you present this case to your DI as a murder. It's a simple accident, not a murder, if you could be bothered to stop harassing me and actually look at the evidence staring you right in front of your face." He looked over at the body, sprawled on the floor.
Lestrade frowned. "What the hell do you know, you weren't even in the room at the time."
"I don't have to be, Sergeant, all I have to do is observe. Just what do they teach you at Hendon these days?"
"OK, smartass. Tell me what I am not seeing." Greg crossed his arms in front of his chest and challenged the teenager to deliver. Any youngster who knew that the Metropolitan Police Academy was based In Hendon was either someone with a criminal record or very clever indeed. He wanted to know which it was.
The lad looked up at him now, connected properly. "Uncuff me, and I will show you."
Greg just laughed. "Not on your life, matey, or should I call you 'Lars' even though that clearly isn't your name. I wasn't born yesterday. You don't need hands to tell me what you think I am missing. So, gimme- or we'll continue this conversation down at the station after I've processed you as an accessory."
The boy scowled. "Little point in that, Sergeant; as you quite rightly said, I have an alibi as I was elsewhere at the time."
"Then I'll add criminal damage to the charges, given that fact that you broke the door lock on the way out of the publican's office. And how do I know that you and the guy who ran off weren't in cahoots? I can still arrest you on suspicion, so I suggest a little co-operation would come in handy just about now."
Those cupid's bow lips pursed, as the man-child decided what to do. Then he huffed, put his feet under the chair and leveraged himself up to a standing position. He strode over to the body, being careful to avoid disturbing the broken glass or the blood pool.
"Just mind where you are walking, sunshine, or there will be hell to pay if you muck up the evidence."
"Relax Detective; don't get your knickers in a twist." He stood and stared at the body sprawled before him. The Russian, no, the Ukrainian, Greg unconsciously corrected himself and then wondered why he was believing the kid's word on this.
The youth put his cuffed hands together as if in prayer, tucked them up under his chin, and crouched down. He was looking, really looking at the sprawled body. Lestrade wondered how many dead men the youngster had seen. He showed no signs of being overawed or grossed out, despite the amount of blood. The Sergeant had seen constables pass out at a crime scene when first faced with a bloody body, but this boy seemed utterly at ease. No, it wasn't the best description- he looked absolutely fascinated.
The constable drifted over, his questioning of the customers completed. Greg gave him a sideways glance, somehow reluctant to take his eyes off the boy's processing of the scene in front of him. "Anything?"
"Nah, somehow they were all looking any which way except the right way when the actual attack happened." Now the constable was staring at the boy. "What's he doing, Guv?"
"Haven't a clue, Jones, but he says it isn't murder, and I'm curious as to why he would say it."
The constable's airwave radio crackled into life. "Track team four, are you in need of a SOC team?"
"Guv? Do I tell them yes, given it's a homicide?"
"Wait." Lestrade considered. If it was an accident, he'd be laughed at by the station as being 'over-eager' and calling out resources when they weren't needed. On the other hand, if it was a homicide, then he'd be in trouble for believing the word of a kid. Damned if I do, damned if I don't.
The boy stood up, nodded to himself and then turned back to Lestrade and the constable. "Right. You can tell the station to forget the forensics team. This was an accident." This was delivered with utter conviction.
"Care to explain to us why, oh enlightened one?" The sarcasm dripped from Greg's tongue.
The youth frowned at the two policemen. For a moment, he looked genuinely disappointed, as if he expected them to applaud his conclusions because it had been a game set by them, in full knowledge that it had always been an accident.
Finally, the penny dropped. "Are you really so blind, the two of you?"
Jones erupted. "Just shut it with the criticism, or tell us what you see. Simple- mess around any longer and we'll finish this at the station." The constable was really annoyed.
"Oh, well- OK… it's crime scene deduction for dummies then. Let's start with the position of the body. If he had been pushed or hit, then the body would be much further away from the bar stool. This isn't a push, it's a fall- he's less than two feet away from where he was sitting. Second, look at the wound."
Constable Jones snarled, "Of course we can't see the wound, you clot; it's on the back of his head."
"Precisely!" The boy gestured at the corpse. When the two policemen looked blank, he rolled his eyes and said, "Christ, it's a wonder that you lot ever solve a single crime. OK- the point is that the injury is on the back of his skull where he hit it on the chair- yes, that one overturned over there, on the way down. The force of the collision would push the chair out of the way, so it ended up over there instead of under the crewman. Check it out, you'll find blood and hair on the back rail; that's where he must have hit it for it to end up over there. And that chair is the reason why there is so much broken glass- it smacked into the table there and knocked the tray of empties on the floor. For God's sake, just look- it if was a blow from the other Ukrainian to the back of the head, the body would be in a different position entirely and there'd be blood spatter. There's none- and I'll bet not a single witness saw a weapon in the hand of the guy who ran out."
Lestrade worked it through in his imagination. Actually, it wasn't as daft as it sounded. The chair, the broken glass and the position of the body all added up. The boy inspected the chair, and looked up nodding. "There's definitely hair and blood, too."
Jones piped up. "Guv, this is ridiculous. Nobody saw the actual blow that killed the guy; least of all this kid, who was in the loo at the time!"
