Undercover, p.9

Undercover, page 9

 

Undercover
 


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  She had chosen a house to live in and had ensured that it looked like a home, not a place occupied by someone who was just passing through. Her days were busy and she had to display all the normalities of a shop owner. She opened the shop every day, and never really knew who would come through the door. For all intents and purposes she was running a normal business – the only difference being that she was buying stolen property. It was arduous work.

  Emma had spoken to me at length on the phone, and had asked me to come to a meeting to discuss the operation. She explained that she wanted some ideas on how to expand her current deployment – from buying stolen property to moving into a drugs network. I promised that I would come to the meeting and support her in whatever way I could. Emma was one of a very small number of full-time female undercover officers in the UK. I understood the commitment and devotion entailed in working in a full-time undercover role, and those demands were considerably greater for a wife and mother, which she was.

  I had asked Emma if she could bring the meeting a little closer to the M25, as I had to be in Central London that afternoon. She arranged that we meet at the services we usually met at on the M25 with the man in charge of the operation. The two of us arrived half an hour before the scheduled time and discussed where she was at with her deployment, and more importantly what she wanted to achieve. She had been set the task of infiltrating a number of pubs, including a particular bar that was a well-known spot for the organised dealing of cocaine.

  She explained that it was uncomfortable for her as a woman to go into the bars on her own – it looked like she was trying to pick-up or was a sad, lonely lady. We discussed many options, and after dismissing a number of suggestions agreed that the best option was for her to have a ‘boyfriend’ who was an obvious criminal, and who could ease her into any drugs network.

  Emma was more than pleased with the plan and she had a big smile on her face when Dave, the man in charge of the operation, appeared. I recognised him immediately but we hadn’t seen each other for a number of years. We chatted about how time flies and what the two of us had been up to since we had last met. Dave had been an observer on one of the undercover courses that I had instructed on. He was a nice man and a good detective, although his exposure to undercover work since that course had been minimal. He told me how pleased he was with Emma and the commitment she had given to the job so far. He explained his vision for the operation and the expectations of the bosses. Emma described what she thought was the best way to progress the operation: She wanted to introduce a boyfriend with an overtly criminal profile.

  The two of them then discussed various names to fill that role, and the merits and otherwise of these individuals. I excused myself to take a phone call outside while they came to an agreement as to who they wanted. I knew that if Emma was happy, then I would back her choice. The call took longer than I’d expected, and as I sat back down and apologised to them for my absence, I felt both sets of eyes boring into my head. I asked them why they both looked so weird, and had they come up with a suitable person? Dave looked at me and said that, after considering many names, they both wanted the same person. It felt like Dave was fulfilling the role of a judge on The X Factor. I said to him, ‘Go on, Mr Cowell. Who have you chosen?’

  Dave said that both he and Emma wanted me to do the job. I fitted the profile, and they’d only go for someone else if I wasn’t interested. I was their first choice, and Dave asked if I’d be up for taking on the role. He knew that I was on a job at the moment, but said that he’d wait to use me if I wanted to do it.

  I looked at Emma and asked her if that’s what she actually wanted. She said a hundred per cent, if I was able to do it. I could see that they both wanted me, and I told Dave I’d do it as soon as I finished my current job, which had about a month left in it. I informed him that he’d have to phone my boss and officially ask for me. Dave assured me that he’d do that straight away, and that he’d let me know as soon as he had an answer.

  I made my excuses as I had another meeting to travel to, but I left both of them with smiles on their faces. Emma said that she had her fingers crossed that I’d be allowed to do the job, and Dave thanked me for coming. I left the service station, unsure as to whether I would be allowed to do the job or not. It was a decision that was out of my hands, and I knew that I’d receive a phone call from my boss once he’d made up his mind. Over the years I’d had hundreds of such requests, but I no longer got too excited. Until I was officially authorised to deploy, such requests were flattering but I had to wait for the official green light.

