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 three, part three.
I was awakened a little after seven o’clock the following morning by a tone telling me that a text message had arrived. It was from Charlie. The entire message consisted of just three icons or emojis or whatever they’re calling them these days. There was a pair of identical faces and a hand with thumb and index finger joined at the tip, making an O. I took this to mean his software had found a match, though whether it was the prints or image he didn’t indicate. I supposed that as the first pair of images was faces perhaps a facial recognition hit was most likely. I replied to his text by saying we’d be there at nine. This warranted a thumbs-up from him.
Before leaving the hotel, I called the police again. I gave them the crime number and asked if any progress had been made. After checking with his superior, the responder informed me that the case had been closed and marked for no further action. That told me all I needed to know. I agreed with Penny that we should check out of the hotel and go home.
An hour later, I left Penny, who had already enlisted Chloe’s help, to start tidying up, after promising that I’d help as soon as I returned from seeing Charlie. She told me not to rush; she’d be more than happy having a housework-and-nattering session with Chloe. I looked at our neighbour with raised eyebrows. She responded that it was her idea to have a girly morning.
Charlie was waiting at the top of his stairs when I entered. “Quick,” he said, “in the office.”
I followed him in. The fingerprints screen had now fully populated the right-hand panel. In addition to Penny’s, Priya’s and my name, the other six caption boxes had been filled in; four with the name William Henry Sutton and two listing Alan James Sutton.
“Billy and Alan,” I said, “I had a conversation with Billy earlier. He’s a bright lad. First, he phoned me from his mum’s house – I’ll send you the address – then he accidentally told me that his brother’s called Alan.”
“How did you get him to do that?”
“Simple. I referred to his brother as Joe, to which he said that he isn’t called Joe, his name is Alan. He also accidentally let slip that the house he’d called from belongs to his mother but she doesn’t know anything about what he and Alan are up to, and that he didn’t want to involve Alan, but his little brother insisted and he couldn’t refuse him.”
“Anything on who’s in the driving seat or what they want?”
“Only said he can’t tell me. I suspect whoever they are they’ve got some kind of hold on him. Maybe his mother, maybe his kid brother.”
“Have you seen the photo-id match screen?”
“Take a look.”
A green light appeared on the monitor with the prompt ‘press any key to continue’. I pressed the space bar. The screen lit up, split into four panes. Top left was the picture we’d given it, captioned ‘A – original’. To its right, a younger version captioned ‘B – A de-aged to 12 years’. Below that was an image of a twelve-year-old boy looking remarkably like the de-aged photo. This one was captioned ‘C – Alan James Sutton’. Bottom left was an image similar to the one we’d supplied. It was captioned ‘D – C aged by nine years’.
“Impressive,” I said, “So a de-aged image matches one from nine years ago when Alan was 12, and an aged version of that 12-year-old matches the picture from the bell.”
“Checked and double-checked,” Charlie said, “Couple that with the dabs and it’s pretty conclusive.”
“But the police still aren’t interested.”
“Good job I’m here then, isn’t it?”
“What do we know about the Sutton boys?”
“Nothing criminal on file for either of them.”
“So why does the force database have their prints?”
“They were taken for elimination a few years ago. The boys were rounded up with a bunch of other kids after some rioting and looting. None of the stolen goods had their prints on so they were let off.”
“Aren’t prints like that supposed to be destroyed?”
“According to the rules they are. But aren’t you glad they weren’t?”
“And that photo – same thing?”
“No. All the photos from then are either removed for the system or in an area not accessible to the software. The photo of Alan is there because his mother reported him missing when they were on holiday in Scotland nine years ago. He turned up after a few hours, safe and sound. And again, aren’t you glad the local Bill didn’t follow the rules and destroy the photo?”
“I am. It’s beginning to look like we may be able to get this thing cleared up quite quickly.”
“Except that none of this is admissible in evidence.”
“Neither the prints nor the photo were obtained legally, and there’s no trail of the comparison runs leading back to an investigating officer. Your best bet is to get a confession from one or both of them. From what you’ve told me already, that shouldn’t be too hard.”