Star Press Agency, St Helens
January 11, 1970
I’m bored. My feet are on my desk and I’m listening to Radio Caroline. It’s one of my favourite numbers; Freda Payne’s Band of Gold which followed Mungo Jerry’s In The Summertime. I hum away to the haunting tune staring at the phones on my desk. It is January. The fireworks, the parties – and the hangovers – are now distant memories to be replaced by the grey, dismal days that lead up to a no-doubt even more dismal February. My name is Keith Wilder and I am news editor of the Star Press Agency. I joined as a reporter straight from university two years ago until the last news editor left for a more lucrative job on The Times. Can’t say I blame him. I aim to emulate him in the not-too-distant future. Anyway, the boss offered me his job. At first, I thought it may have had something to do with my talent, but the sad truth is that I was probably cheap. So now I lead my fellow hacks on the agency in assisting to make the boss rich. I think they all have an eye on a job on a daily judging by the feverish way they all take cuttings from papers that have run their stories.
The weather has been in the news of late because of the heavy snowfall after New Year, but it has warmed up slightly in the last few days and so the focus has shifted back to local stories, especially with the voting age coming down to eighteen. I organised quite a few vox pops to support that.
I glance at the pile of papers on my desk. On top is the Times and I notice an item which I must have missed first time round. It is that the half-crown is no longer legal tender. How did I miss that? I empty my pockets and notice I have two. Damn! I will have to go to the bank when it opens tomorrow.
I sigh. Nothing is happening. Has the third world war started and I haven’t noticed? The phones have been silent for the past two hours. I have read all the Sunday papers; the pages that matter anyway. I haven’t even had the usual Sunday crank or nutter wanting to tell me that I will rot in Hell or that Martians have landed.
Sunday nights on the news desk are usually enlivened by people who have nothing better to do than to vent their feelings about the government, the council, or the world in general. And for some reason they appear to think that we have influence over just about everybody and everything and when they realise we don’t, they take off. I have been called just about every evil name under the sun. I’ve heard it all before and if they get too abusive, I simply tell them to fuck off and put the phone down.
I’m really quite a patient sort of bloke, but there are times when I feel generally pissed off with the world and I simply can’t be bothered listening, so I just put the phone on the desk and let them get on with it; picking up now and then to see if they’ve finished.
But tonight, not even the nutters are ringing. I stare at my typewriter, a battered old Imperial, thinking that I might do the nightly rounds which mostly consist of ringing the police, fire, and ambulance to find out if anything is breaking.
I sometimes reflect in quieter moments, usually when I’m holding a pint, that my family wanted me to follow the family tradition to become a joiner or carpenter. I’m beginning to think they may have had a point, but I have always had an insane ambition to be a journalist even when I managed to get into the University of Liverpool to read English. Thatwas even more of a shock to my mum than it was for me. Nobody in my family had ever managed to make it to uni and I discovered later that not that many scribes have a degree. It’s a bit different on the nationals and the BBC but up here, in the frozen north, there is a tendency to view reporters who do have a degree with a little suspicion, so I simply don’t mention it.
I stand up and look around the office. It’s a typical newsroom; paper everywhere; dirty, scruffy, newspapers in great piles strewn around casually; ashtrays full of fag ends; typewriters that during the day fill the room with a loud clatter and bells that sound when the carriages reach the end of their travel. But now it is empty. It is just me and a reporter who I know is in the local pub. He won’t be back tonight.
I slowly walk over to the window and gaze out at the street below. We are in the centre of a Lancashire town called St Helens, not far from Liverpool, most famous for its Pilkington’s glass works and rugby team called The Saints. Before I came here, I truly knew little about rugby not having had the advantage of a posh school education, so I had a steep learning curve to follow because in this town rugby is a religion. And the very first thing I learned was that this is Rugby League country not Rugby Union, words you don’t even dare whisper!
Despite coming from a long line of carpenters and joiners, all I ever wanted was to be was a journalist. I have always excelled at English; so much so that my school entered me into a national essay writing competition when I was just eight. I still remember the subject; it was the RNLI – the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. I can’t remember how many words it was. All I remember is that I won it. Amazingly. Astoundingly. I have no idea how many kids entered; Maybe I was the only one. Anyway, the prize was cash for the school and a certificate for me. I recall thinking how unfair that was; it should have been cash for me and a certificate for the school.
After that I could do no wrong. My primary school had never won a prize for anything before, so I was a hero. I don’t feel like a hero any longer. All the lofty ambitions I had at university; all the high ideals we were fond of discussing in the pub have ended up here, just three years later in a scruffy provincial news agency where our work is judged by the number of words and how much they can earn.
Despite all that I have managed to buy myself a Ford Capri which might raise a few eyebrows considering I earn £37 a week. It isn’t new of course. There was no way I could afford around £900. I got it for £600 mostly on HP but the deposit managed to wipe out most of my savings, earned mostly by a bit of freelancing here and there but I don’t care. It’s the closest I am ever going to get to an E-Type. It is also a 1.6 litre and pure white. It’s the sexiest car I have ever driven, and it pulls the ladies. Who said 1970 was a lousy year?
Just as I am contemplating packing up for the night the silence is broken by the news desk phone ringing. I stare at it debating whether to pick up or not. I decide that if it’s a nutter I will just cut him off. I am not in the mood to listen to the ravings of one our regular lunatics.
I pick up saying ‘News desk’ in a stern voice I use for what hopefully might be a hard news story. For what seems like an age there is just silence at the other end. I am about to end the call when a voice asks for Keith Wilding.
‘That’s me,’ I say, wondering how the caller knows my name.
‘You’re the news editor, aren’t you?’
I say I am and ask how I can help. There is another silence, eventually broken by the voice, which seems somehow detached and unnaturally quiet, asking me if I have ever heard of Bluebell Farm. I haven’t and I tell him so. Another long silence ensues and then the voice says it is on the way to Moss Bank just off the A571. I am beginning to get a little impatient with all this and ask what it is he wants to tell me. The voice sinks to almost a whisper and I can hardly hear him as he says that there is something strange going on there and I should go and take a look. I take a deep breath, and patiently ask what is so strange and why he can’t tell me himself.
‘Just take a look thyself lad. It’ll be worth thy while,’ says the voice in its Lancashire accent, suddenly louder and then there is silence and the line goes dead. I replace the handpiece and sit there wondering whether it’s just somebody taking the piss or if indeed it is worth pursuing. I think of the alternative. It is midnight and the pubs will have been closed since 10.30pm. It’s possible the office ‘local’ will be having a ‘stay behind’ but I couldn’t depend on it so it would be home to a cold bedsit. I decide to drive the Capri to Bluebell Farm to see for myself. If it turns out to be somebody having a laugh at my expense, I will bloody well find out who and they’ll be wearing their guts for garters.
I turn off the A571 and can see farm buildings at the end of a track through fields. As I get closer, I can see lights, a lot of them. The caller was right; the place looks like a bloody Christmas tree; every light is turned on. I stop and stare. I don’t like it. There is something wrong. Why are all the lights on? My instincts tell me to get the hell out of here, but I’m a journalist; a seeker after facts; after the truth, aren’t I?
I switch off the engine and climb out of the Capri and walk slowly towards the front door. When I reach it, I see it is slightly open.
I rap on the door shouting ‘hello’ but there is just silence, a menacing silence. I look around thinking that perhaps the occupant has gone out to get some coal but there is no movement anywhere. It has also started raining heavily. I am not going to hang around in the rain, so I decide to push the door open wider. It creaks dramatically. I shout out again.
I walk along a hall which has one or two paintings of country scenes gracing itswalls. I notice a small table with a phone on top and directories underneath. There is a door to the left. I walk into what must be the dining room which looks like it is hardly ever used judging by the musty smell and the dust everywhere. I call out, but again there is just an oppressive silence, somehow more menacing that it was before or is that just my imagination. I am back in the hall. In front is another door which is open. I can see a cooker and cupboards and a sink full of dirty dishes.
There is one more door to the left. It is closed. I rap on it, calling out yet again. I press the handle down and slowly push it open. It is a sitting room with a sofa and two easy chairs facing the fire where embers are glowing. A sideboard sits solemnly along one wall and on the opposite wall are shelves full of books waiting patiently to be read. There is a strange smell I can’t identify.
I look at the two easy chairs. They both have high backs which face me. It is then that I notice a hand dangling on the left of one of them. My heart begins to beat wildly. I creep up to the chair and peer round.
A man is sitting there, a shotgun resting between his legs. His face is turned towards me, his eyes wide open staring at me, blood still dripping down the sides of his face and jacket forming a pool in his crotch. The top of his head has vanished. It is only then that I notice the ceiling which is a mass of blood and grey bits.
At first, I can’t take it in and then it hits me. I can feel bile forming in my throat. I rush out and manage to reach the doorstep before throwing up.
When my stomach has finished emptying itself on the doorstep because of the nightmare I have just witnessed, I tell myself that I must ring the police, so I step back into hall and dial 999 and tell the operator not to bother with an ambulance because there is obviously nothing they can do for the man in the armchair. There is a short silence and a voice at St Helens Police Station answers – the desk sergeant I imagine. I know him well – Ernie James. I briefly relate what has happened. He tells me to hang on and that a couple of cars will be with me in a few minutes.
I can’t bring myself to go back into the house, so I sit in my car. It is still raining hard. I stare out of the windscreen sightlessly. The image of what I have just witnessed is seared into my mind and no doubt will be with me for many years to come. Who was he and why did he do it? Also, come to think of it, who was it who rang me at the office? How did he know my name? No doubt the police will want to talk to him. My thoughts turn back to the office. I need to get back there to file the story. Maybe I’ll write a first-person piece. That might go down well with the red tops.
I can hear sirens in the distance. It’s not that long ago that they began using them instead of bells. At first, I thought the sirens sounded very American but now I realise it was the bells that sounded really old fashioned and outmoded.
The two cars arrived in the farmyard and four uniformed officers get out, together with two men from CID. I recognise one. He’s an inspector by the name of Harry Lamplight; in his early forties, a decent chap if not a little officious, wearing a trilby and a walrus moustache and an open coat revealing a jacket and a waistcoat.
I climb out of the Capri. ‘It’s Wilder, isn’t it,’ he says, eyeing up my car. ‘How come you can afford that? Ill-gotten gains no doubt.’ He turns and stares at the house. ‘Where’s the body then?’
I warn him that it isn’t pretty and they all head off, leaving one officer standing outside the door. ‘Don’t go anywhere,’ Lamplight shouts back at me.
Ten minutes later he heads back and climbs into the passenger seat. I notice he is pale. ‘Was it you who threw up on the doorstep,’ he asks. I nod. ‘Can’t say I blame you,’ he mutters. ‘One or two officers have had to go to the WC.’
