Undercover, page 8
It wasn’t long before, following a few frantic phone calls, a rather sweaty male knocked on the door of the restaurant. He was only about thirty, and going bald before his time. He had sweat marks under the arms of the canary yellow, fake Ralph Lauren polo shirt he wore. He looked frightened as he carried a Tesco carrier bag limply by his side. He and Agim had a conversation in Albanian. I heard my name being said, and he nervously and somewhat reluctantly shook my hand. Agim wasn’t happy, and said that there was a problem. His people in Luton only wanted to release a kilo at a time, just in case anything went wrong.
I took control now. This was my opportunity to dominate these men. I told Agim that wasn’t what we had agreed. He had counted my money – the money I had brought because he had told me the previous evening it was definitely on for two kilos. ‘And now when I am sat in your restaurant, you talk about double-crossing and things going wrong.’
Agim apologised; he said he had already received a call to say the second kilo would be an hour and half.
It made absolutely no difference to me as an undercover police officer whether he sold me one kilo or two, because he had conspired to sell multiple kilos and his Albanian friend had brought one kilo with him today. However, it was important for me as a ‘drug dealer’ to show I wasn’t happy, to show this couldn’t happen again. I grabbed the bag from the man and went to the toilet with it. Agim followed me. In the dirty, small cubicle I put the cracked toilet seat down. I removed the block from the bag and cut through the black masking tape to reveal the white brick inside. I tested the gear, and Agim asked if I was happy. I looked him in the eyes and said, ‘What do you think, Agim? I’ve now got to put myself at risk twice, because this key has to go, then I’ve got to come back again and do the same.’
Agim replied with the words that confirmed I was in control: ‘I’m sorry.’
I left the cubicle with Agim, and sat back down on the sofa to discuss what we were going to do about paying for this first kilo. But before discussions were concluded, there was a huge explosion as the restaurant door was smashed in.
‘Armed police – don’t move!’
I saw many silhouettes bundle in through the sunlight from the back door. Then I was thrown to the ground, a knee in my back as plastic cuffs were squeezed around my wrists so tightly they cut into my skin. My face was squashed onto the dirty carpet. I could see Agim was in a similar position to me, and in between us on the floor was the Tesco bag. Our eyes met, and again I looked deep into his as he spat on the carpet.
The armed officers picked Agim up from the floor and took him out through the back door. As I was left lying there, all I could hear in my head was his voice saying repeatedly: If ever you insult my family or you double-cross me, I will kill you.
It was normal practice after finishing an operation to harbour different feelings: thoughts of betrayal, divided loyalties and a sense of sadness. Men such as Endrit and Agim, who minutes before their arrest had seen me as a friend, would instantly hate me, despise me, even want me dead. Sometimes it was good to talk about the way these situations made you feel.
As usual I’d had the obligatory call from Denise, who ran the administration and booking of all psych appointments for the undercover team. She was a bundle of energy and could talk like no one I’d met before. It was a skill to get her off the phone before she had managed to tell you the entire hour-by-hour itinerary of her weekend. But she was a kind lady, and didn’t have a bad bone in her body. I’m sure she must have thought I was permanently being followed by the police, as most of my calls would finish abruptly with, ‘I’ve gotta go, Den, the Old Bill are behind me.’ This time she had sufficient time to say, ‘Don’t forget you’re with the psycho at one o’clock.’ I promised her I’d be there, and teased her that I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
It had been a number of years now since it was made a requirement for full-time undercover officers to keep regular appointments with their designated psychologist. If they failed to attend, or the psycho felt they were unfit to deploy, then the operative would be withdrawn from all operations. Some officers found it very therapeutic and rewarding to be able to unburden themselves onto a professional. They made the most of the hour or so they had with the psycho to chat through many personal issues, and following the appointments felt a weight off their shoulders. It’s fair to say I wasn’t one of the people who embraced the set-up.
I was aware why the system had been imposed. A few years before, a talented and experienced undercover officer had had a breakdown following numerous undercover deployments. He was a man’s man, not a shrinking violet, and was probably doing more deployments than anyone else in the country at the time. This was still in the days when operatives didn’t work undercover full-time. Most of them tended to have day jobs as detectives working on the busiest specialist squads. They would then be deployed on specific undercover operations as they arose. In the late 1980s, if you were a good operative you could bounce from one undercover operation to the next.
Following a number of incidents, this particular operative ended up being sectioned to a mental institution. It was a harrowing time for him and his family. It was also the catalyst for the Police service to cover their backs and to negate any subsequent claim by an undercover operative having a breakdown as a result of their undercover activities. Therefore, shortly after, the psychologist appointment system was put in place.
I always parked my car away and I liked to walk the last half a mile or so. It cleared my head, not that I had any intention of divulging anything to my psychologist. I had been seeing her for a number of years now and I wondered who got more out of the sessions, her or me. I liked her very much and I have no doubt she was excellent at her job. The fact was I knew far more about her than did she about me.
