‘There’s a what? In where?’
Snowflakes in the Welsh hills, reflecting blue flashes as Paul’s car sped through them, knuckles white on the wheel, front incisors chewing his lower lip as he tried to decide how fast he could safely go. And, on the radio, over the siren, the confused voice of patrol car November-Echo 3-1.
‘Sierra-Alfa to November-Echo 3-1, first responders have confirmed the presence of a Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device’ – the control room spelt out the acronym for emphasis – ‘placed under a vehicle in Halkyn village, you are directed to respond, over.’ The control room was admirably calm in the circumstances.
November-Echo 3-1 came back on the net to confirm that they were on the way. Paul picked up his radio to say he was three minutes away and would assume the Bronze Commander role, the tactical commander as close to the incident as possible, when he arrived on scene. He thought he’d maybe done one blue-light run to Halkyn before, the last time he’d been in uniform, and had never been back there with either local CID or the Force Major Incident Team. Last time he’d been in uniform, it had been a blue woolly jumper and jam sandwich livery on the patrol cars, although the sirens had stopped going nee-naw a few years earlier.
And of course now he had his Inspector’s pips.
He came off the dual carriageway onto a badly gritted road up a hill, went round the bend far too fast in the slush and had to fight the steering wheel not to flip the car, which would have been pretty embarrassing. He pumped the brake to get his speed down and took the next two turns much more cautiously, finding himself on a road that wound away up the hill. The houses were set back, pebble-dashed fronts and front gardens turning white in the snow. Most were set a good few yards back from the road on longish drives. Panda cars had blocked the street twenty yards either side of one house.
A black BMW sat on the drive, and a very frightened man sat inside it.
Paul parked up, placed his cap on his head, and forced himself to walk to the first responders. Running would just cause everyone to panic.
‘PC Wynne, PC Hendriks. Sit-rep.’
‘Mr Channing heard a click when he sat down in his vehicle to drive to work, and asked his wife to check the underside,’ said Jamie Wynne, the older of two. Wynne was Hendrik’s Tutor, and he’d just been finishing his Probationary period as Paul had been starting his own. A pair of ginger sideburns crawled out from underneath his peaked cap. ‘His wife saw a pipe bomb next to the fuel tank and called us. When we arrived, I made a quick inspection of the vehicle underside and confirmed the presence of an IED.’
‘Ok. What kind is it?’
‘I’m fairly sure it’s the kind that explodes,’ Wynne said, in high-pitched, strangled tone. ‘Beyond that, boss, I really couldn’t tell.’
‘Ok,’ Paul nodded. He clicked his radio on. ‘Sierra-Alfa, this is Inspector 509, show me TOA at the Pentre Halkyn VBIED incident, assuming the Bronze Commander role.’ Sierra-Alfa being the callsign for the control room; 509 was his Force ID Number.
‘I’m going to examine the device,’ Paul said next, as levelly and deliberately as he could manage because he was trying very hard not to think about what he was doing here. ‘I’ll leave my radio on transmit as I do so.’
The control room was playing a blinder today. No angry shouty senior officer popped up to demand that he keep his distance, dammit. Just the same dispatcher, cool as you like, ‘Received, 509.’
It took an awful lot of willpower for Paul to make himself stand, let alone to force his legs the twenty five yards to the BMW. He was wrestling down bile the whole way. Taking exaggerated deep breaths to stop himself from sounding like he was hyperventilating.
There were black spots at the edge of his vision when he knelt down by the driver’s side door.
Channing was about ten years older than Paul himself. He was a big man, with a barrel-chest and biceps the size of some men’s thighs. He had the stubble of a man who didn’t shave every day and the weather-beaten face of one who was used to a life outdoors. But his voice was squeaky when he answered,
‘I’m Inspector Quinn with North Wales Police,’ Paul said. Whatever else happened, he had to sound calm. If he started panicking, Channing would too. ‘I want you to stay calm, sir, while we try and find the best way to get you out of here safely. Can you do that, sir?’
Channing’s eyes were wide and wild and suggested that he would do anything but. He managed to nod, however.
‘Very good, sir. I’m going to examine the Improvised Explosive Device,’ Paul said. ‘Please remained seated whilst I do so.’
Channing swallowed and nodded again.
Paul got down on his hands and knees, where he could feel every sharp piece of loose gravel on the Channings’ drive, feel just how cold they were, see his breath mist in front of him. He made his head duck under the body of the car, and spoke into his radio.
