Hidden, page 1part #3 of Badge & the Pen Series
The Badge and the Pen Book 3
Roger A Price
© Roger A Price 2019
Roger Price has asserted his rights under the Copyright, Design and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
First published in 2019 by Endeavour Media Ltd.
Table of Contents
The watery sun was low in the sky, and although still warm, had lost its earlier ferocity and would be gone altogether in a couple of hours. Vinnie Palmer swapped cheeks on his sun lounger and turned to his left to face Christine. He had been stuck in the same position for too long, as he’d surveyed the yellow fire plane make its last practice run of the day before landing gracefully on the water in the Porta Pollensa bay. He’d watched as it chugged to its seaside hangar, before its engines cut and the displaced waters ebbed and flowed in a slowing rhythm.
He had to squint to shield his eyes from the glare of the lateral sun, which flashed off the peaks of the water’s ripples. Even though it was now more pink and orange than yellow or gold. His focus switched to Christine and he could see her chest rising and falling, accompanied by the odd murmur. It was a shame to disturb her, but he knew it was time to get going. The beach closed at 5 p.m. this time of year to allow for maintenance before the light went. Plus, his backside was starting to really ache.
Beyond Christine’s lounger stretched a further 20 metres of beach before a thick copse of pine trees marked out a natural perimeter. Vinnie noticed that the rest of the beach was now empty. His gaze paused on the treeline as fast movement within the copse caught his attention and brought his vision into sharp focus. He leaned forward and then placed his feet on the sand at the side of his lounger, to get a better look. Nothing. He scanned up and down, still nothing. Perhaps he was mistaken? Cops were good at seeing and recognising things others might miss, but they were also good at over-interpretation.
He glanced behind them — inland — but could see nothing. The only sounds were the exquisite rhythmic swish of the incoming tide from the Mediterranean Sea. He started to relax and turned to grab his towel from the back of his lounger before deciding to take a closer look. He needed to get up, anyway.
Grateful for the chance to stretch his back and relieve his numb bum, he ambled over to the treeline beyond Christine, noticing that she was still snoozing as he passed her, though the murmurings were becoming more frequent — she was starting to stir. At the treeline Vinnie still couldn’t see anything moving, though the copse was thick with tall pine trees only a few feet apart with dense gorse vegetation in between, testament to the Spanish rain that visited during the winter months.
He glanced at the inland trees as he walked back to the sun loungers, but saw nothing. He was supposed to be on holiday, it was time to switch off. In fact, it was his first real holiday in years. When he was married to Lesley she hated beach holidays and there was never any compromising with her. It was museums and walks, or nothing. Not that he minded the odd infusion of culture or the occasional pointless stroll, but when you’d worked all year as a busy detective inspector… all he really wanted to do was enjoy the three Ss.
This was the first time he and Christine had been away; in fact, they’d only been dating a few weeks so he’d only enjoyed the sun and the sangria so far. Though to be fair, it was only day one. Still six days — and nights — to go. He shook the thought from his mind before he embarrassed himself; swimming shorts only provide so much protection.
He reached the sun loungers and Christine muttered, ‘What time is it?’
‘Quarter to five,’ Vinnie answered, as he pulled his T-shirt from the upright of his sun bed and started to pull it over his head. He turned away from the sun as he did so.
‘I’ll make a move, what time does the beach close?’ she asked.
‘Five,’ Vinnie answered, as his head started to break loose from the grip of the T-shirt’s neckband. He must have put on a few pounds. Though he never truly understood why neckbands became tighter when pulled over your head. If you put on weight then shirt collars became tighter around the neck, for obvious reasons, but heads surely didn’t get fatter; or did they?
It occurred to Vinnie that he must be starting to switch into holiday mode, if all his mind could think of to occupy itself was such inane trivia. It made a change from what it usually had to contend with when he was in the middle of a murder investigation. Definitely a good sign.
It also told him how relaxed he was in Christine’s company. He’d known her professionally for a few months now. They’d first met properly when chasing the escaped murderer Daniel Moxley, and then again chasing around after the twisted ex-IRA terrorist McKnowle, in Preston. It was shortly after that job, when he’d caught the bad guys, and Christine received the best TV ratings of her career with the documentary that followed, that he’d asked her out proper. And here they were, five months later.
Vinnie’s eyes closed as his head popped through his T-shirt’s neckband, he’d no idea why; an involuntary thing. But before he could open them he felt hot sticky fluid spray across his face. He also heard a shrill scream right in front of him.
