Reflex Action: A Thrilling Crime Novel

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Chapter 1

 

 

Nick felt as if a herd of elephants had stampeded over his body. He was confused, disorientated, and his head was pounding. He slowly opened his eyes, but he remained in a world of darkness. He could smell the distinctive aroma of petrol fumes, overpowering him and making him nauseous. His brain told him he was moving, the distinct sound of car tyres speeding over a potholed tarmac road surface, and yet he was stationary, confined, squashed into a foetal position.

 He attempted to sit up, but instantly felt the metallic confines of his enclosure bearing down on him from above. Where was he? What was going on? He felt around, his numb fingertips searching for an object, something recognisable that would give a clue as to his surroundings, but all that he could sense was clutter – rough padded material, possibly a holdall containing something solid, a few random metal tools, and a fluffy carpet-like surface beneath him.

 It felt damp, soaked in a viscous fluid. Was it his own blood? His head spun, a reflux of bile rising into his throat. Then the pain hit him. The back of his head felt as if it was split in two. It throbbed with every beat of his heart, and his short dark hair was matted to his scalp as if glued with some tacky substance. His back, shoulders and neck were excruciating. Battered, bruised, and swollen, there must have been broken bones within – with the amount of pain that he was feeling, there was no other explanation. What had caused it? Who had caused it? And why? His mind buzzed with unanswered questions. Gradually, as he lay in the darkness, his coffin-like prison swaying gently side to side as it moved further along the undulating road, his shattered memories began to return. Each fragment of what had gone before coalesced to form a timeline. Nick started to remember… … Nick Griffiths (“Griff” to his friends) was a 32 year old police officer.

He had been a police officer for much of his adult life. He was one of the most experienced on his shift of 7 fellow officers; a tutor, a trainer, and the one that others turned to for advice. This particular night shift had begun just like any other shift, just as hundreds had done before. He had arrived at the police station 30 minutes early, grabbed a coffee from the vending machine, and taken his time assembling his personal equipment and paperwork in readiness for whatever was to be thrown his way. The briefing in the Parade Room had been short and to the point, Sergeant Kier allocating duties to each individual police constable. “Griff, can you take north rural tonight? PC Evans is off sick and I need you to cover for him,” he said. “Yeah, no problem Sarge.” Inside, his heart had sunk. Nick usually covered town duties. They were more exciting, exhilarating, always on the go. He found the rural sector boring, especially on nights when there was hardly anyone around.

The hardest part of the job was staying awake into the early hours. Sgt Kier continued, “Oh, and can I have a quick word before you leave the station? Nothing to worry about, just a little task I’ve got for you.” The Sergeant continued updating the shift on intelligence, information received that he wanted specific officers to focus on, and then brought the meeting to a close. As everybody began to disperse, PC Griffiths wandered towards the Sergeant’s Office, casually knocked on the doorframe a couple of times, and entered to stand before his Sergeant’s desk. “Griff, just the man, take a seat.” Nick sat down, crossed his right leg over his left, and rotated his wedding ring around his finger (a habit he had acquired when stressed). “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I see you’re slightly behind on vehicle process forms this month,” Sgt Kier said.

“The powers that be have been going through everyone’s figures and we need you to submit a few more vehicle tickets, VDRS, and stop/search forms.” “Really? I thought they’d given up on the idea of chasing figures.” “No such luck.” Sgt Kier smiled. “Look, I know it’s a pain, and it isn’t real policing, but if it keeps those upstairs off our backs for a while, it’s worth getting it done, isn’t it?” “I suppose,” Nick replied with a shrug of the shoulders. With anybody else, he would have argued the point. He knew that those figures were used to quantify his job, to prove that he was working efficiently. He also knew that they were only valued by the paper pushers at Headquarters; any officer working on the Front Line knew that they were pointless. But he understood that his Sergeant was in an unenviable position with pressure being applied from above, and that he found it uncomfortable laying down the law to his team. He was stuck in the middle. “I’ll see what I can do while I’m up north, Sarge.” “Good man.” Nick left the office, grabbed his equipment, and headed for his marked police car to patrol the countryside north of Manchester. It was a dark, damp, and cold night; a “dreich night” as he often called it.

