Authors: James Becker
“And that’s your story, is it? You’re going to stick with it? Is that it?”
The disbelief in the man’s voice was both quite obvious and quite obviously intentional.
On the other side of the metal table, David Mallory stretched out his long legs and leaned back as comfortably as the hard wooden chair would allow. For a few moments he didn’t respond, just stared up at the ceiling, which was painted the same depressing institutional light gray as most of the rest of the interview room. The color was relieved only by a lower band of cream paint that began about four feet up the walls and continued down to floor level. Much of the paint was faded, and in places small areas had been scraped or had cracked off to reveal whitish plaster underneath. It was not, by any stretch of the
imagination, a pleasant place to be. But on the other hand, that was really the point.
“It’s not a story, as you put it,” he replied, dropping his gaze to stare again at the interviewing officer, “and I am going to stick with it because it happens to be the truth. You might not like it, but that’s your problem, not mine. Unless you can prove I’m lying—which I’m not, so you can’t—that’s pretty much the end of it. You need to either charge me with something or let me go.”
Inspector Paul Wilson, flanked by a bulky detective sergeant in plainclothes who had been introduced for the benefit of Mallory—and for the video feed from the camera positioned in one corner of the room and the twin tape recording device mounted at one end of the table—simply as Detective Sergeant Goddard, shook his head.
“Not yet, Mr. Mallory. You’re a long way from walking out of here.”
“So charge me.”
“We might do that,” Wilson replied, looking down at a surprisingly bulky file open on the table in front of him. “We just might do that. Let me just refresh your memory about what’s happened over the last couple of weeks. When we responded to an emergency call from your girlfriend’s apartment in Dartmouth, a call that you have admitted making, our officers found three dead men there, and I still don’t understand how you can claim to have had nothing to do with that.”
Mallory eased forward slightly. “You really haven’t been listening to me, have you? To anything I’ve said?
I’ve already told you, at least six times, that Robin Jessop is not my girlfriend. The first time I met her was the same day that your people found those three bodies. I’ve never denied being there, and I told you I made the triple-nine call. But as I’ve also told you numerous times, when we left the building the three Italians were still alive. A bit battered and bent, I grant you, but undeniably still in the land of the living. And I would also remind you, when Robin and I were attacked by them, we reacted purely in self-defense. We incapacitated them, nothing else.”
DI Wilson looked completely unconvinced.
“You’re fairly big and you look quite fit, Mr. Mallory,” he replied, “and I’ve no doubt that you could probably have subdued one of those men, but I don’t buy the idea that you and Miss Jessop, who at best can be described as petite, could have incapacitated—as you put it—three heavily built men, all of whom you claimed were carrying pistols. I know,” he continued, as Mallory opened his mouth to object, “that you told us she has some martial arts skills, but I doubt if that would be anything like enough to do what you claimed.”
Mallory laughed. “I never said that Robin Jessop had ‘some martial arts skills.’ What I actually said was that she’s a martial arts expert. There’s a vast difference. She holds the equivalent of a black belt in aikido and karate, and I’ve never seen anyone move the way she can. But don’t take my word for it. Just put her in a room by herself and then send in one of your biggest and most expendable police constables with instructions to attack
her. I can guarantee that in less than two minutes he’ll be lying flat on his back, with bits of him broken in all sorts of interesting and painful ways.”
Wilson still looked doubtful.
“Perhaps,” he said, “but even if that were true, it still doesn’t explain the injuries one of the men suffered to both his hands.”
“Not only do you not listen to what I say, Wilson,” Mallory snapped, his patience rapidly running out, “but you also don’t listen to what Robin has told you. Or if you did listen, you didn’t understand. When we came back to Britain, just about the first thing we did was report to the police station here in Exeter. This police station, in fact, where I’ve been ever since, let me remind you. We both agreed that it was essential we told you the unvarnished truth about what happened. Neither of us wants anything like this hanging over our heads. We have our lives to get on with. So I absolutely know that Robin has already told you about the book safe, that medieval casket with a hidden antitheft device built into it. One of the intruders picked it up and opened it with a paper knife, and that triggered the release of the two sets of spikes. It was those spikes that ruined his hands, and it was that injury which gave us a chance to overcome him and the other man. We can show you the book safe if you want to inspect it. Enough of his blood is probably still on it for you to get a positive match from it.”