‘The VBIED appears to be a pipe, approximately eight to ten inches in length. It’s placed so that the cap will be blown off and into the car’s fuel tank.’ He shifted position to see exactly what was under Channing’s seat. ‘There is a pressure switch located under the driver’s seat, with two wires leading from it to…’
His breath caught in his throat.
‘There’s a timer.’
Every syllable was an effort and Paul wanted to run, but he forced himself to stay where he was and examine the display. Red numbers ticked down, seemingly at warp speed. He made himself take out his mobile phone and enter the numbers into the timer. ‘There’s slightly over twenty five minutes left on the clock… Sierra-Alfa, I need you to start a twenty five minute ten second count down clock on my mark… mark.’ He started the timer on his phone at the same time.
‘Gold Commander to Bronze Commander, all received, clock started. Retreat to a safe distance and wait out, over.’
‘Bronze Commander received, over,’ Paul acknowledged. He stood up, every muscle in his legs jellifying, and tried to speak calmly to Channing. ‘Sir, there have been some complications. I need you to remain inside the vehicle and remain calm.’
‘Complication, what complications?’ Channing asked, bouncing. Paul almost pressed him back into his seat.
‘The VBIED, that’s the Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device, is more complicated than our initial examination revealed. I need to consult with our ordnance disposal officers as to how we should proceed,’ Paul said. He couldn’t make himself stay any longer, felt his legs begin to carry him backwards. ‘Please remain with your vehicle sir… I’ll be back.’
He managed not to run to the barricade, but only just. He wanted to throw up and had to suck in huge gulps of air as he walked. The air was cold, and the snowflakes seemed to swirl in his lungs.
People at the windows of the houses. Most were in dressing gowns. Some had cups of tea, or toast. Paul could see the frowns, the twitching lips, the head-shakes. This was Halkyn; whatever this was, it didn’t happen here.
They’d probably decide it was some kind of drugs bust. The public usually did.
‘Sir…’ PC Hendriks started as soon as he got back. November-Echo 3-1 pulled up, light bar glittering.
‘One moment, Sandi. Jamie, can we start evacuating those houses please?’ Paul asked. ‘There’s a chance the bomb could damage them. Does Mr Channing have any family besides his wife?’
‘Er…’ Wynne checked his notebook and suddenly got very interested in the floor. ‘Sorry, boss, I don’t think I asked.’
‘Well there’s no point worrying now. Get his wife and any kids over here,’ Paul ordered. Wynne nodded and darted off, clutching his Airwave radio handset. ‘You know how I feel about “Sir,”’ he said to Sandi. She seemed to have pulled her hair into the regulation bun a bit too high today – her bowler hat was sitting at a slightly jaunty angle, and she was constantly having to readjust it.
‘It feels right for you,’ she said. ‘You’re more a “sir,” than a “boss.”’
‘That’s probably why I hate it so much,’ Paul said. ‘What was it you wanted to say?’
‘The IED’s on a timer?’
‘I don’t really understand that, boss,’ Sandi said. ‘Why put in a pressure switch if the IED’s got a timer? That just seems like an unnecessary complication.’
Paul had no answer to that, other than to grunt acknowledgement that Sandi was right. He was no expert of any kind on IEDs, Vehicle-Borne or otherwise, but after fifteen years’ police service he could make some fairly educated guesses about human behaviour. Most of the really intelligent criminals didn’t make their plans unnecessarily complicated, and Paul was already sure that whoever had planted this VBIED was pretty smart.
So they needed a timer and a pressure switch for some reason.
PC Wynne shepherded Channing’s wife, and two little girls Paul assumed were his daughters, out of his house and past the car. He kept an arm around each girl’s shoulders and made sure their heads were turned away from the car. The youngest probably wasn’t six – she had a pigtail in one side of her hair, the other side hung loose.
Paul breathed on his hands and rubbed them together – even through his gloves they were getting cold. He thought it over. Since being made the Neighbourhood Inspector for Flintshire North, he’d sat through a couple of briefings on the possibility of terrorist attacks in the county –response plans, coordination between the three blue-light services, potentially threatening groups, potential targets. And wherever Halkyn came on that list it was so far down Paul had never seen it. You’d have to know it existed to want to blow it up, and if you knew it existed you probably wouldn’t bother. So that meant that the VBIED was targeted at Channing directly, more than likely. Paul suddenly realised that he didn’t know the man’s first name.
