Authors: Dreda Say Mitchell
‘At 10.30 a.m.? Lucky you . . .’
Then Mac disappeared down the road and got a cab to Stephen Foster’s office, which was an elegant house on a fashionable street in West London. Given Foster’s reputation, it crossed his mind that his arch-enemies in the police might have the premises under surveillance. But then Mac realised that they probably wouldn’t dare do that in case Foster found out and ripped them apart in the courts. Mac pressed the intercom and got in using his cop credentials.
‘I’m sorry sir, but Mr Foster doesn’t see anyone without an appointment,’ the glamorous and well-spoken woman on the reception desk informed him. Her expression suggested that a tourist had asked if he could see the queen and, looking him up and down, she had decided Mac wasn’t rich or powerful enough to get such an appointment. ‘And anyway . . .’ she added to get rid of him, ‘Mr Foster is at lunch with a client at the moment.’
When Mac asked if he could leave a message for Foster, her reply was to ignore him and answer a phone call instead.
He went out onto the street and Googled ‘Stephen Foster + lunch’ on his mobile. It didn’t take him long to find an answer as to where he might find the flamboyant brief. Of course it was possible that Foster’s early lunch was as likely as Mac’s own but he checked anyway. In an interview with a celebrity magazine the year before, Foster had told a star-struck journalist, ‘Of course it’s not really my style to belong to a gentleman’s club, but the Royal and Imperial Club in Pall Mall does an excellent shepherds pie for lunch.’
Mac knew these sorts of clubs. It was easier to get into a court, which handled terrorist cases, than a place like the Royal and Imperial. But he got a cab there anyway. Nothing was going to stand in the way of a reckoning with Elena Romanov.
‘I have a luncheon appointment with Mr Stephen Foster,’ Mac announced.
The club was all polished high-end, with staff decked out in tails and bow ties. The face of the receptionist at the club appeared no more convinced that Foster would want to see him than the woman at his office. But he took Mac’s name and checked his ledger before saying in a voice laced with sarcasm, ‘Mr Foster is indeed hosting a lunch for a number of guests. Unfortunately your name doesn’t seem to be among them – terribly sorry . . .’
Mac became a policeman again, ‘OK mate . . .’ He gestured at the staff, who stood in the shadows of the club’s oak panelling, which seemed stained with centuries of cigar smoke, ‘How about you get one of your flunkies to pass him a message for me instead?’
With great reluctance, the guy passed him some expensive headed notepaper and a pen. Mac hesitated for a moment. If he wrote anything that could identify himself he knew Foster might keep it and use it against him later. So he wrote, ‘If you can spare 5 minutes, I might be able to help you with the Garcia case. I’ll be waiting in the reception.’
The receptionist waved his hand at one of the club’s flunkies who took the note and disappeared down a hallway towards the dining room. Five minutes later, he reappeared and whispered to the receptionist who sent him over to where Mac was sitting in a leather armchair.
‘Given the lack of detail in your note, I’m afraid Mr Foster is unable to see you at this time. He suggests you contact him via his office.’
The receptionist watched Mac leave the club with smug satisfaction. When he was back on the street, Mac took out his police ID and considered using it to gain access to Foster. But once again that would mean identifying himself and he couldn’t afford for that to happen. He reflected bitterly on how much easier life was when you stuck to the rules.
He drifted to the rear of the club where a discreet entrance took in deliveries and decided to make his move there. A number of members of staff emerged to dump rubbish in bins or to have a quiet smoke but they were no use to Mac. They were too old and experienced. He waited until a young man, who looked to be in his late teens, came out in the club’s livery of tails and bow tie, playing with his mobile. Mac took out his ID and covered the name with his thumb, before walking up to the youngster, grabbing him by the lapel and pushing him against the wall.
He flashed his card briefly at the teenager before snarling, ‘I’m an undercover police officer. I’m on an anti-terrorist mission and I need access to this club’s dining area to arrest a suspect and you’re going to show me where it is.’
