Dennis Marks closed the file and smiled. Another serious criminal removed from the streets of Britain and looking at a ten to fifteen year stretch in one of Her Majesty's maximum security establishments. Since his promotion from DS to DI eighteen months ago his job satisfaction index had risen by a factor of around four. He had his own team of detectives, a budget which was the envy of every other Inspector in the division and a clear up rate which made him the area's top man. This last case had been particularly challenging, involving a triple murder following on from a serious fraud. It had taken them five months to unravel the complicated sequence of events leading to the deaths but a combination of dogged determination, dedicated police work, a few strokes of luck and access to George Groves (the best forensic examiner Marks had come across) had finally wrapped up the case. All that now remained was to send the file off to the Crown Prosecution Service and let them do their work.
He unlocked his top left hand drawer and pulled out a brown A4 envelope, emptying the contents out on to the desk in front of him. The case of Thomas Weston (aka Gordon Marks) was still niggling away at the back of his mind. He had been given a clear hint by the man calling himself Michael Roberts that any investigation into the circumstances of Weston's death would not be welcomed, but there had been no specific instruction not to proceed in that direction. He sat, elbows on the desk, drumming the tips of his fingers together whilst he stared out of the window into the fading light of a November afternoon. Looking down at the black and white photograph of his grandfather in army uniform he knew that he would be unable to resist the temptation to dig deeper into the man's history. He was aroused from his reverie by a goodnight call from DC Wallace, and replying in similar fashion he put the contents back in the envelope and returned them to the drawer, locking it afterwards.
During a holiday the previous summer, Marks and his wife June had journeyed to Belgium and found themselves in the town of Roermond near the German border. In a corner of the town cemetery stood half a dozen war grave memorials, one of which bore the name of his grandfather. As he stood there he wondered just whose body was six feet down in the coffin where history recorded that his ancestor lay. It would not have been too difficult in the heat of battle for someone working covertly to exchange dog tags with a fallen comrade and simply become that person. In the confusion of one of the most bitterly fought battles at the end of World War II, Gordon Marks became just one more of the 1,400 British casualties suffered in the Ardennes Offensive. None of this could be revealed to June of course, who merely believed this to be something which her husband felt he had to do.
That was then - back in the present, Marks put on his overcoat and before departing left a message on George Groves' mobile ostensibly to set up a meeting finalising the case he had just closed. He had one more call to make, and pulling a scrap of paper from his pocket, dialled the number of eighty-four year old Walter Price, sergeant in the same regiment as his father during the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium in 1945. He had obtained the information relating to Walter's whereabouts from the Royal British Legion and after assuring the old man that he was trying to track down a relative, arranged to call on him on his way home. Marks' distrust of the facts given to him by Michael Roberts compelled him to check it out with an independent source, and who better than an eye witness?
The old man, although sprightly, was living with his daughter on the other side of town and it took Marks half an hour to reach the place. He was made very welcome, and having shown his ID card sat down to a welcoming hot drink with Walter and Susan, the aforementioned daughter. He came straight to the point, that he was trying to locate the resting place of his grandfather and believed he and Walter had served in the same regiment in the push against the Germans in late 1944 and early 1945. Marks said he was aware that Gordon had fallen during the fighting but that the precise location of his grave was not known. Walter frowned at this information.
"That can't be right. He survived the battle and I know that for a fact because I saw him after it was all over. There was a lot of confusion, with units becoming separated but I'm as sure as I can be that he was still alive when Montgomery announced the allied victory."
Marks tried to look suitably stunned at the news and asked Walter if he had any information as to what happened to Gordon afterwards.
"No idea son. I tried to find him but you must understand that it was the duty of all of us to report back to whatever remained of our companies. After I'd done that I tried again, but he seemed to have vanished into thin air."
"So you're absolutely sure that he wasn't killed then? What about dog tags, weren't they supposed to be collected from the dead to help with identification?"
"Dog tags! Listen, if you wanted to go missing for whatever reason how difficult do you think it would be to swap with a corpse and take its identity? Things were pretty crude in those days."
Walter's daughter stepped in at this point, seeing her father becoming agitated at the memories, and informed Marks that she believed there was nothing more that her dad could tell him. Thanking them both for their time and hospitality he left for home where he would undoubtedly have to come up with a good line in explanation for his lateness again. Just as he was getting into his car, a call from George Groves to his mobile voicemail stopped him in his tracks. He would not go into detail, and his voice sounded strained but he needed to see Marks at his office first thing in the morning. It was on a matter of some urgency but a return call revealed that Groves' mobile was now switched off. The mystery deepened when he arrived home to be told by his wife that an unnamed man had called at the house only thirty minutes previously. He left a telephone number which, he said, would be manned around the clock - he decided to speak to Groves in the morning before taking any further action.
George Groves was one of those men who never seemed to age no matter how long it had been since Marks last saw him, but his expression the next morning was grave and careworn. He was at the station when the DI walked in and had been there for a good half hour. Marks looked at his watch.
"You're early George what's the matter, can't sleep?"
"Not funny, Dennis. We can't talk here - come on we'll take my car."
He ushered Marks back through the door and round to the car park at the rear of the building. They drove a couple of miles to the Common where Groves said they should take a walk to avoid being overheard. Marks was intrigued - he had never seen George so engrossed and concerned, and was impatient to learn of the forensic scientist's information.
"OK less of the melodramatics George, what's going on."
"You are. It looks like you're getting too close to something or someone. I got a visit yesterday when the rest of my staff had gone home from two 'gentlemen' from MI5. It could have been them that removed the body and effects of Thomas Weston after I was called away from the lab. Don't be concerned for me, there was no threat of violence, but they made it plain that your activities are causing concern at a fairly high level. What exactly have you been doing?"
