Playing Harry

Playing Harry 1600 2400_1

Giant international corporations stoop to murder. The CIA and MI6 sanction illegal, immoral activity. People die. Harry Fingle–an investigative journalist, searching for his brother’s killer–becomes a pawn in a real-life game of chess played out by the security services. He’s gagged to stop him publishing, an assassin is briefed to kill him, and his ex-lover is stabbed.

 

Chapter One

Threads

Harry Fingle became certain the jury would find him guilty and that he’d go to prison for several years. At the beginning of the trial he had no doubt that his case would be thrown out of court; dismissed as a shameful case of trumped-up evidence manipulated by someone he’d upset in the past who’d convinced a corrupt policeman to press charges. But as the case dragged on and he listened to lie after lie, convincingly told by the prosecution witnesses and then highlighted by the skilful and eloquent prosecution barrister, Harry became more and more depressed and demoralised. He eventually doubted his own innocence and gave up any hope of walking free. Philip Stacey, his friend and boss, gave a powerful testimony in his favour. He told the judge and jury that Harry had only been doing his job. But Harry didn’t believe it convinced them.

‘Please stand,’ said a court official. The large, wooden door that led from the judge’s chambers creaked loudly as it opened. The noise rippled through the stifling and expectant silence of the courtroom. Harry stood up with his head down, and stared at his shoes as he heard the judge walk back to his seat on the bench.

The judge motioned for everyone to sit. Harry, with his head still bowed, lowered himself slowly down onto the hard, wooden seat he’d sat on every day for the last month. He looked up and glanced across to the seats directly behind his defence team’s table: to where his girlfriend sat. She wasn’t looking his way. He returned his gaze to the ground around his feet, and thought back to moments during the trial. The times when he’d thought she’d shown sympathy and belief in the untruths and downright fabrications peddled by the prosecution witnesses; he decided not to look her way again.

It’ll be over shortly and then she’ll be rid of me.

~~~

The trial judge, his white wig covering his hair, and dressed in his red robe with thick, black edging, proceeded at a slow pace to his seat, followed by the other court officials. AMIE LAU touched her straight, black hair and watched the deliberate and well-practised ritual. She turned to look at Harry. She kept her eyes fixed on him for some time, waiting for him to turn and see her so she could give him a sign of support. But he didn’t glance her way. She felt nervous, a bit sick, a touch unsteady, and was sure all colour had drained from her face. She turned back to watch the judge adjust his glasses to sit on the end of his nose. He looked over the rims towards the foreman of the jury, who stood next to and slightly forward from the other eleven jury members. The judge leant forward. He rested his robed arms on the bench and motioned for all in the courtroom to take their seats. He turned back to the foreman of the jury. Amie found the tension difficult to bear. She shook.

‘Members of the jury. Have you reached a verdict?’ the judge asked.

‘Yes, your honour.’

‘Is that a unanimous verdict?’

‘It is, your honour.’

The judge nodded to one of the court officials.

‘Will the defendant please stand,’ the court official said.

Amie gripped the sides of her chair. She turned again to look as Harry slowly stood up. He didn’t look her way. His gaze focused on something on the wall above the judge’s head.

‘Do you find the defendant, one Harry Nicholas Fingle, guilty or not guilty under the Criminal Justice Act 2003 of being in possession of indecent images of children?’

Amie looked away. She took a deep breath. She hoped she wouldn’t pass out.

~~~

Amie sat in a side room of the court waiting for Harry to appear. Words could not describe the elation she felt. She never doubted his innocence, but had found the four-week-long trial, the gradual sapping of his confidence, and his increased negativity and despair difficult to cope with. She looked up at the door. She expected Harry to come through at any time.

It’s all over, she thought. We can start to get our lives back on track.

They’d been a pair for seven years. They had met at a friend’s party when she’d been doing her MA. Both had gone alone. They bumped into each other when, by coincidence, they went to get a drink at the same time. They hit it off immediately. Three weeks later Amie moved in with Harry. They became inseparable – with many common interests and mutual friends – and like oxygen to each other: the air they both needed to survive. ‘Rock solid’ was how their friends described their relationship – both of them clearly in love. Amie knew they’d eventually marry. She wasn’t worried about it. They’d get round to it at some time.

While she waited, she thought about the pressure Harry had been under and how he had become remote and snappy. She looked at her watch and wondered what was keeping him. How will he be?’ she asked herself. Would he be elated, like her, or just pleased it was all over and wanting to get away? Maybe they could go somewhere they liked – Devon, Cornwall, or the Yorkshire Moors? She heard a noise coming from behind the door.