The kid looked terrified and only just managed to croak, ‘But . . .’
Mac shook him hard and hissed, ‘Do you want to be arrested sonny? Do you?’ The youngster looked shaken. ‘Just lead me to the dining room. Nice and slow and natural and don’t give the game away or I’ll run you in on a charge of perverting the course of justice and aiding and abetting terrorists.’
The boy adjusted his tie with trembling fingers and when Mac let him go he walked back into the club with Mac following. They attracted several curious glances as they made their way through but no one intervened. When they reached the dining room, Mac whispered to the youngster, ‘Good boy. Now make yourself scarce and don’t say anything to other members of staff in case they’re accomplices of my suspect. Got it?’
The youth nodded and stumbled away. The maître d’ stepped forward as Mac went in but a cold stare from his new guest made him back off.
It was early and the dining room was nearly empty so he soon spotted Foster and his guests. The lawyer wore one of his trademark designer suits with a flamboyant shirt and tie, and his long grey hair carefully sprayed into place. He sat with a dour faced young man who Mac recognised as a B-list pop star currently having trouble with the tabloids getting their hands on stories about his wilder than wild sex life. Next to him was a young woman with the longest stick-on eyelashes Mac had ever seen, and a man and a woman who looked like PR people. Foster was holding forth and didn’t notice Mac as he approached.
Mac knew he had a minute or two at most. He leaned forward and whispered, ‘Stephen Foster?’
The lawyer turned in surprise. ‘Yes?’
‘I’m a police officer who’s working on the Garcia case. I’ve got a proposal for you that you might find interesting.’
Foster looked him up and down. ‘This is a little irregular. I’ve already said that you should get in touch with me through my office?’
‘I can’t get in touch with you through official channels because my proposal is a little irregular.’
Foster looked at him and then smiled. He gestured with a slight tilt of his head at the entrance to the dining room. It hadn’t even taken a minute. The youth he’d frightened had appeared with a manager, the receptionist and two heavy men who were dressed in tails and bow ties but looked like bouncers.
Mac looked at them and then back at Foster. ‘Are you interested? If you are, you’d better say now because these boys are about to throw me out.’
But it was too late. The manger and his party were already at the table. ‘Excuse me sir, I understand you’re claiming to be a police officer? Would it be possible to see some identification?’
Mac couldn’t show any ID. He looked at Foster. Foster looked back, his mind clearly turning over. Finally, the lawyer sighed and shrugged his shoulders. The bouncers took an arm each and began to elegantly and discreetly frogmarch Mac out of the club. But as the convoy escorting Mac left the dining room, it ground to a halt as if on a silent order of command. Then the arms holding him were released and the men around him vanished like ghosts, leaving only the manager in front of him who purred, ‘If you’d like to follow me sir.’
He was led back to Foster’s table. The lawyer was standing and pointing at the pop star’s menu. ‘Try the shepherd’s pie, it’s delicious. Now if you’ll excuse me for a just few moments, I’ve some business to attend to.’ He turned to Mac and snapped, ‘You’ve got five minutes.’
‘How do I know you’re on the police team investigating Mr Garcia?’
The two men sat in a corner of the club’s snooker room. It was empty but they still spoke quietly. Mac gave Foster a brief outline of the arrest of the suspected money launderer to prove his good faith, including details that weren’t and wouldn’t be public.
Foster nodded. ‘And can you tell me what your interest is in this matter? Is it money? Because if it is, you’ll have to deal with Mr Garcia’s people direct, I can’t get involved in that.’
‘No. I want some information from Garcia, that’s all.’
‘Before we get into that, let’s get some ground rules sorted out first, shall we? I’m running a big risk here and I’m not willing to be made a fool of . . .’ He only just managed to avoid saying, ‘. . . like last time.’
‘What’s your proposal?’
‘I’m on the inside loop of the investigation into your client. I’m not sure I’ll be able to help him avoid extradition to the US, although if I can, I will. That’s your area of expertise of course. But even if he beats the extradition, the police here intend to press other charges and I can certainly help with that.’