 It was a Scottish term that perfectly described the conditions. Not that Nick was Scottish – he was Manchester born and bred – he just liked the word, and used it often. By 1am, he had reached the northernmost limit of his patrol area. He was in the middle of nowhere, and he was bored! The roads were dead. There was nothing around. He had managed to stop a couple of cars earlier in the shift, issued a HORT/1 and a stop/search form, enough to keep the Sergeant happy, but at that time of night, in that weather, and it being mid-week, there was a severe lack of traffic for him to investigate. He decided to park in a side road, near to a junction with the main “B road” linking some of the outlying villages to the suburbs of the city.

Hidden in the shadows, he could keep an eye open for headlights as they approached from any direction, but, with his own lights switched off, he would be virtually invisible. His car radio crackled to the sound of his colleagues attending exciting jobs in the town centre, jobs that he might otherwise have been dealing with himself had he not been allocated the rural sector. He felt a pang of jealousy. With the car heating blasting hot air all around him, Nick felt comfortable. He relaxed, opened his thermos flask, and poured a cup of steaming hot coffee. He turned down the radio volume to a whisper, a constant reminder of what he might have been doing, and his eyes became heavy as he fought to overcome the effects of tiredness.

Through the windscreen, Nick noticed a slight sheen on the road surface, ice was beginning to form. As he looked across the almost perfectly flat farmland, a wispy mist rose from the drainage channels that criss-crossed the fields and ran alongside the roads. Then, in his peripheral vision he saw a pair of headlights set to full-beam approaching through the darkness. Should he stop the vehicle? He was in two minds. At that particular moment he was happy killing time, but his Sergeant’s words were still echoing in his mind, “You need to get more vehicle stop/checks.” He decided to sit tight, wait and watch, see if the vehicle did anything that warranted a stop. From his secluded position, it passed without even noticing his presence.

 It appeared to be a dark coloured Toyota. It was not speeding; it was driving sedately, heading east towards the city suburbs. Nick was happy to let it pass, but as it continued to his left, he noticed that there was only one red light showing to its rear. It had a faulty nearside lamp. Reluctantly, he started the patrol car’s engine, switched on the headlights, and followed the vehicle along the single-lane road. It was just after 2am. As he neared, Nick’s headlights illuminated the Toyota’s rear number plate. “Control from Alpha-Romeo-Seven-Two, can I have a vehicle check, index Sierra-Tango-One-Eight-Alpha-Foxtrot-Papa, location Brent Lane?” he radioed. “Alpha-Romeo-Seven-Two, that’s all received, standby.” A few seconds later the radio broadcast, “Alpha-Romeo-Seven-Two from control?” “Go ahead.” “Yeah, have you got a dark blue Toyota Avensis saloon?” “Confirmed.” “No reports PNC (Police National Computer), not wanted on Local.

 Comes back as a hire car from a company based in Liverpool.” “That’s all received, thank you. Alpha-Romeo-Seven-Two out.” Nick switched on his blue lights and followed the Avensis to a stop at the roadside. Parking a few meters to its rear, he noticed its engine was still running, but that the driver had made no attempt to exit. He opened the patrol car’s door, stretched, and then adjusted his utility belt, quickly checking that his baton, cuffs and document pouch were in their correct positions. He pressed the record button on his bodycam and stepped towards the car. As he neared the driver’s door, it opened slowly, and a nervous looking man emerged. He was of mixed-race, slightly taller than Nick at about 6 feet, and was well built (clearly a gym devotee, unlike himself who had the physique of a runner).

 He wore a black puffer jacket to ward off the chilly breeze, a grey hoodie underneath, what appeared to be designer jeans, and white trainers. At a guess, Nick judged him to be in his mid-twenties. There was nothing suspicious about him, and Nick’s defences lowered – after all, it was simply a routine stop to inform the driver that he had a light defect. “Good evening, sir,” Nick said politely. “Did you know that there’s a light out at the back of your car?” “A light?” The driver visibly breathed a sigh of relief. “Sorry, it’s a rental, I never checked it.” “Yeah, it’s your nearside one. Just get it changed when you get a chance, OK?” “Of course.” “Can I see your driver’s licence please?” Nick held out his hand. The driver fumbled around in his jacket’s inside pocket before producing the plastic card. “Here you go. Is there a problem officer?”