I tell him about the phone call at the office and the odd fact that the caller knew my name. I tell him the caller had a Lancashire accent and is unlikely to be a local. I ask what the farmer’s name is. He looks at his notes. ‘Arthur Jenkins,’ he says. ‘Lives alone. Divorced. We are trying to discover if there are kids somewhere.’
I ask him if it is definitely suicide. ‘Looks like it but we have to wait for the boffins to confirm that. They will be here as soon as.’ He frowns. ‘You will no doubt be filing a story. Do not say it is suicide until that’s confirmed. At the moment we are treating it as an unexplained death. Understand me?’ I nod meekly. He climbs out. ‘Off you go then. We’ll be in touch.’
I’m back at the office. It is almost 2.00am but I might just make the last editions if I pull my finger out. Half an hour later I have put together around 600 words and get on the phone to the Telegraph, asking for a copy taker. I get one who obviously does not take kindly at having to take down a story near the end of his shift, but I insist saying that Ralph the news editor will have his guts for garters if he doesn’t file it, and fast too.
Ten minutes later it is done. I have written it in the first person so with any luck they may give me a by-line because if they don’t, a sub-editor will have to re-write it and there isn’t time. I grin at my cunning. Sadly, despite that I doubt if I will be paid because they know who I work for and it’s the agency who will benefit. The boss will be pleased. Maybe I can squeeze a pay rise out of him. Worth a try. I have to get on and get the story out to the Express and the Mail. I know it’s too late for the Guardian. There will be nobody there at this time of night.
I place a couple of blacks (carbon copies) on the boss’s desk so that he can put the story on the wires in the morning, pack up and head off to my flat. I’m done in. It’s been a long day and night.
I’m late arriving at the office. I have no intention of apologising to anyone after last night. I walk in nonchalantly, head for my desk yawning hugely, ignoring stares from the troops. Out of the corner of my eye I can see that Jerry Reynolds, the boss, has spotted me. He is standing up in his office and heading for the door.
‘Well done for getting it in the late editions,’ he says, arriving at my desk. Jerry has an annoying and slightly disgusting habit of wiping his nose with the back of his shirt sleeve. ‘Were you really first on the scene?’ I nod emphatically and describe it graphically, not just to him, but to the office in general. You could hear a pin drop. I ask if he got the blacks I left on his desk. He tells me that he did and the story is on the PA (the Press Association) wires as we speak.
‘Is there any follow-up?’ he asks. I tell him I would like to find out who it was who rang me. How did he know my name? There is no directory of who’s who in the agency anywhere as far as I know. Have I had dealings with him before? Was he really just an innocent passer-by? I also want to keep in touch with Harry Lamplight to confirm that it is was suicide. I have a niggling feeling that it may not have been.
He gives me a sideways glance. ‘The Telegraph have given you a by-line. It’s on page three.’ I smile a satisfied smile. I haven’t had a chance to look through the papers yet. I wonder what the Mail and the Express have done with it.
‘Well done anyway,’ he says to the room. ‘It’s a major story. There’s obviously more mileage in it. Keep on it.’
I look at the diary and see what is on for the day. We have six reporters, seven if you include my deputy, three of them serving their time, one about my age and a couple of old stagers in their forties. We have the magistrates court to cover as well as the town council. Both need experience which will keep Bill and Richard busy most of the day. I assign one of the cubs, Dot, to go with Richard to the council meeting. She shows promise and with any luck I may be able to send her solo very soon. I think her shorthand is up to it. The other cub can cover a Pilkington story. Some new process they want to talk about apparently. I hand out assignments to everyone.
Richard Armitage is probably our oldest reporter at 48 and my deputy. Why he hasn’t moved on is beyond me. He certainly has the experience. I know he likes a drink or two and perhaps that is the problem. I suspect it cost him his marriage. Despite all that I like him. He is the father figure I never had and if I were to confide my feelings to anyone it would be to him.
I missed having a dad. All my pals had dads when I was a kid and I never understood why I didn’t. I would make up stories about him being in Africa or on secret missions which is why he couldn’t come home. All nonsense of course. It was only when I got to my teens that I really understood why. It was really quite simple. The bastard had got mum pregnant and did a runner.
That hasn’t stopped me wondering who he is; what he is like and where he is now. He is probably dead I would think but that doesn’t lessen my curiosity. Why has there been such a conspiracy of silence? Nobody in my family ever talked about it, not even my grandparents. It always made me think that there must be some truly awful secret for it to be such a closed subject. I tried to talk about it to my mum when she was alive, but she made it clear that it was a closed subject. After that, I gave up. Until, that is, I met my girlfriend Amy a year ago.
Her full name is Amy Sunderland. She was fascinated by the mystery of my missing dad and has been insisting that we should find out who he is and why he deserted my mother. The problem is that there is no father’s name on my birth certificate so we are having to resort to detective work to find out who may have lived at my mother’s address in 1942. Yet another problem is that it was in the middle of the war and records were not as reliable. There is also the strong possibility that he may have been an American serviceman; another avenue we will be exploring. It’s a mystery that is becoming all the more opaque the longer we look at it.
I met Amy on a station platform a year ago when the famous Mallard steam loco was at Liverpool’s Lime Street Station. I have always had a sneaking liking for steam engines and on an occasional day off I manage to get myself into engine sheds by befriending managers and showing them my press pass. Amy is also a railway nut and she occasionally comes with me. I was once told I would never find a girlfriend in an engine shed. They were wrong!
It was a cascade of copper curls that first caught my eye, together with a pair of mischievous green eyes that stared at me inquisitively. I was hooked instantly. After a few weeks we made love in the Capri one night and became inseparable after that.
Quite apart from the sex which was greatly improved when she very helpfully went on the Pill shortly after, I became fascinated by her. I never knew how she managed to persuade her GP to prescribe it; I think I preferred not to know! She is a talented lady, an artist in her spare time, but also a bit off the wall which I like. Nobody could ever accuse Amy of being boring. She is also a teacher, helping young souls aspire to great things, as she laughingly puts it.
My phone rings. It is Lamplight. ‘Thought you might like to know that the boffins have decided that Arthur Jenkins was murdered. It was definitely not suicide. The gun was in the wrong position. His finger or thumb could never have reached the trigger. We need to find your caller. Could you come into the station later?’ I say I will.
Half an hour later, Amy rings. She wants to meet up for a drink later. She thinks she might have found something out about my father.
The walk to the police station on College Street is only a five-minute walk from our office on Standish Street. It’s an old building and rumour has it that it’s going to be demolished next year to be replaced by something more modern and no doubt more outlandish. The craze for demolishing everything in sight and replacing it with concrete over the last ten years, is not yet wearing off, sadly. So, it remains to be seen what kind of monstrosity they will build to replace the police station. Indeed, talking of change, it was only last year that the St Helens force became part of Lancashire Police, much to the disgust of many in the town.
I walk in and say hello to desk sergeant Ernie James, a jolly, rotund man, in his forties with red cheeks and an unruly moustache. I have often thought he would make a superb Father Christmas but have never said so because being called that rather implies you are fat and not everyone appreciates it!
‘Have you recovered from yesterday,’ he says, eyeing me sympathetically while reaching for the phone. I tell him I will have nightmares for months which is quite true. I will. The sight of that head, or what remained of it, will be with me for a very long time to come.
‘I suppose you want to see the guvnor,’ he asks. I nod. I ask him if his wife is any better. I heard she had gone down with the flu which has been striking people down for almost eighteen months. ‘Yes, she is over the worse. Thanks for asking.’
Just then, DI Lamplight pokes his head around the door and nods for me to follow him. I wave goodbye to Ernie James and follow him along the corridor to what passes for an interview room, a grim place calculated to make offenders feel guilty whether they are or not.
As I sit down behind a table pockmarked where numerous fag ends have been stubbed out over the years, Lamplight asks if I would like a cuppa. This is VIP treatment, I think, as I thank him. When he returns, I mention Ernie James’ wife recovering from flu.
He strokes his pencil thin moustache and grimaces. ‘It’s been a bugger. We still have people off with it. His wife Sheila is one of the lucky ones. She survived. Many didn’t. It can’t go on for much longer I would have thought.’
He has a point. The epidemic began late in 1968 and ravaged the country last year with around 30,000 people dying from it. We have reported on many stories of local people who have lost loved ones. Sad really that death from flu is no longer news; such is the nature of journalism.
I tell him, thoughtfully, that we should be grateful it isn’t as bad as 1918/19. ‘That’s not much consolation if you’ve lost your wife, or sister or a child,’ he replies grimly. He’s right, of course and I can think of nothing to reply to that. Instead, I ask him what he wants me to do. He produces a statement pad and a Biro and asks me to write everything I can think of about the caller; what he said, how he said it and if I could hear any background sounds that might give a clue as to where he was calling from. He leaves the room telling me he will be back in ten minutes.
Police stations are never really quiet. There are always voices talking, laughing, arguing, sometimes shouting with doors being slammed and phones ringing and typewriters clacking away. I can hear a real racket in reception and sounds of a scuffle. ‘Somebody helping police with their inquiries,’ I think mischievously.
When he returns, I hand him the statement and he nods his satisfaction. I tell him that I will be taking a reporter out this afternoon to do a bit of doorstepping around the farm to find out what people have to say about Mr Jenkins. While I’m at it we will be asking if anyone has noticed any strangers hanging around in the days before his death. I tell him that if we hear anything of interest, we will pass it on to him.
I knew he wouldn’t object because people are often happy to talk to us where they are reluctant to talk to the police, or ‘filth’ as some local lads call them, especially coal miners who regard the police as being in the pay of the mine owners. St Helens was historically an important part of the Lancashire coalfield.
Back at the office I spot Dot Sykes, one of our trainees, busily typing away. She is our glam reporter and everyone fancies her, including me! I ask her what she is working on and she says it’s a short from magistrate’s court about somebody convicted of a string of burglaries. I tell her she can finish it later and to get her coat on because we are going on the knocker, as it’s called, around Bluebell Farm.
‘I’ve never done that before,’ she says excitedly. ‘What do I do?’ I tell her she will be with me and I will ask most of the questions and she can take a note of what people say. Dot has all the qualities to make an extremely competent reporter and I have no doubt she will go far. She is in her early twenties, intelligent, resourceful and her shoulder-length blonde hair, shapely legs and egg timer figure are enough to turn any head.
We head outside and I stop when we get to the Capri. She has hurried on and turns when she realises I am no longer at her side. She stares at the car and then at me. ‘This is yours?’ she asks, wide-eyed. I grin modestly and tell her that I don’t have many weaknesses but one of them is cars.
