This is the sixteenth part of a fiction serial, in 1210 words.
The National Crime Agency gets involved
Using the wheeled case that had sat on top of her wardrobe for the last seven years, Jenny packed enough clothes for a couple of weeks. There was a washer/drier at the rented cottage, so no need to take too much stuff. Various chargers went in next, along with her laptop and small tablet. Then any papers and notebooks detailing what she had been up to. She would buy a new SIM card for the mobile phone at the local shop, in case they found any trace of her calls, and get plenty of dressings and tape for the increasingly open wound too. All her personal papers went in last, and she added just one sentimental item; a framed photo of her Mum, in happier times.
As she locked the door of her flat for what would probably be the last time, she could feel an unusual thrill tingling all over her body.
She was on the run, and it felt strangely exciting.
By the time Jenny had finished buying her various bits of shopping and had put almost one hundred motorway miles behind her, Ivor Jones was looking at a photograph of some members of a school netball team, taken over twenty-five years earlier. Seven teenage girls, and an older woman, the games teacher who trained them. Five of those girls were now dead, presumed killed by one person. One of them was married and living in America, according to her family. The worried old lady he had spoken to had completely forgotten to mention the recent visitor who had come to inquire about Agata, but had promised to contact her daughter and get her to call him.
That left one other member of the team still alive, as far as he knew. That person was of great interest to the police, Leonora Quigley. She was under investigation for everything from selling firearms, to loan-sharking, according to reports he had read. But she was big-time, organised crime stuff, and her case was being handled by the National Crime Agency. Sergeant Jones was a very conscientious man, and followed the instructions to notify them that he was interested in Leonora as a suspect for no less than six murders.
Gemma Fox was a happy, bubbly sort of woman. She looked like someone who had lived their life in the open air, with her red cheeks, and padded jacket. Maybe late fifties, she didn’t bother too much with make-up, or smart clothes. She met Jenny outside the property as arranged, giving her a quick tour, and accepting the wad of cash handed over for three months rent. Despite her pleasant demeanour, Jenny was hoping that she wouldn’t hang around too long. The drive had been exhausting, and given her reason to scold herself for buying a car with a manual gear change. By the time she arrived, her left arm hurt so badly, she had needed to lean over and apply the handbrake with her right hand. Gemma had written down the code for the Internet access, and explained how to turn on the hot water and heating. After giving her directions to the local shops, she turned to leave.
“You have my number if there are any questions. I will be back in a week to change the towels and sheets, and do a bit of housework for you. If you get lonely or bored, drive up and have a cup of tea with me. My postcode is on my website, it’s not far. The Old Hill Farm, before you get to the village. Can’t miss it”. Jenny thanked her, and watched as she walked back to her battered Land-Rover. She had talked about being a farmer’s widow, their only daughter away at university. The farm land had been sold off, sold as Gemma couldn’t be bothered with all that work on her own.
She was probably lonely, but Jenny didn’t need a friend right now.
As soon as Quigley’s name was flagged up by Ivor Jones, everything changed. Officers from The National Crime Agency arrived in three different police stations, and took charge of all the unsolved murders. They had invested a lot of time and money in building a case against Leonora, and they were not about to have their hard work undone by any mistakes made by local officers, in various jurisdictions. Sergeant Jones had been the only one to make the connection with the death of the twins in that fire, so that was now being treated as murder too. As the weekend arrived, John Meacham, Alistair Tennant, and Steve Upshaw were all pulling long faces, as their high-profile cases disappeared like the morning mist. Only Pam Hayter was happy, very pleased to have sent everything she had concerning Tanya Birch to some chinless wonder at the NCA.
When she had unpacked, Jenny connected her laptop to the Internet, and checked the signal on her phone. The Wi-Fi was good, as promised, but the phone network had almost no signal at all in this area. Not to worry, she hoped she wouldn’t have to use it anyway. She had brought enough groceries to last at least a week, as her appetite was up and down anyway, and she mainly ate just to keep her strength up. A tedious round of visits to four different chemist shops had ensured that she had enough painkillers for a while, and the cottage felt very homely, just as she had hoped it would. She switched on the small television in the corner, and flicked around the channels until she found some news. There was nothing at all about the cases, which was a relief.
She was not to know that the National Crime Agency had put a lid on everything. They operated at a different level.
When she arrived at her office that Monday morning, Catherine Harris was aware that something felt different. People were looking at her strangely as she walked past, and her admin assistant looked as if she was about to faint. In the outer office was her boss, the Chief Constable. He was flanked by a stern-looking woman in a business suit, and a smart young man similarly dressed. Richard Kenwright smiled at her, but his eyes were cold. “Good morning, Catherine. These officers would like to have a word with you. Shall we go through to your office?” He turned to the pale-faced assistant. “No calls. None at all”. She nodded.
All three declined Catherine’s offer of tea or coffee, and sat down in the chairs opposite her large desk. The woman introduced herself as Commander McDonald. A Scottish name, but a London accent. The younger man was writing notes on a pad. Sensing the worst was about to happen, Catherine tried to carry off a brave face. “How can I help you, Commander?” She replied without bothering to defer to Catherine’s higher rank. “Well you can start by telling me why you chose not to tell anyone that you went to the same school that the victims of the recent murders attended. Then you might go on to explain why you kept that fact a secret from the investigating team, thereby obstructing that investigation”.
Catherine swallowed the water filling her mouth, glad that she had skipped breakfast earlier.