Rodney Street, Liverpool.
Monday, January 29
It is a bitterly late January day, a piercing east wind blowing a dusting of snow over the roofs and pavements on Rodney Street on the edge of Liverpool’s picturesque Georgian Quarter. It is late afternoon and dark already, the yellow street lamps casting shadows on the pavements as office workers lean against the wind, their collars drawn up as they hurry to catch their buses home.
I am looking out from my first-floor window at the wintry scene below, having abandoned the day’s art endeavour, a canvas I have been working on for weeks and which is defying all my attempts to get it right. It is needed for an exhibition in two months and I know I need to put in the time. The problem is that I can only really work in daylight and there is precious little of that around.
But I am a little perplexed and concerned right now. A few minutes ago, I received a text from an author friend I met a few months ago while in a beauty spot called Beddgelert in North Wales. Her name is Joy Davis and she has a picture postcard cottage there which she stays in to create her children’s stories. I must confess I haven’t read any of them, but I’m told they are hugely popular. The publisher must love her!
Anyway, her text simply said she had left him. It was strangely terse and completely out of character for her. She must be feeling desolate and would have been more likely to ring rather than just text. She would have wanted to tell me all about it; maybe meet up for a drink and a chat. I am concerned because, when I rang back to ask if she is OK, it just rang out. I have tried a few times since but with the same result. I am not too sure what to do. Why does she not pick up? I feel uneasy.
I like Joy. She is fun to be with. She is intelligent and creative, and she has been a regular visitor to Rodney Street.
We first met in Beddgelert at a restaurant in the village when sitting at separate tables. It was a busy day and the manager asked if we would mind sharing. We glanced at each other and she treated me to an infectious grin. ‘They’re always doing that,’ she whispered when I joined her and sat down. ‘They’ll bribe us with a free drink in a minute.’ She winked at me as the manager approached and asked if we would like a drink on the house. We both had a gin and tonic. ‘It’s the least you can do Evan,’ she retorted, eyeing him up sternly. ‘You should bring a bottle too considering all the money you’re making.’ His largesse, however, did not extend to a free bottle of wine. He walked away pretending not to hear. He was evidently quite accustomed to Joy’s taunts.
Joy is slim, her dark brown hair framing a friendly oval face with brown understanding eyes that twinkle with laughter. ‘Do you come here a lot?’ I asked her. ‘Only when I want peace and quiet,’ she replied frowning slightly. We compared notes and discovered that we both live in Liverpool, she in the leafy south as the newspapers term it, and I in the city centre. She was genuinely interested in my art and I was equally fascinated by how she crafts her tales. It was a really pleasant lunch and two hours just flew by. Since then we have kept in touch. I have visited her house and she has been a regular visitor to Rodney Street, saying she envied me living in the city centre.
Anyway, her text, which arrived a few minutes ago, simply said she had left him. I knew her marriage was a bit rocky and perhaps that is putting it mildly, but I had no idea that it had become so unbearable that she was on the point of walking out on him.
I have met her husband Jon a few times since we became friends and I can’t say that I like him. There is something about him that makes me wary. I can’t quite put my finger on it. All I know is that he is not what he seems.
A few moments ago, I sent her a text asking if she was alright and to come to Rodney Street if she needs to. So far, there has been no response. I don’t like that. It makes me scared.
Anyway, in a couple of hours, I will be at my usual table at a pub in south Liverpool for the weekly psychic session. Quite apart from helping to pay the rent I quite enjoy meeting people, many of whom have become regulars.
My list is usually over-subscribed ever since my involvement in helping to resolve a conspiracy last year in which my psychic abilities played such a decisive part. Since then I am regularly consulted over missing people; sometimes I can help and sometimes I cannot.
There has also been a lot of media interest and I have often been asked about my psychic abilities, most often because there are people who regard it all as a bit freaky. I suspect they think of me as almost a witch with a pointed hat and broomstick and nothing could be further from the truth. To me it is as normal as breathing. And that’s exactly it. I am a normal woman of slender build, around 29, 5ft 8in tall with casual, shoulder-length blonde hair surrounding a serious face and grey eyes. I have been told that my eyes have a magnetic quality. I’m not too sure whether that’s good or bad. They are what they are I suppose.