Marks told him of the visit to Belgium, the churchyard at Roermond and the subsequent trip to see Walter Price. Groves had also been making his own discreet enquiries concerning the whereabouts of the body of Thomas Weston after its removal eighteen months ago, and had been down several blind alleys until he received a Home Office memo concerning the man. He could only assume that he had been copied in to the e-mailed document in error since it was marked up as 'Confidential'. The text of the note was brief, but led him to believe that there was more to Weston than had originally been divulged. Marks took a deep breath. He needed to trust George, after all they had been colleagues for a number of years now. They sat down on a bench.
"Thomas Weston was my father. His real name was Gordon Marks and he was some kind of special agent working under cover for the government. I've signed the Official Secrets Act so telling you this could land me in trouble. Nevertheless you seem to be involved now anyway so one way or another that doesn't worry me at present. I need to find out where he's buried, and it's not in Belgium because one of his army buddies swears that he survived the war. I've already had a visit from what I believe was a 'spook', and no doubt I'll be contacted again. It's up to you whether you want to pursue the matter any further, but I'm damned if I'll let them get away with burying him in some unmarked grave somewhere."
Groves sat silently throughout Marks' revelations and taking a small envelope from his inside pocket, passed a photograph over to him.
"Don't ask where I got that but the man in the middle is, I believe, Michael Roberts. He runs an independent 'agency' within the security services, and the two men with him are the same ones who removed Weston and his effects from my department. I suspect they are also the two who cleared up your crime scene for you."
Marks put the photograph into his wallet, thanked George for his help and they went their separate ways. He called in at home on his way back to the station and handed his wife a plain brown envelope from a locked drawer in the study. He told her to post it if he should fail to return home at the normal time that day. The address was that of the editor of one of the daily newspapers - a personal friend of his. June looked very anxious and asked him what it was about, but he explained that the less she knew at this stage the better it would be for both of them. Thirty minutes later he was back at his desk going through the next set of files which had landed in his department. There was no time for any detailed review however, as a call from the front desk informed him that there were some gentlemen to see him.
He was politely requested to accompany them to a meeting with Mr Roberts, but was left in no doubt that he could not refuse. Getting his coat he informed his sergeant, Pete Spencer, that he would be out for a while but that he was expecting to be back in the afternoon. The car was fitted with windows tinted so that it was impossible to see where they were going, and there was a screen separating the rear from the front seats. One of the men sat in the back with him but it was clear from the outset that conversation was not on the agenda. The car pulled up about half an hour later outside a house with a gravel drive, and Marks stepped out to be greeted by Michael Roberts himself.
"Good morning Inspector Marks, it seems that our paths were always destined to cross again. Would you come with me, please?"
They walked up the steps of a large country house and into a drawing room furnished in late Edwardian style. Marks was invited to sit down and tea was poured by a butler.
"Thank you Jones, that will be all for now."
Roberts smiled as he walked over to the coffee table and picked up his cup. He looked across at Marks and shook his head slowly.
"I understand your motives for persisting in this search for Thomas Weston, but you must let go of the matter. There's more at stake here than merely a lost relative and unless I can find some way of dissuading you in what has become a quest, there are matters of national security which could be seriously compromised."
He walked over to the large bow window and gazed out into the impressive grounds. Pausing only momentarily he turned back to Marks who was, by now, staring at him intently.
"What will it take for you to abandon this search? I have a certain amount of influence in a number of circles and I am sure that we can come to some sort of arrangement. I see from your records that you have become one of the force's most effective detectives, and it would be a shame for such a talent to be wasted."
Marks detected a thinly veiled threat in this statement, and the change in his demeanour was not lost on Roberts.
"We are prepared, if it is your wish, to divulge the location of the interment of Thomas Weston and no-one will prevent your visiting the site. However nothing must be left at the grave which could possibly associate him with you or any member of your family - is that clear?"
Marks nodded, sensing that he could come out of this whole matter completely unscathed if he played his cards right. There did seem to be more to the package however, and he delayed his reply choosing instead to sit back in his chair and sip his tea. Roberts laughed and at last sat down.
"We have a lot in common Inspector Marks and I have been watching your career with some interest. In the eighteen months since our first meeting you have become something of a star and certain faces high up in the force would like to see you progress further so that your talents can be used more effectively. How would the position of Chief Inspector suit you?"
Marks tried hard to conceal his clear surprise at this statement, regarding Roberts with a dead pan stare before returning his cup to its saucer. He stood up, walked across the room to one of the book cases where he feigned interest briefly. Turning quickly around he addressed Roberts.
"Very nicely if you can pull it off. I will however, require the services of some of my existing staff and one or two of them are overdue for promotion themselves."
"That will not be a problem - simply provide me with a list of their names and we have an agreement. I must reiterate though that any thoughts of you continuing your extra curricular search must stop here and now."
Marks arrived back at his office early in the afternoon and immediately telephoned his wife - he would destroy the letter himself that evening. A call to George Groves set up a late lunch at one of the local pubs where Marks brought the curtain down on the Weston matter. Groves was himself curious as to the location of the remains and they travelled to the cemetery indicated by Roberts. Marks placed a small pebble on the headstone of Thomas Weston's final resting place and George looked at him curiously.
"Something I picked up from a friend - it means that I was here. Roberts specifically said that nothing was to be done which could link Weston back to me, but you'd have a tough job interpreting a stone as a bunch of flowers. It would be better if neither of us were to discuss Weston in public again."
At a celebratory gathering four weeks later, Detective Chief Inspector Marks, Detective Inspector Spencer and Detective Sergeant Wallace, all newly promoted, took their leave of the remainder of the station staff before commencing duties in a neighbouring division heading up a new serious crime squad. Marks smiled and wondered who exactly it was watching over his career and its sudden climb into rarefied atmosphere.