He put the empty pint mug down on the drip tray designed to catch any overflow that might still be leaking over the brim as full glasses were set down for their eager customers.
It was slightly cleaner than the unpolished bar he was leaning against. It had probably gleamed once, the metal surface lovingly polished after each night’s use. Now it was caked in the grime that a perfunctory sweep with a damp cloth couldn’t remove, stuck deep in its mottled surface. The dingy bar wasn’t somewhere he would usually choose to come himself, preferring the more ‘electric’ feel and busier atmosphere of those in the centre of the city. His income, working for the Metropolitan Police, wasn’t great, but he had a comfortable enough life and could afford to be a bit choosier as to where he spent his leisure time.
He was working though, and this bar was one of the ones frequented by the man he was looking for. At least it had been until recently.
“So,” he said, “you haven’t seen him then?”
“Not in the last few days,” replied the barman. He was old, and his clothes not much cleaner than the bar he worked in. The faded T-shirt he wore proclaimed that he was “with stupid”, a hand and finger pointing to one side. This attempt at humour seemed somehow incongruous with the man wearing it.
“He was here most evenings, until about a week ago,” continued the man, handing back the A4 sheet of paper that Jon had printed a picture on. “Foreign chap, spoke that newfangled Werlder language, so we didn’t really talk much beyond ‘how are you this evening’ and that kind of thing. Drank beer, mostly,” he added, after a slight pause. “What’s he done, anyway?”
“Oh, nothing,” Jon replied, taking and re-folding the offered piece of paper and slipping it back into his suit pocket. “I just need to talk to him, that’s all.”
There was nothing to be gained from sharing with the barman why he was looking for Alberto Riaz, and the barman didn’t look surprised to be getting no more information.
He thanked the man and left the dimly lit bar, having asked that, should Riaz return, the enquiry after his whereabouts shouldn’t be repeated. With luck, it’d be a request that was heeded. Jon doubted it though. Even if the man’s language difficulties made sharing the information that much harder, the opportunity to gossip would probably win through.
The brightness of the early afternoon sun hit him as he emerged into the quiet street the bar lay on, and he turned to head back to the busier main road, and the underground station that had brought him here.
He could, of course, have taken a car — a driver even — but he preferred to use the public transport system when he could, and to work alone whenever possible. Usually, his investigations were made with the help of a partner, so this chance to flex his mental muscles on his own was welcome. Other people were looking for Riaz too, but he was the main officer assigned to the case at the moment.
Alberto Riaz hadn’t, in fact, done anything wrong. Jon had been telling the truth when he had told the barman that. Riaz had chosen London to relocate to as part of his ‘price’ for testifying against one of the drug lords from his native Bolivia. They probably didn’t need the additional testimony that Riaz brought. The photographic evidence, the money trail and the statements of the officers who had arrested Tomas Fuente would have been enough to secure a very long sentence for him. But Alberto Riaz could attest to Fuente’s dealings firsthand, had seen him handling drugs, and had heard him giving orders for their shipment, mainly to the USA. The evidence Alberto Riaz had to offer, though not vital, had certainly made it easier to ensure Fuente’s final conviction.
Why Riaz had chosen London to relocate to, Jon wasn’t quite sure. The city was pleasant enough, exciting even, if you knew the right places to go, and there were plenty of opportunities for gainful employment. The role secured for Riaz, one of many working on a production line in one of the capitol’s few surviving manufacturing plants, didn’t pay all that well but did provide a legitimate living, but the man could have chosen somewhere with better weather, warmer most of the time at least.
Jon shivered against the cold wind blowing down the street towards him. These March days were very changeable, one day being warm and light, almost like summer and greeted by people wearing shorts and T-shirts, the next much colder, like this one was. The sun’s warming rays helped, of course, and if not for the wind it would probably have been quite pleasant.
For many weeks Riaz’s new life had been uneventful. He had put in a full day’s work at the factory and returned home to the small flat they had found for him nearby, spending many of his evenings in the bar Jon had just visited, and similar establishments, and buying his wants and needs at a small local supermarket and some of the shops that had lined his journey home. Familiarity had soon become routine, as evidenced by the printout of his spending habits which was now lying in one of the trays on Jon’s desk back at the station he worked from.
They couldn’t be sure that the explosion that had ripped apart Riaz’s flat the previous evening had been caused by one of Fuente’s men, but for Jon there wasn’t really a better explanation. The blast which had greeted Riaz’s arrival back home appeared at first glance to be a gas explosion. That was what the Investigating Officer from the Fire Service had concluded from his initial findings but he’d also not ruled out foul play. A closer more detailed examination was being carried out and was expected within forty eight hours. For the time being at least it was being reported publicly as an accident. Many of Jon’s superiors thought it actually was, and that Riaz’s history was merely a coincidence. They hadn’t been so certain of this though to dismiss Jon’s theory out of hand.
The DNA evidence around the front door frame — blood mainly — had told the investigators that someone had been there when the explosion had happened and the fact that Riaz was now missing and that no-one else had been found to be the victim did add a certain amount of credence to Jon’s belief. To Jon, whether the explosion was accidental or deliberate, it was obvious that Riaz believed the latter and that was the cause of his disappearance. Whether he had any reason other than the blast itself to think this Jon probably wouldn’t know until and unless he found Riaz and asked him.
