Sunday serialisation – Rory (ret’d) 7.3

Rory Rogerson is 67; an overweight, unfit, retired ‘protection officer’ (that’s PC for hired muscle). He is also a prolific and, by his own reckoning, successful author of crime fiction.

Penny (60) is his headmistress wife and Charlie Watkiss is the bloke next door.

Together, they make a formidable team!

Rory (ret’d). Chapter seven, part three.

Back in Charlie’s office he pulled up Billy’s texts on one screen and Facebook messages on another. The Facebook messages didn’t really tell us anything, neither did his Facebook history. The interesting stuff was in the texts – not the regular ones, but the ones in WhatsApp. I concentrated on them whilst Charlie busied himself setting up the scanning of the voice database hoping to find a match for the voicemails he’d uploaded from Billy’s phone.

Amongst the text messages Billy had received – most of them were the kind of inane stuff you’d expect to find in the mailbox of a young man in his early twenties – were half-a-dozen or so from a single number. Two of them were clearly group-forwards so I discounted them, but the others contained what seemed to me to be not-very-well-concealed instructions to pick up from specified vendors items that had been purchased online as click-and-collect. Nothing in the message identified any of the items or who had ordered them. For instance: ‘There is an item for Jones at the Argos closest to you. Use the attached QR code to collect it and leave it in the usual place.’ An image containing a QR code was attached.

“Can you scan this?” I asked Charlie. He took the phone and came back a few moments later.

“Standard stuff,” he said, “Argos purchase by a John Jones from a fictitious address, to be collected. I took the opportunity to look up the number that had sent the text.”

My eyes must have lit up as he had suddenly aroused my interest. “And?” I asked.

“Not in service.”

“But how can he have sent a WhatsApp message – the most recent only three days ago – from a not-in-service number?”

“It’s a dodge a few people use to have WhatsApp display a number other than your own. It’s normally used by high-profile people who don’t want to expose their real number for fear of misuse by others, but it’s open to being used for more nefarious reasons.”

“How does it work? I use WhatsApp and it’s all based, as far as I know, on a verified, real, current phone number.”

“Too complicated to go into now, but go ahead and Google it when you’ve time. It works – and there’s your proof.” He handed the phone back to me.

“How’s the voice search going?”

“Nothing yet. The database is nothing like as complete as the fingerprint and mugshot sets, so I’m not overly hopeful of getting anything.”

“Perhaps,” I mused, “we’ll need to do something to draw him out.”

“Any ideas?”

“Maybe. But do you mind if I use your loo first?” I asked, “I’ve been bursting since before we left the police car park.”

“Straight in front of you,” he said.

Here’s a question. How many people’s toilets have you come across that have an electronic whiteboard in them? Not many, I’ll warrant. And even fewer with one that’s full of computer codes and formulae. It was almost like living through an episode of The Big Bang Theory.

Back in his office, I said, “Love the decoration in your loo. Didn’t understand any of it but it got me thinking. What I want to be able to do is to fire up Billy’s phone so Mr E will think it’s normal, but do it in a way that doesn’t reveal where it is. Do you reckon that’s doable?”

“I’ll work on it. I can probably do something with a multi-routed VPN and some tricks with the SIM settings. Why? What are you thinking?”

“We’ll find out from Billy where the usual drop-off point is and wait for Mr E to give another pickup instruction.”

“I think I see where you’re going with this. We get Billy to do the delivery, in case Mr E is watching the drop-off point and we mount a motion-activated camera linked to my system here so we can see him when he picks up whatever the item is.”

“Not quite, but I prefer yours. I was going to have us watch the pick-up, but your idea is better.”

“Thanks. We then take stills from the camera and run them through the mugshot programme to see who Mr E really is.”

“Excellent. I’ll go back to see how Penny and Priya are getting on while you work through your VPN plan.”

“Before you do, bit of a potential snag.”

“What?”

“What if he was monitoring and picked up the activity by the police station?”

“If he did, then he won’t fall for this trick and we’ll be no further forward. That’s a possible setback, but not enough to derail us.”

“Unless he somehow figures out what we’re doing, plays along with us and does something to Billy at the pick-up.”

“I see what you’re saying. Can you find out if he’s still able to actually monitor these phones?”

“Alan’s is clean – it always was – but Billy’s is still ghosted. Don’t forget the restore puts it back exactly as it was at the last daily backup.”

“Perhaps we should work with my idea, tailing Billy at the drop-off. If nothing happens to him, then we use the remote camera you were talking about.”

“Deal. Go back to your wife. I’ll call you when I’ve got something.”

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