 “No, it’s just routine.” Nick glanced at it. It appeared to be in order. By rights, he ought to have checked the ID with the control room, but he could not be bothered at that time of night. As he handed the card back, his nose twitched, sensing the distinctive aroma of cannabis on the man’s clothing. “Have you taken any substances recently, sir?” he asked, suspicion hardening his tone. Instantly becoming defensive, the driver replied sharply, “What do you mean?” “I can smell marijuana on you. Have you been smoking it?” asked Nick. “Me? Nah, man. I don’t do that stuff.” He tried to smile, to laugh it off, but his fidgety behaviour only served to make him appear even guiltier.

“Well, I’m gonna give your car a quick search anyway. Are you sure you haven’t got anything hidden away that you want to tell me about? It will go in your favour if you tell me now.” When there was no reply, Nick searched the inside of the car, the driver’s seat area, the passenger’s side, and the rear seat. He found nothing. As he walked towards the boot of the car, the driver became noticeably more nervous. His eyes darted from Nick to the boot and back again.

He began licking his lips, shuffling from one foot to another, and rubbing his hands together. Nick asked, “Have you got anything in the boot?” “No! Nothing.” “Are you sure? Flip the lid for me.” The driver opened the boot and immediately stepped backwards. His eyes never left its contents. He was physically shaking, possibly from the cold, but Nick judged it was more likely because there was something inside that he did not want to be discovered. “What’s in that holdall?” Nick asked. Inside, there was a medium sized blue nylon sports bag, zipped along the top, with two webbing handles velcroed together. Nick leaned forward, unfastened the handles and began to unzip the bag. As he looked inside, his eyes bulged at what he saw.

 At that exact same moment, Nick’s world went black! He was forced down into the car boot, his arms buckling under his weight. Something heavy was rapidly slammed onto his back, crushing him, squeezing the breath from his lungs. No sooner had this first violent assault registered, than it was followed by a succession of subsequent blows, each one progressively more forceful and aggressive. He could feel his chest being squashed between the car’s bodywork and its boot lid, the protruding lock mechanism cutting into him with each crushing impact.

The pain surged through his back, and then, as quickly as it had begun, it stopped. One final slam of the car boot caught him across the back of the neck, and darkness descended. It was the last that Nick remembered before awakening, trapped within his mobile coffin. … Malachi Maclean (“Mal” to his mates) had been having a good day thus far. He had been given one simple task to perform by his boss, “The Russian.” Having arrived in Liverpool and collected the hire car (which had been pre-ordered), he needed to rendezvous with certain contacts (people known only to his employer), collect the shipment, and transport it safely back to his estate in Manchester. It was all a bit cloak and dagger, and being the first time that he had been trusted with a job of such importance, Malachi was understandably nervous. But everything had gone like clockwork.

 By the early hours of the morning, he had found himself driving along an unlit country lane approaching the outer suburbs of Manchester. He had done the hard bit. He had avoided the main routes, the thoroughfares linking the two cities, opting instead for the quieter country roads south of the Mersey. After all, why risk a random police check on the regularly patrolled roads between Liverpool and Manchester, especially knowing what he knew – the boot of his car contained a bag with Class “A” drugs amounting to a street value of hundreds of thousands of pounds, not to mention a fully loaded handgun.

 As the journey progressed, so Malachi relaxed. He had got away with it, he was nearly home. He switched on the car radio, selected a “Street Music” channel, and turned the volume up high. He lit a spliff, drawing in the sweet-tasting smoke, and he imagined how pleased his boss would be once he had delivered the package. It was then that things started to go wrong! Out of nowhere, a set of headlights appeared in his rear-view mirror. They approached rapidly, and then matched his speed approximately 30m behind. With the glare from the lights, Malachi could not see the vehicle or the driver, but he wished that they would overtake him and pass on by. They did not. A couple of minutes later, the white headlights were accompanied by a set of blue flashing lights, but no sirens. Malachi’s eyes darted from the mirror to the road ahead. Is this police car trying to get past me to another job? Or is its driver late for their tea-break? he wondered.

