Sunday, 4 February 2007

Chapter 13

As Harry exited the shop, he checked carefully to see who might be around. Taking a few steps towards the station, he paused in the doorway of a former bank, now closed and boarded up. He lit a cigarette as he slowly surveyed the scene. There were few people in the square: a couple wandering aimlessly through the gardens, hand in hand and seeming oblivious to the rain; someone getting out of a car with a bundle of papers to be delivered to one of the many solicitors’ offices that packed the square; and a teenager sat on a bench, listening (probably) to some terrible cacophony on his iPod. Nothing out of the ordinary for a Wednesday lunchtime, he thought. Hamilton Square was beautiful whatever the time of year – a larger collection of Grade I listed buildings in England you'd be hard-pressed to find, he mused, a solid remnant of the days when Birkenhead ships ruled the world.

He’d left the mystery medals with Stan Redfearn. He didn’t want to carry £20,000 worth of memorabilia about his person to the airport: they were much safer stashed away in Stan’s safe in the back office. And Stan had promised he’d get together a detailed report on them if he could keep them for a day or two. Harry had been surprised at Stan’s valuation. He knew, of course, that they weren’t destined to pay his back rent. But someone, somewhere, had felt he should have these, or know about them, and it would nag him all the way during his journey to the airport. Stan had told Harry that the medals were ‘absolutely unique’. They had been issued to someone who had exhibited conspicuous valour during a military campaign in 1937. With a little time, he might even be able to discover whose they were. Whoever it was, they had fought gallantly in the Spanish Civil War on the side of the Republicans, Stan had said. “I’d like to have met the person these were issued to, Harry. The stories they could tell. You’re sure as hell a lucky guy to have them. How did you get them?” Harry had been circumspect in his reply, mentioning an elderly uncle who had passed away, and a house clearance when the medals had been discovered. Even as he told this to Stan, he had sensed he wasn’t being believed. With another glance around the square, he stubbed out his cigarette and made his way into the station entrance.


Tom Gauntless left the hastily-convened team briefing in the offices of the Family Health Services Counter Fraud Operation wondering whether his staff were up to the task he’d set them. It was one thing to identify a trend – in this case, the systematic downloading of confidential medical files from all across England by a GP who had no authority to do so – and quite another to undertake a proper investigation, prepare a strong enough case for prosecution and then bring someone to justice. He was still smarting from a case last year, when a dentist had walked from court with a suspended sentence (as far as Gauntless was concerned, just a slap on the wrist) for his fraudulent manipulation of data that had netted him an extra £2 million over a four year period.

One thing was certain, there would be money at the bottom of this. His career had taught him that the few bad apples that sometimes made the whole bunch seem sour were usually motivated by greed.

Dave Morris, Gauntless’ young deputy who had instigated the software package that identified this latest miscreant, stayed in the seminar room after everyone had left, and stood looking out the window at the glorious panorama of Cardiff Bay. He was quietly mulling over his next steps, a mix of thoughts speeding through his mind. He’d been quietly flattered when Gauntless had announced to the team that Dave Morris would be heading up the enquiry, with a free hand to make any investigations he thought fit, and the services of whoever in the team he felt he needed to make the investigations a success. Was he up to it? His wife often told him that he should be more confident in his abilities, but she didn’t have to work for Tom Gauntless. Maybe Gauntless had put him in charge because he thought he might screw up? Morris dismissed the thought as best he could. The next few weeks would be a test, whichever way he looked at it. He picked up a phone on a table by the window and punched in the number for his secretary – she was sat barely twenty yards away, in the open plan office outside the seminar room, but he didn’t want to walk out there just now, to a sea of faces wondering, like he had, whether Gauntless had made the right decision. “Angela – can you get me on a train to Northallerton, North Yorkshire first thing tomorrow morning? I’ll need accommodation for a couple of nights, too. And tell Jane I want to see her – tell her to see me in the seminar room in about five minutes.” After that, he dialled home and told his wife he’d need to be away from home for a few days, and to cancel the dinner party they had planned for Friday night.

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