‘Want me to speak to her, sir? See who might want to hurt the husband, or the family?’ Sandi asked, nodding at Mrs Channing. Wynne had moved them behind November-Echo 3-1, but didn’t seem to know where else to put them.
‘Not yet. I want you here, where I can bounce ideas off you,’ Paul said. He tried for an avuncular-looking smile, but was pretty sure he’d grimaced instead. ‘Bronze Commander to Gold Commander, over.’
‘Gold Commander receiving, over.’ The Gold Commander, in strategic charge of the entire incident, was the Chief Superintendent in command of Operational Support Group, or whatever the part of the force with all the specialised units like Firearms was calling itself this week. Paul had met him once and couldn’t recall his name for the life of him. His eyes kept wandering back to the BMW every time he tried.
‘Are Ordnance Disposal Officers on the way, over?’
‘Confirmed. The Army can’t send anyone, the unit based at the Dale Barracks is on overseas deployment, so we’re deploying WECTU officers, over.’ North Wales Police was far too small to have its own Explosive Ordnance Disposal team. Like most small forces, it relied on local military units. RAF Valley, on Anglesey, covered the western part of the force area, and the Army base at the Dale Barracks in Chester covered the eastern part. But, with all its overseas commitments and shrinking manpower, the Army couldn’t always guarantee that there would be Explosive Ordnance Disposal technicians at the Dale, and it seemed that this was one of those times.
In a pinch, they could use police officers assigned to the North Wales branch of the Welsh Extremism and Counter-Terrorism Unit, the lot that had been Special Branch until five years before. Most of them received advanced training in defusing explosive devices.
Not quite as much as the Army or Air Force specialists got, though. And if someone showed Paul a WECTU officer who’d ever actually defused anything more dangerous than a faulty plug…
‘Alright, can I have my handset tied into the WECTU officer’s please, over?’
‘One moment… the responding WECTU officers are DC Lloyd and DC Evans. You’ll be speaking to DC Evans, over.’
‘Received, over,’ Paul said. His Airwave handset started making a sound like a ringing tone, as someone in Colwyn Bay linked it to DC Evans’ in a one-to-one call.
‘DC 1834 receiving, go ahead Bronze Commander,’ Evans used his badge number over the radio. A roaring engine and a wailing siren. Paul couldn’t picture DC Evans, he didn’t know any of the WECTU officers that well. They inhabited a bit of a rarefied world, saw themselves as a bit of an elite, a cut above the regular CID officers. But Evans sounded calm enough.
‘DC 1834, have you been given the information about the IED’s timer?’
‘Yes sir. I show twenty two minutes, forty seconds on my stopwatch.’
Paul checked his phone. ‘Confirmed at my end.’
‘Ok, sir, there was a delay in our departure from FHQ… we got a mixed message about whether our destination was Halkyn or Halkyn Mountain. We’re responding on a blue light, but we’re just passing Abergele now, and in these weather conditions, touch and go if we make it there on time.’
Paul closed his eyes and pressed his handset against his forehead. When he opened his eyes again, he felt like he could see every single snowflake falling. There were just so many of them…
‘Right. Received,’ he said, as calmly as he could. ‘I’ll confer with the Gold Commander and we’ll discuss our options… for now, a query. Could you rig up an IED so that a pressure switch was used to activate a timer device?’
‘We’ve discussed this between ourselves, sir. In terms of electrical engineering it wouldn’t be too difficult. A better question is why anyone would bother.’
‘Because he – Channing – has to do something between sitting down in the car and the IED detonating, that the bomber wants him to do.’ Sandi said from next to him.
Paul rubbed a hand in front of his face and mentally kicked himself for not seeing that. Tried to remind himself that he had a lot of things to worry about, like keeping Channing alive, and there was a reason he’d asked Sandi to stay with him. She was bloody good. Not much got past her.
‘Ok, Sandi. Ask his wife what his destination was this morning. Also, can you find out his first name?’
‘On it, boss,’ Sandi nodded. She took off her bowler hat, shook some snowflakes out, and darted off to where Mrs Channing was hugging her two daughters tightly. Looking up, Paul could see more uniforms directing the rest of the street out of their houses and behind the patrol cars. A lot of them were, mercifully, already mostly dressed to go out, although he could see a lot of misting breath.