‘I bet you pull the girls with this,’ she says laughing.
I don an innocent expression and tell her it never even crossed my mind. She laughs again. I rather think she has sized me up.
We head off. Fortunately, she does not pursue the finer details of my sex life. Instead, she chatters away about how much she is enjoying her training. She is on the final year of a two-year NCTJ course (National Council for the Training of Journalists). I ask her why she wanted to come into the industry. It is, after all, not the highest paid of professions. The hours can be long and varied with bosses who are often unfeeling arseholes. I suppose in some ways you have to be slightly stupid to be a reporter.
‘The last thing I wanted was to be in a 9 to 5 job,’ she says. ‘I would hate to be stuck in an office doing some boring, meaningless, job. I know girls whose only ambition is to get married, have a couple of kids and be a housewife. Not for me. No thank you.’ She says it very assertively. I glance at her and smile. I can see her as editor of Vogue one day.
‘Why do you do it?’ she asks.
I smile wanly. ‘When I was at university, I wanted to change the world, in between smoking pot of course. It took a few years for me to realise that the world is not going to change so I decided on journalism because if I can’t change it, at least I can write about it.’
‘That’s a bit cynical,’ she says.
I shrug. ‘That’s the way it is.’
We arrive at a row of semi’s just down the road from the farm. I tell her that I will ask the questions and she can take a note. A man answers the door, ignores me and stares at Dot. When I ask him if he knew Mr Jenkins, he shakes his head and says that he has never spoken to him but has seen him in the neighbourhood from time-to-time. ‘Why did he kill himself?’ he asks. I tell him that it is looking more like murder and then I stare up and down the road and ask if he has noticed any strangers hanging around recently. Cars parked up for no apparent reason, that kind of thing. He shakes his head, saying he works shifts so he wouldn’t necessarily notice.
We work our way down the row; one lady says she had spoken to him a few times saying that she thought he was lonely after his wife left; another man said he thought he had financial problems.
‘What makes you say that?’ pipes up Dot.
He stares at her quizzically. ‘He used to be a regular at the local pub, The Swan, and then, quite suddenly he stopped going.’
‘Perhaps he went somewhere else,’ she suggests. He shakes his head.
‘Don’t think so love. He had also been selling stuff as well, I heard.’
‘What kind of stuff?’ she insists.
‘Paintings, for one thing. He used to be a bit of an art lover.’
As we move on down the road, I congratulate her. She smiles: ‘I’m not just a pretty face,’ she says. I tell her she can take the lead at the last house in the row. We stop at the door and she rings the bell. A man opens up and Dot launches into the usual questions treating him to a winning smile. Like other locals he ‘knew’ Jenkins, but he didn’t, ending with regrets about his death. But then, when she asked him about suspicious cars or people, the man, whose name was also Jenkins, looked thoughtful.
‘Interesting you should ask that,’ he says.
‘There was one car that was parked up just down the road a couple of times last week. I noticed it because it’s a car I fancied but could not afford.’
‘What was it?’
‘A Rover 3.5 litre Coupe. Dark blue. Quality motor,’ he says enthusiastically. ‘I’d have to win the pools to buy one.’
‘I don’t suppose you saw the driver or took a note of the number?’ Dot asks hopefully. He shakes his head. And then, just as we are about to walk away, he says: All I can tell you is that he must be tall.’
‘How do you know that?’ I ask.
‘Because I was looking through the rear window and I could see his head almost touching the roof.’ He grins at us. I tell him he should be a detective. He likes that and laughs.
As we walk down the road towards the Capri, I tell Dot I will pass that information on to Lamplight. It’s very sensible to stay on his right side, I tell her, because when it comes to tips of what is going on, it is us he going to talk to… hopefully.
‘What is so important about the car?’ she asks. I tell her that the Rover 3.5 is a very expensive car and is usually driven by company directors or senior managers.
‘So, there can’t be that many about,’ she says.
She’s right. Dot catches on fast.
Liverpool city centre
I narrowly beat a bloke in a Jag to a parking space in the car park at the back of Municipal Buildings on Victoria Street in the business centre of Liverpool. He scowls at me and in response I give him two fingers. He probably thinks I’m an arrogant bastard, but I don’t care. Its dog eat dog where parking is concerned.
It’s my day off and I’m meeting the gorgeous Amy who says she has news for me about my father. I am obviously curious as to what she might have uncovered although I don’t seriously think I will ever find out who he was despite all her efforts. My family have successfully buried his identity and it has died with them. Mum was one of seven; three of whom emigrated to New Zealand and although she was one of the eldest, she was the last to die. I have cousins, of course, but the subject of my dad was never spoken about to them either. It reinforces my view that it must have been something truly shocking to be so successfully hidden for so long.
Amy has a flat in a suburb called Fairfield. It’s on the first floor of a terrace house, self-contained with its own entrance, just off a busy main road, Kensington. She doesn’t own a car but then she doesn’t really need one because the school she teaches in is a short walk away and there are shops everywhere. It is also on a major bus route into the city centre. I occasionally spend the weekend there on the rare occasion when I get a weekend off. There is an ice rink within easy walking distance as well and we often spend a fun Saturday cutting a dash, followed by a good session in the pub and back to her flat for adventures in bed. We even get around to eating as well!
My mentor, Richard Armitage at the agency, has been telling me to move to a major paper and not to waste away in a backwater like St Helens. He has a point and although I like the town and its people, I know it’s a dead end as far as a career goes and I have decided it is time I wrote up my cv and applied for jobs. Liverpool has two daily papers, a morning and an evening, so I think I’ll begin with them.
I’m walking to a Kardomah café on nearby Dale Street which is one of our regular haunts. As soon as I walk through the door the waft of ground coffee hits me. I stop and breathe it in. Who needs drugs when you can have coffee?
I like this particular Kardomah. It tends to be the haunt of intellectuals and oddballs. You can hear people arguing about the merits of Sartre or Joyce or the finer points of Malevich and the Supremacist movement. Last week, I overheard two people having a heated row about the merits of EM gauge versus Protofour which I think has something to do with model railways!
Anyway, I spot Amy in the corner so I walk over and give her a juicy kiss and then ask if she would like a refill. She would. She is wearing a gauche safari jacket, which doubles as a mini skirt and has a mock chain curling around her waist. It is partly open at the front revealing a yellow top. Together with her copper hair, she looks a million dollars. I instantly put all thoughts of Dot out of my head.
When I return with coffees and two rum rumbabas, she asks me what I have been up to, so I tell her about the body in the chair. She stares at me, her eyes wide.
‘So, it was you who found him,’ she says quietly, putting her hand over mine and squeezing it. ‘It was on telly last night and in the papers.’ I nod. I can still see the dreadful scene. Will I ever forget it? I tell her that I was not the only one who threw up. So did one or two of the coppers.
‘Judging by the news reports they seem to think it was suicide,’ she says shaking her head. I tell it her it wasn’t, it was murder, and I will be filing a story saying exactly that in the morning.
‘Let’s change the subject,’ she says decisively. ‘I have been doing a bit of detective work of my own on your behalf. Do you remember telling me that your mum lived on Sunbeam Road, Old Swan? I tell her that I do and that one of my earliest memories was of me and my Uncle Alf playing trains on the floor with a Hornby clockwork train set.
‘Well, I thought I would do a bit of doorstepping to find out if there was anyone who lived there in 1942 and who remembers your mum at No 66. Obviously, it was wartime and a lot has happened since then, but I thought it was worth a try.’
I tell her I’m impressed and it is then I decide to get rid of the two full ash trays on our table. We are both non-smokers which puts us in a minority. I can’t stand the stench despite all the ads telling us how cool it is to smoke. Amy looks on impatiently. ‘Do you want to know what I found out or not?’
Once the table is clean again, I sit back and tell her that I’m all ears. ‘Well, just a few doors down from No 66 I came across an elderly lady who remembers your mum, Nora, and her little boy which was you of course. She said this would have been around 1944 when you were two years old. She also remembers someone called Paul who vanished shortly after. I asked her if she ever spoke to him, but she didn’t. She said he wasn’t there for very long and another family moved in with your mum. She said it was your mum’s sister.’
That all makes sense and fits in with what I know and now, at least, we have a name. I tell her she has done really well and that it deserves a Wimpy and fries. ‘Is that all you cheapskate? What about a slap-up feed in the Adelphi’s French restaurant?’ I tell her she will get that if she finds a surname for him. Her response is to call me a tight-fisted swine and to throw sugar cubes all over my suit.
Just then an overweight, florid man in his thirties wearing a kipper tie, stops at our table. ‘It’s Keith Wilder isn’t it?’ he says, holding out his hand. I groan inwardly. People approach me all the time because I may have filed a story on them at some point. I treat him to a fixed smile. ‘You don’t remember me, do you?’ he says. ‘It’s George Moran from the Post and Echo. You gave us the story of the girl who helped save a family from a fire in Huyton last August. You gave it to us exclusively if you remember.’ I do and apologise to him. It was the splash on the front page of the Liverpool Echo in the same edition that had a picture of the first astronaut to get to the Moon. We shake hands and I introduce him to Amy who is staring at him curiously.
I tell her that George is the news editor for both papers. He sits down and asks how life in St Helens is going. I glance at Amy and smile. I tell him that I am thinking of moving and that things have become a bit static at the agency.
‘Drop me a line,’ he says. ‘So, Jerry has predictably managed to piss you off eh? He is referring to Jerry Reynolds, the agency boss. ‘It was always going to be a matter of time. Nobody lasts there. I’ve seen them come and go. He runs a sweat shop but I daresay I don’t need to tell you that?’ He grins maliciously. ‘I wondered how long you would last there.’ He slaps me on the back when I just shrug nonchalantly. ‘Anyway, we can always find a role for people like you. I’ll have a word with the editor. If you want me to that is?’ He stares at me and raises a questioning eyebrow.
The fact that I was about to send an application is something I decide not to mention. It is better to be head-hunted than to be an applicant because it means they are interested in you rather than the other way around. So, I tell him that would be cool. He stands, eyes Amy appreciatively and says. ‘Nice to meet you love. Keep him in line. OK, later days dudes.’
‘Looks like you could be joining the Echo,’ says Amy. ‘You’re a cunning bugger, aren’t you? I wink at her and inform her that I’m a valuable property. She snorts at that and gives me a kick under the table. ‘Let’s go get that expensive Wimpy,’ she says. ‘You owe me Wilder. My services as your own private detective agency do not come cheap.’
