Hidden in Plain Sight

Jeffrey Archer | 7 mins


14 April 1986

THE FOUR OF THEM sat around the table staring at the hamper.

‘Who’s it addressed to?’ asked the commander.

William read the handwritten label. ‘Happy Birthday Commander Hawksby.’

‘You’d better open it, DC Warwick,’ said the Hawk, leaning back in his chair.

William stood up, unfastened the two leather straps, and lifted the lid of the huge wicker basket that was packed with what his father would have called ‘goodies’.

‘Clearly someone appreciates us,’ said DCI Lamont, removing a bottle of Scotch from the top of the basket, delighted to find it was Black Label.

‘And also knows our weaknesses,’ said the commander, as he took out a box of Montecristo cigars and placed them on the table in front of him. ‘Your turn, DC Roycroft,’ he added, as he rolled one of the Cuban cigars between his fingers.

Jackie took her time removing some of the packing straw before she discovered a jar of foie gras, a luxury way beyond her pay grade.

‘And finally, DC Warwick,’ said the commander.

William rummaged around in the hamper until he came across a bottle of olive oil from Umbria that he knew Beth would appreciate. He was about to sit back down when he spotted a small envelope. It was addressed to Commander Hawksby QPM, and marked Personal. He handed it to the boss.

Hawksby ripped the envelope open and extracted a handwritten card. His expression revealed nothing, although the unsigned note could not have been clearer. Better luck next time.

When the card was passed around the table the smiles turned to frowns, and the recently acquired gifts were quickly returned to the hamper.

‘Do you know what makes it worse?’ said the commander. ‘It is my birthday.’

‘And that’s not all,’ said William, who then told the team about his conversation with Miles Faulkner at the Fitzmolean soon after the unveiling of the Rubens painting, Christ’s Descent from the Cross.

‘But if the Rubens is a fake,’ said Lamont, ‘why don’t we arrest Faulkner, send him back to the Old Bailey, and Mr Justice Nourse will remove the word “suspended” from his sentence, and lock him up for the next two years.’

‘Nothing would give me greater pleasure,’ said Hawksby. ‘But if the painting turns out to be the original, Faulkner will have made a fool of us a second time, and in the most public of arenas.’

William was taken by surprise by the commander’s next question.

‘Have you warned your fiancée that the Rubens might be a fake?’

‘No, sir. I thought I’d say nothing to Beth until you’d decided what course of action we should take.’

‘Good. Let’s keep it that way. It will give us all a little more time to consider what our next move should be, because we have to start thinking like Faulkner if we’re ever going to bring the damn man down. Now get that thing out of my sight,’ he demanded, pointing at the hamper. ‘And make sure it’s entered into the gratuities register. But not before it’s been checked for fingerprints – not that I expect the dabs expert to find any prints other than ours, and possibly those of an innocent sales assistant from Harrods.’

William picked up the wicker basket and took it into the next room, where he asked Angela, the commander’s secretary, if she would send it down to D705 for fingerprinting. He couldn’t help noticing that she looked a little disappointed. ‘I was hoping to get the cranberry sauce,’ she admitted. When he returned to the boss’s office a few moments later, he was puzzled to find the rest of the team banging the palms of their hands on the table.

‘Have a seat, Detective Sergeant Warwick,’ said the commander.

‘Choirboy is speechless, for a change,’ said Lamont.

‘That won’t last long,’ promised Jackie, and they all burst out laughing.

‘Do you want to hear the good news or the bad news?’ asked the commander once they’d all settled back down.

‘The good news,’ said DCI Lamont, ‘because you’re not going to enjoy my latest report on the diamond smugglers.’

‘Let me guess,’ said Hawksby. ‘They saw you coming and have all escaped.’

‘Worse than that, I’m afraid. They didn’t even turn up, and neither did the shipment of diamonds. I spent an evening with twenty of my men armed to the teeth, staring out to sea. So do tell me the good news, sir.’

‘As you all know, DC Warwick has passed his sergeant’s exam, despite kicking one of the anti-nuclear protesters in the—’

‘I did nothing of the sort,’ protested William. ‘I simply asked him politely to calm down.’

‘Which the examiner accepted without question; such is your choirboy’s reputation.’

‘So what’s the bad news?’ asked William.

‘In your new role as a detective sergeant, you’re being transferred to the drugs squad.’

‘Rather you than me,’ said Lamont with a sigh.

‘However,’ continued the commander, ‘the commissioner, in his wisdom, felt a winning team shouldn’t be broken up, so you two will be joining him as part of an elite drugs unit on the first of the month.’