‘Bronze Commander to Silver Commander, over.’
‘Silver Commander receiving, over.’ Silver Commander, in operational command of the incident, was Chief Inspector Nia Griffiths, as head of Eastern Division’s uniformed officers Paul’s direct boss. Chief Inspector Griffiths had been around so long her first Sergeant had been a T-Rex. She had more experience than Paul and the Gold Commander put together, but she was also based in Wrexham, and that meant a twenty-minute travel time to get as close to the incident as Silver Command should be. She was still travelling. Paul could hear her siren screaming in the background.
‘Ma’am, I’ve evacuated the nearby houses, but I’ve got a lot of very cold civilians here, including some children. Is there anywhere we can send them?’
‘Hang on… right, I’m setting up Silver Command in the Springfield hotel, just off the dual carriageway. Send them there, over.’
‘Confirmed, on their way now.’ Paul radioed the orders over to PC Wynne, and PC Rigby at the other end of the barricades. He watched Sandi shake her head when Wynne tried to move Mrs Channing, smiling tightly with approval. She’d read his mind.
Check the timer. Eighteen minutes to go. He tried to remember DC Evans’ ID number.
‘Bronze Commander to DC 1834.’
‘I’ve had basic ordnance disposal training. In a pinch, I can try to defuse the device, if you’re happy to try and talk me through it.’
There was a very long pause.
‘Bronze Commander, I have to advise against that in the strongest possible terms.’
‘Understood. Can you give me any other options to preserve life in this scenario?’
‘Frankly sir, you’ve more chance of finding the bomber in the next fifteen minutes,’ DC Evans said. ‘If push comes to shove, sir, obviously I’ll give it my best shot. But you do exactly what I say, and you leave when I say leave.’
‘We’ll keep that in mind as an option, then,’ Paul said.
‘Have you ever defused a bomb before, boss?’
Sandi’s voice. Paul hadn’t realised she’d come back from talking to Channing’s wife.
‘Once. One of those Irish paramilitary-turned-drug-runner types, he left a pipe bomb on top of a kilo of cocaine in case we discovered it. That was a very simple device though.’
‘How’d it go?’
‘We’re having this conversation, aren’t we?’ Paul said lightly. In truth, it had been a very simple IED, disarmed by unscrewing the cap on top and removing the detonator from the explosive. It had been nerve-wracking all the same. And he’d had to work it out by himself as well. ‘What did the wife say, sorry?’
Sandi flipped her notebook open and held it with one hand. ‘His full name is Mark Kevin Channing, and he works as the manager of a haulage firm based in St Asaph.’
A haulage firm in St Asaph didn’t sound any more worth blowing up than a car in Pentre Halkyn. Except…
‘That’s only a twenty minute drive.’
‘Less with your foot down,’ Sandi agreed.
‘So why set a forty minute timer? The bomb would go off in the car park.’
‘So maybe it’s a warning?’ Sandi suggested. Paul shook his head, thought fast. He’d never thought faster.
‘No, no, a brick through a window is a warning, or petrol through a letterbox maybe. You put an IED in someone’s car to kill them… so the bomber must expect that he’ll still be in the car in fifteen minutes.’
‘So he can’t be going into work.’
‘No, he can’t be,’ Paul said. ‘Call his work, find out where they think he is.’
He laid odds with himself, and ‘Affair,’ came out overwhelmingly on top. And Channing’s first instinct when he heard the clicking sound had been to shout for his wife to check the underside of his vehicle. He knew there was a chance he could be targeted… a jealous husband who worked with explosives. There were enough quarries in North Wales. One was five minutes down the road.
Forty minutes from Halkyn could take a car to Conwy, or Llandudno, or Chirk, or maybe Llangollen… or Knutsford Services, if they went into England. Big, anonymous, lots of foot traffic, a hotel where no one asked any questions because they saw all sorts anyway. Just about perfect for a dirty morning.
‘Iawn, diolch,’ Sandi hung up her phone call. She stood at Paul’s shoulder and murmured so that Channing’s wife couldn’t hear her, ‘Work think he’s not coming in today. He phoned in with a migraine, apparently.’
‘I’ll bet,’ Paul said. He took off his cap to shake off some of the snow and regretted it immediately – the cold air snapped at his ears. He couldn’t remember ever feeling this cold as a PC. The old uniform had been warmer.
