Techno Fail

Eric Cooper is about to discover something that will set in motion events he cannot predict, with the stakes being incredibly high...

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7. Old Friends

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Eric walked as briskly as he could in the clothes that didn't quite fit, acutely aware of the police vans that had raced past him a few moments earlier. They hadn't suddenly stopped and come back for him, so it seemed that, for the moment, he had gotten away. He wasn't prepared to ride his luck too hard though.

His thoughts turned to Mary. She would be in danger, even now, but would she be in even more danger if he returned home? One Touch Security would have his address on record; should he call her, warn her, or would that tip off anyone who was listening in? Then again, he had the advantage, the assassin's employer thought he was dead. How long would it take for that news to reach Mary, if at all? Eric was leaving her in limbo.

First things first, get away from the crime scene... Eric had dumped the gun in a hedge, having taken care to wipe his prints off it. Up ahead was the familiar roundel logo of the London Underground, and Fairlop station. Within a few minutes he was walking under the bridge and turning right to head to the station entrance, only to be greeted by a throng of unhappy, cold Londoners milling about outside the station. Staff in orange hi-vis jackets were trying to address the various loud voices that were expressing their dissatisfaction in colourful terms. Eric watched, and listened briefly to the staff members explaining that the police had shut down the local section of the line temporarily. That had to be because of him. There wasn't much he could do, so Eric considered his options. It was a long walk to another line, and despite his pride in staying fit he wasn't getting any younger. The chilly December air was biting harder as night settled in.

A deep breath, a moment of composed thought, and Eric had an idea. He didn't trust the assassin's phone, so he had to rely on the map on the wall in front of the station. Sure enough, a possible safe haven wasn't too far away...

****

With the body on the way to the mortuary, Adjoa and Stephen headed back for Barkingside. There was little conversation; both of them were wrapped up in their thoughts. As their car pulled into the car park Stephen stifled a yawn.

"Sorry, just dreading the all-nighter." He said sheepishly as they both got out the car.

"No worries, I'll grab us some coffee." Adjoa replied. She actually felt a bit of a buzz - the case was rapidly developing into something quite interesting, it definitely wasn't gang-related, of that she was sure.

"Three sugars in mine." Stephen said as they started walking toward the brick-coloured building. Adjoa gave him a faux-steely glare. "What? I need the energy."

She laughed as they stepped through the doors and waved their badges at the desk sergeant, who smiled pleasantly, before returning his attention to the computer screen in front of him. They started up the stairs, to the second floor of the building, that housed their desks. Adjoa's was nearest the window, and the plain plastic desk was quite clear, with a couple of case files and a few notes spread out upon it. Stephen's was just on the wrong side of chaotic, with multi-coloured folders and files everywhere. Somehow (though Adjoa would never understand how) he managed to keep track of everything.

No other officers were on duty in CID, so the pair had the office to themselves. Adjoa grabbed their mugs and headed into the small kitchen, focusing only on the caffeine. She'd worry about the case once she'd had a drink. Her phone buzzed in her pocket, and she scooped it out and into her right hand. Jenna's smiling face, with her hair freed to flow over her shoulders, appeared on the caller ID. Adjoa smiled as she answered. "Hey."

"Hi. Just wanted to see how you were."

"All good, looking after a very tired Stephen."

Jenna chuckled. "He wanted to be a dad, it's self-inflicted. Do you know when you'll be home?"

"No idea, sorry, this case is gonna take up a bit of time I think. Still, overtime and all that."

"Yeah, never hurts! Let me know when you're on the way home. I love you."

"Love you too."

"Bye."

"Bye."

Adjoa thumbed the red 'end call' sign and sighed. She couldn't remember the last time she and Jenna had been able to enjoy some free time together. Dinner booked for our anniversary though... given the restaurant's prices, she wasn't cancelling that for love nor money.

With two mugs of milky coffee (and the scandalous extra sugar for Stephen!) Adjoa walked across the dreary grey carpet that seemed a requirement for the station, past the information posters on the cork boards, and back into the office. Stephen was typing something on the keyboard, eyes intent upon the screen in front of him. He smiled at the welcome sight (and smell) of the coffee.

"Cheers." He said as she put the mug down. "So, I went back to the beginning. Specifically, the victims. Liam and Andrew."

Adjoa sat down at the desk opposite and took a sip of her drink. "Let me guess, no links?"