‘I resign,’ said Lamont, leaping to his feet in mock protest.

‘I don’t think so, Bruce. You only have eighteen months left before you retire, and as the head of the new unit, you’ll be promoted to detective superintendent.’

This announcement provoked a second eruption of enthusiastic banging on the table.

‘The unit is to work separately from any of the existing drugs squads. It will only have one purpose, which I will come to in a moment. But first, I wanted to let you know that the team will have a new DC added to its complement, who may even outshine our resident choirboy.’

‘This I want to see,’ said Jackie.

‘Well, you won’t have to wait long. He’ll be joining us in a few minutes. He has an outstanding CV, having read law at Cambridge where he was awarded a blue in the Boat Race.’

‘Did he win?’ asked William.

‘Two years in a row,’ said the Hawk.

‘Then perhaps he should have joined the river police,’ said William. ‘If I remember correctly, the Boat Race takes place between Putney and Mortlake, so he’d be back on the beat.’ This elicited more banging on the table.

‘I think you’ll find he’s just as impressive on dry land,’ said the commander, after the applause had died down. ‘He’s already served for three years with the Regional Crime Squad in Crawley. However, there’s something else I ought to mention before—’

A sharp knock on the door interrupted the Hawk before he could finish the sentence. ‘Enter,’ he said.

The door opened and a tall, handsome young man entered the room. He looked as if he’d stepped straight off the set of a popular television police drama, rather than just arrived from the Regional Crime Squad.

‘Good afternoon, sir,’ he said. ‘I’m DC Paul Adaja. I was told to report to you.’

‘Take a seat, Adaja,’ said the Hawk, ‘and I’ll introduce you to the rest of the team.’

William watched Lamont’s face closely as Adaja shook hands with an unsmiling superintendent. The Met’s policy was to try and recruit more officers from minority ethnic backgrounds, but to date it had been about as successful in that ambition as it had been at arresting diamond smugglers. William was curious to find out why someone like Paul had even considered joining the force, and was determined to make him quickly feel part of the team.

‘These SIO meetings are held every Monday morning, DC Adaja,’ said the commander, ‘to bring us all up to date on how any major investigations are progressing.’

‘Or not progressing,’ said Lamont.

‘Let’s move on,’ said the Hawk, ignoring the interruption. ‘Is there any more news on Faulkner?’

‘His wife Christina’s been in touch again,’ said William. ‘She’s asked to see me.’

‘Has she indeed. Any clues?’

‘No, sir. I’ve no idea what she wants. But she makes no secret of the fact that she’s just as keen as we are to see her husband behind bars. So, I don’t imagine she’s suggesting tea at the Ritz simply to sample their clotted cream scones.’

‘Mrs Faulkner will be well aware of any other criminal activities her husband is involved in, which would be useful for us to know about,’ said Lamont, ‘in advance. But I wouldn’t trust that woman an inch.’

‘Neither would I,’ said Hawksby. ‘But if I had to choose between Faulkner and his wife, I consider her the lesser of two evils. But only by half an inch.’

‘I could always turn the invitation down.’

‘No way,’ said Lamont. ‘We may never get a better chance to put Faulkner behind bars, and don’t let’s forget, however minor the offence, because of the judge’s suspended sentence, it would put him inside for at least two years.’

‘True enough,’ said the Hawk. ‘But, DS Warwick, you can be sure Faulkner will be watching us just as closely as we’re watching him, and he’s certain to have a PI tailing his wife around the clock, until the divorce is finally settled. So while tea at the Ritz is acceptable, dinner is not. Do I make myself clear?’

‘Abundantly, sir, and I’m sure Beth would agree with you.’

‘And never forget that Mrs Faulkner’s slips of the tongue have always been well rehearsed. And she’s also well aware that everything she tells you will be repeated word for word the moment you arrive back at the Yard.’

‘Probably even before her chauffeur has dropped her off at the flat in Eaton Square,’ added Lamont.

‘Right, let’s get back to the matter in hand. There are several cases you’ll have to brief the new Art and Antiques Squad on before you start work on your new assignment.’

‘You were about to tell us, sir, before DC Adaja joined us, how the new unit will differ from any other existing drugs squads.’

‘I can’t tell you too much at the moment,’ said the Hawk, ‘but you will have only one purpose, and it won’t be to catch low-level dealers selling cannabis on the street to pot heads.’ Suddenly everyone was wide awake. ‘The commissioner wants us to identify a man whose name we don’t know, and whose whereabouts we can’t be sure of, other than that he lives and works somewhere south of the river in the Greater London area. However, we do know what his day job is.’ The Hawk opened a file marked Top Secret.