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Signature Twelve


CHAPTER TWELVE 

A Tuesday morning like any other? Ten forty-five a.m. and John Ralphs heads north. His plan? To confront Bill Hadley again, following the episode with Diane and Bob Mitchell. As he leaves the town limits, a pick-up passes him, heading south with Hadley, Mitchell and Duggan.
“OK.” As ever Bill is doing a quick recap. “The plan is to leave bullets in the bank, for forensics to examine, and the badge outside in the dust.”
“Bob, you have Hadley’s gun?” Bill asked.
“I have the gun in my left jacket pocket,” Bob confirmed.
“And you have the badge, Bob?” Bill’s second question.
“Sure, in my right jeans pocket, Bill. All set.”

John Ralphs did not find Hadley at his office and decided to head on further to the farmhouse, another twenty miles. If he is not there, I shall try the office again on the way back, he told himself. By this time Ross was already taking statements from witnesses at the bank.
“Take it slowly,” Ross said. The new manager was extremely nervous. He had never experienced a bank robbery in his life. Since he had been in this town he had already had two, the wild, wild west. Let me out of here was the one thought circulating in his brain. Hence the incoherent testimony.
Ross: “So you see this guy come in, looks suspicious.”
The Manager: “Yeah, the big guy. I got no reason to, but I just buzz the alarm.”
Ross: “And then?”
The manager: “He pulls out his weapon. Bang, aim, bang, aim bang, aim, bang. Just like that. Three shots.”
Ross: “You say like he aimed at something or someone?”
The manager: “It was just like left, right, centre, into those two desks and the counter.”
We’ll retrieve those bullets, Ross thought, at least something.
The manager continued, calmer now in the same way as he had calmed down after the shooting. “He turned and bolted through the entrance. I skipped round the desks after him. I tell you I was petrified when I first saw him. Now he was on the run. And me? Like a dog yapping at his heels once he turns his back.”
“So you followed him?” Ross questioned.
“Right out the door. He turned up the street on the left. Reached the vehicle. Some other guy came out of the doorway. They collided, fell, got to their feet. Truck door opened, and they were off.”
“What truck?” John asked.
“Don’t know. Black. Smoked glass.” Ross signalled to one of the officers to check out where the truck was, while others continued to cordon off the area. The officer had a bemused look as he returned to Ross. He was holding something. Strange coincidence, it was where they collided and rolled in the dust, he told Ross, as he handed Ross a police badge.

The black truck did not go very far. It stopped close to John Ralph’s apartment block. The three men slipped round the building. While Duggan checked Ralphs’ apartment was empty, Hadley opened his truck, parked in front of the building, and Mitchell humped the safe up the stairs. Nothing looked disturbed, so they reinstalled the safe. The only missing contents were one police badge and three bullets from the gun. These would not be missing long. They had already been retrieved by the police. Even if the neighbours had heard the three men roaring with laughter as they descended the stairs, they would never have guessed why.

Ross was desperate to get hold of John, who had some mega-serious explaining to do. He called Jenny at work, but she had no idea where he was. He went in to see the Captain and told him about the badge. The Captain’s instructions were clear.
“Do one thing, Ross. Get to him first. Talk to him. Bring him to me.”
An hour later John was surprised to find Ross leaning against the door of his apartment. For the moment Ross played it cool.
“Hi, John. Can I come in?”
“Yeah, come on in. Lunch? Just tried Hadley. No luck.” John seemed relaxed to Ross. Innocent or one hell of an actor.
“Where’s your badge, John?” Ross went straight to the point, but gave him a chance for an explanation.
“I’m suspended Ross. I can’t use it. It’s in the safe with my gun.”
“Show me,” Ross instructed, and immediately regretted his words, as he thought of the gun in there. He reached for his holster automatically. John moved to the hall.
“Why do you want it, Ross?” John asked.
“Trust me, John,” Ross replied. “Just give me that badge and your gun and I’ll explain.” However strange this may have seemed to John, he did trust Ross, and bent down to unlock the safe. He did not see the badge immediately. Ross, edgy, bent down, saw the gun and reached for it.
“Thank you, John.” He slipped it into his pocket. John continued to fumble around in the safe.
“It’s not here, Ross.” Not what Ross wanted to hear, but what he expected.
“You’d better come with me. The Captain wants to see us. I’ll explain on the way.” In the end Ross preferred not to explain on the way. And when the Captain, carefully holding John’s gun in a cloth, examined it and established that three bullets had been fired, Ross was glad he had kept quiet, was glad he had arrived safely at the Captain’s office.

