Monday, 26 February 2007

Chapter 18: One Step Behind

There was time to reflect on the day’s events as I drove us along the haze-covered streets towards Doctor Owen’s house. We had gathered the following facts so far: last night someone walked into the Mantek building carrying a bomb. He or she, most likely a he, killed the security guard at the front desk with very little resistance then went into the lab, broke the lab assistant’s neck and set off the bomb, which was much more powerful than a regular Joe could easily lay their hands on.

The question was why? That would surely lead us to the killer. The answer had to lie in the work being carried out in the lab, which only Doctor Owen or Doctor Forrest would be able to shed some light on. Doctor Forrest was also still missing so my hopes for a quick resolution lay with Doctor Owen.

Agent Simpson had been repeatedly trying to call Doctor Owen on the phone numbers that her colleagues had provided us with, but there was no answer at his house and his mobile number went straight to voice mail.

Why can’t we contact him? Is it because he doesn’t want to be contacted or was it because he can’t get to a phone? Is he in danger? Surely he isn’t responsible for last night’s attack, is he?

I’ve known some detectives to go crazy during complex investigations. There are so many questions, so many possible scenarios that it can feel like the pieces of the puzzle will never fit together. If you couple that with the pressure put on you by senior officers and a detective’s own sense of urgency, a case can get very stressful very quickly. I’ve learned to keep my questions and suspicions in the back of my mind and only draw conclusions when I have plenty of facts and evidence.

Jumping to conclusions in this business is very dangerous, especially where people's lives are concerned. It’s not an approach that is always appreciated by my superiors: they want results and I’ve known other detectives to plant evidence just to get a conviction to meet their targets, but I want to get my man the right way every time.

Since Sarah’s death, I’ve had a one hundred percent record. It’s the one thing in my life that makes me proud of myself.

‘His car’s in the drive,’ Agent Simpson remarked as we pulled up outside Doctor Owen’s three-floor townhouse. This was one of the less dangerous parts of the city. Homicide investigations don’t lead me to this area very often. Most of the time I’m sneaking around dark corners in the projects looking for gang-bangers. This upper class area was a lot easier on the eye but the job in hand was not very different.

We got out of the car and I led the way. In the corner of my eye I could see curtains twitching in the next-door neighbours’ house as we walked up the drive. I had forgotten the different effect that a police presence has depending on the area. In the projects, everyone in the neighbourhood runs into their homes, locks the door and keeps their heads down but in a nice area like this, the residents can’t wait to see their neighbours get taken away by the cops.

I knocked on the door a couple of times but there was no answer. I couldn’t hear a sound coming from inside so we headed round the back of the house. I peered through a window to see that bookcases had been thrown to the floor and cushions were ripped open. I couldn’t see any signs to tell me that anyone was still in the house.

Something was happening in this city and it was happening very quickly. I got the feeling we were going to stay one step behind all day unless we got a major breakthrough.

Agent Simpson looked over my shoulder. ‘Oh my God, what’s going on, Detective?’

‘Looks like someone beat us to it,’ I said as I drew my gun.

I kicked in the door at the side of the house on the first attempt and we made our way inside, into the kitchen. The place was a complete mess. All the cabinet doors had been ripped from their hinges and it looked like anything not nailed down had been smashed on the floor.

‘Anyone there?’ I shouted and waited a few seconds.


‘We’d better not move any further,’ I said, ‘it’s likely the bomber has been here so we need to get forensics down here. Do you have a picture of Doctor Owen?’

‘Yes, I got one from Mantek. Why?’

‘We need to put the word out to all units. We’ve got a missing person to find. I just hope that whoever is doing this hasn’t got to him first.’

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