In Malachi’s mind, if he slowed a little and moved towards the grass verge, the police car might continue past him. When it continued to match his speed, the nerves got the better of him, and he yelled, “Bollocks! Why fucking me?” to nobody in particular. He slammed his fist into the steering wheel with frustration. Once both cars were stationary, there was a stalemate, both drivers sitting in their respective seats, unmoving. Then Malachi noticed the police officer get out and walk towards his car. His mind raced – What should I do? – Play it cool, he can’t suspect anything – Don’t act nervous, he’ll think you’re up to something. The more he tried to act calmly, the more nervous he became. On speaking to the officer, Malachi’s heart skipped a beat when he said that there was nothing to worry about, he just had a blown light-bulb to the rear.

 He had overreacted, there was nothing to stress about after all. Stay calm and you’ll soon be on your way, he told himself. But when the officer started asking him about smoking drugs, the nerves returned. How stupid could he have been? He knew that if the cop searched the car, he would find no “weed,” but he also knew that if he was thorough, he would find a whole lot more than a personal supply of cannabis. His mind went blank. He could not think straight. Everything went into slow motion, the policeman searching every little crevice, every hidey-hole, and finding nothing. Then he asked about the car’s boot. Malachi considered the options – If I open the boot, I’m done for – If I don’t open the boot, he’ll nick me anyway, and still find the package – But if I open it, he might not look inside the bag, I might still get away with it. Malachi opened the car’s boot and stood back. He was shaking, his breath was coming in short sharp gasps, and he felt as if his heart was about to burst. He crossed his fingers behind his back. Please don’t look in the bag, please, PLEASE! For that one moment, he was a little kid again, hoping against all odds that he would not be found out. The police officer unzipped the bag. Malachi held his breath. He wanted to shut his eyes, for it all to just go away, but his pupils were fixed to the back of the officer’s head. He vaguely remembered hearing the policeman start to say something.

He saw his head begin to lift and turn towards him. He was coming for him. He had to act, and he needed to do it NOW! Conscious thought left Malachi’s mind. He acted instinctively. Fight or flight? Reverting back to the child that hid within him, he took hold of the car boot lid and drove it down with all his might, trapping the police officer in the jaws that it created. The officer slumped into the boot space. He attempted to push himself up a second time, but Malachi slammed the boot onto his back again. He was committed now, he had chosen his course of action, and now he needed to see it through to the end. Emitting a guttural roar, he slammed the car boot onto the officer time and again, crushing his ribs, his back, and finally his head. The protruding lock tore skin from his scalp and neck. Blood poured onto his fluorescent yellow jacket and into the car’s interior. Finally, there was no more movement from the policeman.

Was he unconscious? Was he dead? Malachi could not tell either way. Unsure what to do next, and with the policeman half in, half out of the car boot, he lifted the inert body and shoved it fully into the boot space. He was so psyched-up that he barely heard the almost imperceptible “beep” as something on the man’s wrist caught on the car’s interior. With a sudden release of tension, Malachi slammed the boot shut one last time, trapping the police officer within. With him now out of sight, Mal felt a little more relaxed, in control. He paced back and forth like a trapped tiger, thinking – I’d better dump the body, but where?  The Russian will know; I’ll take it to him. With that, he climbed into the driver’s seat, his heart still racing, his body drenched in cold sweat. As he turned the car key and the engine roared into life, he thought he heard voices. He listened intently. The fucking pig’s radio, he thought, I’ve left it on him.

They’ll be able to trace it. It’s probably got GPS. He leapt out of the car, opened the boot, and ripped the radio handset off his body armour. With some semblance of controlled thought returning to his mind, Malachi considered what else the police might be able to trace. I’ve gotta look for a mobile phone. They trace them on telly all the time, he thought.

He looked in the officer’s pockets, found the phone, and threw it (and the radio) into the dark waters of the drainage channel that ran next to the road. Malachi felt relieved. He had covered his tracks well (or so he thought in his confused state of mind). He shut the boot one final time, climbed behind the wheel, and drove slightly faster than he needed to, wheel-spinning as he headed towards the estate and some much needed help from his boss.

Along the way, he sent a quick text message. “Package collected – Had problem on route back – Will explain when I see you.”