Of the three men in the room, John, the accused, was most at ease. He knew he had not taken part in a bank raid that morning, just as he knew that his badge had been in the safe and his gun had been in the safe. There had to be an explanation. So this looked like evidence but it was only circumstantial, damning yes, on the face of it, but circumstantial and wrong. As to the Captain, the Captain saw one of his officers before him, a man who had dropped his badge at the crime scene, who had hidden his gun in his safe, no doubt intending to deal with it later, and who now sat there, cock-sure. There could be no other explanation. You had to be hard-bitten to sit there as calmly as he did. A major scandal on my watch, he thought, when I’m in charge. It’s all happening again, to me. For Ross it was worse: this was his best friend, or so he had thought. But no, he was a member of a ruthless gang that gunned down their friends, and he was still with the gang even after that. His consternation was turning to revulsion.

Engrossed in their thoughts, none of them heard the door open. It was the manager of the bank, now recovered from his ordeal, his statement duly signed and filed.
“Just wanted to thank you, Captain. I’m finished. Your guys did a great job. Hey, John. Didn’t see you around for a few days. You missed the action, right?”
“You saw him this morning.” Ross blurted out.
“What?”
“At the bank.” Ross clarified.
The manager didn’t hesitate for a second. “Only guys I saw, were a couple of clients, the big guy who ran out and the little guy he banged into.” A fault line developed in Hadley’s planogram.
“Outside,” Ross insisted.
“Like I said, the big guy and the little guy. Not John. If you were there, John, I didn’t see you.” He left with a wave. Ross and the Captain looked at one another. Credibility built up over years can be destroyed in one second, and for them John’s credibility had been destroyed with the examination of the gun, but now maybe it hadn’t. But it is not so easy to recover, so easy to climb from the bottom of the pit as to slip into it. Suspicion was firmly rooted.
“The eyewitness exonerates you, John,” the Captain said.
“It’s his badge, his gun, his bullets,” Ross objected.
“That’s the problem,” the Captain said. “You see the problem, Ralphs?” John remained silent. He did see the problem looming very, very large.
“In a small town like this we can hide a lot of stuff.” The Captain looked at the gun on his desk. “I asked you before if you want to resign. Do you?” Ross gasped at the Captain’s words, at the thought that this man could be allowed to go free in the face of the evidence against him.
“I do not resign, Sir.” John’s answer was as clear and firm as the Captain’s question was grave.

The Captain thought about what he had been obliged to live through before: the character assassination, the slander, the lies, the recrimination, and above all the disastrous consequences for the policing of the community. Was this man guilty? If he were innocent this whole dreadful process would take place anyway. They would all be ruined. And if he were guilty? Well maybe they would just have to catch him another way. If the bank manager denied to the court that Ralphs was present at the raid, then as far as a court was concerned, he was not present. The badge and the bullets alone would not convict him, but if he were innocent, they might have destroyed his life by the time the truth came out. And mine too, he thought. With an air of resignation he picked up the gun and handed it to John. Then he passed across the badge.
“You must have dropped this. Ross, please go with John to check his apartment. Look for signs of forced entry.”
Ross was morose, as they drove to the apartment. John racked his brains for an explanation. Suddenly he turned to Ross. “Hey, Ross. You want proof of where I’ve been. Well I must have done a hundred miles this morning.”
“What does that prove, John?”
“I had my car serviced yesterday. Picked it up late. They’ll have written down the mileage. Check it now. See how far I went.” John was excited to have something.
“You could have driven all night, John.” Still glum, disinterested.
“But I didn’t. Come on, Ross. Maybe it’s not conclusive, but it’s something.” John was adamant and Ross reluctantly agreed that putting together fragments could build a picture. In the apartment they had less success, until Jenny came home. In response to John’s question of whether anything was out of place, she pointed out that a picture was missing from the top of the side cabinet.
“This may not say much for my house-keeping, Ross, but you can see the dust mark,” she said. And sure enough you could. John then recalled the strange smell of gasoline, but that did not get them anywhere. For John they had drawn a blank. For Ross dark suspicions remained, as well as the feeling that the Captain had done the wrong thing this time. 