He unhooked his radio and called up DC Evans. ‘It may be possible to identify the likely bomber in the next few minutes.’
‘How would that be achieved, sir?’ Evans sounded genuinely confused.
‘We think there’s a high likelihood that Mark Channing is engaged in an illicit affair, and is being targeted by the partner of his mistress,’ Paul said. ‘If we can persuade Channing to identify his mistress, we may be able to persuade the bomber to reveal how to disarm the IED.’
There was a pause whilst Evans thought about that. Paul checked his timer – just under twelve minutes. It seemed silly really, now he thought about it, the idea that he could persuade Channing to identify his mistress, locate her husband, and persuade him to reveal how to disarm the IED, all in less time than it took to cook a pizza.
‘We don’t think that’s likely, sir,’ Evans radioed back. ‘But it does maybe confirm a possible plan we’ve been working on to remove Channing from the vehicle safely.’
‘Go on,’ Paul said. He got a sudden urge to bite at the antenna of his radio. He squished it down. Whatever else happened, he had to appear calm.
‘Well, sir, most IEDs with a pressure switch detonate when pressure is applied to the switch. That completes the circuit and triggers the device. But we know that this one is rigged to the timer, not the detonator. Now, if Channing gets up…’
‘That’ll trigger the explosion,’ Paul finished, having seen enough movies to know that.
‘Sorry, sir, that’s not actually how pressure switches work. Removing the pressure breaks the circuit; it would cause the device to disarm. The only way it would detonate is there’s an anti-tamper device installed to trigger the detonator if the circuit is broken. From what you’ve described, sir, there probably isn’t one.’
Paul wondered why for a moment, but he answered his own question before he asked it. The bomber hadn’t intended the IED to be discovered. He hadn’t bothered with anti-tamper devices, because he hadn’t expected to need them. It was a needless layer of complexity.
‘So Channing can just… leave the vehicle?’
‘It’ll either disarm the VBIED sir, or, more likely, it’ll just keep ticking on down. We expect the latter – the pressure switch is probably rigged to stay locked in if the pressure is removed. That way, if there’s a breakdown and he gets out, the VBIED still detonates.’
For want of anything else to do, Paul looked at Sandi. Her eyebrows had climbed up into her cap. Paul wondered if it seemed to her as it did to him – easy. Too easy.
Nine minutes left and counting.
‘Where are the fire service?’ he asked. An ambulance had pulled up halfway down the hill, two paramedics staying safe inside where it was toasty and warm. But no fire engines anywhere in sight.
‘I’ll check with Silver Command,’ Sandi offered. She turned away, keying her radio on.
‘Bronze Commander to DC 1834, are you sure that’ll work?’ Paul radioed to DC Evans.
‘Honestly, sir, no,’ Evans said. Paul could almost hear the man shrugging. ‘There could be an undetected anti-tamper device. But if there was one it would probably be between the timer and the detonator, and you’d have most likely spotted it on your first examination, over.’
Paul took a deep breath. ‘Gold Commander, have you been listening in?’
‘I have,’ the Chief Superintendent at Force Headquarters radioed back. ‘What’re you thinking, Inspector?’
He closed his eyes. Heard the crunch of tyres on tarmac, the scream of distant sirens, the grumbles of local residents as they were led away. Felt a snowflake land on his nose. Felt the tightness of the leather gloves around his fingers.
‘Sir, if DC Evans is correct, the best option at this stage might be for Mr Channing to be removed from his vehicle, for said vehicle to be driven to a safe location away from the Pentre Halkyn area, and the VBIED allowed to detonate.’
‘I see,’ said the Chief Super after a long pause.
‘Pending your approval, sir,’ Paul added.
‘Let me discuss this further with DC Evans,’ the Chief Super said. Paul checked the timer again. The Chief Super had seven and a half minutes to decide, which in reality meant he had more like two. They’d need the other five to move the car.
Sandi returned. She was rubbing her fingers over her thumbs, and bobbing her weight from one foot to the other. But her voice was still clear and calm. ‘Fire service got a garbled message sir, they went to –’
‘Halkyn Mountain,’ Paul finished for her. Presumably they were still driving around the place with blue lights flashing, wondering how they could miss a police cordon in a village so small it barely even qualified for the word. ‘Got an A-Z of Flintshire handy?’
‘Should be one in my panda car.’