The door opened and he came in, alone. His face was grey and ashen, almost the same colour as his suit. His blue eyes looked red, as though he’d been crying. He didn’t rush to greet her as she’d expected. She smiled. ‘Oh, poor darling. I love you so much.’

He stood and looked at her, his expression distant and remote. They remained one or two metres apart.

‘What’s up? You were acquitted. We can go home.’

He didn’t move. He shook his head. ‘No. I want to split. I need some space.’

Amie felt bewildered. She couldn’t understand what Harry was on about. ‘Harry? What are you saying?’ she exclaimed.

‘I can’t explain. We’ll stay friends. I have to go now. I’ll call you.’

He turned and walked out of the room.

~~~

RICHARD MORECOMBE was known as a media mogul. He owned many companies worldwide. One of them was The Morning Times Newspaper Group, the parent company of The Morning Times: the much-respected daily, and the paper that employed Harry Fingle.

The day after Harry was acquitted Richard hosted a lunch party in a private room in his favourite restaurant near Covent Garden. It was the one-year anniversary of a small advertising company he’d bought off the receiver for a knockdown price. On the first day of his ownership, exactly a year earlier, he and his team had gone in, assessed the employees, fired those they thought useless, doubled the salary of the people they wanted to keep, appointed a chief executive, and promised everyone huge bonuses if they turned the business into profit within a year. The newly invigorated team did just that. The lunch was to celebrate and Richard, who relished any excuse for a party, felt in his element. He made a fuss of congratulating everyone, giving out the bonus cheques, toasting the company, and kissing most of the girls. He couldn’t have been happier.

‘Great news about Harry,’ Pat Faulk, one of the assistant editors of The Morning Times, said to Richard. They’d bumped into each other while everyone changed seats between courses.

‘Yeah, it’s good,’ Richard replied in an instant. He’d been taken by surprise. He’d flown in that morning from New York and had stopped only for ten minutes at his London office for a quick shower and a change of clothes. He hadn’t read the papers or caught a news bulletin.

‘I don’t know how the case got so far. The judge said it was a complete travesty of justice,’ Pat added.

‘You’re right; but don’t think me rude. I’ve only just got in from New York and I should circulate. See you at next week’s meeting.’

Richard touched Pat on the shoulder and moved quickly away. He didn’t talk to anyone else. Only one topic occupied his mind: to obtain a copy of any newspaper and read about the Harry Fingle case. He found one. Not one of his papers – a rival’s – but it covered the case on the front page. He took it to the gents’ room and locked himself in a cubicle. He read the account of the trial from the beginning.

‘Fuck,’ he said aloud when he came to the end. He discarded the paper and went straight back to the party.

~~~

Later, when alone for the first time since the lunch, he pulled out his phone and made a call.

