Chapter Three: Tattoo
In the hospital parking lot, MI6 agent Ian Dennis was standing by the undercover police car and rapidly thumbing through photos related to the Krista Bernham murder case. “I know I saw it. I know I…oh yes, here it is.” He looked up at Winston Permalloo, his liasion with the Mauritius police force. “Don’t you have a better photo of them than this?”
He held up a photo taken by a security camera on the street outside Ms. Bernham’s home that momentarily captured her four alleged assailants.
“Well, not on hand. We have the original stills taken from the security tape, plus the tape itself back at headquarters.”
Dennis immediately got into the passenger seat and shut his door, then called out the open driver’s side door. “Let’s go, Winston. I need to be sure of what I saw. This photo is too grainy.”
Lt. Permalloo got into the car and slammed the door. He liked Ian, but the agent was getting on his nerves. As he fired up the motor, he asked, “What are you looking for?”
Before Ian could answer, Winston shifted into reverse and hit the accelerator, throwing the MI6 man forward as he was putting on safety belt. Permalloo turned, shifted to drive, then started navigating his way out of the parking lot, letting Dennis finally click the latch into place.
“This man has a tattoo on his forearm. I think I know what it is but I have to be sure.”
“Why’s the tattoo so special?”
“Because if I’m right, Bernham’s boy has been drawing it over and over again. I think it will tell us about the man who killed his mother.”
By the time Winston pulled into the police parking garage, Ian had read the police report over again twice. “Says here that all of the other robberies, at least those with reliable witnesses, report there were only three of them. All the other robberies over the past six months were committed by three men, but both Ian and the security cameras say this time there were four.”
Winston killed the engine and set the parking brake. “Believe it or not, we saw that too, Ian. Figured they recruited another man for the latest one, that’s all. What other reason could there be?”
Both men opened their doors, got out and stood. Ian looked at Winston over the top of the car. “Because this time it was an SIS analyst who was robbed and killed.”
They were walking through the garage toward the elevators. “You think this is a copycat crime? Someone deliberately killed Bernham by making it look our gang of robbers did it? He pushed the “Up” button and it illuminated.
“Either that or all of the robberies were a cover for their real agenda.”
“You mean like the old ABC murders.” The elevator doors opened. Three officers who had just come off duty exited and then Ian and Winston boarded.
“Maybe, though for that to work, the robberies would have to continue to throw off suspicion. If they stopped now, it would be incredibly obvious that Bernham was their target all along and not just another random robbery victim.”
In the evidence room, Winston pulled a larger set of still photos, but they were still too indistinct. Then he set up the tape to play on a wall mounted television with a video technician at the controls. Both men watched the playback.
“Stop. Stop right there.” The image froze as one of the men stretched out his right arm and the sleeve of his jacket rode up exposing the forearm. “Is there anyway to enlarge and enhance the mark on his arm?”
“I’ll try, but this isn’t like shows on the telly. There are limits to the technology.”
He was young and he had no idea who Dennis was. Probably supposed he was an investigator from another division. Couldn’t have known the agent had twenty years in the service whilst this fellow was still playing with building blocks and learning to count to ten.
The image enlarged, highlighting the object of the agent’s interest, became increasingly blurry, then more focused, and then… “Okay, stop right there. Can I get some sort of print out of that?”
“Yes, sure.” The technician looked at Winston and the Lieutenant nodded his head. “Okay, be right back.”
During the wait, Ian found a sheet of letterhead and a pen and started sketching. By the time the technician (later, Ian found out his name was Terry Little) returned with the print out, Ian had his sketch ready. He put them side by side.
“So what’s it mean, Ian.”
“Chinese gang sign. Our man’s a Chinese national and I’m willing to bet he’s not living on Mauritius. Winston, can you check recent flights to and from the Chinese mainland?”
“Are you daft, man? Air Mauritus has regular flights in and out of Hong Kong, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Beijing. To trace every…”
“Narrow down your timeframe to just before Bernham’s murder and see if any of those arrivals are going to a Chinese destination or have already departed. I know this is a long shot, but try to coordinate that schedule with security video footage at the airport. If we get lucky, we may spot our man and his tattoo.”
Winston turned to Terry and rolled his eyes.
“For God’s sake, just do it, okay? Meanwhile, give me your keys. I’m going back to the hospital.”
Ian stood holding his hand out. “I want to show the boy this and this.” He indicated his sketch and the print out. Might jog a few more details out of him.”
“Are you sure…”
“Just give me the bloody keys, Winston. We don’t have much time. If the killer is still here, I want him.”
Winston stood and fetched his keys from his pocket. “Here you go.”
“Look.” Ian lowered his head and then looked up again. “Sorry. I’m dead tired. I shouldn’t have gotten testy.”
Winston smiled and put his hand on the agent’s shoulder. “Never mind. You got thrown in the shit the second you got off the plane. Get back when you can. I’ll let you know if we come up with anything in the meantime.”
“I know it’s a long shot, but we’ve got to try.”
“Get going, Ian. I’ll take care of it.”
“Right then.” The MI6 agent turned and left the evidence room retracing his steps back to the elevators. When he was gone, Terry leaned closer to Winston. “Really, man. Who the hell is that?”
“Like the saying goes, mate. I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you.”
