This is the fifteenth part of a fiction serial, in 1044 words.
Before her tea had even started to get cold, Jane had been on to the control room to get her colleagues organised in looking for Ian Hope’s van. She had asked for CCTV coverage of the car park and surrounding roads, and said she wanted the driver stopped and detained if found, with her to be notified immediately. Before returning to her lukewarm drink, she made the decision to tell Anita some things she had found out.
“Detective Soni has discovered something interesting. That Indian reporter, Shaily something, well she has disappeared now. Richa asked the editor what she was working on, but he claims not to know. She is an investigative journalist, and normally keeps her stories to herself, until she is ready to submit them. Now she has gone missing, along with her laptop, notebook, and camera. She tried to talk to Mike’s friend, Mick Steeden. After a lot of calls to Qatar, she discovered that he has quit his job, and gone back to his place in Australia. Richa sent a request to the New South Wales Police to call on him, and ask him to call the office to answer some questions. Guess what? His flat was empty, and nobody knows where he is”.
Anita shook her head in disbelief. “What do you think is going on, Jane? You can be honest with me”. Jane drained her tea, and put the mug down on the table. “In all honesty, I am at a loss, Anita. If you take it all as a whole, then something is definitely going on. But as well as Mike, it seems to involve this Ian Hope, Mike’s friend Steeden, and an Indian reporter too. Add the secret service into the mix, and it is getting way beyond the usual procedures of a missing persons inquiry. I think I am going to have to expand this whole investigation into something larger. But I fear if I do, then it will be taken off me, and quietly suppressed, For now, I am keeping it in my department, but I have no idea how much longer that will be possible”.
Jane was getting her stuff together to leave when her mobile rang. “Already? Oh, good. Okay, stay there, and I will come to you. Five minutes”. She smiled at Anita. “They just stopped his van and detained him. He was only two streets away from here. I am going to see what’s going on, and I will let you know as soon as I have spoken to him”.
Less than twenty minutes later, Jane was back at the door. She was accompanied by two uniformed police officers, and a rugged-looking man wearing a tracksuit. “Jane, this is Ian Hope. Can we come in?” The uniformed men stayed outside, and Jane was smiling as she walked into the living room. “Ian, this is Mike’s wife. Tell her what you just told me”. He spoke quietly, with a pronounced northern accent.
“Five months ago, a man came to see me at my house. I use it as my office too, you see. He gave me a photo of you, your home address, car details, and home and mobile phone numbers. He told me that something might happen that would mean he would have to disappear at short notice. Either that, or something bad might happen to him. He said his wife was pregnant, and he feared for her safety if he was no longer around. I couldn’t get anything specific from him about why, but he was sure that his family would be in danger, including his parents, and you. He paid me a retainer, and told me to wait for a text message. I asked him what I should do if he didn’t disappear, and he said that if I didn’t hear anything I could just forget I had ever met him. It was a strange job, but I am used to that sort of thing in my line of work”.
Anita asked him to sit down, and offered tea or coffee. He shook his head, and continued.
“He was a very genuine guy. I pride myself in knowing when someone might be pulling my chain, and he definitely wasn’t. He said that if I got the text message, I would also receive a transfer of a considerable amount of money to pay for my time, and to compensate abandoning any jobs that I had on. I was to drive down here, find somewhere to stay, and keep an eye on you. Check out anyone near your house, or who might be following you when you went out. If I saw anyone, I was to intervene”.
Anita raised a hand to stop him. “Intervene? What did he mean by that?”
Ian smiled. “Make them go away. Anyway, last week, I got the text message, from an unknown number. I tried to call it of course, but the line was already dead. Then I checked my business account, and the money had been transferred. So I packed a few things, and came down here. I have been watching out for you ever since. So far, your visitors have all been police or spooks, aside from your family. I know someone who checks the number plates for me, and they came back as government registered, or police vehicles” He paused, but when Anita had nothing to say, he carried on.
“I check on your house now and then during the night too, and I have not noted any suspicious activity. But my contact told me that your in-laws were killed in a car crash on a safe road, in good weather. I have to tell you that I am not happy about that. There is enough money to pay for my time until you have had the baby, and a few weeks after. If you want me to carry on with the job, I am happy to do so. This police sergeant has checked out my story, and she believes me. I showed her the contract, and all the stuff Mike left with me”.
Anita didn’t have to think about her reply.
“You are going to need a much less distinctive car. I will pay for you to hire one”.