Foster was curious. ‘What other charges?’
‘He’s going to be booked for child abduction. And I know how to get him off. Talk to Garcia and see if he’s willing to do the trade. My help for his information. If he is, you can set something up.’
The other man was silent for a while before reaching into his pocket and pulling out his wallet. He pulled out a card. ‘That’s my private number. Get yourself a pay-as-you-go mobile phone that can’t be traced and then call me on it tomorrow morning. My line’s totally secure. In the meantime, I’ll make some enquiries and see if we can make an arrangement.’
‘You do that.’
Two men who were vaguely familiar to Mac from the news came into the snooker room and selected cues. Mac and Foster stood up. The lawyer put his arm around the policeman’s shoulder and whispered, ‘Call me in the morning.’
Then he added, ‘There is one other thing Mr – I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name . . .?’
Mac just smiled sourly at that.
‘Well, quite. But there’s something you need to bear in mind if you intend to go down this path. Although Mr Garcia is totally innocent of any crime and will be vigorously contesting any charges, some of his associates aren’t so careful with the law, I’m afraid. And they can turn very unpleasant indeed on behalf of their colleague if he’s double-crossed. Do I make myself clear?’
‘Tell Mr Garcia that I also have very unpleasant tendencies when I’m double-crossed too. I think we have the basis for a mutually beneficial relationship. Enjoy your shepherd’s pie.’
When Mac returned to his office, he found Phil Delaney waiting for him. He gave him a long look before saying, ‘That was an extended lunch . . .’
‘Yeah, I went for a walk to clear my head. This morning was a bit of a shock. You can imagine.’
‘I’ve got some good news for you. I’ve spoken to the hospital and they say you can see your son later this afternoon. Although I’m going to advise that you take a woman police officer with you for form’s sake.’
‘Alright – I’m telling you to take her.’
Mac nodded. ‘No problem. Do you want me to do some follow-up work on the Garcia case in the meantime?’
Phil burst out laughing. ‘You’re off the Garcia case, for obvious reasons. And don’t take this personally but I’ve changed your network status so you can’t access information on it – for equally obvious reasons.’
‘Sure, that makes sense.’
His superior seemed relieved there’d been no argument. ‘Good. Why don’t you tidy your desk while I organise a car and a WPC to take you to the hospital?’
But Mac knew he already had the tidiest desk in the police service.
When Phil had gone, he checked on his computer and discovered that he was indeed locked out of everything on the investigation into Garcia. But that was OK. He’d learned during that day eighteen months ago how to work his way around little problems like that.
An hour later, Delaney called him. ‘There’s a car out front to take you to Mission Hill hospital. I’ve arranged for someone to escort you down there. Oh and please . . . don’t do anything stupid Mac, there’s a good boy.’
‘My stupid days are over Phil. I promise.’
When he got outside, he was surprised to discover that his escort wasn’t a female officer but Delaney’s personal PA, Shazia. For the first ten minutes of the journey, Mac kept up a steady barrage of gossip and chatter with his fellow passenger before trying to steer the subject onto the Garcia case. But Shazia stopped him dead.
‘Phil warned me you might try and talk about that and I’m under strict instructions not to. You understand.’
Mac understood. But he understood something else. He was a cop and he was trained to notice details. And he’d noticed in the past that Shazia’s desk was covered with pictures of her children and her nieces and nephews. He decided to bide his time until a better opportunity occurred.
When they reached the paediatric ward of Mission Hill Hospital a nurse escorted them into the private room guarded by a solitary police officer. Mac felt his guts start to contract and his eyes start to moisten. He’d felt the same way after Stevie was born. It was a moment he’d never thought he’d see and had had no time to prepare for. Suddenly Elena, Foster, Garcia and Delaney all seemed far away and completely irrelevant. Only his son and this moment mattered. Shazia squeezed his arm and said, ‘Are you alright? Don’t be afraid to cry. It’s alright . . .’