Ever since I was a little girl, I have been able to pick up on things that people around me could not. I felt things, heard things, and even saw things that I could not explain. When it first happened when I was about eight, I was terrified and told my mum who rushed me to the doctor, but after all kinds of tests they just shrugged and said I appeared to be entirely normal. After that, I learned to keep my mouth shut.
But it’s an ability that has had its uses over the years. I have always been able to tell when someone is dishonest with me. When I was little, I had no idea how I knew. I just knew. I also knew instantly which people I should steer clear of because they were untrustworthy or sly. I always knew something was different about me. I just didn’t know what it was until later in life.
When I was little, I would see people in my room at night and I had paralysing nightmares well into my twenties. I dreaded being alone because I never felt I was. I spent most of my childhood feeling uneasy.
I get around fifty messages a day. The nights are the worst because they come to me in the form of dreams: I have very powerful, imaginative dreams. I’ll pick up things about the future. Sometimes they are specific messages about people I know; other times they are about strangers which doesn’t make sense at all. Either way, I always wake up and remember them.
Psychic messages come to me in various guises – a shiver, a cobwebby feeling over my body, an itch or just a flash, a brief vision. It’s then up to me whether I want to focus on the feeling and what it is telling me.
Earlier today DCI Ken Salisbury from the local Police called round to the apartment. I met him last year during the stolen files investigation during which I was abducted, and I know him to be a kindly man and a copper of the old school. He has a round, beaming face, just a fringe of hair and a ready smile, but with eyes that miss nothing. I know he thinks my psychic stuff, as he calls it, is all nonsense and that I make it up, but at least he humours me because he knows I get results which is why he calls round when he has a particularly baffling problem.
Accompanying him is DS Bannon, a sharp dresser with a No.2 haircut and film-star gleaming teeth of which he is obviously proud. During the last case we were jointly involved in I got the distinct impression he was working his way up to dating me, and I realised that despite the swagger, the smile and the smart suits, DS Bannon is fundamentally shy.
Salisbury has made a point of calling round to check up on me after my abduction, and I have come to regard him almost as a father figure. After giving me a hug, watched by Bannon, awkwardly standing by, he announced the reason for calling round.
‘I think we have one for you and your skills, Naomi. It’s a really strange one this time, and we have no leads, apart from a husband I am deeply suspicious of.’
‘You are going to talk about Joy Davis, aren’t you Chief Inspector?’
‘Yes, I am,’ he says looking surprised.
‘She sent me a text not long ago saying she has left him.
‘Why you?’ he asks.
‘We have been friends for a few months. I have a lot of time for Joy. In my text, I told her to come here if she needs to.’
‘Any response?’ I shake my head. ‘I’m a bit worried.’
‘It’s really strange,’ Bannon pipes in. ‘According to the husband, she said she needed to be on her own for a while and was going to their cottage in Beddgelert but she doesn’t appear to have arrived. The phone isn’t answered and the neighbours haven’t seen her according to the local lads.’
‘I know it’s stating the obvious but has Jon tried ringing her? And what about her car? Has that been seen?’ I ask. They shake their heads.
‘At the moment it’s just a missing person case,’ says Salisbury. ‘She may turn up after a day or two for all we know. There is nothing much we can do other than go through the usual routine. It is just a matter for our uniformed colleagues at the moment.’ He shrugs and stares doubtfully out of the window
‘Maybe they had a row and she’s teaching him a lesson,’ I say. ‘It wouldn’t be the first time from what she told me’
‘Did she say that?’
‘As good as. She was very upset last time I saw her a week ago. I think you should talk to Jon.’
‘We already have, but I think maybe a return visit is indicated.’ He gives Bannon a sideways nod indicating the door.
‘Anyway, we’ve put her on the missing person database, and we are about to put out another appeal.’
As they are leaving Bannon gives me one of his winning smiles. ‘See you soon,’ he says. I can’t help smiling back.
