Tony Parsons The Murder Bag Preview

Tony Parsons The Murder Bag Preview


I was waiting for a man who was planning to die.

I had parked the old BMW X5 just up the road from the entrance to the railway station and I drank a triple espresso as I watched the commuters rushing off to work. I drank quickly.

He would be here soon.

I placed three photographs on the dashboard. One of my wife and daughter. The other two of the man who was planning to die. A passport photo from the Home Office and what we called a snatch shot taken from some CCTV footage.

I slipped the photo of my family inside my wallet and put the wallet inside my leather jacket. Then I taped the two photos of the man who was planning to die to the dashboard.

And I watched the street.

I was parked with my back to the station so I could face the busy main road. It was washed in thin autumn sunshine that was like a fading memory of summer days. One hundred metres away there was a young woman who was dressed for the gym looking in the window of the newsagent’s, a large German Shepherd sitting patiently by her side, its lead loose, its intelligent face carefully watching her, the dog totally at ease among the rush hour crowds.

‘Now that’s a beautiful dog,’ I said.

The woman smiled and scratched the back of the dog’s ears in response, and then there was a man’s voice in my ear, although he was not addressing me.

‘Reception’s good for Delta 1.’

Then there were more voices in my ear as they checked transmission for the other radio call signs and all over the surveillance chatter I could hear the studied calm that the police use at moments of extreme tension, like a pilot talking to his passengers when all his engines are on fire. Nothing at all to worry about, folks.

I scanned the street for the spotter vans and unmarked cars and plainclothes officers on foot. But they were good at their job. All I could see was the woman with the beautiful German Shepherd.

‘Delta 1?’ the surveillance officer said to me. ‘We see you and we hear you, Max. You’re running point. We’re waiting on your positive visual ID when Bravo 1 is in the grab zone. Stay in the car.’

Bravo 1 was the man who was planning to die.

‘Copy that,’ I said.

And then a voice I knew: ‘DC Wolfe, it’s the chief super.’

Detective Chief Superintendent Elizabeth Swire. My boss.

‘Ma’am,’ I said.

‘Good luck, Wolfe,’ she said. Then there was a little smile in her voice as she played to the gallery: ‘And you heard the man. Stay in the car. Let the big boys do the heavy lifting.’

I stared at the street. It would not be long now.

‘Ma’am,’ I said, as nice and calm as the German Shepherd.

If I tilted my rear-view mirror I could look up at the grand Victorian façade of the station hotel. It was like a castle in a fairy story, the turrets and spires rising up to a blue sky full of billowy white clouds. The kind of place where you blink your eye and a hundred years go by. I could not see any of the big boys. But inside the railway station hotel there were enough of them to start a small war.

Somewhere beyond the net curtains and drapes, SCO19 were waiting, the firearms unit of the Metropolitan Police. Every one of them would be armed with a Heckler & Koch G36 assault rifle and two Glock SLP 9mm pistols. But no matter how hard I stared I still couldn’t see them.

There would also be bomb disposal squads seconded from the RAF in there. Negotiators. Chemical and biological warfare specialists. And someone to order pizza. We also had maybe twenty people around the station but I could still only see the woman and the dog. The surveillance chatter continued.

‘All units report. Echo 1?’

‘No sign.’

‘Victor 1?’


‘Tango 1?’

‘Contact,’ said a woman’s voice.

For the first time the piece of plastic stuffed in my ear was totally silent.

‘I have visual with Bravo 1,’ said the same voice. ‘Contact.’ And then a terrible pause. ‘Possible,’ she said. ‘Repeat – possible contact.’

‘Possible,’ the surveillance officer said. ‘Checking. Stand by.’ His voice was winding tighter now.

And then the woman’s voice again, and all the doubt creeping in: ‘Possible. Red backpack. Just passing the British Library. Proceeding on foot in an easterly direc¬tion towards the station. Approaching the grab zone.’

‘Delta 1?’

‘Copy that,’ I said.

‘And I’m off,’ Tango 1 said, meaning she had lost visual contact with the target.

I glanced quickly at the two photographs taped to my dashboard. I didn’t really need to because I knew exactly what he looked like. But I looked one last time anyway. Then back at the crowds.

‘I don’t see him,’ I said.

Then a more urgent voice in my ear. Another woman. The officer with the dog. It watched her intently as her mouth moved.

‘This is Whisky 1, Whisky 1. I have possible visual contact. Bravo 1 coming now. Two hundred metres. Far side of the road. Easterly direction. Red backpack. Possible contact.’

A babble of voices and a sharp call for silence.

‘Possible. Checking. Checking. Stand by, all units. Stand by, Delta 1.’

Then there was just the silence, crackling with static. Waiting for me now.

At first I stared straight through him.

Because he was different.

I looked quickly at the two photographs on the dashboard and he was nothing like them. The black hair was light brown. The wispy beard had gone. But it was far more than that. His face had changed. It was filled out, puffed up, almost the face of someone else.

But one thing was the same.

‘Delta 1?’

‘Contact,’ I said.