***

Bill Hadley, Jim Duggan and BobMitchell had separated in town, but they came together in the evening at the farmhouse for a celebratory dinner, which in this case meant Chinese take-outs and beer.
“Some things go better than planned,” Bill said. “I can’t believe we got that safe back in place.”
“Wouldn’t have worked if we burnt the place down,” Jim retorted.
“Jim, you were right. Congratulations.” Bill toasted him, taking a swig from a can of beer. “The badge will lead to the gun, and the gun shot the bullets.”
“Yup, right into the woodwork,” Bob laughed. “Easily retrieved, undamaged. Goodbye, Mr Ralphs, sorry, Lieutenant Ralphs.”
“She’s yours for the taking, Bill.” Jim had seen Bill slip the photo of Jenny into his pocket, when they burgled the apartment.
“What’s next?” Bob enquired.
“We lay low. Let forensics take its course. They’ll charge him.” Bill fell silent. The next move was not clear to him. “Give it a few days, boys. Let’s think about it.” He wanted to expand the organisation. Maybe it was time. He needed to make a move on the woman too, settle that one way or the other.
“I still don’t know about the blonde.” Bob broached the remaining unsolved issue.
“What blonde?” Jim asked. He knew. He just wanted to force Bob to say it.
“My visitor, Jim, my visitor.” It was true. She did not fit into the pattern anywhere. Having an elegant blonde come round and beat the shit out of you was not just coincidence, and none of them believed in coincidence anyway.
“I forgot about her,” Bill admitted. “Easier for me than for you I guess, Bob. Your intimate relationship and all that.”
“Painfully intimate, for several days,” Bob said. “She’s gotta be someone. You find out, let me know. I’d like to meet again. On my terms.” 

At that moment Diane was with her husband Giles, who had accepted John’s urgent request to come round as soon as he could. Giles had picked up the urgent tone in John’s voice, when John left the message on Giles’ answer machine. The four of them, John, Jenny, Giles and Diane, were huddled round the kitchen table, heads together like good old fashioned anarchist conspirators in Europe of the late eighteen hundreds. So much for John’s idea of keeping the girls out of it and leaving it to the professionals, to the police.

John related to them the curious tale of the badge and the gun. Then he suggested he withdraw for a few minutes while they discussed it. If they believed him, they should call him back into the kitchen. Otherwise Giles and Diane were free to go. He did not doubt that Jenny believed him. Among the three of them, the strong advocate for John’s case was Diane. Her belief was based on her experience with Bob Mitchell. Diane had no doubts that Mitchell was a crook, and she simply could not see John in the same camp as that guy. Giles tried to retain professional detachment but in the end he had to agree with her. Jenny voted for John, and with a unanimous vote they called him back in.

Giles suggested that they needed a framework to think the situation through. He gave each of them his list of suspects, striking a line through two columns, one headed John and the other headed Jenny. Jenny requested that they concentrate on Hadley first, and this was when Giles learned that Hadley was the man who, in this very room, had broached the subject of psychopaths. He was the man who had prompted John and Jenny to raise the subject with Giles. Now they considered the fact that they knew that Hadley was associated with Mitchell, and Mitchell was a man who bore arms in the privacy of his own home, as Diane had established. Giles could not resist pointing out that Mitchell had grounds for bearing arms, if guests like Diane were likely to turn up. This elicited her objection, on the grounds that bearing arms had not done Mitchell much good against her.