What chance event had caused Riaz to survive, Jon didn’t know, nor had any light been shed by his neighbours when they had been questioned, but something had. The explosion that followed had injured him for sure, the tell-tale blood on the wooden door frame had told Jon that much, but the blast obviously hadn’t caught him fully. Riaz must have put two and two together and reached the same conclusion Jon had. Why he had chosen to try to hide, instead of affording himself the protection the authorities could offer, was another mystery that Jon couldn’t yet answer. Maybe previous experiences with the Bolivian police back at home didn’t give him much comfort in their abilities. Whatever the reason, it was now Jon’s job to find him, and to do so before Fuente’s men did.
He was quite confident he could do this. The man wasn’t a criminal mastermind, after all. He had, of course, been involved in Fuente’s dealings back in Bolivia, though hadn’t been prosecuted for it. This had been another part of the price they had paid for his testimony. It wasn’t one they had paid exactly gladly, but giving him immunity hadn’t really cost that much. He had been, after all, a very small cog in that much larger machine.
He had no doubt that Riaz would turn up soon enough, the small microchip that had been inserted in his little finger, when he had first arrived in the UK, alerting the authorities to his whereabouts.
Jon felt, almost unconsciously, for his own chip, buried in the little finger of his left hand. It wasn’t noticeable really, even though he knew it was there. The device was passive, so once he had taken the few seconds it needed for it to be implanted, it wasn’t something he had to worry about ever again. The real work was done by the computers that took the unique number it carried whenever he needed to present it for scanning, which was pretty much all of the time now. He had linked it to his debit and credit cards as soon as the opportunity arose, and used a simple scan of his finger to pay as often as circumstances allowed. Frequently he could go for many days without needing to use the plastic cards in his wallet, though he still paid in cash for some of his smaller needs throughout the day. Despite his now approaching 50 years, Jon was a bit of a ‘gadget freak’, and grabbed every opportunity he could to use the latest technology. His colleagues and acquaintances of a similar age were generally more reluctant to do so, preferring to stick with older and more tried and trusted means of achieving their ends.
He had preferred the permanence of having the chip implanted when he had been given the choice. It meant he had it with him automatically instead of having to remember to take a plastic card wherever he went, the other alternative offered to everyone when the IDs had first been introduced. It was also quite a bit more secure having it physically inside him. Once activated the chip needed his body heat to keep working. If that disappeared it stopped emitting a number when scanned. He’d been assured that even if his finger got really cold, so long as he was alive the chip would continue to work. If he wasn’t alive, it would stop. Or if his finger was separated from his hand. No matter how warm it was kept. No matter how carefully it was done. There was some clever medical way of ensuring this. Exactly what that was Jon didn’t know, and probably wouldn’t have understood even if it was explained slowly and carefully to him. His skill was in detecting, and his interest in gadgets and what they could do, not in biology. He did chuckle to himself now and then when he pictured someone carrying around an unconscious body so that their chip could be used. He was fairly sure the cleverness of the gadget couldn’t allow for that possibility.
Jon’s superiors were confident enough in their own beliefs to act outwardly as if the explosion had been accidental. Just in case though, they also gave Jon time to find Riaz. At least if the Fire Officer’s report concluded that it wasn’t, after all, an accident they could claim that they were already pursuing other lines of enquiry.
He was nearing the underground station now, his purposeful walk while thinking these thoughts having carried him through the steady stream of people that thronged the busy thoroughfare. It was still the tail end of lunchtime so the road was full of people rushing to complete chores during their break and to collect the sandwiches and other goodies that would sustain them through the afternoon.
He had checked out all of Riaz’s usual haunts now, with pretty much the same result as he had got the bar he had just visited. Riaz had been a regular visitor but hadn’t been seen at any of them for the last couple of days. There wasn’t really anything else to be done except return to the station and wait for the break he expected the technology would offer.
He entered the brightly lit passageway that would lead down to the trains, passing the metal plates which now covered the ground the barriers had once stood on. Since public transport had become free, well buses and the Underground and trams where they had them, removing the barriers had speeded up everyone’s journeys a little, though the transportation was even more crowded than before. Still, he thought to himself, that was part of the aim, little wonder that it had been so successful.
The transportation wasn’t really ‘free’ of course. Everyone paid for it through taxes. But it was free at the point of use, and everyone paid, regardless of whether they used it or not. This had no doubt led at least a few people to finally give up their much cherished cars. Jon didn’t own one himself, preferring to hire when one was really needed. Working and living in the city he didn’t need one most of the time. Public transport was generally good, and improving all the time as it got used more and more. Even the night services were now far more frequent than they had been, and covered a more sophisticated route. The battle against personal car ownership and use was being won, slowly it had to be said, but more or less inevitably.