 

Chapter 2

 

 

Sergeant Mick Kier had been sat behind his desk at the police station for the last three hours, wading through a pile of crime reports that required his signature, and reading through case files submitted to him for checking by the 2 probationer police constables on his shift. He liked his job, but since his promotion, his role had changed. He longed to be back on the streets alongside his colleagues, fighting crime the way it ought to be done. Instead, he was now relegated to office-work, swamped under a daily deluge of administration. The money was good, as was the responsibility, but it was not the job that he had signed-up to do 10 years earlier. He found himself becoming a middleman, filtering the pressure from above, and passing on only the essential jobs to his team. The night shift was drawing to an end.

 He had glanced at his wristwatch moments earlier, noting that it read 06:10 hours. The sun outside his claustrophobic office would be rising soon. He held his head in his hands, and then covered his eyes, rubbing them vigorously in an attempt to wake himself up. He had found his mind wandering as tiredness had slowly overcome him. His personal radio had been sat on the desk amid the chaos of paperwork, its volume reduced, its chatter mere background noise, but subconsciously, he had been monitoring everything that had been broadcast, it had become second-nature to him. His attention was suddenly drawn to a message being transmitted from the control room. “Alpha-Romeo-Seven-Two from control?” There was no reply. “Alpha-Romeo-Seven-Two from control – Welfare Check – Over.” This was repeated a couple of times, each with increased urgency, and each followed by silence.

Something was wrong. It was very unlike PC Griffiths to not answer his radio. Sgt Kier was intrigued as to what was going on, but in the back of his mind he feared something bad had happened. It could just be that Nick had fallen asleep during the night shift, nodded-off while it was quiet in the rural sector. But if that was the case, then surely the repeated radio calls would have woken him up, he would have replied by now. Maybe he was in a “black-spot” with no radio coverage? There were enough of them out in the sticks. But at this time of night he would have been making his way back towards the station anyway, he should have arrived by now.

The only other alternative that sprang to mind was that Nick had been involved in a POLAC – a police accident. He remembered from his own time as a rural IRV driver, on night shifts, as reaction times slowed through tiredness, it was not uncommon for drivers to misjudge the country lanes, crash into a drainage channel, or get stuck in a muddy field. Maybe he had done something like that, hit his head, was unconscious, and could not answer the radio. Sgt Kier was worried, more than worried, he feared the worst. He telephoned the duty Inspector to keep her up to date with developments, and then called the control room on its direct line. “Morning, it’s Sgt Kier at Bradwell Street Police Station.

What’s the situation with PC Griffiths?” “Morning Sergeant. We’ve been trying to contact him for a while, but we’re getting no reply,” they stated. “How long has he been off-air?” “Hard to say for sure. Our system flags it up if we don’t hear anything after 4 hours. His last job was just after 2am. He checked a vehicle registration number.” “I take it you’ve tried contacting him on his mobile?” “Yes, yes. Rung it a few times, left messages, voicemail, and called him on the radio. He’s not answering anything.” “Where was his last job?” asked Sgt Kier. “The stop/check came from Brent Lane.” “I don’t know that; where is it?” “It’s up the northern end of the sector, between Hawksworth and Sandleton.” “OK, I’ll see if I can get some mobile units to scour that zone, see if we can’t find him. You keep trying the radio and mobile; let me know if you get anything, yeah?” “Will do, Sarge.” By this point, Mick Kier was quite concerned. He knew that there might be a logical explanation, but somewhere in the back of his mind, he doubted it.

 He had a bad feeling about the situation. Picking up his radio, he broadcast, “Any units in the vicinity of Brent Lane respond please, Sierra-Nine-One.” Seconds later, “Go ahead, Tango-Three-Five. We’re a few miles away, but we can detour if you want, Sarge.” “Yeah, Alpha-Romeo-Seven-Two is not responding to the radio. Last known location was Brent Lane four hours ago. If you could have a drive around the area, see if you could find him, it’d be greatly appreciated lads.” “No probs, Sarge, on our way. Control, did you receive the last?” “Yes, yes.” A few seconds later, the radio was alive with messages. “Sarge, from Alpha-Romeo-Two-Two, we’re turning out from the station re: your last message.” “From Bravo-Romeo-One-Seven, we’re doing the same, double-crewed.” “Bravo-Romeo-Two-Three and Six-Seven doing likewise.” The entire shift, realising the urgency of a missing colleague had all decided to stay on duty beyond the end of their allocated shift period in order to help search for PC Griffiths. Inspector Jenny James, the duty shift senior officer, walked into Sgt Kier’s office just as he stood up to strap on his utility belt.