Giles listed a summary of Hadley:

Hadley with the voice of the man at the warehouse. A brother? (According to Hadley alone).
Hadley with the two alibis: one, Mitchell, a crook? Duggan?
One man plus two alibis is equivalent to three men at the warehouse.
Jenny questions Hadley and is kidnapped.
Hadley, not even an acquaintance, visits the Ralphs after the kidnapping.
Hadley raises the subject of psychopaths.
Not as bad as John’s profile, according to the police
.

“That’s it,” Giles said.
“So let’s take a look at the idea that he’s framing me,” John proposed.
“Any evidence for that?” Giles asked.
“The Captain. I’m sure he knows something he’s holding back on. Maybe Ross too.” John thought of the meetings where it was suggested he resign.
“I’ll probe that tomorrow, John.” Giles offered. He would find a reason to meet the Captain, perhaps offer his services on the case.
Diane: “How do we take the next step with Hadley?” Silence.
“What would the police do, John?” Diane asked.
“Probably not your approach with Mitchell.” He grinned at her. “Surveillance, I guess.”
Giles: “Can we do that?”
“I don’t think so,” John replied.
“But I could meet him,” Giles suggested. “ He knows me.”
“To find out what?” Jenny asked.
“We’re going in circles,” John said. “This happens.”
“The badge and the gun. Anything there?” Diane addressed the group.
“And the photo,” Jenny said, and remembered she had not told them about the missing photo.
“So let’s keep Hadley as prime suspect,” Diane stated. “He enters your apartment, takes the gun and the badge, returns the gun after the raid and takes the photo.”
Giles: “How does he get into the safe, twice?”
John thought about this. “Same way as he gets into the flat. Lock’s no obstacle. Knows what he’s doing. Leaves no trace. Jenny’s at work. I’m out at Hadley’s, but Hadley’s raiding the bank. Puts the gun back before I return. It works, but why does he want the photo?”
It was Jenny’s turn to think, and then she came out with it. “If he’s the kidnapper, well, he was very courteous, but to be honest the walks in the woods were weird. I kind of felt he wanted me to talk. I did. I was lonely.”
Giles took up the point. “It would help explain why he came to see you afterwards. He might have wanted to justify himself to you. That’s why he tried to explain a psychopath’s way, his way. That would mean that he knows himself for what he is. That’s doubly dangerous.”
“That still doesn’t help us with an action plan, Giles, and that’s what we need,” Diane objected.
“You’re right, Diane, but if we can work him out, crack his psyche, then when something happens we’ll be able to pin it on him, link him in.”
“I agree with you, Giles.” John looked at each of them. “That’s what we try to do. If his motive lies in his psychological make up, then we’re a big step forward.”
“You mean, like, you can predict him?” Jenny asked.
“Only if we are very, very clever,” Giles answered for John. “And we are. A combined IQ of what? Five to six hundred?”
“You must have missed me out, if that’s all you get, Giles,” Diane said with a laugh, and proposed that they move on to John’s bourbon, and give the grey cells a chance to ferment.

The Captain was responsive to Giles’ request for a meeting the next day. He had not really settled into the town. The situation he had parachuted into was dire and was taking all his time. Social life was non-existent. Meeting the psychiatrist would be for him much missed relaxation in pleasant company, an interlude in his heavy work schedule. Giles had met the Captain a couple of times. As he drove there, he was wondering how to play it. When it comes down to it, we need the protection of the police. This idea of investigating privately is mad. If they kidnapped Jenny just for talking to Hadley, what the hell would they do to Diane when Mitchell found out who she was? He could not bear to think. Gradually a plan formed in his mind. If I can hook the Captain on this idea, he thought, if I can just hook him.