Lestrede wasn't so quick to dismiss the idea. "If I were to accept what you say, then how do you explain the argument between the two men, and why would one of them fall off his stool and bash his head?"
The boy looked down at the floor, silent. Lestrade just looked at him. Of course, he came across young homeless junkies all the time; you couldn't be a London policeman and not be faced with the problem on a daily basis. But there was something so vulnerable in the youth standing before him that chilled the Sergeant right to the bone.
He decided to fill in the blanks. "Alright, I think they were arguing about you. That is, which one of them was going to go first with what they intended doing to you. Maybe you made then them hand over the first half of the payment, and went off to the loo to get on with it while they made up their minds which one was going to follow you in there first. Am I right?"
"If you were, hypothetically speaking , then having got the drugs, why didn't I just scarper when they were having their disagreement and taking their time?"
"It was only half. You'd have figured they'd produce the second bag when they were done. And anyway, it's easier to tolerate if you're already high before they begin."
"Sergeant, I meant what I said earlier. All of that is actually irrelevant; it had no effect on the outcome. The one who fell off his stool, his name was Vladimir, don't know his patronymic, but the ship will. Anyway, he was suffering from MDD- that's Mal de Debarquement. It's a disorder of the inner ear that affects the balance of people who've just got off a ship. Think of it as 'land sickness' –the opposite of sea sickness. Dizziness, nausea and real instability. He was complaining about it before we walked in here. Put him on a bar stool and it's an accident waiting to happen."
Lestrade listened and then raised his hand. "Ok, just how the hell did you know this? Do you speak Ukrainian or something? And why would he tell you?"
"No, I don't speak Ukrainian but I do speak Russian, and so do they- it's a Russian registered ship out of Odessa. That's how they picked me up. And I spotted the MDD because that's what I do, notice people and what's wrong with them. "
Jones looked askance. "OK, Lars, Ivan or whatever your name is, why'd the other guy run?"
"Because he didn't want to be caught with the drugs, did he?! It would cost him his job. He was the one who had the second bag. So, he just cut out rather than have to talk to the police. In the Ukraine, they aren't as polite as you two are." With this, the boy smiled, as if hopeful that by helping the two out, they might be more lenient on him.
Lestrade thought it through and then made up his mind. "Jones, call the ambulance service and tell them that we have a stiff to collect and pronounce, then it's off to the morgue. An autopsy will confirm if the cause of death is blunt force trauma from the chair- certainly the blood and hair on the chair makes it likely. Grab an evidence bag and collect it, to be sure, but I think this is an accidental death."
"So, you'll let me go, then? I've just rescued you and your constable from an embarrassing mistake, not to mention saving the police force the cost of a forensic investigation. And I've given you the name and location of the guy who can corroborate the story. That's enough surely."
"Enough for what?" Lestrade looked at the young man with a stern eye.
"Enough for you to look the other way while I walk out of here. After all, I wasn't involved in the incident. And no crime actually took place. I didn't pay for drugs, and they didn't get any sex, so let's call it a night and let Constable Jones here avoid a tedious exercise in paperwork. "
Lestrade smiled. "Nope. I've got principles. And someone like you should not be in the state you're in, or alone on the streets. Have you got someone I can call?"
"Really?" Most homeless people don't have a cut glass accent and a posh school vocabulary. Even fewer of them speak Russian, I'll wager. So come on, cough up a parent's phone number."
"No. My parents are dead. I'm on my own. And I'm fine. There's no need to waste any more of your time, think of the paperwork you'll be spared."
"PC Jones, escort this young man to the patrol car. I will drive him to the station and process him. You wait here for the ambulance and get the documentation. I'll send the car back to pick you up."
The boy tried one last time. "I can't believe your ingratitude! I solve your case for you, spare you looking like a prat in front of your superiors. And this is the thanks I get? This is police harassment. I've not committed a crime. I've not been involved with anyone committing a crime. You can't hold me."
"A fake ID, probably under-aged and under the influence of drugs. I'm not going to hold you in a cell, but I will notify social services, and keep you at the station until they can pick you up. As your name is probably fake, I will see how far I can get with the photo by running it on police files."
Would I let my nephew alone on the streets of London at night? Not a chance. Lestrade continued, "Actually, forget it- Jones, I'll take him myself. Let's go." And with that, he pulled the young man along with him out the door and to the car.
Because it was late, social services asked the station to fax the photo, but keep the boy over night; they'd send someone to collect him in the morning. Lestrade parked him in an interrogation room, bought a sandwich and coffee from the machine and left them sitting in front of the kid, locking the door behind him. Lestrade sat down at his desk and started the incident paperwork. At one point, he looked in on the lad through the mirrored wall. The coffee cup was empty but the sandwich was untouched. The boy sat scrunched up in the chair, his long thin arms wrapped around his knees, which were drawn to his chest. He looked a lot younger now, and rather forlorn. Greg thought about going home, but worried that Social Services would collect the boy before he got back into work. After what he'd seen of the of young man's intelligence, he didn't rate their ability to hang onto him for any length of time unless they were properly briefed. So, he decided to take a nap at his desk.
Four hours later, a man in a three-piece suit arrived.