#13 Backdoors: Part 3
Previously: The SDC are investigating a string of seemingly unrelated cases of fraud, with the conned investors insisting that they knew the person they were dealing with. The various accused deny involvement, leading detectives Chakraborty and Kaminski to suspect something more is going on. In an attempt to bait the real perpetrator they have set up a sting operation…
This chapter unlocks 21 January 2022. Early access subscribers can read immediately.
On duty: DC Nisha Chakraborty and DC Zoltan Kaminski, DC Yannick Clarke and DC Lola Styles
Being an investor was one of the dullest jobs Clarke could imagine. Perhaps if the money in the briefcase actually belonged to him he might think differently, but these particular notes were very much on loan as a prop. He was dressed in a suit he could never afford, sitting in an office more luxurious than his home. But still: dull. There was nothing tangible to it, just numbers in ledgers and briefcases of cash that flowed between players like water.
He’d been doing this for a week, setting up deals and meetings - or, rather, having his ‘secretary’ set them up - and having to sit through each interminable one, trying to attract exactly the right sleaze ball with handshakes and platitudes. If he was the nectar attracting the bee, the problem was that the city of London was a wild meadow. Into the sixth day and still nothing, but Chakraborty and Kaminski insisted it was worth persevering, that they’d get a bite just as long as he kept dangling the bait.
The problem, really, was that Clarke had no particular interest in saving the wallets of the rich and careless. It’s not like they would thank him with his own briefcase of cash.
Kaminski had explained the link between the cases: each time someone had been conned into signing on the dotted line or handing over money to someone they thought they knew, only for that person to later deny all knowledge of the incident. Something was definitely up, though the theory that Palinese magic was somehow involved was too far-fetched for Clarke. You didn’t need magic to make fools of people.
While he waited for his next tedious appointment, Clarke turned over some other cases in his mind. They’d caught the guy who had bashed in Laryssa’s head at the Palinor Express - some nobody scumbag who spent too much time and money in the Barrel and didn’t know how to control himself. Such a shitty situation all round. He hadn’t been able to keep track of the people he’d found in the container at the portal station; no doubt some of them had applied for residency on the grounds of refugee status, but chances were that most of them had simply been shipped back to where they came from. Clarke had never much liked the idea of people flooding in from Palinor and taking up all the jobs in the country, but seeing them all crammed into that dark compartment…
There was a knock at the door. Clarke straightened up, put on his best businessman airs, and called for the visitor to enter. It was a man, of average height and perhaps in his early fifties or late forties. He was sporting a thick, performative moustache that practically announced itself ahead of its host. “Mr Clarkson,” the man said, holding out a hand effusively, “very good to see you again.”
Clarke had already met with this guy two days before, to talk over a proposal for establishing a new string of clothing factories out east. The meeting had gone well but had been early stages. “Mr Lance, please do take a seat,” he said, indicating the chair on the other side of the mahogany desk. The call had come in from Lance’s people that morning, requesting an urgent meeting to progress talks.
“I’ll get straight to it,” Lance said, leaving his briefcase on the floor. “Our investors loved the idea and were thrilled that you were interested. They want to accelerate the schedule and get started as soon as possible, before the new year if possible.”
“That’s wonderful news, Mr Lance.” Clarke slid a metal tray across the table showcasing a selection of cigars. Lance waved his hand and shook his head apologetically. “What is it you need from me?”
“The ball is in your court, Mr Clarkson. If you’re still on board we can get this ship sailing right away.”
He certainly looked and sounded like the man Clarke had spoken to earlier in the week. “I just need one or two final details ironed out. Crossing the I’s, dotting the T’s.”
“Tell me again how this investment scheme works.”
Lance sat back in his chair, winding in his enthusiasm. “That’s where the timetable alters matters somewhat. If we want to get materials shipped this side of Christmas and therefore have any hope of getting out ahead of our competitors, we really need the funds unlocked and ready to go. But I’m sure you received my message this morning?”
Clarke tapped a hand to the briefcase on the desk beside him.
“Very good,” Lance continued, “in which case, the fastest method is to transfer the funds via me directly to the manufacturer. That clears several tax roadblocks, as I’m sure you’re aware, and gives us a head start.”
“How does the change to the schedule affect projections?” Clarke had a script, he was sticking to it.
“If all goes to plan, and there’s no reason to think it won’t, then we can be in production and selling stock before the end of ’73.”
“Impressive.” Clarke rubbed his jaw, as if considering, then put a hand back on the briefcase. “So all we need to get started…”
Lance pointed at the case. “Pass me the case with your blessing and I’ll get the ball rolling. The paperwork is already done.”
“Then I don’t see any reason to delay any further,” Clarke said, pushing the briefcase across the desk.
“You won’t regret this,” Lance said, lifting the case.
Clarke smiled. “No, I’m sure I won’t.”