The Captain was courteous and welcoming. He barred all calls and ordered coffee. Giles declined biscuits. The two men eyed one another, the one welcoming, the other apprehensive. Giles felt much was at stake, and he was not sure where to begin. Social chitchat soon ran dry. Empathy, Giles thought. I’ll try empathy.
“You have lot on your plate,” Giles opined.
“Couldn’t be worse. Three bank raids. Armed. Homicide. One officer on suspension. And I’m new here.”
“Do they give you help?” Giles asked.
“Hindrance. Investigators. Questions. All that stuff.”
“Can’t you fix the suspension?” Giles was leading in the direction he intended to go.
“Out of my hands, but I think it’s over now.”
“I’ve come round to believing John.” This was news to the Captain, that they had been speaking. “John thinks there’s something you’re not telling him.”
“Anonymous crap. I binned it.”
“Isn’t that evidence or something?” Giles was surprised that such material should be discarded.
“Giles.” The Captain looked at him meaningfully. “Yes, it is. The truth is I have more than enough crap on my hands already, as you said earlier. Personally, I’m not sure I do believe John, but I’m not having my department ripped apart in an investigation that goes nowhere.”
Giles gave an understanding laugh and asked whether the Captain had time for his comments on the situation, in the sense of helping not interfering. The Captain agreed. Giles then launched into his monologue.
“In my view we’re not talking about hoodlums hitting a bank. Two things strike me: planning and ruthlessness. To me the whole thing has the hallmark of a madman, and that’s not John. If our man is a psychopath, and let’s assume he is highly intelligent, he can focus his mind on his work in a way that you and I would love to, but can’t. How do you catch a psychopath?” It was a rhetorical question, but the Captain answered it.
“We don’t. We wait till his overconfidence trips him up.”
“Exactly,” Giles continued. “I’m going to test out a hypothesis on you now. Let’s call our man Bill. Bill raids a bank. For whatever reason Bill sees John’s wife as a threat and snatches her. Maybe he wants to frighten John, force John to back off or whatever, but he changes his plan and releases her. Maybe he gets fixated on her. We’ll keep that idea for later. Now I come to the really strange thing. You find John’s police badge at the next crime scene. John says the badge was in his safe. Think about it. John’s on suspension, so he has no reason to carry his badge anyway, and certainly not when he goes on a bank raid.”
“So he’s being framed is what you’re telling me.”
“What I’m telling you is that it has all the hallmarks of a very clever guy manipulating the situation. Also there’s something you don’t know.”
“What’s that?” the Captain asked, intrigued by the course Giles’ argument was taking.
“John found no signs of a break-in at his apartment, but a photo of his wife was missing. She noticed it. You heard what I said about a fixation. There’s a second thing you don’t know. Shall I tell you? Mitchell, one of Hadley’s alibis, stinks. Carries lethal weapons.”
“How do you know that?”
“You don’t want to know,” Giles answered. “Maybe I’ll tell you one day when I get to know you better. It’s not anything you can use as evidence.”
“So there’s a reason why you chose the name Bill.”
“You’ve got it. It’s a serious accusation, so let’s call it a hypothesis for now.” Giles grinned at the Captain. “I was wondering on the way over here, if it’s possible to set a trap. Why I think it might be possible is because Bill thinks he’s got us. If we let him continue to believe this, we can lead him into a trap.”
“What’s the trap?”
“I don’t know, but let me make another point before we get onto that. First, John is not at risk from Bill. He’s not at risk, because Bill wants to frame him for the bank raids.”
“And jewellery raids, by the way,” the Captain cut in. Giles raised his eyebrows and noted the information, before continuing.
“Jenny is probably not at risk now. I think she is very much at risk, once Bill has had John convicted of his crimes. Unfortunately, my wife Diane is very much at risk.”
“What the hell’s she got to do with it?” The Captain sat back astonished.
“Let me just say, she’s the one who fingered Mitchell.” Giles thought fingered was as good a euphemism as any, in the circumstances. After a few seconds silence, Giles continued, “Somehow, I want it to be clear to Hadley that Diane enjoys the protection of the police. Maybe you can find a way of employing her, get something in the local paper. This is a personal request. Please think about it.”
“I will.” The Captain pondered the implications of what he had learned from Giles this morning. The Captain continued, “The first thing that is clear is that John has to stay on suspension, so that Bill, as you call him, believes his plan is working. Well, that’s the only thing that’s clear.”
“I think there is one other thing,” Giles said. “This man is highly focused on his plan. This is the plan he is executing right now. Therefore he has to do something. He won’t just wait. We need to know what he is going to do, so we need bait.”
“We need bait,” the Captain repeated. “I think we’re going to have to mull this one over.”

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Thirteen

Fourteen

Fifteen