Commander John Morrison glanced down at the report lying on his large mahogany desk next to the ever-present mug of coffee before swivelling his office armchair toward the large windows, which almost covered one wall of his office. He gazed down out over the city where daylight was slowly pushing the shadows back into corners from whence they crept each night. The city began to take on an ethereal beauty, which could only come from the knowledge that the evil of the night was banished for yet another day. His weary countenance was reflected in window, dark hair cut short framed a hawked visage but with piercing dark eyes revealing a well of strength and determination.
The commander sighed, no matter how important his job he wished more and more often it could be laid upon someone else’s shoulders. Looking deeply into the sewer of human degradation was never pleasant, but to do it day after day, year after year made the soul shrivel. Definitely not the rewarding experience he had once believed. Nothing like the hopes he had cherished when he joined the Service so many years ago straight from the army as an idealistic subaltern. How much longer could he stand the pressures before it became too much and he was consigned to a cottage in the countryside with only nightmares for company? The rap on the heavy wooden steel cored door snapped him back to the realities of the present.
“Enter!” Commander Morrison barked.
The door swung open framing Peter Kirkup, an untidy looking individual who wore clothes only if they fitted his own bizarre sense of style. Today it was black on black on black. Black paratrooper boots, black denim trousers; black silk shirt with thin black tie and a black thigh length leather jacket. All topped off with his long ginger hair tied back in a ponytail pulled back on a perpetually smug face. Kirkup swaggered into the room. A swift appraisal of his boss with his back to the door and gazing out over city immediately indicated bad news. The Commander always smartly dressed in perfectly creased dark trousers, starched white cotton shirt and a pressed dark linen suit jacket and Bowler hat on the coat hook near the door. It was impossible to tell that he had probably been in the office all night. Even his black hair was well groomed. Pete glanced down at himself, he had only been up for a couple of hours and his long black leather jacket and casual trousers had the look of someone who had been sleeping in them. There was a more obvious indicator for the bad new that was surely to be revealed and that was the half empty percolator on a special cabinet beside the mahogany desk. It was usually always full, kept that way by his dedicated assistant Sarah.
“You wanted to see me Sir?” Kirkup chirped brightly as he slouched to a halt in front of the wide desk. The Commanders’ chair swung round, bringing John Morrison face-to-face with his visitor. His sharp features hid any thoughts that maybe lurking behind the hard hazel eyes.
“Another murder, this one in the Porter district.” The commander stated softly.
“The same as the others?” Kirkup butted in.
“Hmm, Vee Hic ulaar homicide, with lead poisoning!” The commander quipped with a tight smile. Morrison had not been able to resist describing the murder using the phrase Kirkup had coined as a macabre joke after the second death, taking the proverbial out of the American terminology that had recently flooded the Empires cinemas and television. Kirkup grimaced embarrassingly at the jest.
“Anything new with this one, sir?” Kirkup said getting back to the purpose of visit. He never liked to be on the wrong end of his own jokes.
“Yes, we have a name on a scrap of paper. Probably not the victim’s, but a lead all the same.” Kirkup raised an eyebrow, a trick he picked up from his boss, an annoying habit, which always got a rise from his colleagues.
“Jamie Mulholland. We’ve run the name through the database, only one possibility: a software hacker in Effingham. I want you to follow it up.” The commander directed. “The forensics team will pull any other information out of the scene and the victim. They will inform you when they find anything.”
“Okay, Boss. Do I get anyone with this?” Kirkup answered casually. His mind was already racing ahead, working on angles and strategies on how to approach this first lead on a case which up until now and been stalled for lack of any leads.
Looking up from the report Morrison replied, “Ford, John Ford. He’s ready for fieldwork.”
Kirkup started and inwardly groaned at the news, he knew of Ford, the rumour mill spilled a lot gossip about every new person who joined the service. Handling a Baby, as raw field agents were termed, were bad enough but one that resembled a brick wall and top of his class and a smart arse graduate was not his idea of an ideal partner. He preferred no partner at all or one, which he could run rings round. Kirkup up had kept himself well briefed on all the new personnel and Ford would not be a push over; you never knew when your life might have to rest in the hands one of them.