They both laughed, but Terry was only chuckling. If that was all the Lieutenant had to say about this Ian, maybe he really didn’t want to know.
“Hi, Ian. I’m back.” Dennis again peeked around the half open hospital room door before walking in. This time, Ian was staring at the ceiling impassively. He didn’t acknowledge the man’s presence at first. Then he heard footsteps getting closer and turned.
“I need to show you something I found, Ian. Can you sit up a minute?”
Ian was happy to see “the drawing man” with his name, but he was acting differently now, more pushy, like when those police people asked him all those questions. Still, the boy pushed himself up in bed.
Dennis laid his sketch and the print out side by side on the bed next to the boy. “Okay, here we have my sketch of the symbol you’ve been drawing and here…”
Before he could finish, the child gave out a short cry, turned and curled up in the fetal position. “No, no, no, no. Go away, go away. Please. Make him go away.”
“Ian, it’s just a photo of a man’s arm. I want to know if this is what you saw.”
“No, no, no. You’re not my friend. You’re just like them. Asking questions. Did I see their faces? Did they say anything. Did I understand them?”
“Understand them? What do you…wait. They didn’t speak English? Were they speaking French?” Dennis was trying to recall the various languages spoken on the island. It had such a varied history that although English was the official language, and French the next most prominent, there was a large multi-ethnic population that spoke half a dozen other languages including several types of Creole.
“…only one, only one. Him, him, him.”
“The man with the tattoo. He was the man who killed your…”
Ian suddenly turned, his face twisted in rage. He repeatedly screamed “No! No! No!” as his fists beat on Dennis’s chest. The officer on duty, the same woman as earlier that morning rushed in. Dennis heard her running from behind.
“It’s okay. He’s upset. He’s not being hurt.”
Ian had collapsed against Dennis’s chest, his body nearly convulsing in sobs. “No, no, no, no…” His voice was fading into a whisper.
“I”m sorry, lad. I had to know for sure. I had to know.”
Dennis looked up at the officer, imagining she was thinking what a terrible person he was for torturing a suffering and grieving boy. He sat on the bed still holding Ian, letting him cry into his chest. He looked up silently at the officer.
“I’ll be outside, Sir.”
He nodded and she departed, closing the door behind her.
It was nearly noon when Dennis returned to police headquarters and realized he had no idea how to find Winston. He inquired at the information desk on the first floor and they called Permalloo to fetch him. The two returned to the lieutenant’s desk where Ian found sandwiches and coffee ready.
“Thought you might be hungry by now.”
Dennis tore the wrapping off of his.
“Tried to remember what you liked and got the…”
Ian had wolfed down the first half in just a few bites and washed it down with a swig of coffee.
“It’s fine,” Dennis replied when he had finally swallowed. “Got anything?”
“We ran passenger lists from all the flights arriving from China in the two weeks prior to the murder and compared them with those leaving for China from just after the crime until now. There are twenty four matches, seventeen of them men, and just for giggles, thirteen of them between the ages of twenty and forty, though we can’t reasonably derive an age of the suspect from the few images we’ve got.”
“I don’t suppose…”
“No tattoos so far, but that’s a lot of security footage. Fortunately, the airport keeps their tapes for a month before recording over them, so at least we have a shot.”
Winston watched Ian finish the rest of his sandwich and coffee while he casually ate his own lunch.
Having eaten, Ian was reminded of just how long he’d been without sleep.
“What’s so important about this tattoo, Ian? I don’t recognize it and it doesn’t show up in any of our databases.”
“Small wonder,” Ian chuckled. “It’s the sign of a highly exclusive criminal gang, assassins for hire. They’re so secretive, we don’t even know what they call themselves, although we’ve dubbed them the Qing after a group of Chinese assassins active during the Qing dynasty. We’ve never been able to capture one alive but there probably aren’t more than fifteen or so active in the world at any one time.”
“Pretty exclusive as you say, Ian.”
“More than that, Winston. They’re expensive. Hire out only to top level international gangs, Russian, Chinese, Vietnamese, plus governments when they don’t want their own covert agents to get their hands dirty.”
“Deffo no robbery, then.”
“We don’t know about the other three men, but the fourth is a ringer. He was only here for one thing, to assassinate Krista Bernham, not the manager for a data services firm, but an analyst for SIS. While you’re continuing the search for our man, I’ll need to see her records, the ones you don’t have access to.”
“Sure you couldn’t use some sleep first?”
“Damnit bloody hell, I wish I could.” Ian smiled weakly. “But Queen and Country first, Winston. Besides, I owe it to the boy. Put him through the ringer earlier I’m afraid.”
“This business is rough on everyone, Ian.”
“I chose it. He didn’t.”
“It doesn’t matter. She’s dead and it’s my job to find out why. She must have known something, something big. If I don’t find out what it is, who knows what’s at risk? With the Qing involved, it could be anything at all.”
As you may know by now, this series is an outgrowth of my flash fiction piece Mauritius Intrigue which introduced MI6 agent Ian Dennis, a man assigned to investigate the murder of a British Secret Intelligence Service top data analyst and who has discovered more than he bargained for.
Here’s the table of contents so far:
You’ve just read the third chapter and there is plenty more action coming up. Let me know what you think.
Chapter Four is called Patterns.