Enfield police station reminded Caelan of a model a child had made by sticking cardboard boxes together. One shoebox on the bottom with two more piled on top. The small car park in front of the building was almost full, and she had to make several attempts at manoeuvring into a space. As she slammed her door, another vehicle entered the car park, reversing neatly into the last available parking spot. Caelan paused as she recognised the vehicle.
‘Hello, stranger,’ she called as the driver emerged. Tim Achebe was a few years older than Caelan – she guessed mid-thirties. There weren’t many black police officers in the country who held a rank above that of inspector, but Achebe had risen to DCI in record time, and was widely tipped as a future Commissioner. She had first met him a few days ago, though with all that had happened, it felt longer.
Achebe grinned at her. ‘Morning. We meet again.’ He pointed to her battered face, wincing. ‘Looks nasty. How are you feeling?’
‘I’ve been better.’
‘But you’re here.’
‘No point sitting around feeling sorry for myself.’ She didn’t add that she had nowhere to go except a hotel, even if she had wanted to take some time off to recuperate.
‘No one could blame you, not after Nasenby, and…’ He paused. ‘You know.’
After she had discovered that Nicky, her colleague and former lover, whom she’d believed she’d seen killed, was still alive and had been hiding in a safe house. Caelan didn’t trust herself to reply, and was thankful when Achebe didn’t push for a response.
As they crossed the car park together, Caelan said, ‘I wasn’t sure who would be here.’
‘One of my DIs has been involved, but she’s off sick – had a car accident on her way home last night.’
‘Shit. Is she okay?’
He held the door of the station open for her. ‘Yes, thankfully. I spoke to her husband. Cuts and bruises.’
Caelan nodded, hesitating just inside the door. ‘Who are we here to see?’
Achebe glanced around, lowered his voice. ‘This is an Organised Crime Partnership operation.’
‘We’re working with the NCA?’
‘Yeah. They’ve been sniffing around in Edmonton for a while, but haven’t got very far.’
‘Edmonton?’ Caelan ran through the possibilities, didn’t like any of them. Though she wasn’t an expert, she knew of several gangs in the area, and anything linked to their activities could be dangerous. What was she walking into here?
‘We’re meeting with a couple of NCA officers, and… I understand you’ve been told about Nicky Sturgess?’ Achebe glanced at her, then averted his gaze.
Caelan stepped closer to him. ‘Did you know?’
Achebe raised his head. ‘That she was alive, in hiding? No. I had no idea.’
She nodded, believing him. ‘Who’s questioning Michael?’
‘Nasenby? I don’t know. Still can’t believe he was behind it all, to be honest.’
Caelan managed a short laugh, but it was an effort. ‘You can’t have been as surprised as I was. I thought I knew him.’
‘Did he do that to your face?’ Achebe touched his own cheek with a fingertip.
‘Yeah. He didn’t take kindly to being accused of murder. Several murders.’
‘Including that of a ten-year-old child.’ Achebe’s face was blank, his voice little more than a whisper. Caelan touched his arm.
‘We couldn’t have known, Tim.’
Achebe rubbed his eyes. ‘Just makes me sick to think of him sitting there, watching us run around trying to figure out what had happened, all the time knowing he’d done it. Enjoying watching us struggle.’
‘You think that’s what he was doing?’
‘Fuck, I don’t know. He was so… smooth, you know? Self-assured. But he had to know the truth would come out eventually.’
‘I don’t think he did. I think he believed he’d get away with it, even while I was listing all the evidence we had.’
Caelan laughed. ‘I think that’s what he thought of you.’
Achebe’s eyes opened wide. ‘Bloody cheek.’
‘Detective Small, DCI Achebe?’
The voice came from behind them. Caelan turned, looked at the man who had spoken. Stepping forward, he held out his hand, smiling at her. ‘I’m Spencer Reid, NCA. It’s good to meet you. I’ve heard… Well, I’ve heard about you.’
Caelan shook his hand, stepped away as he turned to greet Achebe. She hadn’t worked with the National Crime Agency before, though she had been involved in a couple of joint operations with the organisation it had replaced. The NCA existed to bring to justice serious and organised criminals, including those involved in drug trafficking, the sexual abuse and exploitation of children, and money laundering. Its representatives worked in partnership with other organisations in the UK and internationally. Caelan wondered what they wanted with her.
Reid gestured towards the door he had emerged from. ‘We’re through there.’