Wilson didn’t respond for a moment, just studied what looked to Mallory like a witness statement in the file in front of him. “Miss Jessop did say something along those
lines, but all that proves is that you got your stories straight before you came to the police. Nothing else.”
“We didn’t need to get our stories straight, because we’re both telling the truth, something that I doubt you’d recognize if you woke up sleeping next to it.”
Mallory saw the beginnings of a grin appear on Goddard’s face.
“Look,” Mallory said. “I’ve got better things to do than sit here watching you try out all the techniques you learned in the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Police Interrogations, or whatever book you used to polish your alleged skills.”
Wilson’s lips tightened in cold fury as he listened to Mallory.
“And there was another dead man,” the detective inspector said, carrying on remorselessly, “shot through the chest at close range and his body left in a wood near Exeter. I suppose you still claim to know nothing about that, either?”
Mallory nodded. “You’re absolutely right. I know nothing about that. If you think you can prove I’m lying, charge me, and then we can both watch as my barrister rips you to pieces in court. If it ever gets that far, which I doubt, unless the Crown Prosecution Service turns out to be even more incompetent than usual.”
“And then there’s—”
But Mallory interrupted him before he could even finish the sentence. “Look, I’ve told you the truth and I’m quite sure that Robin has as well. But I’ll just tell you yet again. The short version. The version I’ve already told
you about a dozen times so far. When those two men turned up in Dartmouth waving automatic pistols at us, we had no idea who they were or what they wanted. They forced us to climb up the staircase into the apartment, and then they started asking questions about some Internet searches Robin had done. Questions about an ancient piece of parchment she’d found in among a load of old books she’d bought as a job lot. We thought it was just a curiosity, a bit of text referring to something that happened nearly a thousand years ago, but for those Italians—and you’ve already told me you’ve confirmed their nationality—it was much more important. It was something their organization had been trying to find for hundreds of years. The piece of parchment was hidden inside that book safe, and they made it very clear, in my opinion, that they were going to take it and most likely kill us in the process. We both knew the only chance we had of walking out of that building was to hope that the medieval antitheft device would work. It did, and the moment those spikes slammed into the first Italian’s hands, Robin knocked out the other man and we tied them up.”
“We will definitely want to examine the book safe that you claim did so much damage to this man,” he said, “but why didn’t you call the police right then, as soon as you’d disarmed them, and wait for us to arrive?”
“That’s very simple. We wanted to live. When that first man pointed his pistol at me at the bottom of the stairs, I saw the lights flash on a Range Rover parked down the street, and one of the two men facing us gave a wave as
it did so. That meant that we weren’t facing two armed men, but most probably three, and we thought our best bet was to get out of the apartment and take our chances on the street, rather than hope that the police would turn up before the third man decided to join the party. The only reason we’d been able to overpower the first two was what happened when one of them opened the book safe, and that was a trick we could only use once. So yes, I made the triple-nine call. We waited for the sound of sirens and then we legged it.”
“And the man outside the apartment, presumably the third man from the car, who also ended up dead. What happened to him?” Wilson demanded.
“When we opened the door to leave, he was just standing there. He was as surprised to see us as we were to see him. But Robin doesn’t just move quickly; she thinks quickly as well. She just stepped up to him, threw him over her shoulder, and dislocated his arm for good measure. We tied him up as quickly as we could and then ran.”
“And you’d picked up one of the pistols the Italians had been carrying? For your own protection?”
Mallory grinned at Wilson before he replied.
