Admiral Street Police Station, Liverpool
Monday October 29
It is a typical November day; a thin drizzle and a piercing wind from the north penetrating everything. It is the sort of day that is not calculated to lift the spirit, and DI Salisbury arrives at his office in Admiral Street Police Station in a dejected frame of mind.
The case is not going well. In fact, it is not going anywhere, which is what he candidly told his superintendent late yesterday. Such news is not calculated to make a senior officer popular especially, as the super was at pains to point out, people who matter are asking critical questions about why Liverpool has had a particularly grisly murder and an attempted murder within days of each other. What is going on? The Press are getting restless and asking questions. And they are not alone.
Salisbury is also frustrated by having to mentor Steve Bannon and all too aware that the powers that be are watching him and how he deals with the intellectual, but arrogant, Bannon. The Force is enthusiastically recruiting graduates like him with the prospect of swift promotion, much to the disgust of colleagues who joined without a degree. Certainly, there is no doubt that Bannon is highly intelligent but in Salisbury’s experience intelligence is not always accompanied by common sense.
Last night when he eventually arrived home only to slump in an armchair, his wife Yvonne watched him and leaned on the back of the chair, stroked his thinning hair saying: ‘Bad day luv?’ To which he replied: ‘I have a murder and an attempted murder to solve and an inexperienced, gaffe-prone, clever-dick sergeant who thinks he knows it all. What do you think?’ She smiled sympathetically. She has heard it all before. ‘Never mind, come and have your dinner. I’ve poured you a beer as well.’
Salisbury has always been fair-minded, long before he became an inspector. He does not pull rank unless it’s necessary and he will only come down hard on subordinates if he suspects laziness, corner cutting or downright stupidity. He cannot accuse Bannon of anything like that.
His mind turns again to the Parry killing. The forensic evidence, such as it is, is inconclusive. What indications and traces that were found do not match anybody on the Police database. The culprit or culprits have been exceptionally careful to leave very little behind, which leads Salisbury to the conclusion that he or they are professionals.
The two women – Alex Nelson and Naomi Richards – are obviously connected and involved, even if they have no idea why and Salisbury is sure that Nelson knows more than she has admitted. Perhaps that will change following the attempt on her life. He must get Bannon to keep tabs on her. He is sure he will quite welcome that.
An added complication is the Press, which now knows most of the facts surrounding Parry’s murder. It has propelled the case onto the front pages and has even reached the American and Canadian media. Add to that the attempted murder of Nelson and the bizarre way it was carried out, and it gives the media a field day.
Salisbury is doing his best to keep the media away from the two women, but he doubts if he will be able to keep them in quarantine for much longer.
His reflections are interrupted by Dr Clive Bixter, the head forensic scientist who marches into his office, closely followed by Bannon.
‘Morning Salisbury,’ barks Bixter, a 6ft 3in, grey-haired, stern, no-nonsense man of military bearing in his 50s with a thin pencil moustache who has a reputation for being something of a martinet by his colleagues.
‘What can I do for you,’ murmurs Salisbury: ‘The attempted murder of that woman,’ replies Bixter.’ He pauses to consult a clipboard. ‘Nelson?’ he says with a questioning look.
‘I thought you might like to know about the substance used and the ramifications that fall from it…being detectives.’ He turns and squints at Bannon who stares back at him rebuffing the put-down.
Bixter continues unabashed: ‘I have consulted the pathologist, and we are agreed. The substance used is Aluminium Phosphide or AlP, a common pesticide largely used in developing countries. It is cheap, effective and free from toxic residue.’
He looks at the two detectives, but there is still no response, so he continues: ‘Since the first available report of AlP poisoning in the early 1980s in India, it is now one of the most common causes of poisoning among agricultural pesticides. Most of the cases reported are from India, while others are reported from Iran, Sri Lanka and Morocco, with case reports from many developed countries. I trust I’m not boring you?’ He throws another questioning look at Bannon who is staring vacantly unto space.
Salisbury sighs. ‘Not at all. Do continue.’
‘Most AlP poisonings are of young adults from rural areas. In a recent scenario, it also poses a threat of chemical terrorism due to the immediate release of lethal phosphine gas.’
Salisbury’s ears prick up. ‘Really. Now you are beginning to interest me, doctor. Do continue.’
Bixter nods. ‘I thought it might. ‘Let us turn our attention to the symptoms?’ He studies his clipboard again.
‘They are largely nonspecific, instantaneous and depend on the dose, route of entry and time lapse since exposure. After inhalation or even injection, patients commonly have airway irritation and breathlessness. Other features may include dizziness, easy fatigability, tightness in the chest, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, ataxia, numbness, paraesthesia, tremor, muscle weakness, diplopia and jaundice.’
‘Quite a list,’ says Bannon throwing a glance at Salisbury. ‘Don’t be facetious young man,’ barks Bixter glaring at him.
‘As I was saying. the patient may develop acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), cardiac failure, cardiac arrhythmias, convulsion and coma, and late manifestation of hepatotoxicity and nephrotoxicity may also occur.
‘After ingestion, toxic features usually develop within a few minutes. In mild poisoning, nausea, repeated vomiting, diarrhoea, headache, abdominal discomfort or pain and tachycardia are common clinical features, and these patients usually show recovery, as is the case with the woman Nelson.
‘On the other hand, in moderate to severe poisoning, the signs and symptoms of the gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, respiratory and nervous systems appear initially and, later, features of hepatic and renal failure and disseminated intravascular coagulation may also occur.’
Bixter looks around. ‘I trust you are still with me?’
Salisbury nods. ‘Just about.’
‘Now here is the really interesting bit,’ Bixter announces thoughtfully, putting a finger to his lips.
‘In my opinion a pro hired by a security or spy agency like the KGB or FSB, as it is known these days, is extremely unlikely to use a poison like this. Remember the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko with Polonium 210, for example?’
Both Salisbury and Bannon nod.
‘A state-backed hit team would have access to far more lethal poisons than Aluminium Phosphide. Ricin, for example, or our old friend cyanide.
‘No, what we have here my dear Salisbury are enthusiastic amateurs in the sense that they are not backed by any formal organisation with the resources to get more lethal material.’ He pauses, staring at them both, a half smile on his face. ‘But I could be wrong about that. It is entirely possible that they are state-sponsored, and they want you to believe they are amateurs. You pays your money and you takes your choice gentlemen.’
There is a silence for a while as his remarks sink in.
‘I suppose that narrows it down to a few hundred two-bit murdering bastards that roam the streets,’ Bannon mutters.
‘Don’t be silly,’ barks Bixter. ‘Yes, they may well be murdering bastards, but they are very resourceful and organised murdering bastards. As you are finding out,’ he adds.
‘Thank you, doctor.’ Salisbury nods to him. ‘That has been extremely useful.’
After he has gone, Salisbury turns to Bannon: ‘One day, your mouth is going to get you into serious trouble,’ he barks irritably. Bannon looks contrite. ‘Sorry guv…Sir,’ he says as Salisbury opens his mouth to rebuke him.
Bannon attempts to make amends: ‘Well we do have one lead. We have the descriptions of those two guys in the pub.’
‘Yes, we do. But so far they might as well have jumped in the Mersey because none of our patrols have caught sight of anyone even resembling them.’
He leans back in his chair and studies the ceiling for a while before looking at Bannon and saying softly: ‘I have a feeling that our primary task in the near future is going to be keeping those two women alive.’