There was a long path to the Victorian house, which was set back off the road, I admired the beautiful original bay windows where I could see a huge tabby cat sat at the window seat surveying the front garden. I rang the ornate bell and the door was answered by the secretary, who smiled politely, and without uttering a word ushered me into the waiting room. I sat in a high-backed, green-upholstered chair, with lovely padded armrests. I picked up a recent copy of The Field magazine from the walnut coffee table and read through ‘The Editors’ 12 Top Tips for grouse shooting’. I could smell the fresh lilies that were positioned in front of the large mirror above the fire place. This was a tranquil place, a peaceful almost calming room to be in.
I heard the buzzer sound in the secretary’s room. I knew from previous visits that the secretary would enter my room shortly. ‘If you’d like to go up she is ready for you now.’ I returned the magazine to the coffee table and walked up the wide staircase to the second floor. I noticed the green carpet was a tad threadbare in places and wondered why it hadn’t been replaced. Margaret, or Maggie as she liked to be called, was waiting at the top of the stairs. ‘You always look so brown, where have you been!?’ Before a word came out of my mouth and as she shut the heavy door behind me, she told me she was off to Venice at the weekend.
We sat in our usual classic Habitat chairs, it was lovely furniture but it always bugged me because I didn’t think it suited this room or indeed the house. I was sat in the bay window which, as usual, was open one notch on the catch. After about ten minutes of discussing the merits of various cities in Italy, she paused and asked, ‘Anyway, how are you?’ She spoke with a truly soothing Scottish accent; it wasn’t harsh, it was soft and gentle. I looked at her and said everything was fine, very busy but I wouldn’t have it any other way. She asked me about the relationships I was building with the targets on the operation I was currently deployed on. I explained that one of the targets was confiding in me about the breakdown of his relationship with his father. He clearly trusted me about this as well as the criminality we were doing together.
She asked how this made me feel, the fact he was confiding in me, did I feel uncomfortable about it? I told her
She paused, and I could tell that this situation was clearly bothering her. I stared at her as the tears started to roll down her red cheeks. She didn’t speak for what seemed like an age. I wasn’t quite sure what to do. I felt uncomfortable; I could see how upset she was, but I did nothing to comfort her. I erred on the side of silence, and sat there and prayed she would stop. She composed herself and pulled a tissue from the sleeve of her cerise cardigan and blew her nose loudly. She shook her head, saying, ‘I’ve promised myself I will make more effort.’
I asked her if there was anything else she wanted to discuss with me. She looked at me with her head tilted slightly to the side. I could see the tracks of the tears on her face. She stared at me with her sharp blue eyes that were red from her crying, but said nothing. She tilted her head slowly from side to side on five occasions, the silence was deafening, and you could hear the tick of the grandfather clock in the entrance hall. I knew if I said nothing in this silence, I would be free to go. As she straightened her head from the fifth tilt she said in her gentle voice, ‘No you’re fine, I’ll see you in three months.’
I got up and went to leave. As I walked past Maggie, she grabbed my right hand with both her hands. She still held the wet tissue, and tucked it back into the sleeve of her cardigan. I could feel the cold of her hands as she held onto me tightly. ‘We all have issues, whoever we are. Thank you so much for listening.’
I took a deep breath and said, ‘Remember what you said. You’re going to make more effort. There’s no time like the present – pick up your phone and ring him.’
She looked at me and a smile broke across her face. ‘Do you know what – that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Thank you, thank you so much.’
As I stepped onto the first step to go downstairs, I heard Maggie pick up the receiver of the phone that sat on her desk. For some strange reason, I felt pleased with myself.
I walked slowly back to my car through the tree-lined avenues, wondering whether I should be more open about what I felt, or what was happening at home or with my family. I stopped in the middle of the pavement and smiled, and said to myself: Don’t be a plum – don’t trust anyone.
It did give me a thought, though, that perhaps it was time I spoke to my son about certain things.
A few days later I was sat in an Indian restaurant sipping an ice-cold Tiger beer, the condensation running down the outside of the thin glass. It tasted so nice, and it was evident from the pleasure on my son’s face that he was also savouring the moment. This restaurant had an intimate atmosphere, and the soft furnishings that I sank into held the delicious smells of all the beautiful spices that had been cooked by the Bengali chefs over the years. This was a family-run restaurant, a place in which I’d had many good times.
Charlie was my eldest son – he was sixteen years old, but it seemed like a moment ago that I’d watched him come into this world. I’ve got to say, the arrival of Charlie was enough to put me off being bedside when any other child entered this world. We had many scares before he finally landed, many conversations with strange doctors advising me to take my wife out for a hot curry and then go home and make love to her (‘That’ll help get things going!’).