‘What the hell happened? I thought the Harry Fingle thing was a done deal. Who screwed up?’

~~~

KATE FISHER had been the commercial director for Ritzler Pharmaceuticals, one of the world’s largest drug companies, for three years. Ian, her husband was a lawyer. They both had come home early from work to meet with their sixteen-year-old son, Jack. He’d just been excluded from school for being in possession of cannabis. They sat on opposite sofas in their period-style sitting room and waited for him to come in. Kate flipped through a magazine and fiddled with her fingers. Ian corrected a document he’d brought home from work. Neither had spoken for some time.

‘That’s him,’ Kate said as she heard the front door slam. She looked across at Ian. ‘Aren’t you going to go and meet him?’

Ian looked at Kate and shrugged his shoulders. ‘If you want me to.’ He stood up and went to the hall.

‘What’s this all about?’ Kate heard him say in an aggressive tone.

‘Let me get in. I’ll explain. Don’t have a go at me as soon as you see me.’

‘What do you mean, have a go? You’ve successfully ruined your chances at school. Don’t you know how much we’re paying for you to go there?’

‘Call yourself a fucking lawyer. Don’t you know a man’s innocent until…’

‘Don’t swear at me and tell me what to do. Come in here and listen to us.’

‘Ian, give him a chance. You jumped down his neck before he’s even tried to explain.’ Kate’s gaze flashed between Ian and Jack as they burst through the door. Ian looked flushed. He sat in one of the upright chairs. Jack sat in another one. He wore scruffy jeans and a well-worn T-shirt. He dumped his rucksack on the floor and took out his phone. He started to fiddle with it and check his text messages.

‘Jack, could you put that down and speak to us,’ Kate said.

‘What about?’ Jack had his head down. He continued to play with the phone.

‘About fucking getting suspended for drugs,’ Ian yelled. He looked down and turned back one of the cuffs of his crisp, blue shirt.

Jack dropped the phone onto the top of his rucksack and looked up at his father. ‘What the hell? You just had a go at me for swearing. Now you’re doing it.’ Jack glared at his father. ‘Hypocrite.’

‘Stop it, both of you.’ Kate rubbed a hand through her spiky blonde hair. ‘Don’t say another word, Ian. Let me handle this.’ She glowered at her husband and turned to Jack. ‘Tell us in your own words what happened. I want to hear it from you.’

Jack’s eye flashed between his mother and father and then settled on Kate. ‘As long ashe doesn’t interrupt.’

‘Just get on with it,’ Kate said. She shot Ian a quick glance. Her nose pointed upwards. The silhouette of her face showed her fine, distinct bone structure.

‘I never had any of the stuff. It was planted on me.’

‘Who by?’ Ian snapped.

‘I don’t know, do I? But I didn’t have any of it.’

‘Truthfully?’ Kate asked.

‘Yes, Mum, truthfully.’

‘But what about those boys you go around with? I bet they have it,’ Ian said. He looked at Jack with a snide expression.

‘What boys? What are you talking about?’ Jack, with scorn in his eyes, glared at his father.

‘You know, the black boys in those gangs you go around with.’

Jack jumped up. He stormed over to where his father sat. ‘You’re just a fucking racist. You just don’t understand. I hate you.’ He turned and ran out of the room.

‘Jack, come back immediately. I haven’t finished…’

‘Leave it. Let him calm down. I’ll talk to him later. We’re getting nowhere like this. I’ve got to make a work call.’ As Kate rose she heard the front door slam. She ran and opened it.

‘Where’re you going, Jack?’ she yelled. Jack had disappeared down the street and out of sight.

~~~

GARY LESTER woke early. He felt shaky and had a thumping headache, as had become his norm every morning. He rolled out of bed. He knocked over the empty bottle of scotch lodged against the side of his bed, ignoring the dregs that dribbled onto the dirty carpet, and rushed to the bathroom. He grabbed the sides of the stained washbasin for support and vomited. He retched a few times, sluiced some water around his face, and attempted to clean his teeth. He showered. He dressed quickly and packed his small rucksack with a newspaper, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a couple of breath-freshening, aerosol sprays, some Polo mints, a new packet of Nurofen, and half a bottle of whisky. He closed the door on his small apartment and started to walk the short distance down Shepherd’s Bush Road to Hammersmith tube station. He had to be in early that day. He was due to meet Margaret Hudson, head of human resources, at nine. He had no idea what it was about.

‘Come in, Gary. Sit down,’ Margaret said, as he arrived at her office door a few minutes after nine. She stood up from behind her desk, and motioned to a spare chair around a low-level table in front of where she’d been sitting. She joined Gary in the adjacent seat.

‘How’s it going? Like some coffee?’ She took hold of a fresh-looking cafetière and held it over an empty, white cup. She waited for his reply.

‘Thanks. Black please.’ Gary watched Margaret pour. He felt glad he’d taken the precaution of a few, quick sprays from his mouth freshener before he’d entered her office. They sat quite close.

Margaret poured some coffee for herself. She added a little milk and turned to Gary. ‘Push the door closed, will you?’ He did as she asked; beginning to feel it was no ordinary progress meeting that was about to start.

‘Is there anything you want to talk to me about, Gary?’ Margaret said as soon as the door had fully shut. She looked straight at him.

‘No. Should there be?’ He was concerned and unsure where the discussion would lead.

Margaret sat up straight. She moved the pencil that rested upon the A4 pad on the table to one side and looked up. ‘I understand you may find this difficult to accept, but I believe you have a drink problem. Can we talk about it?’

Shit, thought Gary. She knows. He’d worked for Ritzler Pharmaceuticals for twenty-six years. He joined them as a junior at sixteen after he’d left school with no qualifications. He’d done well and worked his way up until he was appointed IT research manager some seven years previously. It was all going fine until about two years earlier when his wife walked out on him with their children. She’d been having an affair with his best friend. It was then that the drinking started.