I have just sent Naomi a text telling her I have left him. I haven’t left a note. I am simply going to disappear and leave Jon to face all the questions that are likely to be asked and maybe it will be revealed what a philandering liar he really is.
He probably thinks I am blissfully unaware of his affairs. That would be typical of his arrogance and conceit even though he appears to have forgotten that he contributes little or nothing to the household.
Well, it will be interesting to see how he manages to pay the bills without me. I imagine it will only be a matter of a month or two before his affairs are in complete chaos. And what conclusions will the police come to when I am nowhere to be found and his liaisons come to light, which they will. People talk and he will have been seen in pubs and hotels with his various conquests. He will be forced to come clean and be obliged to account for his movements for today. He will probably assume that I have gone to my cottage in Snowdonia, but he will be wrong. I have other plans.
I have just received a text back from Naomi offering to put me up. So typical of her. She is such a genuine person and I am tempted to take her into my confidence but that would be unfair because people, and especially the police, are certain to ask her if she has any idea of my whereabouts and she is not the kind of woman who would tell lies so it would be unfair of me to put her under pressure so it is best, for now, for her to be just as puzzled about my disappearance. Maybe a little later I will be able to take her into my confidence but for now I shall maintain an ominous silence.
I suspect though that Naomi will somehow ‘know’ what I am up to. I have a great deal of respect for her psychic powers and her ability to read people. I wonder what she really thinks of Jon. She has never said even though I have gently attempted to squeeze an opinion out of her. In a way I can understand why because marriages and relationships can be very complicated, and often what is seen from the outside is completely different from the reality of what couples really think of each other.
I have no doubt that Jon will tell everyone about my latest literary venture which I am excited about because it concerns a killer, and a serial killer at that. He might even try to link it to my disappearance. That should be interesting. I shall watch, with amusement, from afar.
The teenage stories have been very good for me. They have put me on the map as a writer and provided me with a good living, but I have felt for a while that it is time to move on and tackle a new challenge.
At first I wasn’t quite sure how to go about it and then I hit on the idea of seeing if I could talk to a convicted murderer to get into his mind as it where, so I went to the Central Library in the city centre and began to research for convicted murderers in back numbers of newspapers. I was amazed at how many there were and how different they were too. I wasn’t really interested in anyone who had killed his girlfriend in a fit of rage over an affair. No, I wanted somebody much more complex than that; somebody who had killed more than once but who was not a professional. They just do it for the money. I wanted to talk to somebody who had developed a taste for it; somebody who enjoys watching the light of life switching off in his victims. I wanted to find out what makes him tick as it were, even if that comes down to a kind of insanity. I discovered there are relatively few of them but then I found the ideal candidate.
His name is John Armstrong and he is in Durham jail serving a 35-year sentence for murdering three women in Newcastle. According to press reports of his trial he pleaded not guilty, his counsel maintaining he was unfit to plead but the court was having none of it and the trial went ahead. The evidence against him was so overwhelming that it took the jury just an hour to find him guilty on all three counts of murder.
I wrote to the prison governor requesting permission to interview Armstrong and I was invited to go to Durham to explain exactly why I wanted to talk to him. At first, the governor, a mild-mannered, studious-looking man in his late forties, obviously thought I was some sort of thrill-seeker but when he realised who I was his attitude changed dramatically. It seems his kids are ardent fans of my stories and he was intrigued as to why I wanted to talk to Armstrong, so I explained why I was changing direction as a writer and he nodded his understanding. After that, he couldn’t do enough to help me. Having said that he explained that it would be completely up to Armstrong. If he declined to see me that would be the end of it. He promised he would talk to him and let me know.
Hale Road, Liverpool
Thursday, February 1.
Early February can be the coldest month of the year, even on Merseyside which perversely often displays its independence with a mini climate quite different to surrounding areas. Whatever the national weather forecast may predict, it seldom holds true for Liverpool and its surrounding areas.
The previous night witnessed a heavy snowfall and the airport had been brought to a standstill, as indeed had the city’s entire infrastructure. No buses ran and there were numerous accidents as drivers, unaccustomed to black ice and snow, attempted to slide their way to work.