The red backpack was exactly the same as the one in the CCTV snatch shot on the day he bought hydrogen peroxide in a chemist’s wholesale warehouse.

He was wearing that red backpack when he wheeled out the 440 litres of hair bleach to the cash desk. Wearing it when he counted out the £550 in fifty-pound notes. Wearing it when he unloaded his van at the lock-up garage where we had put our cameras.

You couldn’t miss that red backpack. It looked like the kind of bag you would use to climb Everest. Big and bright – safety red, they called that colour.

But his face was not the same. That threw me. It was meant to. The face had been pumped full of something. He was planning to go to his death with the face of another man. But I could see it now.

There was no doubt.

‘That’s him,’ I said. ‘Contact. He’s had something done. I don’t know. Some work to his face. But that’s him. Contact. Confirming visual identification. Contact.’

‘Sniper 1 in range,’ said a voice, and across the street I saw the shooters for the first time, three figures moving on the rooftops above a shabby strip of shops and restaurants, their weapons winking in the sunlight. Police marksmen, settling into position.

Our last resort, if it all went wrong. And it was already starting to go wrong.

‘Sniper 2 in range. But I don’t have a trigger. No clear shot. It’s crowded down there.’

The man with the red backpack had paused on the far side of the road, waiting for the lights to change. Traffic thundered by, and in the gaps there were flashes of safety red. I touched my earpiece. Suddenly nobody was talking to me any more.

The man with the red backpack had paused on the far side of the road, waiting for the lights to change. Traffic thundered by, and in the gaps there were flashes of safety red. I touched my earpiece. Suddenly nobody was talking to me any more.

‘That’s our boy,’ I said. ‘Positive ID. Contact. Contact. Over.’

The lights changed and the traffic reluctantly stopped. The commuters began to shuffle across the road. The man with the red backpack went with them.

I spoke slowly and clearly: ‘This is Delta 1 confirming contact. The target is about to enter the grab zone. Do you copy me? Over.’

And nothing but the white noise in response.

And then: ‘Possible. Checking. Stand by.’

I shook my head and was about to speak again when the calm voice of DCS Swire said, ‘It’s a negative, Wolfe. That’s not him. Negative. Cancel.’

And then the voice of the surveillance officer: ‘Negative. Cancel. Stand down all stations.’

The lights changed again.

The man with the red backpack had crossed the road.

He was heading for the railway station.

‘Do you expect him to wear a burka?’ I said. ‘That’s Bravo 1. That’s the target. That’s our boy. His face—’

‘We do not have visual confirmation,’ the surveillance officer said. ‘We do not have positive ID, Delta 1.’

And then Swire. ‘That’s not him,’ she repeated. ‘Stop talking, Wolfe.’ A note of steel now. ‘You had one task. It is concluded. No further action necessary. We’re standing down all units. Negative. Cancel. Thank you everyone.’

The crowd slowed outside the station as it merged with the flow of commuters coming over from King’s Cross. I figured that I had one minute to stop him before he disappeared inside the station. Once on a mainline train or down on the tube or on the concourse of the station itself, the man with the red backpack would simply touch his hands together and the world would blow apart.

The battery he probably already held in one hand would create an electric current connecting it to a simple terminal held in the other. The current would then pass down two wires and into that red backpack – a discreet slit would have been cut in the side – where a modified light bulb would trip a detonator stored inside a small tube. This would trigger the main charge – the hydrogen peroxide I had watched him buy with eleven £50 notes on CCTV.

At the same time he had bought a bulk supply of six-inch steel nails. Sacks of them. They would be taped to the outside of the main charge to inflict enough misery to last for several hundred lifetimes.

If it detonated.

If he was that smart.

If he hadn’t messed up the cook.

I choked down a lump of hot bitter nausea as it rose in my throat.

‘You’re wrong,’ I said. ‘That’s him. Contact.’

I had been inside his lock-up. I had seen the hundreds of empty bottles of hair bleach. I had watched the CCTV footage of the day he bought them until my eyes were burning with the sight of him.

I didn’t need the photographs taped to the dash. I knew him. He was in my head.

He could not hide from me.

‘Stand down all units,’ a self-consciously calm voice was saying. ‘Do you copy me, Delta 1?’

‘No,’ I said. ‘You’re breaking up.’

Thirty seconds now.

And among all those crowds, and surrounded by all those firearms, I was on my own with the man who was planning to die.

I once attended a lecture at the police academy in Bramshill, Hampshire – the Oxford and Cambridge of police higher education.

An FBI agent had been flown over to help us combat terrorism. I had been impressed by the whiteness of the agent’s teeth. They were a fine set of teeth. Very American teeth. But what impressed me more was that the man knew his business.

His teeth shining, he told us that the FBI had identi¬fied twenty-five threat areas for terrorist activity. It wasn’t quite an A to Z, but it was close – it was an A to T, from airports to tattoo parlours.

Everywhere, basically.

The Fed also suggested what possible terrorists might look like.

Everyone, basically.