He shook his head. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’

‘I know it’s not easy. But I think it would be helpful if you and I discussed it – just the two of us – to see if we can come up with a solution.’

‘There’s nothing to talk about.’ Gary shrugged his shoulders. ‘I told you, I don’t have a drink problem.’ He spoke in a raised tone.

‘Come on, Gary. I really want to help, but you’re making it difficult.’ Margaret reached forward to pick up the A4 pad. She turned over the front sheet.

‘There’s nothing to discuss. I’ve told you I don’t have a drink problem.’

Margaret looked into Gary’s bloodshot eyes. ‘Are you sure?’

‘Absolutely,’ he said. He hoped his persistence would prevail.

Margaret pulled out three separate sheets of typed, white paper from the bottom of her pad, placed them on the table, and looked up. ‘I’m sorry. I’d hoped we could have handled this in an amicable fashion.’

‘What do you mean?’ Gary looked down at the top sheet of paper and tried to read it upside down.

Margaret picked up the three pieces of paper. ‘These are three statements from your colleagues. They…’

‘What do they say?’ Gary asked in a flash. He’d become worried. He’d realised his bluffing tactics hadn’t worked. He feared the meeting would end badly.

Margaret looked at him with a serious expression. ‘They say that on Monday 1 October, Wednesday 3 October, and Friday 12 October you came to work smelling heavily of alcohol.’ She paused, looked down for a second at the papers in her hand, and took a deep breath. ‘And that on certain other days you came back from lunch and behaved as though you were drunk.’ She paused again for a moment. ‘I’m afraid we can’t tolerate that.’

~~~

Gary left Ritzler later that day.

~~~

MOHAMED ‘JIMMY’ ALI – known as Jimmy to his friends and his sister – heard the big, studded, wooden door of Pentonville prison slam closed behind him. He’d just served eighteen months of a three-year sentence for drug dealing. His good behaviour had earned him remission.

I’m never going back inside that shithole, he vowed, and headed off down Caledonian Road. He was due to meet his sister, with reluctance, in The Hemingford Arms. He remembered making the same promise to himself after his previous spell inside.

I mean it this time.

Jimmy’s family fled from Somalia to London in the late eighties, when he was five. Shortly after he started secondary school, his father, whom he’d admired and looked up to, died. He’d been devastated. He blamed his mother for his father’s death, and rebelled at all authority. At school he mixed with the other boys from single-parent families with absent fathers. He started to become involved with them in petty crime. When his mother passed away on his sixteenth birthday, he dropped out of school and renamed himself Jimmy. After a few months with no work and no money, he joined up with a small, drug-dealing gang. He earned enough to pay the rent and see that his grandmother was okay until she died a year later.

‘Hi.’ Jimmy found Sahra, his sister, sitting alone in the garden. He noticed she’d changed her hairstyle since he’d last seen her. He wasn’t sure if he liked it. She stubbed out her cigarette and stood up to greet him. He thought she seemed nervous.

‘It’s good to see you, Jimmy.’ She leant forward, and gave her brother a quick peck on the cheek.

‘So what’s this all about? Reconciliation, your guilt? Some’ing like that?’ Jimmy asked, towering over his sister’s petite frame. He was furious. He had a grievance with his sister and wanted to deal with it. He’d only agreed to meet with her after the prison prerelease team had pressed him to do so. As a routine, they always pushed offenders who’d served their sentences to meet up with family or friends. That way, most of them found immediate accommodation.

‘You cross with me?’

‘What you think? Been locked up in that hellhole for the last eighteen bleeding months and didn’t hear a peep from you. Never answered my calls, letters, nothing. What’s wrong with you? Of course I’m angry.’ He stopped and rubbed his right hand across his mouth a few times. ‘I thought you were dead. That’s what I thought. I had to ask the screws to check you out. What the hell?’ Jimmy turned away and scratched his shaved head. The early spring sun shone on his brown-skinned arm.

‘It wasn’t my fault. Look, go get us both a drink.’ Sahra took hold of Jimmy’s arm. She held out a twenty-pound note. ‘I’ll explain when you…’

‘I don’t want a drink and don’t want to listen to your excuses. I’m your brother. Don’t you know that?’

Jimmy looked into Sahra’s deep-brown eyes. He’d become incensed. Sahra was his next of kin and hadn’t visited or tried to contact him in any way while he’d been inside. He became so worried he asked the prison staff to check on her. After they told him she was alive and living in London, he become depressed and despondent, unable to comprehend why his sister, who’d he’d always believed was his soul mate and someone he could rely on, had suddenly disowned him.