There is a Wimpy bar just down the road. I sit while Amy feeds the jukebox. When she returns, she orders a Wimpy Salad Platter 6/- (six shillings; 30p) and I settle on a Brunchburger which also costs 6/-. Both come with chips or fried potatoes as Wimpy euphemistically call them.
We munch away as Kenny Rogers belts out Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town followed by
Elvis and Suspicious Minds. I stare at her and ask if she chose that number deliberately. She giggles and says with a mock aloofness that if the cap fits, I should wear it.
I drop her off at her flat on my way back to St Helens. She invited me to stay over but I am up at 6am on the early shift and I would have no chance of making that after a night with Amy.
I park the car and have just opened the door when I spot an envelope on the mat. There is no stamp; just Keith Wilder typewritten on the envelope. I rip it open and inside is a single sheet of paper. Inside is pasted a message cut from large newspaper headline letters. It quite simply and rather ominously says:
KEEP YOUR TRAP SHUT
The Star Press Agency
I am awake! It is dark. There is not a sound. It is as if the world is holding its collective breath awaiting the coming of the light.
Dawn is a magical time of day. I know it’s a cliché to call it an awakening, but it is much more than just the beginning of a new day. There is a magic time just before dawn when a narrow ribbon of blue on the eastern horizon heralds defeat for creatures of the night; when dreams make way for the dawning of consciousness and the coming day is full of promise waiting to be fulfilled.
In early October last year, I took myself off camping to the Lake District, pegging my ridge tent under the shadow of a tree with stunning views of the hills in the near distance. As I climbed into my sleeping bag that night, I remember thinking how wonderful it woul6 be to wake up to the dawn and watch as the first rays of the sun sliver over the hills. I was not disappointed.
I had opened my eyes to birdsong even though it was dark outside and cold too. I had to put my parka on to light the primus to make a mug of tea. The birds were not fooled; they knew it was that special time just before dawn when nothing breathes in the hour of silence. When everything is transfixed, when only the light moves.
I don’t why I am awake so early. It is the hour before dawn. I know it instinctively even though my blinds are down. Then I remember. The note with its implied threat. It explains the dream full of menacing shadows that became conflated with a faceless figure that I was vainly trying to reach but who was always out of reach. I sit on the side of my bed and sigh rubbing sleep out of my eyes. It is easy to see where all that came from. It must be the mysterious caller who in my dream became intertwined with the riddle of my father.
So, it would seem that the caller, not content with involving me in the murder of Mr Jenkins, is now telling me to keep quiet about it which is absurd. He must know I’m a journalist and that keeping quiet is not one of our hallmarks unless there is a powerful reason.
Up until now, I was mildly curious as to how he knew my name and why he rang me and not the police but now I am worried that he evidently knows my address as well. There is an implied threat in that, I think. Telling me to keep my mouth shut is odd too because he must realise that I have already told the police everything I know and that I have nothing further to reveal. Or have I? Could he possibly be aware of Dot and me doorstepping two days ago. Perhaps he is wondering what we discovered. But how would he know about that? Is he watching us?
For me though the central questions are still how he knows my name and my address. Could he be somebody I know?
I rub my eyes again. Too many questions. I have to be at the office for 6.00am so I wash and shave, drag on a clean shirt and shorts, tossing yesterdays on a growing laundry pile in the corner. I put on my office suit and tie. Reynolds insists on everybody wearing a tie. I regard it as a bit 19th century, but he says it is all about image because we are a sober news organisation not a fashion magazine. I think that is an outdated view. It is 1970 for heaven’s sake. We have just had the swinging sixties. Sex, drugs and rock n’roll and all that. These days it’s all about flares, kipper ties and colour as well as girls on the Pill. Who wants the grey days of the 1950s back?
I stare at my laundry pile again. I will need to go to a launderette up the road later, otherwise I will run out of clothes.
I arrive at my desk and turn on the radio to listen to the Today programme and the mellifluous tones of John Timpson and Brian Redhead. It often sets the news agenda for the day nationally but now and then it will cover issues that are pertinent to the regions. I also look at the diary to see what we have to cover today: there is an ongoing strike at Ford’s, Halewood; there is trouble brewing at Pilkington’s over pay; I will get someone to talk to the unions; accusations of corruption in the council; a murder trial at Liverpool Crown Court and the ongoing flu epidemic which appears to be tailing off. Two stories that are not for us but which are interesting nevertheless is that of MP Will Owen, who has represented Morpeth since 1954, and who has been arrested on charges of espionage and The first Boeing 747 ‘jumbo jet’ is due to arrive at Heathrow airport next week.
‘Softer’ and more local stories is a woman who is celebrating her 100th birthday and a man who claims he can run his car on water. Probably a complete nutter but it’s something everyone will read. That stacks up to quite a busy day. We will have our morning conference chaired by Jerry at 8.00am and then I will begin to assign jobs to the troops.
There is one other task I must do this morning and that is to talk to Lamplight about the note that was pushed through my door yesterday. I have brought it with me and have been careful to handle it as little as possible, in case he wants to check it for fingerprints. As I sip my tea and munch a couple of rounds of toast while listening to the radio, my mind wanders off to speculate what our next step should be now that we can be reasonably certain that my father’s name was Paul. I should have talked to Amy about that but, oddly, it never came up after she had said what her doorstepping had revealed. I must also type up a letter to George Moran of the Post and Echo after Jerry turns down my request for a pay rise which he almost certainly will when I go to see him after conference.
Dot Sykes is the first to arrive. She twinkles at me and informs me that she has written up the results of our doorstepping. It’s just a background piece really, she explains, because no hard news was revealed. It is just what neighbours thought of Mr Jenkins basically and an appeal for anybody who may have seen the Rover 3.5 coupe. I tell her about the note I found on my mat and she looks startled. ‘How did he find your address?’ she asks and then; ‘Does it mean he will come after me too?’ I tell her that I will be seeing Lamplight later and asking that very same question but that it appears it is me he is primarily interested in and so she needn’t worry.
‘Oh, I’m not scared,’ she declares. ‘It’s all part of being a reporter, isn’t it?’ I give her a quizzical look to see if she is serious and decide that she is. I tell her that she might as well get used to threats, bribes, insults and people wanting to screw her. It all goes with the territory. She hands me her copy which I put to one side. I will go through it later.
‘Do you get people wanting to screw you?’ she asks looking at me innocently. I tell her not as often as I would like and pick up the phone to ring Lamplight. I get through to Ernie James and ask him how his wife is. He tells me she is out of hospital. I can hear the relief in his voice and I ask him if he is going to party on the strength of it. He chuckles and says his partying days are over but that he did allow himself a dram or two of whisky. We both have a laugh at that and then I ask if Lamplight is about. A couple of minutes later he comes on and I tell him about the note.
‘Bloody hell, he isn’t messing about, is he?’ says Lamplight. ‘He obviously knows who you are, where you live and what you do. Do you really have no idea who it can be?’ I tell him I really have no idea who would want to play these kind of games, especially if it is him who is the murderer. He tells me to bring the note in when I get the chance.
After I put the phone down it suddenly occurs to me that it could well be somebody I have interviewed or written a story about: maybe someone I exposed for a fraud or some other crime and this is his way of getting payback. The problem with that theory is the murder of Mr Jenkins. You wouldn’t go out and murder somebody just to take revenge on a reporter. Would you? I shake my head in exasperation. There must be a link with something in my past. It’s the only explanation. I will just have to go though my cuttings file to see if there is anyone I have annoyed enough for them to do this.
The troops have arrived and it is time for the morning conference. They gather round as Jerry turns up to chair the meeting. He cracks a weak joke about the weather and we all smile politely. He then hurries on to the diary items and as I list them, he suggests one or two other stories that interest him and suggests individuals to cover specific jobs. I always ignore that. After all, I am the news editor and it is up to me who does what. I will get the more experienced hands to talk to the council leader and the Pilkington’s unions and someone with a good shorthand note to cover the murder trial. I look over at Dot and ask her to go and talk to the nutter who claims he runs his car on water. He will probably say he uses electrolysis. If it works, he will be a millionaire in no time, but I doubt it. Ask him to pour water into the tank while you watch I tell her. And then when she has done that hold a match to the exhaust pipe. If it works, the match will flare up because it will be oxygen. If it doesn’t it’s a fraud. I tell her she can also talk to the 100th birthday lady. I tell her it will be a preparation for when she is old and crusty one day. Her frown tells me it won’t be.
After conference, Richard Armitage stays behind for a chat. I have assigned him to crown court. I tell him about the note and my unease over the mystery caller. He looks thoughtful and says he has heard of journalists being hounded because somebody didn’t like what they have written.
‘If you had libelled someone you would have been sued so he might be trying to fake you out because of something else you have written or it might be nothing more than it happened to be you who answered the phone when he rang. Simple as that.’ I nod and then ask him if he fancies a pint later. Silly question really.
Time to see Jerry about a pay rise. I have already written my resignation
The Glass House, St Helens
I have always liked traditional pubs; places that have a history and a story to tell rather than the modern concrete and glass emporiums that are totally lacking in character or even worse, pretending to be what they are not with fake relics and pictures scattered about; a nasty trend that began in the 1960s when many pubs were ‘modernised’. A modern bar is just a bar, nothing more, whereas a traditional English pub is a place you can melt into and become part of its fabric.
The Glass House is such a pub. What is more its landlord also likes journalists which is good because not everyone does. Mind you, his liking could well be influenced by the amount of money we spend there but that’s Ok. He seems content to listen to our never-ending shop talk and banter which is an improvement on being thought of as drunks, boors, or self-opinionated arses – to name but a few of our better qualities.
It became my ‘local’ when I began working at The Star. I believe it has been the office ‘local’ ever since Jerry’s old man set up the agency in the late 1930s. It also has the advantage of being quite near the office on Market Street.
I usually head there after work for a few pints to commune with the troops. These days Dot, as the only female on the payroll, is often the centre of attention. I think she may have a boyfriend from one or two things she has said but, wisely in my view, she doesn’t really talk about her home life any more than I do. I once made the mistake of telling someone I was an only child which was unwise because people appear to have set views about people like me; we are supposedly loners, screwballs and antisocial misfits. And if I were to reveal I was the product of a one-parent family as well I would be viewed almost as an alien – even now in these enlightened days of 1970! What it must have been like in 1942 I really can’t imagine. Mum must have had a seriously hard time which is why I am a little obsessed in finding the truth about my father.
I suppose, in truth, I am often alone, but not lonely and I am certainly independent. I have had to be because there was no dad to run to. I think people with my kind of history do have a certain way of thinking and, yes, I can be bossy but that does not make me into some kind of Napoleon!