They both stood and shook hands, then Lance strode across the office. “Mr Clarkson, this time next year we are both going to be even richer men.”
The door banged open before Lance could touch the handle and Chakraborty and Kaminski entered, followed by a couple of uniformed officers. “Frederick Lance,” Chakraborty barked, “you’re under arrest on suspicion of fraud and money laundering.”
The interrogation room at Stanford Street was small and basic. There were no holding cells and no real staff or facilities to keep suspects in custody on the premises, so any longer stays had to be taken down the road to the main station. When quick answers were needed, though, the SDC interrogation room still got the job done.
Clarke watched through the glass as Kaminski paced up and down the room - which was easier said than done given the limited space - and Chakraborty sat back in her chair, arms folded across her chest. Lance sat opposite, forlorn and his suit dishevelled. Even his moustache appeared to have lost some of its lustre.
“This is deeply unsettling,” said Frederick Lance, standing next to Clarke in the darkened viewing booth.
“You can say that again,” Clarke said. “Sure you don’t have a twin brother?”
“Not last time I checked, Detective.”
The side door opened and Styles entered. “Here it is,” she said, holding up a freshly developed photo print. “Just like I thought.”
Clarke took the photo and stared at it, then lifted his eyes to the glass and the man sat being questioned. Styles had snapped the photo when the man had been brought in, before Chakraborty and Kaminski got started. It clearly showed the face of a different man altogether, though wearing the same suit. Clarke sighed. “I hate magic.”
The real Lance leaned in for a glimpse. “Is that what he really looks like?”
“Pretty basic visualisation spell,” Styles said, “but it only works on a live observer. The illusion doesn’t transfer over to recorded images.”
Clarke grunted. “Is there anything you don’t know about Palinor?”
“Not really, no.”
“Jesus,” said the real Lance, putting a hand to the glass. “It’s disgusting, that he can steal my face like that. How are we supposed to be able to trust anyone with these freaks running around? Isn’t your job to catch them?”
“Mr Lance, that’s what we’ve just done.”
“Should have bricked up that portal as soon as it opened, you ask me,” Lance said. “Imagine what the British Empire could be now if we hadn’t been interrupted by these damned invaders.”
Christopher Bakker was a Detective Inspector. In practice, to his chagrin, he’d discovered over the years that this primarily meant sitting behind a desk. Promotion through the police was about moving from the street to station, from station to small desk, from small desk to larger desk, getting further and further away from the communities you were trying to protect. It had always seemed a little backwards to him.
It also made it difficult for him to investigate too deeply into anything without triggering official processes. Martin Chambers, of 330 Sterling Court, had disappeared. In fact, there was no real record of anyone having lived in apartment 330 in the six months prior to the incident. Martin Chambers had existed to make a telephone call to police about a disturbance, which had drawn Callihan and Clarke to the area, then he’d vanished.
A koth, drugged up and turned into a killing machine. A detective unit in exactly the right proximity to be the first responders. The timing of the call to police, from a telephone that now didn’t exist.
He needed to bring someone else in on this. It wasn’t time to bring in Walpole, not yet, with everything still so circumstantial. Miller would be waste of time. Ford and Morgan, perhaps, but then that’d just add another DI with no time or space to move. One of the constables, then. Hobb wouldn’t touch it, being far too pre-occupied with her own career and escaping from the SDC. Holland was a bloodhound for sure, but he was also an arsehole that was only on the squad because it had been stipulated by a Joint Council wonk back in the day. Styles had already proved herself but was too green to start poking at something like this. Perhaps Chakraborty or Kaminski, then? Both highly competent, trustworthy and honest. Chakraborty, though, had her demons. Bakker didn’t want to compound an already bad year for her.
There was Clarke, of course. Clarke, who had been with Callihan when he was killed. Clarke who had survived the koth encounter entirely unscathed. Clarke who had been in the squad car with access to a radio and, of course, knew of their position. Bakker grimaced, not enjoying the notion of distrusting one of their own. The signs were not good - but even if there were no dots to connect there, Clarke was too close to it all.
Bakker pushed back his chair and stood at the window of his office, looking out at the larger SDC space. Robin was busy on the telephone, as always. Collins was heading out the door to the kitchen, no doubt to make another round of coffee. The others were all in the interrogation room talking with the suspect in the fraud case. He’d have to get a word with Kaminski when they were done.
A knot tightened in Bakker’s gut. He didn’t like investigating his own. He didn’t like sharing that burden with anyone else. But something was broken, and it needed fixing.
Thanks for reading. The plot, as they say, is thickening.
There’s a whole bunch of us trying to figure out how best to serialise stories on Substack, poking at the edges to see what works and what doesn’t. A tweak I’ve just made is that early access chapters here will gradually unlock over time. That way, anyone can read Tales from the Triverse regardless of their personal situation, with the early access subscription available for those who would like to support my writing. It’s a win-win, I think?