‘Find me a road nearby that’s likely to be deserted,’ Paul ordered. Sandi tried to stare him out, probably wondering why he needed a nearby deserted road, and probably getting the right answer. He looked away from her at Channing’s car, until after a few seconds she took the hint and went to rummage in the glove box of her patrol car. Six and a half minutes. If the Gold Commander didn’t get back to him soon…
‘Gold Commander to Bronze Commander, over,’
‘Bronze receiving, over.’
‘Bronze Commander… do you have a volunteer to drive the vehicle to a safe detonation location, over?’
‘Yes sir. That won’t be a problem,’ Paul said.
See, that wasn’t so hard.
‘Ok Bronze, in that case we may have to remove Mr Channing and move the vehicle,’ Gold said. Paul keyed the radio back on.
‘Received, sir. I’ll update you when… I’ll update you shortly, sir.’ Radio off. He called Sandi, PC Wynne and PC Rigby over, Rigby of the perpetual runny nose. ‘Ok, here’s what I’m going to do, I’m going to get Channing out of the car and drive it a safe distance from any bystanders myself. I’ll need a two-vehicle escort to seal off the detonation location both ways… Sandi?’
‘Here sir, up past the quarry,’ Sandi said, showing him the road on the map.
‘That’s up hill, it’ll be murder in this snow,’ said Wynne, biting his lip when he realised what he’d said. Paul slapped his arm once.
‘Get ready to escort me as soon as Channing’s clear,’ he ordered them. ‘You get Channing clear and get the name of his lover. And whoever might want her dead,’ he muttered to Sandi as he went past.
Four and a half minutes as he approached Channing’s car, feeling snow crunch underfoot. The sensation had always given him a slight tingle in his toes.
He knelt by the driver’s side window.
‘Ok Mr Channing, sorry for the delay but we’re running out of time now and I need you to do exactly what I say at this point,’ Paul said. Channing’s eyes were red; Paul realised he’d been crying. Live or die, his affair – or whatever it was that had caused someone to wire his car up to a pipe bomb – would come out now. His life as he knew it was over.
‘We’ve examined the device, and our explosive ordnance disposal officers believe it’s safe for you to exit the vehicle,’ he said.
‘No – wait – won’t that set the bomb off?’
‘We don’t think so, sir,’ Paul said. ‘The device is triggered by a pressure switch, it doesn’t seem to have been rigged to detonate if the pressure is released. But it’s also on a timer, and it will go off in… three minutes and twenty seconds.
‘Please sir, I need you to exit the vehicle. I can help you with that, if you’d like.’
Channing started crying again as he unclipped his seatbelt and opened the door. He put both his hands on the steering wheel, and seemed to brace himself to get up, but his nerve failed him and he slumped down again.
Paul grabbed his arm and yanked him up, thinking he’d have to be alive to be complained about. He only realised that he’d released the pressure on the switch the second after he’d done it.
DC Evans knew his stuff, it seemed, because they were both still there.
Sandi ran forward to grab Channing and pull him back. Paul got into the BMW, reached for the ignition…
‘Shit… Sandi, keys!’
Channing had either never put them in, or taken them out again. Sandi grabbed his shoulders and span him to face her, had a quick conversation, then ran back across with the keys jangling in her hand. Paul jammed them into the ignition and turned them, and for a moment thought that the engine hadn’t started.
Just like in every horror movie he’d ever seen.
But this wasn’t a horror movie so the engine on the expensive well-built German car turned over just fine. Paul backed it out of the drive and span it towards the main estate road, saw the light bar on Rigby’s panda car sparkle in the rearview mirror.
Over two minutes left, probably nearer two thirty. Plenty of time on a blue light. Even in the snow.
Wynne’s car took the lead, Paul in the middle in the BMW and Rigby bringing up the rear. Even in a small village, traffic had already cut deep divots in the snow where the wheels of previous vehicles had gone, so Paul clung to those and gunned the engine as fast as he dared – even then he couldn’t get far above thirty on the estate roads and had to slow up once he hit the hill and over half a foot of virgin snow.
The gritters clearly didn’t go this far and no one had gone up to the quarry to clear it.
Paul stayed in the tracks of Wynne’s car, trying to keep a mental countdown from one hundred and twenty going. Certain he was out by at least ten…
A small passing-place hove into view as Paul neared the crest of the hill – the outline of it was just visible in the snow. Paul swung the BMW into it. Wynne’s car kept going; Rigby’s pulled up next to him. Paul ran to it, checking his phone.