He knew that Ford had previously been with military intelligence and transferred to Security the year before and had spent that time going through school being updated in all the skills and knowledge the department thought essential to the job. He had passed out top of his class, probably one of the smartest recruits the department had had for the last few years. The only downside was he had no practical field experience. Military intelligence experience still involved crawling through fields and jumping from planes at low altitude in foreign countries not mixing with people on the street or tracking someone in plain sight on your home turf.
“Right oh Boss!” Kirkup responded and left the office his mind a whirl of conflicting emotions about the case and his new partner.
As Kirkup left the office he waved to Sarah, the Commanders personal assistant and guard dog, though she was always a pussycat to him, maybe he would offer to take her out on the town again he thought as he walked through the outer office, headed down the brightly lit burgundy carpeted and wood panelled corridor with portraits covering the walls depicting all the incumbents who had held the office he had just left pushed his security pass into the slot and took the lift down toward the underground garage. Stopping briefly on the sixth floor on the way to grab the case file and absorb the latest information that had been put together by forensics and then to sign out his personal weapon of choice a new model Webley 36 with adaptive bullet loads which included his favourite “explosive”. Kirkup slumped against the wood panelled far wall of the lift and watched the numbers flicker down from six to B2.
The lifted jolted to halt and the doors hissed open, standing just outside in the lift lobby was the hulking form of John Ford, waiting as Kirkup knew he would be, he had already been ordered to be ready to assist on the job before Kirkup had reported to the Commander. Ah the joys of a tightly run organisation. He introduced himself to Ford, offering his hand for a bone-crunching handshake. Kirkup then waved Ford in front of him to the car they had been assigned. Ford dressed in a regulation dark suit and white shirt and black shoes and Dobbs hat marched ahead and squeezed himself into the black supped up Karachi salon car the department used while “on official business”.
It was almost exactly nine o’clock as Kirkup and his new partner burst out from the Security Garage at the rear of the building onto Jessup Road and turning right heading east and out toward the suburb of Effingham. Ford broke the lengthy silence, which had held since Kirkup had briefly introduced himself in the garage.
“Would you mind explaining what this is all about?” Kirkup glanced sideways at his new partner who was calmly driving the powerful saloon car. As he pondered his answer Kirkup pulled a packet of Churchill cigarettes from his black leather jacket pocket jammed one into his mouth, stuffed the pack back into the pocket and then drew his personalized Dunhill lighter with its grinning skull with a cigarette gripped in its teeth embossed on it, and flicked it against the side of his right black denim clad leg to light it. Holding the blazing lighter to the cigarette sticking out from his mouth and breathed in a lung full of smoke. His left foot was planted firmly on the dashboard, wedging him firmly into his seat; his left arm was resting outside the window tapping on the side of the car. Puffing on the well light cigarette he stared ceiling ward and began to succinctly relate the facts of the case, as he knew them.
“The first murder occurred just a little over twelve months ago. A hit, shoot and run similar to the one last night. All the killings have followed the same basic pattern: a man or woman in a bad section of the city, walking a deserted street, hit by a car and then shot by person or persons unknown. A clean getaway, the whole thing is over and done with in a couple of minutes. Not a single witness to any of the murders.” Kirkup said distractedly. “ The victims are still all unidentified just like the killer or killers not one on the criminal offenders database (COD) or the suspect database. So far there have been six deaths. None of the victims appeared to have been robbed and none carried any form of identification, so robbery is not thought to be a motive. Forensic has also been pretty inconclusive. The only evidence we have was found in the back pocket of the latest victim. A small scrap of paper with a name scrawled on its. Our target for today!”
“This character we are going to see, what about him?” Ford queried. Kirkup paused again as he went over the data in his mind before replying.
“Mulholland, James, aka Jamie aka Jacker. Employment, Computer Software Engineer. Suspected hacker for hire. He has been on the suspect list for some time, but no one has been able to pin anything on him. He does not appear to have any connection to Organised Crime. No corporation has been willing to press charges or even discussed what he may have been up to with their data. The Criminal Computer Division came up with a list of five major corporations that they know of which Mulholland has had some connection with, legal or illegal, they do not know! Chances are he has worked for them all to hack into the others and vice a versa” Kirkup paused as the brief went onto personal details. “He is of average height but scrawny, short mousy brown hair with an exaggerated flick on top. Wishy-washy blue eyes. He lives above his business in Effingham, surprise surprise.” Kirkup glanced at Ford giving him a wicked grin. “No extravagant lifestyle for the Revenue boys to get their teeth into. No regular lady in his life. Earns a reasonable salary from his legit work, fairly boring as crooks go. With a bit of luck he’ll be our break in this case.”