The one person who does know my back story is Richard Armitage who is older and wiser than anyone else in the office. He is also a bloody good journalist with years of experience and if I’m honest, it is he who should really be the news editor and not me, but his face does not fit: quite probably because of his addiction to booze and women and his age. Jerry is definitely prejudiced against anyone who is older than thirty. The fact that younger people are also cheaper doubtless has something to do with it. One of the other reasons Richard and I get on is because he does not suffer fools lightly. Neither do I.
I sit on a stool by the bar and look around expecting to see a few faces from the office but there is nobody here. There are one two ‘regulars’ at the other end who wave at me and I nod back with a smile. Ted the landlord shouts: ‘Usual Keith?’. I give him the thumbs up. He knows what my tipple is, a pint of Walkers, a good amber cask beer. ‘It’s gone up,’ he informs me. When I look at him questioningly, he says. ‘Didn’t you see the Echo last night? They’ve slapped a penny on it to 1/11d (One shilling, eleven pence: just under 10p). The price of beer is very sensitive. It’s headline news even if it goes up by a penny. I’m not a particular fan of the new keg beers like Double Diamond which is everywhere these days. Some pubs will only serve keg beer and there is a new poison called lager which is beginning to be popular. I daresay it has something to do with all the advertising and the fact they are easier to keep.
I spot Richard ambling through the door and signal to Ted to pull another pint. He flops down on a stool and takes a generous gulp of beer. I ask him how the murder case at Crown Court is going, a particularly nasty case of a woman beaten to death by her boyfriend who is denying it has anything to do with him.
‘The bastard is guilty as hell. We know it, the judge knows and so do the jury judging by their expressions. He’s got one of his mates to give him an alibi, but the prosecution will rip that apart when he takes the stand tomorrow. Five years ago, the evil bugger would have swung. They should never have abolished hanging in my view.’
Richard is an inveterate court reporter. Four years ago, he covered the Moors Murders case at Chester Crown Court when Myra Hindley and Ian Brady were found guilty of a series of crimes that shocked the country when they first came to light. Brady and Hindley murdered four children during 1963 and 1964 and buried their bodies on Saddleworth Moor, near Manchester. Lesley Ann Downey, 10, John Kilbride, 12, Keith Bennett, 12, and Pauline Reade, 16, were all sexually assaulted before their deaths at the hands of the couple. Richard once told me how much the case had sickened him.
I ask him how long the Liverpool murder case is likely to go on and he says it should all be wrapped up by the end of the week. I decide to bring up the mystery caller whose activities are becoming more threatening and menacing and appear to be aimed exclusively at me.
Richard is silent for a while staring in his beer. Finally, he looks up. ‘I wouldn’t be too worried if I were you. It’s not unusual for journalists to be targeted by lunatics who feel aggrieved over some imagined insult in a story. In the end they usually get fed up and find somebody else to become obsessed about. I’ve known it happen a few times and to people even more noteworthy than you.’ He grins at me. I can’t help laughing at that.
I tell him that I have just been to see Lamplight to hand him the note who is taking it seriously. ‘I should bloody think so too,’ splutters Richard. ‘That’s his job. Just because you’re a scribe doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have the same protection as everybody else. Lunatic or not, the bastard should be caught, especially if he turns out to be the killer. At the very least he should be called upon to explain his behaviour.’
I ask him if he thinks there is more to it than meets the eye. I tell him that Bluebell Farm is not somewhere you happen to pass because it is at the end of a road. You only go down there if you have a reason.
‘So, you obviously think he is implicated.’ I exclaim that he must be. What was he doing there? If he was innocently visiting someone else why hasn’t he come forward? All we know about him is that he drives a Rover 3.5 coupe and that he is tall.
Richard shrugs. ‘If I were you laddie, I would leave it to Lamplight. You don’t have the build to be an amateur detective. Go back to that house of yours and snuggle up to the gorgeous Amy. She should take your mind off it.’ He digs me in the ribs with his elbow.’
Maybe Richard is right. If I just ignore him maybe he will go and find somebody else to annoy. And if he is guilty of the murder it is up to Lamplight and his merry men to find it out. I tell Richard that the inquest is coming up. It is unlikely to be a mere formality because there can be no doubt how Arthur Jenkins died. The verdict is almost certain to be ‘murder by person or persons unknown’ I would have thought. I tell Richard that it could be worth attending if for no other reason to see who else turns up. I have to go because I’m a primary witness. Our mystery man may not be able to contain his curiosity. A bit like an arsonist who has to watch while a building is consumed by his flames.
We are on our second pints and I know it will run to a third. I decide to tell Richard that I plan to move and that I have sent off a letter to George Moran of the Post and Echo at his suggestion.
‘Moran is OK,’ mutters Richard. ‘Decent type even if he does have his head up his arse at times. You will be an asset there and he’s astute enough to know that.’ He puts his arm around my shoulders and looks me in the eyes. ‘You will be sorely missed here laddie. That fucking idiot Jerry should know better than to let you go. If it wasn’t for the fact that his dad started the agency, he would be lucky to get a reporters job on a weekly.’
I can’t help smiling at that because I have no doubt he’s right. Richard treats me to a wicked smile. ‘And what will the delicious Dot do when you’re gone eh?’ I shrug nonchalantly. His grins widens. ‘What’s the betting she follows you.’
As we leave, I notice a man sitting in a corner. He is wearing a long raincoat and a trilby is sitting on the table next to a whisky. He has his back to us but there is something about his stillness, his rigidity, that make my hackles rise. I have no idea why. I must be getting paranoid if I start suspecting every stranger I see.
I shake my head and follow Richard out.
St Helens Town Hall
I knew I would be called as a witness at the Arthur Jenkins inquest. In fact, I am probably the most important witness having discovered Mr Jenkins’ body in all its gruesome horror. I have reported on several inquests in my time, of course, but I have never been a witness. It’s a daunting prospect, even for a hard-boiled reporter like me!
The inquest is at St Helens Town Hall on Bickerstaff Street in a side room. I have discovered that the coroner is Mr Andre Stanley B.Sc. (Hons), a solicitor. I know him to be a rather stern, humourless man but then I suppose there is not much room for humour in discerning the reasons why people have died.
To his left is a jury of 12. They all look somewhat uncertain and fidget uncomfortably.
I would normally have covered the inquest personally but I can hardly report on myself as a key witness so I have asked Bill Danvers, one of our senior reporters to come along and take a note of proceedings. I would normally have asked Richard, but he is still tied up at Liverpool Crown Court. Danvers is sitting on the press bench along with one or two other reporters. I am sitting with DI Harry Lamplight and next to him is the pathologist. On the front row is sitting a small, subdued group of people who must be Jenkins’ relatives. There are also a few people sitting behind us who I assume must also be witnesses.
I look around the room. It is mostly empty. A few seats at the back are occupied by the curious and I also recognise a few of Jenkins’ neighbours whom Dot and I talked to during our doorstepping exercise.
A hush falls on the room and everyone stands as a side door opens and the Coroner enters and sits at the top table. In front of him sits a clerk taking a note of proceedings. Mr Stanley opens by announcing that this is an inquest into the death of Mr Arthur Jenkins. He looks at the family and thanks them for attending.
He pauses, consults his notes and calls Lamplight who walk to a chair set to one side of the Coroner and clerk. He asks Lamplight to tell the court the circumstances surrounding his attendance at Mr Jenkins farm. Lamplight glances in my direction and tells how he received my phone call in the early hours of January 11th and how he and fellow officers attended the scene and discovered Mr Jenkins body. His testimony continues with the measures they took ending with him saying that it his belief that Mr Jenkins was murdered because of the position of the 12-bore shotgun. He ends by saying that the police are pursuing several leads which may identify the killer.
I am next to be called. I begin by telling them about the mysterious phone call and why I decided to respond. When I tell them about my arrival at the farm I pause, the memory of what I discovered still fresh in my mind. I take a deep breath and then tell them how I found all the lights on and the front door open; how I called out several times and finally entered and slowly walked from room-to-room until I finally reached the sitting room or lounge. I pause again, swallow, and tell them the terrible scene I discovered, leaving nothing out. There are gasps of horror from the family and from the back of the court. I end, rather lamely, by saying that I rang the police when I had recovered from the shock.
The coroner thanks me for my testimony and tells me to stand down. As I do so, I notice another person has entered the room and is sitting alone on the back row. He is wearing a long beige coat and I see he is holding a trilby. Can it be the same man I saw in the pub? I can’t quite see his face because he is leaning slightly sideways and it is obscured by a person sitting in front of him. I decide to take a better look as soon as I can.
The pathologist from St Helens Hospital is called next and he describes, using medical jargon, how Jenkins died and exactly what both barrels of the 12-bore did. I feel sorry for the family having to listen to all that.
A forensic scientist, Dr Caleb Jarvis, is called next and he tells why it was impossible for Jenkins to have committed suicide given the position of the shotgun. As I remember it, the gun was resting against his left thigh, the muzzle pointing to his right. According to the scientist, had he committed suicide he would have pointed the muzzle under his chin and pulled the trigger with his right hand. The gun would have recoiled, the stock hitting the floor and it would almost certainly have fallen flat on the floor in front of him. He then says there are also other reasons for suspecting foul play. On examining the body there were signs of ligatures around the wrists and ankles.
The coroner intervenes. ‘Are you telling us doctor that Mr Jenkins was tied up before he was shot?’
‘I am,’ says Jarvis. ‘The perpetrator then removed the ligatures which was green twine of the kind in common use in gardens. The gun was then arranged to make it appear that the wound had been self-inflicted.’
The coroner then calls Jenkins brother, Alec, whose haggard face stares out at us tentatively. He is asked when he last saw his brother. He hesitates. ‘It must have been at least two months,’ he replies.
‘What was his state of mind then, would you say?’
‘He had money worries. I don’t think the farm was doing too well. He needed help but could not afford to pay anyone.’
‘Was he in debt to the best of your knowledge?’
Jarvis shrugs. ‘He didn’t say.’ He hesitates before continuing. ‘We weren’t really all that close.’ He glances at other members of the family on the front row.
‘Can you throw any light on why anyone would want to harm him?’ He shakes his head and is then excused.
The coroner then faces the jury and outlines the verdicts that are available to them. He virtually instructs them that the only possible verdict is one of murder. They file out of the room.
‘This shouldn’t take long,’ whispers Lamplight in my ear. ‘We may as well stay put.’ I ask him when he knew about the ligatures. He says that it only came to light in the last day or so when he received a full forensic report.
A few people have left the court. I remember the mysterious man sitting at the back and stand up to get a better look, but he has vanished.
‘What are you looking at,’ says Lamplight. I return to my seat and tell him that I think someone may be following me. First, the stranger in The Glass House and now I am almost certain the same man was sitting at the back of the room. I tell him, before he asks, that I could only give a rudimentary description because I have not been able to see the man’s face.