Rigby didn’t try to turn, just put the car into neutral and let it roll and slide back the way he’d come, sticking as close to his tyre marks as he could. Paul kept his eyes on the phone’s screen, watching the remaining seconds race towards zero. The fastest he’d ever seen a clock go in his life…
‘Ok, stop! Stop-stop-stop!’
Rigby swung his car so that it was blocking the road. Paul jumped out and ran round to the driver’s side.
‘Get down! Behind the engine block!’
Cars weren’t very solid really, they were made to be as light as possible and they didn’t actually provide much protection against things like bullets and explosions – or so Paul had been taught on his Firearms course. The engine block was the only really substantial bit.
He put his hands over his ears.
It had no effect on the sound of the explosion. It was like being right beneath a thunderclap. He felt the car rock against his back and knock him forward… but after a half second, he realised that the worst that had happened was that his cap had fallen off.
All four limbs intact and functioning.
He stood up, put his cap back on, and turned to look at Mark Channing’s shiny black BMW, now on its roof, on fire, and with most of its front end mangled and missing. The pipe bomb had probably set the petrol tank off. Thick black smoke poured out of the remains of the car.
PC Rigby giggled nervously. Paul shook his head once, twice, and flexed his fingers. All ten present and correct. Something he was supposed to do now…
‘Bronze Commander to Gold Commander, the VBIED has safely detonated, no casualties, repeat no casualties. Please advise the fire brigade that we’re on the road past the Halkyn Quarry…’ Paul told his radio, tailing off when he realised he didn’t know the name of the road. And the fire service didn’t know which village they were meant to be in anyway.
The WECTU detectives arrived whilst Paul was directing traffic at the detonation site, watching a fire engine pick its way through the snow very gingerly indeed, so he missed the bit where they took Mark Channing back to the station at Mold and sat him down with a cup of tea and a bacon sandwich and gently asked him who he was having an affair with.
Although he heard about it afterwards, because Channing had perked up a bit with the bomb threat passed and hadn’t liked being asked about his affair. He’d shouted that he was being questioned like he was the criminal and he was a dedicated family man and he absolutely would not be accused of adultery. Loud enough that they’d heard him in the CID suite, and the gossip had taken off from there.
But evidently WECTU had persuaded him that he needed to be honest with them because, if the bomber wasn’t caught, what was to stop him from trying again? By the time Paul returned to the station, he was being asked if he could spare a couple of bodies from Neighbourhood to evacuate and cordon off a street in Flint Mountain. WECTU wanted to pay a man called Jake Blevin a visit. Blevin ran a firm of builders that also did demolition work, giving him access to dynamite. Mark Channing’s haulage firm handled some of their shipping, so they went to some of the same parties, and at one of those parties Mark had met Jake’s wife Lowri.
One thing had led to another, they’d been having an affair for eight months, then Jake had found out and told Mark he’d blow them both to hell for it.
Hence why he’d panicked when he heard the click of the pressure switch as he’d sat down.
Paul was there when the Firearms Unit brought Jake Blevin in for booking. He stood in the corner whilst one of the Specialist Firearms Officers informed the Custody Sergeant that Blevin had been arrested for the attempted murders of Mark Channing and Lowri Blevin, and attempting to cause an explosion likely to endanger life under Section 2 of the Explosive Substances Act. He watched Blevin as the Custody Sergeant informed him that his detention was lawful and proportionate in order to secure evidence from him, obtain evidence by questioning, and to prevent further offences.
Blevin was small and unshaven, his shoulders were slumped, and his answers were mumbled at his shoes. A defeated man staring at twenty years of prison time.
Paul hadn’t really known what he’d expected the Mad Bomber of Pentre Halkyn to look like – the man who’d caused a street to be evacuated, three police officers to risk their lives, come about twenty seconds away from blowing Paul into pieces small enough to fit into a bobby’s helmet.
He’d arrested murderers, rapists, paedophiles, one serial arsonist, people every kind of twisted, and he knew that they never looked anything out of the ordinary. He didn’t really know why he’d expected Jake Blevin to be the one that did.
But it was, oddly, comforting to know that he wasn’t anything special, wasn’t a criminal genius. Comforting that in the end he was as human as all the rest.
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