The students at Bramshill, the brightest and the best, all these fast-tracked cops, the next generation of CID, young and tough and smart, had almost wet them¬selves with laughter. But unlike the rest of them, I did not find the talk useless. Just the opposite. Because I remembered the FBI man’s number one point of poten¬tial indicators.

The suspect significantly alters his appearance.

Although my colleagues had smirked and rolled their eyes, I thought that was a point well worth making. Never overlook the obvious. Don’t expect him to look like the photographs and the CCTV images. Be ready for him to look like someone else.

And here was another thing the FBI agent could have mentioned. The target who significantly alters his appearance will probably not bother to get a new bag.

‘The same backpack,’ I said, opening the car door. ‘In the CCTV. Red backpack. When he bought the gear. Red backpack. All the way through. That’s the red backpack. And that’s him.’

‘You can’t park here, mate,’ an Afro-Cockney voice said through my window, and I jumped to hear a voice that did not come from somewhere inside my head.

A traffic warden was writing me a parking ticket. I got out of the car. He was a tall man with West African tribal scars on his cheeks, and he reared back slightly, expecting trouble. I looked past him and could see the man with the red backpack.

The crowds had thinned now.

He was about to enter the station.

Fifteen seconds.

Then a voice inside my head: ‘This is DCS Swire. Get back in the bloody car, Wolfe.’

All pretence at calm now gone.

I hesitated for a moment.

Then I got back into the car.

The traffic warden was tucking a ticket under my windscreen wiper. I shook my head and looked in the rear-view mirror. The man with the red backpack was directly behind me now, standing right outside the main entrance to the station. The crowds were melting away. There was nothing stopping him entering. But he had paused directly outside the station.

The traffic warden was tucking a ticket under my windscreen wiper. I shook my head and looked in the rear-view mirror. The man with the red backpack was directly behind me now, standing right outside the main entrance to the station. The crowds were melting away. There was nothing stopping him entering. But he had paused directly outside the station.

He was talking to himself.


He was praying.

Ten seconds.

The man with the red backpack moved forward.

Nine seconds.

I stuck the car into reverse.

Eight seconds.

I twisted in my seat and slammed my foot to the ground.

The car shot backwards and I stared at the man with the red backpack as I hurtled towards him. I had one arm braced across the passenger seat for the shock of impact and the hand on the wheel pressed down hard on the horn, keeping it there, scattering the stray commuters.

He did not move.

But he looked into my eyes as the old X5 shot towards him, his mouth no longer praying.

Five seconds.

The car ploughed into him, striking him just above the kneecaps, shattering the thigh bones of both legs as it whipped his torso forward against the back of the car. His face shattered the rear window and the rear window did the same to his face.

Then the impact threw him backwards into a wall of red Victorian brick where the back of his head erupted like a soft-boiled egg being hit with a sledgehammer.

Three seconds.

I stuck the car in drive and tore back across the forecourt to where the traffic warden was staring at me, motionless, open-mouthed, his ticket machine still in his hand.

I put the car into reverse, ready to go again.

But there was no need to go again.


I slowly got out of the car.

People were screaming. Some of them were commuters. Some of them were the voices in my head. A dog, getting closer every second, was barking wildly.

One voice in my ear was shouting about gross misconduct and manslaughter. Another was shouting about murder.



I tore out the earpiece and threw it away.

The man with the red backpack was sitting up against the brick wall, staring straight at me with a baffled expression on his ruined face. One hand still twitched with the surprise of sudden death. Both of his hands were empty.

I was not expecting his hands to be empty.

Suddenly there were armed men in balaclavas. Guns were trained on the dead man. Glock SLP 9mm pistols. Heckler & Koch submachine guns. Then I saw that some of them were pointing at me.

‘He was the target,’ I said.

Armed officers from SCO19 were everywhere. Commuters were running and crawling for cover. A lot of people were screaming and crying because these men with guns did not look remotely like police officers. They wore Kevlar body armour. They had metal carabiners on their shoulders so they could more easily be dragged away if they were down. The black balaclavas they wore had the eyes and mouths cut out. They looked like paramilitary bank robbers.

People thought it was to protect their identity but I knew it was to spread terror.

And it worked.

They were shouting into the radios attached just above their hearts. The masked faces were bawling at me to get down and stay down and lie on my face.

Now. Now. Now. Do it now!

Slowly I took my warrant card out of my jeans, showed it, and tossed it at them. Then I held up my hands. But I wasn’t getting on my knees for them. I wasn’t getting down on my face. I kept walking towards the man on the ground.

Because I had to know if I was right.

Last chance! Do it now!

Crouching above the dead man on the ground, I saw that the impact had not cracked the back of his skull. It had removed it.

A huge slick of fresh blood was already spreading across the pavement.

All around there were the screams of terror and fury. The dog was so close now that I could smell it, so close now that I could feel its breath.

I could see the strange flat-nosed Glocks in the corner of my vision, aimed at the dead man on the ground and also at my face. The safety catches were released.

But this was our boy, wasn’t it?

I looked at my hands with wonder.

They were covered in the dead man’s blood.

But they were not shaking as I tore open the red backpack and looked inside.