Roy Grace sent Cleo a brief text telling her he had arrived as he stood waiting for the baggage carousel to start up. By his calculation, it would be 6.15 p.m. in the UK. Fifteen minutes before the start of the evening briefing meeting on Operation Dingo.
He called DI Lizzie Mantle to get an update, but both her direct landline and mobile numbers went to voicemail. Next he tried Glenn Branson, who answered on the second ring.
‘Got your shoes back on?’
‘Yeah, I phoned to tell you that. Thought you might be pleased.’
‘So where are you? You’ve arrived, right? JFK Airport?’
‘Newark. Just waiting for my bag.’
‘All right for some, swanning off to New York, leaving us all here at the coal face.’
‘I would have sent you to Australia, but I didn’t think in your current situation that would have been too clever.’
‘At this moment, the further away I am from Ari, the happier she is. Anyhow, more on that when you get back.’
Spare me, Grace thought. And whilst he would do anything to help this man he loved so much, he was always nervous about giving him – or indeed anyone else – advice on matters that could affect their lives. What the hell did he know? And what kind of an example had his own marriage been? But he said none of this now.
‘So, tell me, what updates?’ he said.
‘Well, we’ve actually been hard at work while you’ve been lounging back, swigging champagne and watching movies for the past seven hours.’
‘I’ve been in cattle class, fighting off cramp, listeria and deep-vein thrombosis. And my headset didn’t work. Other than that, you’re pretty close.’
‘It’s tough at the top, Roy. Isn’t that what they say?’
‘Yeah, yeah. This is costing a fortune. Cut the chat!’
Branson reported on their visits to the stamp dealer Hawkes and Hugo Hegarty.
Grace listened intently. ‘So it really is stamps! She converted the whole lot into stamps!’
‘That’s right. Portability. All the money-laundering regulations. They have sniffer dogs at airports that are trained to smell cash. And three and a quarter million in cash takes up a lot of space. But that value in stamps would take up just a couple of A4 envelopes.’
‘Do we have any idea what she did with them?’
‘No. Not so far. Anyhow, then we went to see Lorraine Wilson’s sister.’
‘What did she have to say?’
‘Quite a lot, actually.’
There was a beep and the carousel started moving. Grace was jostled by two hugely fat men, then an old woman backed a luggage cart into his legs. He stepped back and away from the crowd swarming around the conveyor, to a place where he had some space but could still see the bags. He knew from a stint at Gatwick Airport some years ago that theft of luggage from conveyor belts was common.
‘There’s a lot of noise your end,’ Branson said.
‘I can hear you OK. Tell me?’
‘First thing is, the sister went to New York with Lorraine Wilson a week after 9/11 – just as soon as they could get a flight. They went to the hotel Ronnie was staying at, the W.’
‘The W?’ Grace queried. ‘The W what?’
‘That’s its name.’
‘Old-timer, you spend your life under a stone or what? You need to employ me as your full-time style guru. The W is a chain. They’re, like, considered u"ber-cool hotels.’
‘Yeah, well, my salary doesn’t run to u"ber-cool hotels.’
‘I can’t believe you haven’t heard of them.’
‘Well, there you go, yet another of life’s many unsolved mysteries. Anything you want to tell me about it, other than that I haven’t heard of it?’
‘Yeah, quite a bit. So, some of his belongings were still in the room, and the management weren’t too happy, because the credit card he’d given had maxed out on them.’
‘They didn’t make any allowance for the fact that he was dead?’
‘I presume they didn’t know at that point. He’d booked in for just two nights and left an opened credit card slip with them. Anyhow, the thing is that his passport and airline ticket back to the UK were still in the safe.’
To his relief, Grace suddenly saw his bag appear. ‘Hang on a tick.’ He hurried forward to grab it, then said, ‘OK, go on.’
‘So then they went to Pier 92, where the NYPD had set up a kind of bereavement centre. People were bringing stuff like hairbrushes, so they could get the DNA of probable victims to help identify the bodies, or the body parts. They were also displaying personal items that had been recovered. Lorraine went there with her sister, but the police hadn’t recovered anything belonging to her husband that could identify him, at that stage.’
Grace lugged his bag away from the crowd to a quieter spot, then had to wait for a tannoy announcement to end before he could ask, ‘What about the money Lorraine received?’
‘I’ll come to that – and I gotta dash in a minute to the briefing.’
‘Tell DI Mantle to call me afterwards.’
‘I will. But you’ve got to hear something first. We have a big development! So, anyhow, Lorraine blags fifteen hundred dollars from the officer at Pier 92. They were doling the dough out to anyone who’d lost someone and was suffering financial hardship.’
‘Fair enough at that time. She’d been left up shit creek financially, right?’
‘Yes. Then a couple of weeks after they get back to the UK, her sister said Lorraine got a phone call – a fire-damaged wallet containing Ronnie Wilson’s driving licence and a mobile phone identified as belonging to him were handed in by rescue workers digging in the rubble at Ground Zero. Photographs of them and the contents of the wallet were sent over to her so she could formally identify them.’
‘Which she was able to do?’
‘Yep. Now, the cash she got – the big payments of the life insurance, then the compensation – here’s the thing. Her sister was astonished when we told her. Like more than astonished, like blown-fucking-away astonished.’
‘Not in my view, nor Bella’s. She swung between astonishment and anger. I mean, she blew her rag at one point, saying she’d cleaned out her own savings to help Lorraine – and that was long after, according to the bank records, Lorraine had had the first lump of moolah in.’
‘So no honour among sisters then?’
‘Seems like it was one-way between these two. But I’ve got the best to come for you. You’re going to love this.’
There was another tannoy announcement. Grace yelled for Branson to wait until it had stopped.
‘The lab’s come back this afternoon with a familial DNA match on the foetus Lorraine Wilson was carrying. I think we’ve got the father!’
‘Who?’ Grace asked excitedly.
‘Well, if we are right, it is none other than Ronnie Wilson.’
Grace was silent for a moment, adrenaline surging. Thrilled that his hunch seemed to have been right. ‘How good a match?’
‘Well, this particular familial match means we have half of the father’s DNA. There could be other matches. But considering who the mother is, I’d say the chances of it being anyone else are too remote to be worth considering.’
‘Where did Ronnie’s DNA come from?’
‘From a hairbrush his widow took the NYPD when she went to New York. That profile was passed back to the British police, as routine, and entered on the National Database.’
‘Which means,’ Grace said, ‘that either our friend Mr Wilson had left behind some frozen sperm which his wife, who wasn’t quite so dead as she appeared, had implanted. Or…’
‘Me, I favour the or option,’ Branson said.
‘Certainly looks favourite from where I’m standing,’ Grace replied.
‘And you’re standing a lot closer than me, old-timer. With your shoes on or off.’