When it comes to classic crime writing, Raymond Chandler has to be top of the tree. Inventor of the ultimate in hard-boiled investigators, Philip Marlowe, Chandler had an urgent, waspish style of his own. Much parodied but never matched, it was a style that defined the detective novel and inspired a range of unforgettable Film Noir.
Chandler was American, but he lived in England for 12 formative years. During that time, it seems, he started both scribbling down story lines and crafting characters in the pages of a Commonplace book which has just been unearthed at auction. That master of the world-weary wize crack, Marlowe, has been found here in his original UK-based incarnation. Though how he knew about digital forensics will keep researchers guessing for years to come…
I’m an over-worked, under-paid forensic analyst and have been for quite a while. I’m self reliant or a team player, depending on which version CV I send out. In private practice, so some cops don’t like me too well but I get along with the old F3 crowd OK. I’m unmarried, unless you’re talking about the job. I sometimes put people in jail, sometimes keep them out. I like booze and birds and Homefront, though Assasin’s Creed comes a close second. I don’t do marital cases. Go test CMA yourself if you feel like a hero. I’m British born, bred and bored to death. North Country. Spade = Shovel. Enough said. When I get run over by an old lady in a bath chair doing 90 in broad daylight on an empty country high street, if it happens, as it could to anyone in my business, nobody will give a tuppenny tin stuff.
The Big Creep
It was one of those units that had flourished out of a broom cupboard under the stairs for as long as anyone could remember. Front Reception took ten minutes to locate them on the internal phone system – some measure of the esteem in which the HTCU was held in that neck of the woods.I had just come off the M6 via the M1 and A14. I needed some B12 to straighten up from the experience.
It was a warm day. Felt like Spring. Blossom out and a myriad of complicated scents hanging in the air. Heavy enough to mute the voice of the OIC, anyhow. Antihistamine could’ve fixed it but he hadn’t figured that yet. His tight throat squeaked out a welcome as honest as a tart’s kiss. I responded, watching him look me over the whole time. He never offered a hand. Traditional stand-off. Prosecution versus Defence. It was going to be one of those mornings.
He was a funny little man. Mouse like and balding. Middle age had caught up with him but the comb-across was still running away. Well, trying. The room they put us in was about 12’ by 12’. It was hot in there and he quickly removed his jacket. Seemed to me he was glad to do so, though he managed the news well. An empty gun holster swung loosely under one arm. Almost moved me to compassion: I guessed it was intended as an implicit threat but the void spoke more of impotence. However you read it, it was way OTT for CID transporting a suspect computer with fewer than 10 level 1 to 2’s between police premises.
There were two tables in the room. The Advent netbook was on one of them, set out neatly on an antistatic mat. It looked small and innocent. Too small to cause as much trouble as it had. I hesitated for a minute, sweat rising on the back of my neck. Could be a Zif drive in there, after all. Hadn’t re-read the statement from the other side in my rush and was going on the memory of a regular 120 gig SATA. Maybe should have packed the adaptor. The door swung open and my Oppo walked through. ‘Hi’, he beamed. Genuine smile, this time.‘How are you? Haven’t seen you in a while.’
The £20 I’d spent on an industry workshop which was ultimately hijacked for advertising by So Smug three years previously suddenly returned on the investment. We shook hands and got down to geek speak. The rest of the two hours it took to wrap the job was pretty much plain sailing. The relative merits of EnCase and FTK, Logicubes and Tableaus, Digestives and Hobnobs – we gabbled through the whole gamut of forensic experience, emerging happier and sadder by lunchtime. Except for the OIC, that is. His eyes wore that glazed, road kill kind of look. Had done since the second technical term flew past. But that was his problem.
The day was still beautiful as I turned my battered Brough Superior onto the road back. I let my mind loosen up as the accelerator went down. The holiday didn’t last long. The guy at the other end of the phone was a PI that’d called before. The ice in my voice said he’d used up his share of free technical help.
“Can you do a Nokia 7210?”
“Sure,” I said, “What do you want off it?”
“Uh huh. Who’s this for?”
“Husband who’s suspicious about his high-flying executive wife.”
“Told you before, I don’t do marital.”
“It’s business. They’re in business together.”
Yeah, right. I thought. The pigs’ll be coming over in formation any time now.
“So the rival’s commercial or physical?”
“Maybe both. What do you care?”
“And who owns the phone?”
You sure learn fast, buddy.
“And he’ll sign for that?”
“Yes. How much will it be?”
“Same as the last one, unless you want a Statement to go with it.”
“Someone else has quoted less.”
“Yeah. Seventy-five quid. Put it in the post. No questions asked.”
“Let me guess… The guy in the Midlands. Says he’s a forensic analyst but he’s a regular PI fronting for another outfit.”
“So go right ahead and use him. I’m not interested in a bidding war.”
I closed the phone with an angry expletive. The guy in the Midlands was getting to be a regular irritation. Like the people he was fronting for. It was a real forensics shop alright but the business strategy was about as subtle as Galliano on Glass. It hadn’t improved any since they lost that big LE contract, either. They were spending plenty on online advertising, that was for sure. You could Google ‘One-legged menopausal mothers for moral rearmament’ and their logo would turn up. Can’t beat target marketing.
I knew the main man there. Had done for years. His huge, hulking frame would shamble into all the usual conferences and then hover in some corner like a great cloud of gloom. Wasn’t all that popular, except with the other ex-military types. You could see why. He never approached anyone unless he smelt a business lead. And he always wore the same face. Solid. Expressionless. Last time it smiled, that face was around four months old and about to bring back wind.
For all his physical bulk, Cain Calico left no personal impression. There was nothing to leave. He was a cipher character. Just put there to move the world plot along. Though it was hard to see how. I was still angry enough at the PI’s call to think maybe it was to throw another spanner in the works of my life. Why not? There were enough in there to fix a fleet of Boeings already.
Calico had been trying to muscle in on the PI market for some time. He wanted to join the UK’s biggest representative group but couldn’t without endorsement from two existing, long term members. So he looked through the list of names until he found one he knew. It was mine. The email he sent was as blunt as his features. Told me how I was going to endorse him. Like I’m some 404 aching to hand over hard won clients on a plate. I didn’t trust myself to answer, so ignored it, though the audacity stung. Next thing, I stumble on his alternative route. The guy in the Midlands. The connection was too easy to miss. When he started putting himself around as a forensic ‘expert’, I decided to check him out. Found him on LinkedIn, though he wasn’t shouting about being a PI. The entry told a different story, three line wonder that it was. But the location matched. And there was one contact. Calico.