“We haven’t investigated him before?” Ford wondered, still keeping his eyes glued to the road as they hit the off ramp down in to the Effingham suburb.
“Nope, if we had he would probably be working for us, in jail, or worse!” Kirkup responded grimly.
Ford’s watch annoyingly beeped the hour as he pulled up outside a well-kept three-bedroom house with a small but well-tended front garden. The downstairs front had been converted into a shop with a black and white sign proclaiming, Soft Engineer Your Ware. The residential street was typical of old fading suburbs; with converted shops scattered down the road with rubbish and unwanted people filling the pavements with the small groups of residential houses stubbornly trying to rise above the decay. The clean shop with its bright garden stood out in this grimy downtrodden area. The pair of investigators waited for an old scruffy rummy-eyed tramp in a dirty green army duffel coat and a smart Hardy hat crammed on his head to shuffle past before they swept out of the car and crossing the pavement and up the six-foot front garden and bursting into the shop like an elemental force. It was softly lit, allowing the glare from the multiple computer screens to give off a ghostly glow.
“May I help you gentlemen?” said a silky voice, floating from the rear of the shop. A smartly dressed young lady in a light grey two-piece dress suit stepped out from the shadows.
Kirkup and Ford swivelled to face like gun barrels on a battleship. Kirkup leered as he gave her the once over.
“We would like to speak to the owner please,” Ford asked politely as he moved further into the room following protocol when meeting a potential suspect.
“He is upstairs in his office. I’ll ring up to let him know you are here. Your names and business please?” The young lady requested with a fixed cosmetic smile, using the same script she had repeated many times before.
“Security!” Kirkup stated quietly, a strange smirk on his face. He loved watching the change come over people when they realised that they had suddenly been introduced to their worse nightmare. The shop assistant’s face went ashen as she practically ran to the phone. She was back almost immediately.
“Go through the door in the back and up the stairs. Mr. Mulhollands’ office is the first door on the right.” She breathed tightly. No one was comfortable in the presence of the people from Security. Everyone seemed to have a guilty secret!
Upstairs Mr. Mulholland replaced the handset with the utmost deliberation his fear was like a tight fist gripping his heart and his lungs seemed to refuse any breath. At the best of times Mulholland did not give the impression of a high-powered software engineer. He tried to impress by wearing bright coloured shirts and ties and expensive suits which hung on his thin frame giving the impression of an expensively dressed scarecrow. Today he was certainly not at his best. The office door opened without the usual polite knock.
“Come in Officers. What can I do for you?” Mulholland said easily, professionalism coming to his rescue, standing up from behind his desk to greet his unwelcome guests, stretching out a hand over his desk. Kirkup strode up to the desk taking in the office and its occupant at a glance. It was trying very hard to look professional, expensive computer gadgets everywhere, but no real taste.
Mulholland was suddenly sweating heavily from his visitors close presence. Beads of sweat were appearing on his foreheads and wet patches on his bright orange shirt. Kirkup ignored the outstretched hand and slid his identification card across the bare glass covered desk with its hi-tech built in computer screen and keyboard. Mulholland tentatively picked up the ID as if it were alive and would bite him. Lifting up to eye level he slowly deciphered what was printed on it. Fear oozed out of every pore.
“U Branch!” he gasped in shock. It was worse than he had imagined. The “U” stood for Universal or unwanted, unknown, unseen or whatever “u” you can think of! U officers were only brought in when a case was multinational or too difficult for other local branches to cope with. The U branch caseload was never heavy and its members had powers, which a medieval king would and have killed for. No one knew how many members made up U branch, but Mulholland was facing two too many in his office. Jamie slumped back in to his large comfortable office swivel chair; he knew he was defeated before the questions began. The ID card dropped to the desk top with a quiet thump.
“What did this man want?” Kirkup demanded straight away, sliding a picture of the latest murder victim across the desk, which he had pulled from his inner jacket pocket while Mulholland was checking his ID. He also palmed his ID and slipped it back into his jacket pocket. Jamie’s hand crawled slowly across the desk to the photograph; he fumbled as his fingers failed to grasp the photo. Eventually he drew the picture into his field of vision. Mulholland immediately recognised the man and that he was dead, dead when the photograph had been taken. A massive ball of acid exploded in his gut making him grunt.
