It was that curious time, neither day nor night, not even properly dusk, the light beginning to shorten and fade, the headlights of a few overcautious drivers raising a quick, pale reflection from the slick surface of the road, the main route back into the city. Past Ezee-Fit Tyre Change & Exhaust. Quality Decking. Nottingham Building Supplies. Carpet World. The occasional small parade of shops set back to one side: newsagents, florists, Chinese takeaway, bookies, Bargain Booze.
Lynn Kellogg was driving an unmarked car that jolted slightly when she downshifted from fourth to third, the Force radio whispering sweet nothings through a field of static. She was wearing blue jeans and a pair of scuffed Timberlands, her bullet-proof vest still fastened beneath a red and black ski jacket, unzipped.
There were schoolkids all along both sides of the street, spilling over the pavements, pushing, shoving, shirts hanging loose, rucksacks slung over their shoulders, sharing, some of them, the headphones from their MP3s and iPod nanos; a covey of girls, no older than thirteen or fourteen, skirts barely covering their skinny behinds, passing a joint between them. Another day, Lynn might have pulled over, stopped, delivered a lecture. Not today.
February 14th, Valentine’s Day, a little after four P.M. and she wanted nothing as much as to get home at a reasonable time, strip off these clothes and soak in a hot bath. She’d bought a present, nothing fancy, a DVD, Thelonious Monk, Live in ’66, but it still needed to be wrapped. The card she’d left propped up against the toaster where she thought it might get found. When she glanced in the mirror, the tiredness was all too clear in her eyes.
She had been sitting with her second cup of coffee that morning, half-listening to the early news: Another fifteen-year-old had been shot in Peckham, south London, the third in almost as few days. Payback. Bravado. Respect. Some part of her thinking, at least this time it isn’t here. She knew the number of senior detectives currently investigating gun-related incidents in the Nottingham area and environs was such that the Homicide Unit were having to consider bringing in officers from outside.
As the newsreader moved on to the prospect of more job losses in the industrial sector and she reached for the off switch, the phone cut in.
"It’s okay," she called through to the other room. "It’s probably for me."
It was. A man holding his wife and children prisoner in Worksop, north of the county, threatening them harm. Almost certainly armed. Lynn swallowed another mouthful of coffee, poured the remainder down the sink, and grabbed her coat from where it was hanging in the hall.
"Charlie, I’ve got to run."
"I’ll see you later," he said, hurrying to the door.
"You better." Her kiss just missed the side of his mouth.
"The table’s booked for eight."
A moment and she was gone.
Nine months earlier, Lynn had finished her training as a Hostage Negotiator, ancillary to her main role as Detective Inspector on the Homicide Unit, and since that time she had been called out twice, both incidents being peacefully resolved. In the first, a fifty-five-year-old man, forcibly retired, had held his previous employer captive for eighteen hours, under the threat of trepanning his skull with a sharpened scythe; Lynn had eventually talked him into setting his weapon aside and releasing his prisoner with promises of a hot meal, a probable maximum of seventy-two hours’ community service and a personal interview at the local Job Centre. Her second call out had been to a twenty-four-hour grocery store, where an attempted robbery had resulted in one youth being arrested as he tried to flee the scene, leaving another inside with a Stanley knife to the throat of the terrified Somali shopkeeper. Against Lynn’s advice, the Incident Commander had allowed the youth’s mother to talk to the boy directly and her pleas for him to surrender had succeeded where Lynn’s had so far failed. Bad practice but a good result, the shopkeeper unharmed, the youth walking out in tears into his mother’s arms.
This particular morning it was a thirty-four-year-old engineer who’d returned from a six-month stint in Bahrain the previous evening to find his wife in bed with his ex-best mate, the three kids all downstairs, clustered round the television watching Scooby Doo. The mate had legged it, leaving his trousers dangling from the bedpost and the wife to face the music. Neighbours had registered a lot of banging and shouting, but not thought too much of it, until, in the early hours, the oldest of the children, barely seven, had shinnied through the bathroom window and gone running to the nearest house. "My dad’s gonna kill my mum. He’s gonna kill us all."
By the time Lynn had arrived, the street had been cordoned off, the house surrounded, anyone with close knowledge of the interior and the family debriefed, both the layout and the names and ages of those inside clear in their minds. Firearms officers were already in position, ambulances ready and waiting. What the boy had told them was halting and confused; some of the time he seemed to be saying that his father had a gun and sometimes not. They weren’t about to take any chances.
The Incident Commander was Phil Chambers, a Detective Superintendent Lynn had worked with once before, a murder-suicide out at Ollerton: a husband and wife who’d been together for forty-seven years and wanted it to end the same way. Ben Fowles was the senior firearms officer at the scene, a good thirty pounds heavier than when Lynn had first known him, the pair of them young CID officers working out of Canning Circus station; Fowles moonlighting most weekends, fronting a band called Splitzoid that somehow never seemed to have made the grade.
There was telephone contact with the house, but after the briefest of conversations— little more than grunts and curses— the connection had been broken and the man had so far refused to pick up again. Lynn was forced to resort to a bullhorn, self-conscious despite herself, knowing that all of the assembled officers would be hearing what she said, how she handled the situation, listening and judging.
The man had stepped into clear sight several times, once with what looked like a kitchen knife held against the side of his wife’s throat— not an easy shot, but possible, nine times, maybe, out of ten. Not a risk they were anxious to run. Not yet, anyway. Lynn had seen Chambers and Ben Fowles several times in close conversation, weighing up the pros and cons, the decision to shoot theirs and not hers. Neither of the remaining children, a girl of five and a three-year-old boy, had been seen for some little time.
"Let the children go." Lynn’s voice echoed across the late-morning air; the sun up there somewhere, trapped behind a bank of cloud. "Let them come outside. Their gran’s here. She can look after them. Let them come to her."
The grandmother was standing off to the left of the cordon with other members of the family, agitated, distraught, chain-smoking Silk Cut; a deal had already been struck with a local reporter who was a stringer for one of the nationals— MY LITTLE ANGELS: A GRANDMOTHER’S ANGUISH. Should the worst happen.
"Let me see them," Lynn said. "The children. I just want to be sure they’re all right."