  But Dave must have struck whilst the iron was hot, because as I drove down the A13 through East London my DI rang my mobile. He explained that another request had come in for my services and he wanted me to do this one, as it was alongside Emma. He asked if I fancied doing it, and notified me that it would be a full-time commitment. I said that if he wanted me to do it then I was more than happy to support Emma. He said that he would sort out all the official paperwork and that I should sort out the specifics with Dave. Although I was being cool about the request, I was really happy that I’d been asked for. I knew that I’d throw myself into the new job and make sure that it was a success to the best of my ability.

  As ever, I’d agreed to do another operation without a single thought for my family and the responsibilities I had at home. This was not because I didn’t care dearly for them – the thought just hadn’t entered my head. I should have sat down with my wife and discussed, like an adult and accountable parent, the impact this would have on my family. I guess I was like that, it was very simple, I told them I was becoming an undercover officer and it was never up for discussion. That was that as far as I was concerned. But, as usual, I had accepted in a breath another huge commitment away from the reality of my own world. I really was a very selfish person, and I recognised this but did nothing to change it. Why? Because I could see no further than the challenge of my next operation.

  Seventeen

  It was a lovely summer’s evening, and my skin felt warm and tight from a few hours of sunshine that afternoon. I was looking forward to a couple of glasses of champagne with the lady that I’d shared the last two months with. We had got to know each other well; we talked for hours on end, and were comfortable and very happy in each other’s company. It was the first time I’d felt like this for many years. She was a lovely person, she was always relaxed with me, she was herself, she wasn’t pretending to be someone or something she wasn’t. She was just being Emma, and that’s what I liked.

  I hadn’t been to this wine bar before, but it was ‘the place to be’ in town. It was always mobbed with a mixture of the affluent, the wannabes, the B-list celebrities, the villains, and the ordinary Joe Public out to show off their tans and enjoy a summer drink or two. There was always a line to get in, and Emma had said that she’d had to spend twenty minutes queuing before. I hated queues, and although it should be an Olympic sport for the British, it was one I’d never participated in.

  Emma was getting ready and so I ordered a taxi for 8.30 p.m. I shouted up to her that I was going to get some bits from the shop and I wouldn’t be long. But I had no intention of going to the shop. The bar was only a five-minute drive away and I could see that there were already around ten people queuing up. I also saw two large door supervisors dressed all in black, their undersized black shirts rolled up to show their statutory tats and overworked biceps. I pulled up right outside the bar, the roof down on my car, and I beckoned one of the men over.

  I didn’t move from my seat. ‘Listen, fella. I’m up from London and my missus runs a business in town. I’m taking her out for a few bottles of champagne to celebrate me moving up here. I’ll be in a taxi. Do me a favour when I pull up – just make her feel special.’ I held out my hand to shake his, and squeezed a crisp £50 note into his hand. ‘My name’s Joe. You’ll be seeing a lot more of me.’

  He took the bullseye and carefully squeezed it into his tightly fitting black str
ides. ‘Nice to meet you, Joe. I’m Nathan.’

  As I drove back to ‘our’ house, the wind felt nice on my face. I pulled up into the drive; I could smell freshly cut grass, and a waft of barbecued sausages hit me. The house had such a homely feel about it. It was on a quiet street full of normal people – families who I’m sure were proud to live there, on the street where I shared my ‘home’ with Emma. I sat there for a moment in the car and smiled to myself. Life wasn’t so bad. Then I looked up and saw Emma through the bedroom window looking down at me. I was glad she was my missus.

  Emma came down the stairs and looked a real picture; she dressed well and looked classy, she didn’t try to look younger than she was. She had a penchant for shoes and handbags, and wore them with a touch of style. I told her that she looked lovely and the cab would be arriving in a few minutes. She said that she had a confession to make and that I wouldn’t like it. She said that there were always queues at the bar and that I’d have to be patient – she didn’t want me to make a scene. I gave a look that left her in no doubt that I wasn’t happy.

  The cab pulled up outside and beeped to let us know he had landed. We both got into the back of the car and the driver said in a broad local accent, ‘You and the rest of the country are going to Amphora’s tonight. It’s packed and they’re queuing round the corner.’ Emma gave me a look as I told the driver to make sure he pulled up right outside.