“I don’t believe I told you in any of my statements that either Robin or I had any kind of weapon,” he said. “Though it might have been quite useful if we had been armed. Somebody else, presumably another member of the gang, chased us through the streets, and we know he was carrying a pistol because he shot at us. Luckily he missed and we got to my car before he caught up with us. That’s how we managed to get away.”
Wilson stared at him levelly. “The forensic evidence that we’ve collected from Dartmouth proves that pistols were definitely fired on the streets that night. Note that I said ‘pistols,’ not ‘pistol.’ The cartridge cases we’ve recovered show that two weapons were used, not one.”
“I have no idea how that could have happened,” Mallory said, adding another blatant lie to his mental tally of untruths. But he was very well aware that unless the police could prove he had used a weapon, which they couldn’t because it would have meant catching him with one in his possession, he was fireproof. “Maybe I was wrong, and there were two men with pistols chasing us. As I told you before, I only saw one.”
“You do know that I don’t believe you.”
“What you believe is up to you, Wilson. I’ve told you what happened. If you can prove differently, you’d better get on with it. Anyway, the point is that we incapacitated both the men in the apartment, and the third man who was waiting outside the building, and then we ran for it. You’ve told me that all three of these men were then shot execution-style through the head. And I’ve told you they were still alive when we left. If you can prove otherwise, I suggest you do so.”
Mallory leaned forward and rested his arms on the table.
“Look,” he said, sounding exasperated, “Robin is an antiquarian bookseller. I’m an ex-policeman and now an IT consultant. We only got together because the parchment Robin found in that book safe was encrypted, and I’ve got an interest in codes and ciphers. We had no idea,
no clue, that what we’d found was of anything other than academic and maybe some historical interest. We certainly didn’t expect to be facing half a dozen armed Italian thugs who wanted to take it away from us and, incidentally, kill us in the process.”
Wilson leaned forward as well, matching Mallory’s gesture. “How do you know there were six of them?”
“I don’t. I’m just guessing, and I’m quite good with basic mathematics. You know, two plus two. That kind of thing. We knew about the three in Dartmouth, because we saw them, and you told me about another man killed near Exeter. I presume he was a part of the same gang. That makes four, and we were chased by a fifth man through the streets of Dartmouth. If your forensic people are right, and there were two men with guns running around that night, then that’s your half dozen.”
“Very clever, Mallory,” Wilson snapped, realizing that his suspect had neatly sidestepped the trap he had set. “So how did you know that they intended to kill you?”
“Again, I didn’t. But I searched both the men in the apartment, and they were each carrying a suppressor as well as a loaded Beretta pistol. You could argue that the weapon was just to frighten or intimidate us, but the suppressor adds a whole new dimension to the situation. The only function of a suppressor is to muffle the sound of a shot, so logically they must have been intending to use their weapons. I think their orders were simple enough. They were supposed to recover the parchment and then kill us to make sure that their secret stayed safe.”
“Orders? Orders from whom?”
“I have no idea,” Mallory said. “But their identical appearance, carrying identical weapons, suggests to me that they were a team, acting on behalf of somebody else, or maybe some organization. But I’ve no clue who or what.”
Mallory leaned back, then pointed at Wilson.
“You know as well as I do,” he said, “that you’re looking for means, motive, and opportunity. I grant you that we had the opportunity to kill those three men in Robin’s apartment, and if we’d taken one of the pistols, we had the means as well. But what possible motive would we have had? We’d already incapacitated all three of them. If we were going to kill them, why didn’t we just do that instead of taking the time to tie them up? It’s a lot quicker to shoot somebody than tie their wrists and ankles together.
“As I told you, we’d never seen these people before, and at first we had no idea what they wanted. But do you really think that we would have made a call to the police, a call that would immediately be traced to Robin’s apartment, if we’d already decided to shoot them? Why would anybody call the police and then commit murder? That makes no sense whatsoever to me, and I think that any reasonably competent barrister could quite easily convince an averagely dense jury of our peers that it makes no possible sense to anyone else, either.”