Eyes wide open, he could see a young woman dart from the trees, which were only a couple of feet in front of him, but before he could react she was off down the beach at an impressive pace. He was about to go after her when he realised that what was on his face smelled metallic. It was blood; he knew that even before his dabbing fingers confirmed it. He then heard a second scream, this time coming from Christine, as she shot to her feet.
In this moment he grasped something else. The blood had not come from the woman. Directly in
‘That bitch will pay with her life for that,’ the man said.
‘Never mind that, let me have a look at your wrist,’ Vinnie said. He could see that the man was exerting great pressure in order to stem the flow of blood. He may well have nicked an artery.
Vinnie quickly whipped his blood-stained T-shirt off and wrapped it around the man’s wrist as tightly as he could, using the short sleeves to tie a knot and secure the makeshift bandage. He guessed that the man was in his forties, certainly a lot older than the woman. He also noticed a wagon wheel-like tattoo on his injured forearm. He then heard a calmer Christine on her mobile phone calling the emergency services.
‘Come and sit down mate,’ Vinnie said.
‘No police,’ the man shouted past Vinnie towards Christine, in what Vinnie now realised was a heavily-tainted eastern European accent.
Vinnie exchanged surprised looks with Christine before he turned back to see the injured man disappear through the trees. He was running as if his life depended on it.
‘How strange,’ Christine said.
‘Strange indeed. Victims don’t tend to do that.’ He then turned to face the direction in which the woman had run. He hadn’t had much chance to see her, and then only from the rear. A young, olive-skinned woman, perhaps early twenties at most, with long rolling black curly hair, wearing a flowing skirt and ruched blouse with short, white puffed sleeves. Then he saw something glisten in the sand 10 feet away. A short-bladed knife, with blood all over it.
Vinnie had just finished briefing the cop as best he could, as his Spanish was poor, when the Spanish policeman’s colleague, who had been taping up the crime scene, joined them. His English was excellent, and Vinnie was relieved. He told the new officer what had happened and said that if he left him some blank Spanish police statement forms; he would fill in his own statement later. The officer was happy with that; one task less.
He was about to join Christine, who had been talking for ages on her phone, when he noticed the second cop carefully pick up the knife and put it in an evidence bag. It was the first time Vinnie had had chance to look more closely at the weapon. It was very ornate, with a green sculptured handle with some sort of a cross next to the small circular emblem he’d noticed earlier. Similar to the tattoo on the injured man’s arm, he realised. He only managed a brief glimpse before it disappeared from view.
‘That looks valuable,’ Christine said, as she approached.
‘It looks interesting,’ Vinnie replied, watching an unspoken moment pass between the two officers as they finished sealing it in the evidence bag. Then the first one, the older one who had first spoken to Vinnie, whispered something.
‘Did you hear that?’ Vinnie asked Christine.
‘Sounded like “gitano scoria” or similar. My Spanish is OK, but not fluent. Hang on, I’ll check on my phone while it’s still fresh.’
Vinnie watched as Christine typed. A moment passed. ‘According to Google, gitano means gypsy.’
‘What about “scoria”?’
‘Can’t find it, but “escoria” means scum.’
‘Sounds like the cops have just downgraded their investigation,’ Vinnie said, and added that they should make a move. Christine agreed. They collected their things, made their way from the beach and headed to the edge of the treeline where the promenade began.
‘What did your editor, June, say?’
‘She wasn’t over interested, but the gypsy angle and the cops’ apparent attitude might help change that.’
‘Straight back into work mode.’
‘I know; I’m just a nosy bugger. Look, let’s get cleaned up and eat early.’
‘No problems, but what have you got in mind?’
‘I noticed a bar on the way in this morning, which looked like a hangout for Roma gypsies, or travellers or whatever one is supposed to call them. Thought it might be fun to have a drink in there later.’
Vinnie rolled his eyes; Christine really should have been a cop instead of a TV reporter. Then he remembered he had made a loose arrangement to meet Jimmy for a pint later, he was just awaiting a confirmation text. Jimmy was an ex-cop with whom Vinnie had been friends for many years. He was one of the best undercover officers he had ever met. He’d done work all over the UK and quite a lot in Belfast, during the end of the troubles there. He’d even helped a little on his last job, when Vinnie was after a bit of background on an ex-senior officer from Ulster. Vinnie knew that after Jimmy retired from the police he’d quipped there weren’t many places in the UK where he’d not worked undercover, so he retired to Spain — sort of.