  The queue was indeed a queue to be cherished. The cabbie did his job and pulled up right alongside the doors of Amphora’s. I got out and Nathan clocked me – before I’d said a word he went to Emma’s door and opened it and said hello. She was a little taken aback. I paid the driver and said I’d ring him later for the return journey. Nathan came over and shook my hand, unhooked the rope and led us into the bar. It was three-deep with punters waiting to be served. He beckoned the head barman over, who seemed a tad flustered, but when Nathan said, ‘Mano, this is Joe. Can you please look after him and his missus?’ he smiled and said it would be his pleasure. Nathan told me to have a good night: ‘Anything you want, Joe, you know where I am.’

  I could feel Emma staring at me, but she didn’t utter a word. Mano introduced himself to both Emma and me, and asked us what we would like to drink. I ordered a bottle of Laurent-Perrier Rosé and gave him £100. He told us to try and find a table in the garden and that he’d get the drinks brought out to us. We made our way through the packed bar to an overcrowded decked area. Emma pinched my arm as we found a small bit of space next to a table. ‘How the hell did you manage that? How do you know the bouncer, and why the five-star treatment with waiter service? I’ve been here four or so times and I’ve never been treated like that.’

  I shrugged my shoulders. Before I could answer, a Laurent-Perrier ice bucket with two glasses was brought over, and the chilled bottle was opened and poured for us by another barman. He said, ‘Mano said to tell you, anything else you want, just shout.’

  I thanked him and gave him a tenner for his troubles. Emma looked at me and said, ‘You certainly know how to make an impression – everyone in the queue, bar, and now the garden wants to know who you are.’ I held out my glass and clinked hers, then took a long sip of the ice-cold bubbles of the champagne.

  I looked around and took in all the faces in the garden without focusing on anyone in particular. When we first found the table, I’d noticed a couple of six-foot-plus black guys stood just behind us. They’d moved up onto a step to allow us some room but I purposely ignored them. I could feel their eyes burning a hole in the back of my head. We finished our first glass and I poured us both a second. As I did, I looked up at one of the black guys and said, ‘Fuck me, mate, you’re tall. You must be nearly seven foot!’

  He looked at me, and in a very uncool way said, ‘No, mate. I’m just over six but I’m stood on a step.’

  The other guy nudged him and said, ‘Don’t be an idiot. The fella’s taking the piss, he can see you’re on a step.’ He held out his hand. ‘My name’s Ricardo. I haven’t seen you before, have I?’

  ‘No, Ricardo, I don’t think you have, mate – but it’s nice to meet you.’ I shook his hand, and I could tell he had purposely put that extra bit of squeeze into it, just to let me know that he could look after himself. I introduced him to Emma, but didn’t tell him my name and made my excuses whilst I went to the Gents. I could see the horrified look on her face, but I ignored it and chuckled to myself as I passed through the buzz of the bar area.

  The toilets had a unisex hand-washing area that you walked through to get to the urinals and three individual toilet cubicles. As I used the urinal, I noticed two middle-aged guys squeeze into one of the cubicles together, and I could hear the nervous rustling of paper as they were obviously laying out powder onto the cistern. After two loud sniffs and a reshuffling of paper, they exited the cubicle together. I looked at them both as they came out and shook my head. One of the two summoned up the courage to say, ‘Have you got a problem, mate?’

  I looked the two of them up and down, and paused whilst I washed and dried my hands. I then addressed the one who had posed me the question: ‘No, mate, I haven’t got a problem, but that’s not cool’ – I pointed to the cubicle – ‘two up in there, not cool.’ I finished drying my hands and said, ‘You may want to take that rolled-up note from out of your top pocket as well.’

  As I turned away and walked out, both men were apologising and thanking me at the same time, whilst the one with the £20 note was trying, discreetly, to unroll and straighten it out.

  I made my way back to the garden, and Emma seemed pleased that I’d returned. The other man introduced himself as Johnny and said, ‘You probably recognise me. I used to be a Premier League footballer.’ I did actually recognise him, but I looked him up and down and said, ‘I can’t say I do, mate.’ Without letting him explain who he was, I turned to Ricardo and said, ‘You been looking after Emma?’