Almost two miles past the airport lies the village of Hale, with its thatched cottages and olde-worlde houses. Hale Road, which leads up to the village, can be quite isolated and was particularly affected by the snowstorm during the night but traffic is normally quite light after the airport turn-off and many people had heeded the weather forecast, remaining inside with their central-heating on full.
Earlier, just after 7.00am, a lone Audi A4 had made its way past the general aviation turn-off and picked up speed as it headed to the village. There had been no snow-clearing during the night; Hale Road was not considered a priority by the council and had not been cleared or gritted. There had also been a degree of drifting, leaving a bank on the side of a road where it curves quite sharply at the outskirts of the village.
The A4 was travelling far too fast given the conditions and it hit the bank and slid off colliding with a hedge where it stayed, stubbornly refusing to move despite the driver’s ever-more desperate attempts to reverse as the wheels spun on the now-compacted snow and ice. The engine finally faded and the driver – a woman – sat and stared helplessly out of the windscreen.
Ten minutes later a Range Rover carrying a couple on their way to the airport to meet their daughter from an early morning flight, its headlights scything through the snow and early morning mist, approaches from the village and on catching sight of the A4, stops, a car’s length in front. The driver, wearing fashionable green Wellingtons, climbs out and walks carefully to the car.
‘Are you alright,’ the man enquires, tapping on the window and staring at the woman inside who is sitting motionless in the driver’s seat. She turns, apparently startled by the tapping and winds down the window.
‘I think I drove into drifted snow and crashed into some bushes,’ she says apologetically, smiling at him.
The driver looks at her uncertainly. ‘You look a little shaken up. Are you sure you don’t need an ambulance?’ She smiles at him and shakes her head. ‘No, I will be fine honestly. I’ll ring the RAC. They’ll get me started and I’ll be on my way in no time.’
‘It might take them a while to get here in this weather,’ says the driver doubtfully. ‘You’ll freeze to death just sitting in your car. Can we give you a lift anywhere? We’re on our way to the airport. We could drop you off there if you like. At least it will be warm.’
‘You’re very kind,’ she says adamantly but I will be OK.’ She gets out her mobile phone and rummages in her bag until she finds her RAC card. She holds it up triumphantly. ‘I’ll ring them now,’ she says smiling.
‘OK, up to you,’ says the driver shrugging and trudging back to his Land Rover. Once inside, he starts the engine and pauses, saying to his wife, ‘Something odd about that. I would have welcomed a lift to somewhere warm in this weather. It might be some time before the RAC can pick her up there and drive her home given the weather.’
‘Maybe she didn’t want to take the chance,’ says his wife.
‘Hmmm. All the same I think I’ll call the Police when we get to the airport. There could be a delay to Julie’s flight anyway for all we know.’
The desk sergeant at Speke Police Station has spent an entirely uneventful night dealing with routine matters. Little has been happening. The local pubs have been quiet and apart from a few accidents and a rowdy party which required one or two officers to go around and persuade party-goers to calm down, it has been a humdrum shift which is due to end. He is about to sign off when a call comes through from a Mr Maddox who says he has just driven past a car on the Hale Road on his way to the airport and had tried to assist a driver whose car had crashed into a snowbank. He says the driver looked disorientated but had refused all help which Mr Maddox thought was odd given the weather conditions and he suggests they might want to investigate. The sergeant ends the call and mentally shrugs. It doesn’t sound like a matter for the Police, he thinks, but on the other hand the lads at the airport will be twiddling their thumbs on a day like this so why not give them something to do. He decides to log the call and radios for assistance. Inevitably, the call is received by the patrol cars stationed at the airport, which are the nearest, and one responds and heads off since it is only a couple of miles away.
When it reaches the crashed car there is no sign of the driver. The driver’s door is unlocked and the key is in the ignition but strangely there are no footsteps in the snow. The only tracks are those left by the Land Rover. One of the officers walks around the car and opens the passenger door. On the seat is a credit card and a phone. On the back seat is a patch of what looks like blood and a bottle of wine, half full.
The officer shows the card to his colleague. The name on it is Joy Davis.