“I’m just gonna grab a car and go join the search, Ma’am,” he said. “OK, but I’m coming with you Mick. I want every available unit looking for him.” “Control from Sierra-Nine-One?” Sgt Kier radioed. “Go ahead.” “Myself and the Inspector, Sierra-Foxtrot-Three-One, are joining the search. If you could coordinate all units from your end, it’d be a great help.” “Sierra-Nine-One received, already on it Sarge.” … Forty minutes later, Sgt Kier received a radio message from the Traffic Policing mobile unit. “Sierra-Nine-One from Tango-Three-Five?” “Go ahead Tango-Three-Five,” he replied. “We’ve located Alpha-Romeo-Seven-Two’s car. It’s still on Brent Lane, near the junction with Ward Drove. Sergeant, there’s no sign of Griff! His car is unlocked, and he’s missing.” In his mind, the word, “shit!” screamed at Sgt Kier. Outwardly, he said over the radio, “Thanks for that. Can you secure the scene? We’ll be there shortly – ETA 5 minutes.” There followed a cacophony of radio chatter as every mobile unit made its way towards the scene. On arrival, Sgt Kier parked his patrol car at an angle blocking the road from the west.

 In front of him sat PC Griffiths’ car cordoned off with blue-and-white plastic crime scene tape which twisted and turned in the gentle breeze. The traffic officers had parked their car on the far side of the scene and wandered towards him, a grave look on their faces. “Sarge, Ma’am. We’ve secured the car, keys are in the ignition. We came from the west; didn’t spot anyone on foot from that direction. We’ve had a quick look around. There doesn’t appear to be any tracks heading off into the fields from what we can see. It’s hard to tell though; most of the earth is frozen solid. There’s nothing obvious in the drainage channel either, although it looks pretty deep so we can’t be sure, if you know what I mean?” “Good. Can you two do a search along the road to the east, see if he wandered in that direction?” said Sgt Kier. He stared out across the farmland. The sun had just risen, but the sky was filled with ominous black clouds creating shadows everywhere. It was cold. He could see clouds of white condensation every time he breathed, and his fingers were already beginning to go numb despite the black leather gloves that he wore.

 The land all around was flat, you could see for miles. He slowly scanned the horizon in all directions, hoping that he might spot PC Griffiths somewhere, but there was no sign of him. He radioed the other shift members, some of which had just arrived at the scene, and organised them into conducting an area search; every lane, farm track, and driveway.

 Then he called the control room. “Control, we’ve located the car, but there’s no sign of PC Griffiths. We’ve got a lot of farmland around here. If he’s wandered off, our best option would be to track him using a dog. Could you arrange that please? We’ve also got a pretty deep drainage channel running parallel to the road. It’s too murky to see below the surface, so we’re gonna need the Underwater Search Unit to attend as well – just in case.” “That’s all received. I’ll give them a call and get back to you, Sarge.” “Thanks control. If he doesn’t show up soon, you’d better give the PSU (police support unit) a heads-up too. We may need them to do a fingertip search of the area.

 Oh, and can you do a ring-round of all the local hospitals. I don’t suppose he’ll have been picked up by ambulance, but if he is injured, some kind-hearted member of Joe Public might have taken him to one.” “All received,” replied the control room operator. Sgt Kier turned towards Inspector James. He could see the worry etched into the lines on her forehead. She was relatively young, certainly younger than her rank would have suggested, and yet at that moment she looked much older than her age, the stress of the situation taking its toll. “Have I missed anything, Ma’am?” “SOCO (Scenes of Crime Officers). I guess we’ll need them to check the scene. We need to treat this like a major incident. When PC Griffiths is discovered, if something serious has happened to him, we’ll need to cover every eventuality, Mick.” “True, Ma’am. I notice you said when he’s discovered, not if…” “We have to remain positive, Sergeant. At the moment, we’re dealing with a missing person (albeit a police officer) – this is the Golden Hour – time is critical.”

 

 

Author Andrew Heasman
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