His journey back to the station, in Grove Street, was swift. It was only a couple of stops down after all, and didn’t require changing lines, a process that more often than not took longer than the travelling time itself. He nodded a greeting to the desk sergeant as he passed and put his little finger against the pad to be read. Once he had been recognized by the system he heard the familiar click as the lock holding the door closed disengaged and a green light told him it was ready to be pushed open. The warmth the building offered seeped into him, and he leapt up the stairway taking the steps two at a time, feeling invigorated.
He greeted those colleagues that looked up from their desks as he passed, exchanging a few words with some, contenting himself with a simple ‘hi’ to others, people he knew less well or had already exchanged pleasantries with during his first visit of the day that morning.
Reaching his own desk he settled into the chair provided. It was somewhat ragged now, its black covering threadbare in places, especially on the seat itself. Any money saved now that they were effectively ‘winning’ the war against drugs hadn’t made its way down to the office furniture. He turned on his computer screen and brought it alive by placing his little finger into the reader, then typing in the ‘secret’ four digit code that would confirm his identity.
A desktop alert told him that he had new messages, but when he clicked on the ‘mail’ icon which would show him these he was disappointed to see from the list of senders and subject lines that none was from the centre that was looking out for Riaz’s reappearance nor from his Bolivian counterparts, who he had contacted as one of his first moves to ask for help in identifying who might have been sent to deal with Riaz. Still, at least the fact that he’d forgotten to take his phone with him, that would usually have delivered his messages while he was on the move, hadn’t resulted in any delay.
He read through the new messages that were there, some being more or less ‘junk’ mail that had managed to evade the software designed to catch them, along with a few general tomes sharing information the senders thought he ought to be aware of. There was nothing there of a more personalised nature. He deleted most of the messages as he read them, choosing to file one or two in case he needed to refer back to them.
This wasn’t the only case he was working on, of course, and at the moment was little more than a ‘missing person’. Less so, in many respects, as his superiors believed they were humouring him rather than that his conviction was fact. Of course, if Fuente’s men managed to find Riaz before he did himself it would become a much more grave matter. He leafed, half-heartedly, through the files on his desk that contained information on cases that hadn’t yet been added to the computer’s memory, or that he felt was important to keep handy as hard copy. There weren’t a lot. Burglaries mainly. He knew the culprits in some cases, DNA or fingerprints having identified them, and like he was for Riaz he was just waiting for them to reappear. There were a couple of cases where the perpetrator wasn’t known, either there was no evidence collected or that which had been didn’t match anything they had on file. From the M.O.s, he thought he knew who had committed these too, though proving it would be harder.
His mobile phone doubled as a desk phone when he was in the station. In fact, he still had to dial ‘9’ for an outside line when he was away from the station’s own mast, and could call back to his office whenever he needed to simply by dialling the extension number. Normally it would have been in his pocket but he’d put it in the desk charger when he had arrived that morning and forgotten to take it out again when he’d left to check out some of Riaz’s haunts. There were no missed calls to tell him anyone had tried to contact him. He thought about calling the Control Centre. If they did have information they were supposed to email it to him, as well as contact him by phone if he’d flagged an enquiry as ‘urgent alert’. As he’d had no missed calls and no messages, it was most likely that it was because there was no information. He decided he would call anyway.
He didn’t need to look up the number, it was saved as a speed dial on his phone. He was old enough to remember when having such numbers committed to memory was necessary, before having programmed them in once this wasn’t needed, the phone itself acting as a telephone directory and being able to call simply by finding the right name and pressing ‘send’. He marvelled to himself, not for the first time, how many numbers he used to remember. He still had to think a bit now before giving out his own.
He flipped open his phone and held down the number ‘5’ that would connect him to the Centre, holding his left little finger up to the phone so his ID number could be read, when instructed to do so by the voice at the other end, which had answered after only a couple of rings. He followed this by dialling in his personal number when the same pre-recorded voice at the other end told him to do so. He waited a few moments while the system identified him then connected him with a living human being. He didn’t mind the recorded voices, nor was he one of those people who got annoyed if they realised their call had been transferred to be dealt with overseas when he made personal calls, but it was comforting to be talking to a real person.
“Ah, DI Longton,” said the lady at the other end. He thought he recognized a Scottish accent but only a mild one — Edinburgh maybe — as she continued, “yes, we’ve had two flags in the last couple of minutes of people you’ve registered an interest in.”
She gave him the details. As she spoke new messages arrived in his ‘Inbox’, containing the same information. He supposed such actions were automatic, driven by the same computer that had matched up the movements with his own enquiries. He thanked her and flipped shut the phone, which would also end the call. Now that he had the details in writing in front of him, he didn’t need to take any more notes from what she was telling him.
The first notification told him that one of the burglars he was looking for had resurfaced, drawing cash from a machine near to the last known address they had for him. He’d get a couple of uniformed officers to call round to see if he had gone back home. They’d probably appreciate another arrest to their credit.
He was more interested in the second message, telling him that Alberto Riaz had also been getting cash from a machine. It was located outside his usual haunts, but not far so. Perhaps Riaz was staying with a friend from work? He’d try there after checking out the cash point. Besides anything else, he had no other leads to follow up at the moment. He would also take a cab instead of relying on public transport. The transaction was still fresh. It had only been made a couple of minutes earlier. He might get a lucky break and find that Riaz was still there.