Word must have got out that the jury are about to return because the family are back in their seats. I look at my watch. It has been just twenty minutes. We all stand as the coroner returns. He turns to the jury and asks if they have reached a verdict. The foreman stands and says that they have. It is, as I expected, ‘murder by person or persons unknown.’
Two of the women in the family are in tears and the brother looks distraught. They slowly walk to the door after the coroner closes the inquest and thanks everyone for attending. I follow them at a respectful distance.
Outside the town hall a small crowd watch silently and a clutch of photographers spring to life as the family emerges. There are flashes and a few shouted questions as they climb into a waiting car. As I walk out there are more flashes accompanied by shouts of ‘Hey, Keith, this way.’ More flashes. Looks like I have become the story too. It’s an odd feeling to be on the receiving end for once.
I cross the road and turn to look back at the town hall as the crowd disperses. Standing next to the door is a tall man wearing a long coat and a trilby pulled slightly down over his face. I can just about make out a moustache. He is standing upright and still. Very still.
He is staring straight at me.
Raglan Street, St Helens
I hope Richard is right about my watcher losing interest and moving on to a more worthy subject. The intensity of his stare outside the town hall unsettled me. I am still no nearer knowing why he picked on me. All I did was answer the phone and report the murder. He must have expected that, otherwise why ring? If he wanted it to be kept quiet all he had to do was drive away. In all likelihood, it would probably have been days, or even weeks, before Jenkins’ body was found and by that time he could have been long gone. In saying that, I am of course, assuming that he is the murderer but then perhaps he isn’t. Is it possible that somebody else was the killer and that our mystery man has his own reasons for wanting the crime discovered? If that is so, why all the skulduggery? And why involve me for Christ’s sake?
I am in my little house on Raglan Street. It is only a two-up, two down but its snug. I have lit the coal fire and I am in my armchair luxuriating in the warm glow of the flames. It’s not that long ago that the second bedroom was converted into a toilet and bathroom. Before that a trudge down the backyard was required whatever the weather. It was all a bit primitive but then that is how generations of people lived in the ‘good old days.’
It is Sunday and it is the only day of the week the agency is closed on the basis that nothing much happens. If a major story breaks, I will go in and drag out a reporter and photographer if necessary. And it would have to be necessary because Jerry would have me by the bollocks if it weren’t because of the overtime it costs him.
Loads of people moan about Sunday being boring but I don’t. I like the quietness and the tranquillity. Yes, the shops are all closed apart from newsagents; town centres are largely deserted but cinemas are open. Pubs, however, are only open for a couple of hours at lunchtime for what the Aussies call the 12 O’clock swill. I hate it. The insane scrambling for that last pint at 2.00pm is just lunacy.
I am able to catch up on my reading and have a look through the weekly mags to see what is happening in the world and what the opinion formers are saying. It is beginning to look like Harold Wilson’s government is beginning to crumble but what of the Opposition? I couldn’t see Ted Heath and the Tories in power. That would be disastrous. And I see that Carl Marx’s grave has been vandalised in London’s Highgate Cemetery. Somebody unhappy with his legacy evidently.
I put a few singles on the record player; Diana Ross and the Supremes with their ‘Someday We’ll be Together’ and a Dave Clark Five number ‘Good Old Rock ‘n’ Roll’ and also Marmalade with ‘Reflections of My Life’. I remember seeing Diana Ross at a Liverpool nightclub called ‘She’. It was one of my first dates with Amy and a night to remember in more ways than one because I ended up in her flat.
The bell rings and she is standing on the step with two full bags. She looks fabulous with her copper curls cascading down to her shoulders and her green eyes staring at me. ‘Are you going to let me in,’ she demands. I laugh apologetically and open the door wider. She heads for the kitchen, pausing only momentarily to listen to Diana Ross. I follow her asking what is in the bags. ‘A treat you will enjoy. I am going to cook some decent food for a change. Baked trout with asparagus and potato boulangère.’ She kisses me. I kiss her back and she puts her hand on my chest smiling provocatively. ‘Later cowboy if you play your cards right.’
I leave her in the kitchen and I return to my reading. Suddenly, an idea pops into my head regarding my mystery watcher. I must have been subconsciously turning it over in my mind for some time without even realising it. It has dawned on me that despite Richard’s view that it might all just go away, I don’t think it will. He obviously has a purpose in pursuing me, so I need to discover who he is and why he is doing this. If he really is the killer, surely, he would want to conceal himself and not play games? Anyway, the idea that has surfaced in my mind is to set a trap that lures him into the open. I put down Time Magazine and stare out of the window at the deserted street outside. What kind of trap would achieve that? It would have to be something so compelling that he would not be able to resist being drawn in. I must give it some thought and then discuss it with DI Lamplight who I feel sure will go along with it so long as it isn’t illegal.
I walk into the kitchen to see how Amy is getting on. She is wearing a plastic pinny showing a pair of breasts and suspenders. I put my arms around her waist and kiss her neck telling her that I much prefer the real ones. She giggles and tells me to get lost unless I fancy peeling some onions. I don’t. Onions invariably make me cry. Instead, I decide to change the records. I ask her if she has any requests. She asks for the Beatles Sergeant Pepper’s. It’s a good choice. While I’m in the kitchen I take a couple of beers out of the fridge and hand one to her.
There are times when I wonder what Amy sees in me. I am not one of those men who thinks he is God’s gift. I don’t really think I’m good looking at all. Yes, I’m tall, six feet exactly; slim, some people might even say thin. I did at one time sport a ponytail, but it was always a bit bedraggled because I don’t have thick abundant hair that lends itself to that kind of treatment. And in any case that was in the early sixties when I was going through a trendy phase and into the psychedelic experience. Now I have my blond hair cut fairly short. One or two previous girlfriends were unanimous is declaring my blue eyes to be my best feature. I must take compliments wherever I can find them!
When I was at university, I got in with a crowd that was experimenting with acid. We used to go to a Liverpool club called the Iron Door, pop a pill and sit in a side room and let the world dissolve into dreamy colours and shapes with soothing female voices whispering love and sex into my ears. It was magic. It didn’t do too much for my studies at university, however; I was reading English and my professor was a noted Shakespearian scholar. I think I was close to being sent down in my first year. It was one particular ‘trip’ that saved me in the end.
It didn’t happen in the Iron Door. It was somewhere else and to this day I cannot remember where. It was in a room with wooden walls and I was sitting on the floor having downed several pints and popped a pill.
At first, it was the dreamy colours and shapes and soothing, alluring voices which rather suddenly began to change into angry reds and purple. The room appeared to get darker as if a thunderstorm were about to break and the voices began to become strident and threatening. Then one deep base voice drowned all the others out and it was telling me I could fly. Fortunately, I was not on a roof; had I been I may well have put it to the test.
Then another voice began telling me to kill myself. It was not strident; it was soft and persuasive; soothing even. I tried to stand but my legs wouldn’t work and then, horror of horrors, the walls of the room grew legs and they all began walking towards me.
Apparently, my screaming would have woken the dead. I am told people poured water over me and were slapping my face. Friends took me back to my flat and I slept for 24 hours straight. That was the end of my experience with drugs – of any sort!
I’m still not sure how I managed to get a 2:1 at graduation. I’m sure I was not as surprised as my professor.
Amy emerges from the kitchen, and seductively takes off her apron. I give her an expectant look inviting her to carry on, but she announces that dinner is ready, so I obediently go and set the table. I suddenly realise I am hungry.
The trout is cooked to perfection, baked with lemon and herbs, and with asparagus, my favourite vegetable, and the potato Boulangère is the ideal accompaniment – layers of potato and onion with thyme. I tell her she is an angel and lean over to give her a kiss.
‘Do you think I’ll make someone a good wife,’ she asks innocently, her eyebrows raised. I grin at this because she has frequently said she isn’t interested in ‘settling down’ as her mother cutely calls it. I don’t believe it for a minute and maybe we will tie the knot one day, but I don’t think either of us is ready for that kind of commitment just yet. But this is not the time for a serious chat of that sort. I have opened a bottle of white Burgundy and we fill our glasses and look into each other’s eyes. There is the hint of a mischievous twinkle in hers. I know she is trying to put me on the spot and I laugh out loud.
I tell her that she is perfection personified and that she would hate being wed – to me or anybody else right now and then I get serious, hold her hand and tell her that we will both know when the time is right. I decide it is time to change the subject and ask her if she would like to be the bait in a trap I am thinking of setting for my mystery watcher.
‘Are you serious?’ she asks, an expectant smile lighting up her face. ‘Do you want me to be a Mata Hari and entice him into your web with my feminine charms. I tell her that it may be something like that and I am still working it out in mind.
I move my chair next to hers and kiss her, my right hand gently caressing a breast. We decide to explore each other’s charms upstairs.
Thoughts of traps can wait.
The Star agency, St Helens
Monday, January 19
I have not long been in the office and am munching my way through a couple of rounds of toast with a mug of tea while studying the diary. I am alone and it is silent and expectant: absent is the clatter of typewriters and the cacophony of voices and phones. I was once asked by someone how I could possibly work and think in such a febrile environment. It wasn’t something that had occurred to me. I suppose I’ve become so accustomed to being surrounded by hubbub that I actually find it difficult to work in silent surroundings. I’m sure every journalist who works in a busy office will say the same.
I study the diary. There isn’t much going on by the looks of things. I will assign people to the usual bread and butter jobs; magistrates court and the council and we will do the usual rounds of the police and hospitals to see if the weekend has produced any dramas. There may have been a major accident late yesterday that hasn’t made it onto local radio yet. You never know. Apart from that I think I will get a couple of the trainees working on features. A couple of ideas come to mind: Do the railways have a future in the North West? and Life as a trainee nurse. I think both subjects are likely to find column space in the local rags and perhaps an even wider audience in some of the weekly mags. Who knows? I will give them a couple of leads to follow up, suggest who they should talk to and then a couple of days each for research and a day to write up, on the understanding that they are to be put on ice if something more immediate comes up.
As usual Dot is the first to arrive. She bursts in, panting, looking flushed and out of breath. I tell her with a smile that there really was no need to hurry, I wasn’t going anywhere. I ask her if she would like a mug of tea. I wave her into a chair and she takes off her coat and flops down.
When I return, I hand her a mug and ask if there was any special reason why she was in such a hurry. She takes a deep breath. ‘I saw a 3.5 Rover coupe on my way here. It was dark blue and the man inside was tall because his head was touching the roof. It must be the murderer surely? I had to run after it,’ she explains.