"Right. I checked Liam's name against the PNC, nothing in there, he'd never been in any sort of trouble, not even minor. Andrew Harper... Wow." He stopped, peering at the screen.

"Well, don't leave me in suspense!" Adjoa said sardonically. "What is it?"

"He wasn't just a war veteran..." Stephen tapped a few more buttons. "He was ex-SAS. No records of what he did, naturally, but after he left the forces he did get into a bit of trouble here and there. A couple of bar fights, drunk and disorderly stuff, but nothing that would explain why he was murdered."

"Maybe he picked a fight with someone who could hold a long grudge?" Adjoa queried. "There's enough petty thugs out there who would do that."

"Maybe." Stephen rubbed his nose. "I don't believe that though."

Adjoa took another swig of her coffee. "Me neither. This mystery man that actually kidnapped the attacker - that's the missing piece here. He was at Andrew's home at the time of the attack, and took it upon himself to take the car and force a guy in a balaclava into the boot. We need to know who he is."

Stephen looked up, his eyes lighting up a little. He took a quick, hot gulp of his coffee. "It just occurred to me... the body we found was wearing the clothes this mystery visitor was wearing, as described by witnesses..."

"But this guy had the advantage. Unless the attacker got free and tied off the loose end."

They looked at each other. Somehow, Adjoa couldn't quite believe that, and she suspected Stephen didn't either.

"Why do I have the feeling that the body is the attacker, and the mystery man is still out there?" Asked Adjoa.

"We'll get the chance to find out soon. Just had an email, the body is being examined now, we can go and take a look at what they've found in a couple of hours." Stephen wrinkled his nose. "I hate dead bodies."

"What's worse, them or dirty nappies?" Adjoa asked teasingly.

Stephen shot her a look. "I haven't decided."

****

Standing before the terraced house, Eric felt a strong pang of guilt, and for the first time, grief for the death of his friend hit him. Andrew had died because of him, there was no doubt of that. Now he was about to involve another friend, putting them in the same danger. Was that fair? I don't have a choice... Eric snorted derisively at himself. How often had that been used to justify actions? Still, he was here, he needed help, and he was thankful that his some of his former squaddies had settled in London. Things would be a lot tougher for him otherwise. Stepping up to the red windowed door, Eric took a deep breath then pressed the doorbell.

There was the sound of shuffling, and footsteps, and a couple of voices. A light came on, and he could see figures moving behind the glass. The door opened inward.

"Eric? Jesus man, what...?" The other man wrapped his arms around Eric in a bear hug, and Eric both smiled and grimaced. He'd forgotten how strong his old friend was, even now. Rob still had muscle - back in the day he'd embraced the racially charged nickname of 'the Dark Destroyer', turning it from a slur to a warning to anyone who might threaten his friends or himself. Even at what had to be sixty, he'd kept in good trim.

"How ya been Rob?" Eric returned the other man's hug, patting him on the back.

"Not too bad mate, not too bad!" Rob clasped Eric by the shoulders. Jeez, time's not been your friend has it?"

"Ha, speak for yourself, more silver on your head than mine." Eric ribbed.

"True, but that's fatherhood for ya! Come in, come in!" Rob ushered Eric inside, and herded him through the door at the end of the landing, that opened into a combined kitchen/living room. Standing in the kitchen was a woman, wearing a dark blue cardigan, and blue jeans.

"Hi Eric, been a long time." She smiled radiantly.

"Hi Fiona, you keeping Rob in check?"

"Ha, he knows I'll kick his arse otherwise."

Despite himself Eric laughed. Rob and Fiona were terrific and always had been.

"Lemme get you something..." Fiona turned and pulled a couple of cups down from a gloss-white cupboard on the wall. "Tea, coffee?"

"Tea, please."

"Have a seat, have a seat!" Rob implored, steering Eric to the three-piece cream-leather sofa. The TV was on, but muted - BBC News was carrying a story about Leicester City's remarkable season so far. Rob sat down on the matching one-piece to Eric's left. "So what brings you here out of the blue?"

"I need your help Rob, and I don't know how I'm going to explain this... You know what, this was a mistake, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have come here..." Eric got up to leave, but Rob's earnest expression as he stood froze him to the sofa.

"What's wrong mate? You know we're like brothers right? I'll do anything to help you, you know that."

Taking a breath, Eric steeled himself to deliver bad news.

"It's Andrew... Rob, he's gone. He's dead." As he spoke the words, the bitter truth of them hit home. "And it's my fault."

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