Both of them stood. Sahra stared at Jimmy’s angry and troubled face. ‘Please, Jimmy. Get us a drink. Then we can talk. People are looking at us.’

Jimmy returned five minutes later with a pint of beer and a glass of white wine. Sahra had found a table under a tree in a quiet corner of the garden. He plonked her drink down, spilling some of her wine in the process. He took a slurp from his drink and sat and faced her.

‘Go on, then. It had better be good.’

Sahra leant down and pulled up two carrier bags. She held them out for Jimmy.

‘What’s this?’

‘Stuff you’ll need. A phone, some money, clothes, a few other bits and pieces.’

Jimmy looked away. ‘Come on. Tell me.’

‘I need a ciggy. Do you mind?’

Jimmy nodded. ‘Don’t bother me. Get on with it.’

Sahra lit up and inhaled. She blew out the smoke then took a large sip from her glass and looked at her brother.

‘I’m married, Jimmy.’

‘You bleeding what? You got married without telling me.’ Jimmy jumped up. His expression changed. His head jerked towards Sahra. His eyes seemed to grow bigger. He couldn’t believe what he’d heard.

‘Who to?’

Sahra looked up. She seemed nervous. ‘Steve.’

‘You what! That candy-ass white trash who called me and my mates low-life black scum?

‘I ain’t putting up with anymore of this shit. I’m out.’ Jimmy turned and stormed out of the pub without saying another word.

~~~

Six months after Jimmy had left prison he’d become desperate. He’d kept clear of drug dealing, but finding work had been difficult. The jobs he did get had been sparse and sporadic. He shared a room in Stockwell with another ex-con. One night he was sitting alone in the room wondering what to do next. He picked up a book he’d been given by another inmate in prison. He opened it at page thirty, where he’d left off. A torn, dirty card he’d used as a bookmark fell out and dropped to the floor. He picked it up and stared at the details.

THE MORNING TIMES

Harry Fingle

Senior Reporter

Morning Times House, 21 Pennington Street, London, E98 1XY

020 6642 5000

07786 567043

‘Hello, Harry. Remember me? It’s Jimmy Ali. Can you call me when you get a moment? My number is 07976 602498.’

~~~

ED JAMES saw his opportunity and pulled out from behind the large van where he’d been hiding. He overtook it, and pulled in behind the navy Fiat Punto. He was driving his blacked-out BMW M3 convertible, and had tailed the Fiat for some time, waiting for the right moment. He travelled on a straight, single-carriageway road, with no other cars around apart from the Fiat and the van. The Fiat moved at about 80 mph. If he kept up with it, the two cars would leave the van behind in no time. The weather conditions were perfect; heavy rain after a dry spell. The road would be slippery. Not the sort of surface on which to suddenly push down hard on the brake pedal. He kept close to the rear of the Fiat. In the distance, he saw a fully laden car transporter coming towards them at speed on the other side of the road.

‘Bloody marvellous,’ he whispered and thought he couldn’t have asked for better.

He guessed the transporter was about a minute away. When it neared him, he changed down to third gear, swerved out and drove on the wrong side of the road towards it. The driver flashed him several times. Ed ignored him and carried on. As they closed, Ed saw the look of panic on the lorry driver’s face. Ed accelerated hard. His speedometer touched 120 mph. He edged in front of the Fiat and passed it quickly. He flipped the steering wheel to the left and pulled hard across the front of the Fiat, then straightened up and accelerated away. He hit nearly 130 mph.

In his rear mirror he saw the Fiat skid. It overturned and crashed sideways into the front of the lorry. Ed slowed to see the lorry slice through the Fiat and crash into the oncoming van that he’d hidden behind earlier. The pileup was massive.

Job done. He changed down a gear and accelerated away.

~~~

Harry Fingle was preparing his supper when his phone rang. He put down the wooden spoon he’d used to stir the tomato sauce. He turned off the gas under the pan of pasta, and went to answer the call.

‘Hello.’

‘Is that you, Harry? It’s Clare.’

Bloody hell. This will be important, Harry thought. Clare was married to his brother, Joe. He didn’t have a good relationship with either of them. They rarely spoke.

‘Yeah, it’s me. What’s up?’

‘Joe was killed today in a car accident. It was awful, Harry. I can’t tell you how awful.’ Clare broke down in tears.

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