I point out that are probably any number of blue Rovers out there and quite apart from that, we don’t know for certain that the man in the car was the murderer. He is just ‘a person of interest’ as the police would say. I ask her if by any chance she saw the number plate. She did and she produces a piece of paper with it written down. I don’t usually beam at people, but I treated her to one now and told her that she’s a star and that I will give it to DI Lamplight.
Later in the morning when everyone had been given their assignments for the day, I call Dot over and tell her to get her coat on. ‘Where are we going,’ she asks, looking pleased. I tell her that we are going to St Helens cop shop to see DI Lamplight to give him the car number and she can tell him herself exactly what she saw and in what direction the car was going.
St Helens Police Station is not far from the office, but I decide to take the Capri anyway. When we stop at traffic lights, I tell her that I am hatching a plan to trap my watcher and that I intend to visit the farm after I have seen Lamplight.
‘What do you hope to find there?’
I shrug saying that I have no idea. I am simply hoping that there will be something there that will lure him out and we will finally discover who he is and why he has been watching me.
‘The number plate may do that, don’t you think?’ I nod. ‘Yes, it’s possible.’ I tell her that I will drop her back at the office once we have seen Lamplight.
‘Can I come to the farm with you Keith? I may spot something you miss and it is always better to have two sets of eyes, don’t you think?’ She sits back in her seat and then adds firmly: ‘Also, it is only fair that you involve me because I was with you when we were told about the car.’
She does have a point I suppose. There will be mutterings at the office but what the hell, I will probably be leaving soon anyway.
I tell her that if CID are still there we will turn around but if we are able to wander around, she must not touch anything. Also, there is no point going into the house, I tell her, the police will have been over every inch of it. I am more interested in the outbuildings which I suspect have been ignored.
We arrive at the police station and I park up in a visitor’s space. We arrive at the desk and I say hello to Ernie and introduce Dot. Ernie is obviously much taken by her and gives me a wink when she isn’t looking.
‘I suppose you have come to see his nibs,’ he says picking up the phone and announcing that we are here.
‘Hope he’s treating you well,’ says Ernie to Dot. ‘You look like far too nice a girl to be in his business.
‘She can run rings around me,’ I say resignedly. They both laugh at that.
‘He’s OK,’ says Dot grinning hugely at me. ‘I’m sure there are worse bosses.’
I am about to retort that she shouldn’t bet on that when the door opens and Lamplight stares at us both uncertainly. I introduce Dot and he nods for us to follow him. When we reach his office, he looks at me questioningly with a slight sideways nod in Dot’s direction.
Before Dot can say anything, I tell him about the car and Dot takes over and repeats what she told me earlier and before he asks, she produces the reg on a slip of paper and hands it to him. He smiles at me and says: ‘Hang on to her Keith, she’s a bright girl.’
‘I imagine you will be able to trace the address from that?’ she asks, ignoring the somewhat patronising remark.
‘Oh yes and we will be going round to interview the owner.’
She nods. ‘Well, I think we should come with you when you do.’ She glances at me. ‘Keith may be able to say if it is the man he saw in court even though he didn’t see his face. You would have a reason to question him then, wouldn’t you inspector?’
Lamplight stares at her. ‘I have no objection providing you stay out of the way. I’ll let you know when we have the address.’
I clear my throat to conceal a grin and hurry to tell him that if that doesn’t prove to be our man, I am hatching a plan to lure my watcher into the open.
‘I hope you run that past me first,’ says Lamplight. I assure him I will.
On our way to the farm, Dot asks if I have decided how I am going to trap my watcher. I tell her that I haven’t, yet, but my girlfriend Amy has said she is happy to be the bait if needed. There is a silence after that.
‘You may be better using me,’ she finally says. I conceal a smile and then ask her why she would want to put herself at risk. It could be dangerous after all. I glance at her. Her grey eyes are staring at me earnestly. Is it my imagination or she making a play for me and what would I do about it if she is? Or is she just trying to be helpful? I ask her why it would be better for her to be the bait rather than Amy and that she is under no obligation to do something like that. It isn’t part of her job and I wouldn’t expect it.
‘Well, you would want to get a story out of it, wouldn’t you, otherwise what would be the point?’ I glance at her again. She is serious. As baits go, they don’t get much more alluring than Dot. I tell her that naturally if there is a story in it, I would want to do it – and not just for the agency either. I have a feeling that there is more to all this than some madman trying to make life uncomfortable for me.
‘So, you think there is some underlying reason behind this? Maybe you stumbled across something in the recent past that completely pissed him off. You probably didn’t even realise it. Whatever the reason there is highly likely a bloody good story in it and I would like to write it, which I could do if I was the bait. Alongside you, of course,’ she adds hurriedly. And then, as a clincher. ‘Your Amy is not a journalist, is she? I am.’
‘You are beginning to sound like a seasoned hack,’ I say grinning. We look at each other and burst out laughing. I’m not sure how Amy will take it if she is replaced but I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.
We get to Bluebell Farm and drive through the gate. I park in the same spot I did on my previous visit. As we walk towards the farmhouse, I see police tapes in front of the door but there is no sign of anyone. There are three barns or outhouses, one of them some distance from the house. I send Dot to investigate there while I look around the other two. One is full of farm machinery and a tractor and the smell of decay. The other is more like a hay loft, which is odd because there does not appear to be any animals anywhere; no sheep or cattle and no hens clucking their way around the farmyard. What kind of farm is this? I ask myself. How did Mr Jenkins make a living?
I emerge and see Dot waving vigorously at me from the other barn. I walk over thoughtfully and ask her what is inside.
‘There are just lots of plants,’ she says. ‘Nothing of any importance really.’
I go inside. She is right. There must be hundreds, from wall-to-wall.
And all of them marijuana.
Eccleston, St Helens
I found it difficult to believe the police couldn’t be bothered to inspect the outbuildings at the farm. They must have assumed it was a cut-and-dried case of robbery ending in murder, although the fact that Mr Jenkins was tied up must have indicated a degree of premeditation I would have thought. There must be red faces all round following our finding the drugs farm there. It is now clear how Mr Jenkins earned his living and it obviously wasn’t from farming. It puts a whole new perspective on the case. Naturally, we filed a story on it which has been taken up by the nationals. I let Dot have the by-line, her first, which some papers have used but not all. You would think I had given her a Christmas present when she first saw it in the papers. I saw her feverishly cutting the story out of several to no doubt begin her own file of published work. And why not? It’s what I did when I was a cub reporter. It’s only later that cynicism will set in.
The first assumption that it was suicide was an easy one to make because there have been several farming suicides of late, 58 or so I seem to remember, universally blamed on the struggle to make ends meet on small farms in the late 60s and even now in 1970. Most of them were found hanging, either in their out outhouses or from trees.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, through his Sherlock Holmes stories, put it rather more dramatically when talking about the countryside. Holmes and Watson were on one of their many train journeys when Watson remarks on the peace and tranquillity of the countryside as he looks out of the window. Holmes follows his gaze: ‘The countryside fills me with a certain horror. It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.’
‘You horrify me!’ says Watson, whereupon Holmes treats him to one of his typical monologues: ‘But the reason is very obvious. The pressure of public opinion can do in the town what the law cannot accomplish. There is no lane so vile that the scream of a tortured child, or the thud of a drunkard’s blow, does not beget sympathy and indignation among the neighbours, and then the whole machinery of justice is ever so close that a word of complaint can set it going, and there is but a step between the crime and the dock. But look at these lonely houses, each in its own fields, filled for the most part with poor ignorant folk who know little of the law. Think of the deeds of hellish cruelty, the hidden wickedness which may go on, year in, year out, in such places, and none the wiser.’
He may have had a point. What was true in 1892 may also be true today in many ways. Would Jenkins’ weed farm have been discovered if he had not been murdered? Probably not, I suspect, unless a disaffected customer snitched on him.
DI Lamplight’s face was a picture when I told him about the cannabis farm. At first, it registered disbelief, especially when I added that it was Dot who discovered it. ‘Bloody women,’ was his first reaction, then he sighed and said resignedly that it puts an entirely different perspective on the case. ‘I suppose you are doing a story too?’ he had asked wearily, already knowing the answer. He told me that they will be putting out a formal statement later. We will do a second story on that too, of course, which will doubtless include an appeal for witnesses.
In the meantime, we are on our way to the mystery man’s house. Lamplight leads the procession, followed by a car with unformed officers and then Dot and I are in my Capri. Before we set out Lamplight told me that the car is owned by a Mr Archie Danforth, whose address is on Broadway, Eccleston, on the outskirts of St Helens
It’s a wealthy neighbourhood; all semi-detached and detached places with their own garages, some of them built recently, I would have thought. What would Holmes have to say about the people who live around here, I wonder.
We come to Broadway, all the houses set back from the road with lawns in front; in quite some contrast to my place on Raglan Street, I think ruefully. ‘I suppose this is where all the nobs hang out,’ mutters Dot. I tell her that if she has ambitions to live in a place like this, she should choose a different career. ‘You won’t be saying that when I become editor of ‘The Spectator’, she says smiling. I glance at her; the smile is still there but tinged with a hint of resolve. For the first time, perhaps, I realise I should not underestimate this lady. Dot may be young and inexperienced but underlying all that is an ambitious and determined individual.
Our procession comes to a halt outside a nondescript house halfway up Broadway. There is no sign of a Rover or any other car on the driveway. We have previously been told to stay put until Lamplight gives us a signal. He and four officers are standing on the doorstep and as we look one moves to peer through the window and another opens a side door leading to the back of the house. Either nobody is at home or the occupant is hiding. I know Lamplight has a court order to search the house so they will gain entry one way or another.
I decide it is time for us to get out of the car and we do so, standing against the Capri observing all the activity. A few minutes later it looks like they have either found a way to get in at the back or forced an entry because everyone suddenly disappears. We walk up to the gate as Lamplight appears at the front door and beckons to us.
Once we are inside, I gaze in astonishment as we walk from room-to-room. Everywhere is empty, of furniture, of carpets, of any sign of human habitation. When we reach the kitchen, Lamplight smiles at me grimly and points to a note on the front of the fridge. It simply says:
Welcome Keith and friends; you finally got here. What kept you?
I stare at it dumbfounded. Everyone is looking at me. I finally find my voice and blurt out: ‘How the bloody hell did he know we were coming?’
‘He must have noticed your colleague taking a note of his number plate,’ says Lamplight grimly, motioning to Dot as if she isn’t here.
‘He couldn’t possibly have done,’ she snaps. ‘I was too far away, and I was just one person among a dozen others on the pavement at the time.’ And then, as an afterthought. ‘And anyway, he doesn’t know who I am. How could he?’