“I…I think I have seen him before.” Mulholland croaked, lying was out of the question but how much to tell. Adrenalin pumped into his body as it shook with stress making his mind go in to overdrive.
“When, Where and what did he want?” Ford asked formally from by the door moving into the room, pulling his audio notebook from his breast pocket directing at Mulholland ready to catch his every whisper.
“He came here a couple of times. I don’t have the dates here; they will be on the worksheet. He.. err.. Let me think, oh yeah, he wanted me to decode a data disc.” Once he had got this out Mulholland calmed down a little, talking about his work always sent him to another plan of existence. “Yeah, tricky little sod that was. The first he brought me took three days to crack the others took a couple days. I had learned a couple of tricks myself by then. A fine protection program, a multi-layer encryption wall system I have even incorporated parts of it into my own security software, real tricky. It released a real nasty virus, took me hours to control and kill it, lost a ton of data too.” He mumbled on like this for a few seconds until Kirkup interrupted him.
The interrogation lasted for an hour as the two security offices drained as much information as they could from the pliable Mulholland. Such dealings with the security forces have left some unfortunates permanently impaired in limb and mind usually at Security Headquarters. Mr. Jamie Mulholland was extremely lucky and was very relieved when the two security officers left taking every thing he knew about the murders. Though their parting words were no comfort.
“Your service to the state has just begun, a representative will be around tomorrow.” Kirkups’ statement left Mulholland again bathed in sweat and trembling in every limb. The two security officers thundered their way down the stairs and out through the shop past the startled shop assistant. Ford leaving first almost rolled over a tramp loitering near the door.
“A few coppers for a cup a tea Guv?” He mumbled, Ford dug in to a pocket and dropped a handful of change into the outstretched hand. Kirkup walked past wondering where the tramp got the hat. Folding himself into the car Kirkup turned to face his partner still outside the car.
“Shift yourself! I want to get back before lunch. Kirkup bellowed out the rolled down window. He then pulled a copy of the Empire Sun newspaper from an inside coat pocket, folded it open and began checking out the sensational news stories the paper thought the public had a right to know. Today it was the goings on of one of the Princes Charles. King Edward VIIs’ children always claimed a lot of column inches. Ford finally climbed into car not hurrying at Kirkups order. Neither noticed or cared that the tramp glared after them as they sped off back to the city.
A short report was on Commander Morrisons’ desk by mid afternoon and Kirkup was there to explain his conclusions slouched in an armchair near Morrisons’ desk.
“Give me a brief on the information you got from, what’s his name, oh yes, Mulholland?” The Commander ordered briskly, sipping on a fresh cup of coffee.
“Yes Sir. Our John Doe now has the name of William Preston. He required Mulholland to retrieve data from a protected disc. The only information Mulholland was able or asked to decode was the code-name “CIV”. Preston it seems had the necessary code to access the rest of the data once the initial code was broken. Mulholland worked on two previous discs for Preston but he had no other information about what was on them, just the same code name “CIV”. Preston was not the first to use his services; Mulholland did work for two others, a Miss Woodrow and a Theo Logan. Both of these people he identified as murder victims three and five.
In conclusion we appear to have one group who have been able to obtain unreadable data discs, which needed a skilled hacker, plus another group, which include a person or persons unknown who are professional killers who seem to only take out the first group when the discs had been hacked. Thus it appears that there is a leak in the first group or the hacker is playing both sides.” Kirkup finished.
“Any other information on these victims or what was on the discs? Queried the Commander.
“Yes, all three of the murder victims have a weak connection to The Free House a licensed brothel run by a couple of twins out in district eight, Broomhall. All three were caught on surveillance entering and leaving the establishment over the past eight months. The Brothel is listed as High Risk Security Risk but it is also being used as a place where the criminal fraternity can obtain any information. The local security and police departments also use it for the same purpose.
As for info on the discs nothing has come up yet but we are still searching, Priority Red.” Kirkup replied a little annoyed about the lack of information they had been able to pull from the massive store of data on the Security database.
“Forensics has produced very little about the murder, nothing that we had not already deduced.” Kirkup finally concluded.
“Check out the brothel!” The Commander answered after a brief pause in which he absorbed the data. Morrison turned to refill his cup, dismissing Kirkup with the action his mind already onto another problem.