After many false dawns, my wife Sarah went into actual labour, which coincided with the attendance of twelve trainee obstetricians on the ward (‘I’m sure Mrs Carter won’t mind if we all have a look. Is that OK, Mrs Carter?’) Well, my wife didn’t know what day of the week it was; to cope with the ever-increasing pain, she’d had more drugs pumped into her than Ozzy Osbourne. Her bed was surrounded by white-gowned, interested obstetricians, all frantically making notes. This was an alien place for me – I hated hospitals at the best of times, and the fear of this birth overwhelmed me.
Without an announcement or explanation, I saw Sarah’s legs being put into U-shaped metal holders. The sort you see in a rowing boat to slot the oars into, but these ones sat under her knees. I was then horrified to see a huge set of forceps unwrapped from medical paper. I recall the extreme strength being used on the forceps to pull Charlie out by his head, and then a loud squelching noise as he landed on the delivery table.
I can remember vividly looking at what had come out, thinking, That’s not a baby, it’s an alien. It had a cone-shaped head. I stared at it, but for once I was completely lost for words. I was in shock; it wasn’t what I’d expected and I could feel my legs going weak. I had to get out of the delivery room. Without even a thought for poor Sarah, who had just gone through extreme pain, I left and ran to the nearest outside door to gulp in the fresh air. I needed time to comprehend what I had just seen. I was traumatised, I was in shock, I needed to get a grip.
I composed myself and made my way back to the labour room. By now the ‘alien’ had been checked over and resembled a healthy young boy. He was wrapped up and was given to Sarah to hold.
‘Have you thought of a name?’ Before the words left the midwife’s mouth and before Sarah was aware of the question being posed, I declared, proud as punch: ‘Charlie.’ My first child was a boy – something I’d always wanted, my eldest being a boy. I was a dad, not to an alien but to beautiful Charlie.
Before I move on to explain why Charlie and I were having a curry together, I want to mention a funny thing Sarah did after the birth. At the end of her bed were her notes, which read: Delivered, Neville Barnes. Well, Sarah insisted on sending a thank you card to Doctor Neville Barnes c/o The Maternity Unit. She found out when she returned for a check-up that there was no Dr Neville Barnes, but that it was the name they gave to a forceps delivery.
Charlie was a good boy, and a talented one. He was made of different stuff to me and was much more like his mum, which I was pleased with. If I am honest with myself, I was always hard on Charlie; I seemed to find fault with things he did rather than praise all the things he did right. I know that now, but you can’t put the clocks back.
I loved Charlie very much and I made sure I told him as often as I could. Charlie was a sensitive kid, and showed his emotions in the way that I never could. It was a strong character trait – a trait that I didn’t possess. He had a talent for acting and singing, and he had a way of making words sing when he committed them to paper. A unique talent for writing; a talent that I will never have. He was also an exceptional athlete – he had natural speed and an excellent physique. He was a good footballer, played rugby and could run like the wind; he had the natural ability to excel at most sports, but not the dedication.
Charlie’s best friend was an Italian boy named Gino, whose hard-working parents came from Sicily. His mother, a tiny lady, ruled Gino and his younger brother with an iron fist. Gino was a tough kid and another good sportsman, though he wasn’t at the top of the leader board academically. He had the reputation of being the ‘hardest’ boy in school and very streetwise, and him and Charlie were inseparable.
Throughout Charlie’s upbringing, he often asked me, ‘Exactly what do you do, Dad?’ My response had always been: ‘I’ll tell you when you’re older.’ Charlie wasn’t the type of kid to keep quiet about the fact his dad worked undercover. I didn’t want to fill his head with information that could cause him and me problems. What he didn’t know couldn’t hurt him. He knew I was a detective and worked at Scotland Yard, but beyond that he knew nothing. Now he was sixteen, I thought he was old enough and mature enough to know what I did.
His mum and family were away f
‘Course I wouldn’t – I promise, Dad.’
‘Charlie, I’ve been working undercover for the last fifteen years.’
He took another sip of his beer and started to laugh – he actually laughed out loud. Then he said, ‘Dad, that’s so funny.’ This wasn’t the reply I was expecting. ‘Gino said only last night, “You know your dad says he’s a detective – well he’s not, he’s a drug dealer. No one dresses in the clothes he’s got or drives the cars he does without being a drug dealer.” Dad, that’s so cool. Is that why you know Donnie Brasco so well?’ He sat back, still with a smile on his face, but deep in thought. There was a comfortable silence before he asked, ‘Have you ever killed anyone, Dad?’
I stared back at him, and laughed as loudly as he had at me.
What my boy didn’t know, and I would never tell him, was the fact that I was running an undercover unit and I had responsibility for a number of dedicated operatives. One of the best on my team was Emma. She had recently embarked on a new operation, and it was part of my job to ensure that she deployed safely and had all the support she needed to fulfil her role.
Emma’s new operation was to set up a shop and buy stolen property taken in local burglaries, robberies and thefts. To do this, she needed to blend into the local business community. She had also been tasked to infiltrate a number of drug-supply networks in the area. This was a difficult challenge for anyone, let alone a female on her own.