‘Unless he’s made a point of finding out who works at the agency,’ says Lamplight quietly.
‘He’s playing games with all of us,’ I finally say. I point out that it was only two days ago that Dot spotted the car. Could he really have emptied the house so comprehensively so soon. He must have realised that it would only be a matter of time before his address was discovered. I suggest to Lamplight that he send his men to ask the neighbours when Mr Danforth moved out. Somebody is bound to have noticed a removal van.’
Dot looks at me admiringly. Lamplight looks somewhat less pleased, but I tell her that I know that is exactly what the inspector was about to tell his men to do. It doesn’t do to alienate a senior copper, especially one who is co-operative and a useful source of copy. It will be rather interesting to hear what the neighbours have to say. My betting is that he moved out at least a week ago and quite possibly two weeks ago.
‘Quite so,’ says Lamplight turning to a sergeant and telling him to organise a door-to-door. He frowns and studies me. ‘He really does have it in for you, doesn’t he? And you have no idea why?’ I shake my head but then point out that despite his apparent obsession with me, the fact that he has moved out rather points to him being linked to the murder of Mr Jenkins doesn’t it, otherwise why move out if you are innocent?
‘And then there is the cannabis,’ says Lamplight. ‘How does that fit in I wonder? I’m surprised we have heard nothing about a major drug dealer in our area. I would have thought Jenkins’ name would have come up when people have been caught using.’
I ask if it is likely that Jenkins did not deal with the public but only supplied wholesale, as it were, possibly to people like Danforth? In fact, I continue, there may be other dealers out there who are not aware of Jenkins’ death and who may turn up at the farm intending to do business.
‘In order to find that out we would have to keep a 24-hour watch on the place, and we just don’t have the resources,’ says Lamplight with an air of resigned finality. ‘No, I think we will concentrate on finding Mr Danforth, or at least his car. I will alert patrols both here and in Liverpool as well as Lancashire. We will find the bastard and then we will see what he has to say.’
I have a feeling that even when they do find his car, they won’t find Danforth, if that really is his name. He has been one step ahead of us so far and he obviously has an agenda. Only time will reveal what that is.
Amy Sunderland wasn’t entirely sure she even liked Keith Wilder when she first met him. At first sight, he was attractive in a slightly bookish way; he was tall, at least six feet, with short, almost blond hair with a parting to one side. He also had an easy smile with blue eyes that stared quizzically at the world with ill-concealed amusement. It was later that she discovered a streak of arrogance, an aloofness, that set him apart from other men she had met.
It happened on Liverpool’s Lime Street Station about a year ago when the famous steam locomotive Mallard was paying a visit with a special train for railway enthusiasts. Wilder’s secret passion has always been railways; something that began when he was only four or five when an uncle introduced him to a Hornby train set. So, very often, his days off are spent train watching or visiting one of the preserved railways that have sprung up all over the UK.
It is something that Amy shares with him and she had gone armed with her Greek-style shoulder bag and camera. They had both arrived separately at platform seven to watch the A4 Pacific locomotive arrive. They happened to be standing quite close to each other when Wilder had to move suddenly to one side as a woman with a pram charged past him. In doing so, he almost sent Amy flying. He grabbed her arm to prevent her from falling off the platform and apologised. He glared at the woman’s back as she continued her headlong advance along the platform, oblivious of the drama she had left behind.
‘That bloody woman was using her pram like a sodding bulldozer,’ Wilder exclaimed, his hand still holding Amy’s arm. ‘Are you alright?’ he said, staring at her earnestly.
Her first reaction was to hit him until she realised that it really wasn’t his fault. ‘It’s Ok,’ she said, removing his hand from her arm. ‘No harm done. Just as well you grabbed me though. I could feel myself falling.’ She shudders at the thought of the consequences.
They continued to stand alongside each other as people climbed aboard the train and then they walked to the end of the platform where the A4 was coupling up to its train.
‘Have you ever travelled on the footplate,’ Amy asked as they gazed at the engine. He nods. ‘It was a while ago, but I engineered a Press trip on one of the last steam engines on the railways,’ he said almost casually.
‘Press trip?’ Amy had asked curiously, staring up at him. ‘Does that mean you’re a journalist then?’ He simply nods.
‘Who do you work for?’
‘A news agency in St Helens.’
Amy digested this in silence for a while as an occasional cloud of steam enveloped them.
‘Aren’t journalists drunk most of the time?’ she asked, not entirely seriously.
‘Only when we’re busy libelling people,’ he replied laconically, a half-smile hovering around his face.
‘What kind of journalism do you do then?’ she had asked, curiosity overcoming a feeling that she should walk away.
‘The kind that tells other people what to write,’ came another laconic reply. Instead of waiting for another question he could see forming, he asked. ‘So, what do you do when aren’t looking at trains and attempting to jump off platforms?’
‘I’m a teacher at a primary school here in Liverpool. We go back next week,’ she added by way of explanation. We are a week late after the Christmas hols because there has been water bursts and the classrooms have had to be closed.’
Wilder studied her. He liked what he saw. She was about four inches shorter than him and playful green eyes stared at him from under long copper curls that reached down almost to her shoulders. She was wearing a wool-wrap coat that was open revealing a dress with large green, black and white squares with a wide belt and zip-up boots concealing shapely legs.
They walked back silently along the platform when Amy was about to say ‘goodbye’ and go her own way when Wilder turned to her and asked if she fancied a coffee. Curiosity overcame her instinct to walk away from this enigmatic man and so for reasons she still doesn’t understand she agreed, and they made their way to a café on the station concourse.
As they sipped their coffees, she opened the conversation: ‘What is your name?’ she asked, thinking he looked like a Dave or possibly a Bill. She wasn’t expecting Keith and she informed him that it was a Scottish name meaning woods or forest.
‘You are a mine of information, aren’t you,’ he grinned. ‘So, what’s yours?’
‘It comes from being a teacher. It’s Amy and before you ask it is an old French name meaning beloved.’
‘And are you?’
‘Don’t be nosey.’
‘I’m a journalist. It’s my job to be nosey.’
Instead of answering, Amy decided to divert the conversation. ‘You must meet a lot of people in your business. How can you tell if people are lying or just making stuff up?’ Wilder gets the message.
‘You develop a sixth sense after a time but if you’re reporting a news story you are not there to pass judgement on people, you are there to report what they say. It’s for other people to pass judgement on what they say or do.’
Amy gazed at him, a smile in her eyes. ‘You don’t really like people do you Mr Wilder?’ He simply stared at her. ‘I bet you were an only child, weren’t you?’ she said. Again, he doesn’t reply. ‘Only children are often loners or fruit cakes,’ she said with an air of finality.
‘Those are very profound questions for a teacher.’
‘And that’s a very patronising answer from a journalist,’ she replied evenly.
Wilder smiled thinly, held up his hands. ‘OK, I deserved that. My apologies.’
Amy stood up, hoisting her bag on her shoulder. ‘I think I should go,’ she said.
Wilder stands hurriedly: ‘Can I offer you a lift. My car is just around the corner and by the looks of things it is pouring down out there. Where do you live?’
Amy hesitated. A lift would be useful because she is due to go to her mum’s on Shiel Road for lunch and he is right, it is bucketing down. ‘I live in Kensington. Do you know it?’
‘I go that way to St Helens,’ he replied so they set off walking the short distance to the car park. When she spots the Capri, an ironic grin appears.
‘I can imagine you entertain quite a few ladies in this,’ she said as he opened the door for her.
‘Not as many as I would like,’ came the prompt reply.
‘You’re a real smoothie, aren’t you?’
‘Not to the people who matter,’ he countered
‘Well, if you think you can add me to your score, you can think again,’ she said climbing in.
Amy lives on Kensington and she was brought up in the neighbourhood which used to have a thriving Welsh community. It is a busy, bustling area and her flat is above a newsagent’s. Next door is a butcher and a few doors along, a greengrocer and there are several grocery stores. The school she teaches in is just a short walk away.
Amy loves her job. She is popular with both pupils, parents, and colleagues. Her open personality wins her staunch friendships, and her mischievous humour is enjoyed by the kids. One eight-year-old boy even worships her; gazing at her reverently as though she were the Greek goddess Artemis.
Apart from teaching, she is also an artist and has had work shown in several exhibitions locally. Her speciality is screen-printing but only in a small way because the equipment needed for anything larger is beyond the space she has in her flat. Amy is also an expert Scraperboard artist, a form of direct engraving where the artist scratches off dark ink to reveal a white or coloured layer beneath.
What she didn’t tell Wilder was that she had broken up with her long-term boyfriend Steve just three months ago. They had known each other since schooldays and everyone, including both sets of parents, had assumed that they would marry. But it was not to be.
It is often the case that the person being cheated on is the last to know and so it was with Amy. Dave had met a girl called Phyllis who had something of a reputation for hitting on other people’s husbands or girlfriends and he had fallen fatally under her spell. Nearly all Amy’s friends knew about it after Dave and Phyllis had been seen in an in an intimate embrace in a night club. It could have continued like that until her best friend quietly and hesitatingly told her one night. Amy was completely devastated and there followed many tear-filled nights.
She had finally confronted him when they had gone to the pub a few nights later. He had greeted her with a big grin and had put his hand on her thigh. She had promptly removed it and stared at him stonily.
‘When were you going to tell me about Phyllis?’ she had begun. He had attempted to bluster but she had cut him short. He then began telling her how much he loved her and in response to that she grabbed the pint that was resting expectantly on the table in front of him and poured it over his head. His hair drooped in sodden strands as the beer dripped down his face soaking his shirt. There was a stunned silence and conversation stopped abruptly on surrounding tables as the silence spread like a tsunami throughout the room.
Dave’s mouth opened and closed soundlessly like a netted carp, his eyes wide in shock. Without another word, Amy stood up and walked purposefully and slowly out of the pub not looking at the astonished faces on either side. As she reached the door, she could hear suppressed giggles beginning.
She didn’t look back.
When Wilder’s car reached Kensington, he stopped when she asked him to. For a while they both sat side-by-side in silence. Finally, she thanked him for the lift and had half opened the door when he had asked if she fancied going for a drink or a meal sometime. She hesitated and for some reason she still doesn’t understand she said ‘yes.’
‘I think I could run to a Wimpy,’ he said smiling.
‘It would have to include chips,’ she said. ‘And all the trimmings.’
‘No expense spared.’
‘Last of the big spenders eh?’
She reaches into her bag and finds a pen. She scribbled a number on a slip of paper and handed it to him saying with a faint smile: ‘If you want me, just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you, Keith? You just put your lips together and blow.’
Wilder laughed out loud: ‘Here’s looking at you kid!’