Sort of, because he had since found a nice niche, working freelance for the local authorities who were keen to track down ex-pat undesirables who were wanted back in the UK. Just so happened that he was in Palma at the moment, while they were in northern Majorca at Porta Pollensa.
Before he could remind Christine, his text alert went off. As if on cue, it was Jimmy. He’d booked into a local hotel for the night and would meet Vinnie later, near the Marina. Vinnie read the text to Christine.
‘Look, I was always going to suggest that I leave you two boys to talk bollocks all night, anyway. I’ll come with you to say hello and then leave you to it.’
‘Are you sure?’ Vinnie asked.
‘Positive; and it’ll give me a chance to have a snoop in the Roma bar, or whatever it’s called. I’ll have my phone with me and it’s only 50 metres further down the promenade from where you and Jimmy will be.’
‘OK, we can still meet up later. It won’t be a late one, as I know Jimmy will have to head back to Palma early doors tomorrow.’
Christine smiled at Vinnie and they took a right, then headed inland towards their apart-hotel.
Vinnie said goodbye to Christine, as did Jimmy, and said he would catch up with her later. He watched her walk away a few metres, before turning back to face a grinning Jimmy.
‘You know what,’ Jimmy said, followed by a laugh. Then he added, ‘Landed the right way up with that one.’
Vinnie just grinned. It was good to see Jimmy again. He looked a little older and his hair was white, but in his early sixties he was entitled to that. Otherwise, he still looked the grey man in every sense. Medium height and build; unobtrusive.
‘Never mind me, what about you?’ Vinnie asked.
It was Jimmy’s turn to say, ‘What?’
‘You undercover types can’t leave it alone; once a James Bond, always a James Bond,’ Vinnie added.
Jimmy smiled. He was nearly 30 years older than Vinnie, and he had always been someone Vinnie looked up to, a mentor, even. He asked Jimmy what he was working on, and Jimmy told him that he was grafting his way down a long list of Brits who were wanted back in the UK. For every wanted person the Spanish managed to arrest through him, he got €1,000.
‘Easy money; tops up my pension and gives me a permanent holiday. Some of those old lags just can’t help but brag. Especially if you fill them up with Benedictine first.’
‘You need to watch out, in case you become a common denominator.’
‘And so the student becomes the master.’
Both men laughed and Vinnie waved the waiter over: time for more lager.
Christine walked towards the bar, which was actually named The Roma Bar, its sun-faded sign confirmed. It was set back from the promenade, a cobbled patio in front with a few old aluminium tables and chairs scattered across. All were empty. By the door was an old wooden beer barrel, which Christine immediately thought would look nice in a back garden. Her new flat
Sitting on the barrel was a dark-skinned Mediterranean man in his forties, smoking a roll-up. His face was wrinkled and gave him a much older look. Clearly a complexion that was used to the outdoors. He watched Christine as she approached, a quizzical look on his face; not threatening, just puzzled. ‘Can I help you, nice lady?’ he asked, in an accent Christine couldn’t quite place.
‘Just fancied a drink somewhere quirky, is that OK?’
‘What is quirky?’
‘Different. I’m sick of all the other bars, all the same.’
The man just smiled and waved her towards the entrance. Christine entered and realised that the main illumination came from the street lights outside. A couple of single light bulbs above the small bar did little to help. The place was only six or seven metres square, with a small toilet block at the rear. The bar was to the right and she ordered a vodka and Coke Zero. The barman could have been the barrel man’s younger brother. Same swarthy appearance. She handed over €5 and turned to survey the room properly. At first she assumed she was wasting her time, as the place looked empty. Then, in the corner near the toilets, she noticed a man sitting in the shadows and nursing a glass of lager. His lager hand had a bandaged wrist. She walked over. ‘Do you mind if I join you?’
‘Why?’ the eastern Mediterranean-looking man said, in a heavy eastern European accent.
‘I was just passing and fancied a drink and then I saw you. Thought I’d ask how your wrist was.’
The man then glanced at his bandaged left wrist before looking back up at Christine. He had piercing blue eyes that she had not noticed on the beach. They would have been attractive, but for a flint-like hardness within them. His gaze cut through her.
‘I OK lady, no cut artery, thank you; you can go now.’
‘Why did that woman cut you?’
‘I not know why bitch do that.’
‘You must have known her?’
‘She will know me, if I ever get my hands on her again.’
Christine noted the man’s use of the word ‘again’. On the beach they had thought initially that he was the victim; now she was not so sure.