  He smiled. ‘She’s been telling me all about you, Joe.’

  I looked at her and said, ‘Don’t worry what she says about me – she’s the clever one, the one that pays the bills and puts food on the table.’ We then talked amongst the four of us about the business that Emma ran in town. Both men seemed interested, although Johnny didn’t have the brain capacity to hold a meaningful conversation.

  We ordered another bottle of champagne and two fresh glasses, and we shared the bottle and chatted and laughed together. Emma excused herself and went to the bathroom. As soon as she had disappeared out of earshot, Ricardo pulled me to one side. He said, ‘Joe, I’ve not been long out of the shovel and I’m a grafter. I know what you are, it’s obvious.’

  I pulled him closer and said, ‘Listen, Ricardo. I think you’ve got the wrong end of the stick, mate. I’m a straight-goer and I’m just out for a few drinks with my girl.’

  ‘Whatever, Joe, you don’t fool me. I’m not an idiot.’

  ‘I never said you were, Ricardo.’ I shook his hand just as Emma returned, and said, ‘Was really nice to meet you and Tony. Emma and I are off.’

  Ricardo had Emma’s business card in his hand and shouted out, ‘I’ll ring you.’

  Emma said, ‘That bloke’s called Johnny, not Tony.’ I told her that I knew that, but he was a plum and I didn’t want to acknowledge him.

  I thanked Mano on the way out, and told him if Emma was ever in the bar without me, to make sure he looked after her for me. ‘Joe, you have my word.’ He shook my hand with both of his, and held on for a moment or two too long.

  Nathan had a cab waiting for us, and opened the door for Emma to get in. Before I got into the back seat, I thanked Nathan. He said, ‘Joe, I know you’re no mug, but that Ricardo you were talking to is a right handful.’ I thanked him for marking my card but said I’d been round the block a bit myself. As I got into the cab he said, ‘You make sure I do see a lot more of you, Joe.’

  Emma was a little tipsy, and she leant over to me and said, ‘Thanks for a lovely evening. It’s so nice having you around.
I looked at her and thought: Could this actually be the place that we put down some roots? Could this be a proper home, a place for the two of us? Could this be our future? For many reasons, it felt so right.

  When we pulled up, I looked at the house the two of us shared. I was happy – the happiest I’d been for some time – and I knew Emma was too.

  Eighteen

  Emma was getting fed up with Ricardo ringing her and popping into the shop on the off chance that he would bump into me. I eventually rang him from her phone, and we met and had a few drinks together. He told me about his criminal ‘standing’ in the area; he made it clear to me that he was a bad boy, that he disliked the police and he knew everyone locally. It was as if he were trying to impress me, to big himself up.

  Ricardo had already formed an impression of me. In his mind, he had no doubt that I was a villain, a wrong’un, a grafter, or whatever you want to call it. The more I told him that I wasn’t, or that I’d put those days behind me, the stronger that opinion became. He asked me, hypothetically speaking, if I was ‘still in the game’, would I be interested in certain acts of criminality and ways of making money.

  I told him that I liked him and I was happy to have a drink with him, but I didn’t know him at all – we’d only just met. That maybe we would have that conversation again in the future, when we knew each other better. I did tell him that I’d be happy if whenever he was passing the shop, he popped his head in and made sure Emma was OK. Ricardo agreed to this but asked, in exchange, that I give him my number. He put his number into my phone and I missed-called him.

  I received a call the following week from Ricardo. He said that there was someone that he’d like me to meet, a person that I’d get on with, and that he thought we had things in common. I was aware from the team that they were very interested in Ricardo – he was a decent local criminal and was well connected. I knew they were disappointed with my approach. They wanted me to bite his hand off, and their choice would have been for me to have told him I was a villain on that first meeting and see where it took us. I had different ideas, and thought that my approach would prove to be more tempting to Ricardo and the best way forward. I wanted him to chase me, and that’s exactly what he had done. He asked that I meet him and his contact at a quiet local pub the following evening.

 
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