The Glass House, St Helens
February 2 – later
I think everyone was in shock after Jerry made his announcement yesterday afternoon. His statement was short and lacking in virtually every detail that the staff wanted to know; what are the new management’s policies? Are jobs safe? Will the agency be moved out of St Helens? Jerry was completely unable or unwilling to answer any of these questions and having delivered his statement, he retreated to his office ignoring all the questions that were put to him.
I joined them all in the Glasshouse later where the unquestioned leader was Richard. They were all gathered around him discussing the various scenarios that might result after the takeover. As soon as I walked in the questions were fired at me. I held up my hands and told them that I know nothing more than they do but that I will be making enquiries on the grapevine to see what the rumourville is saying about it. In cities like Liverpool journalism is rather like a village where everyone knows everyone else and a takeover like this is certain to cause ripples in the rumour sphere, mostly in the pubs I suspect.
I told them that in my opinion they should not be worried. It would be hard, I said with a grim smile, to inherit a worse boss than Jerry and that the new tie-up might actually bring new opportunities for them. Although Jerry has not revealed who the new owners are, I strongly suspect that they are the owners of Paddock Press, a large and highly successful agency in Liverpool who I know by reputation are very professional and used by many of the nationals if they are unable to cover stories themselves.
That cheered them all up noticeably and Richard and Dot remained while the others crowded around the bar, their mood much lightened.
‘What does the future hold for you Keith?’ say Dot, staring at me seriously. ‘Are they likely to want to put their own man in as news editor? Isn’t that what usually happens in takeovers?’
I look at Richard who treats me to a knowing smile. ‘I rather think Keith has his future mapped out,’ he murmurs, giving her a wink. She gazes at me, obviously expecting me to elaborate, but all I say to her is that all will be revealed at the appropriate time.
‘Which means that you are going to leave as well,’ she says, rather too loudly for my liking. ‘I might as well start looking for a job,’ she says glumly.
I tell her that I don’t doubt that she will move on and that, indeed, she should when the time is right, but that time is not now. Richard nods in agreement. I tell her that I have read her feature and done an edit, here and there. She will find it on her desk when she returns to the office.
‘What did you think of it?’ she asks searchingly.
I tell her that I liked it, especially since it was a complicated subject to get to grips with. I thought it a little preachy in places and I have written in suggestions to water that down.
‘I hope you aren’t going to become one of those idiotic women libbers,’ says Richard. ‘Some of them are just men haters with all the bra-burning nonsense. Don’t get me wrong I am all in favour of fair pay and equal rights and all that, but women should be women. What is wrong in being attractive anyway?’
‘I think some of them probably have good reason to hate men,’ says Dot. ‘But I agree with you Richard, I have no wish to despise men. In fact, I rather like them.’ She turns and glances at me with a half-smile, ‘One or two of them anyway,’ she adds. We all burst out laughing.
We are joined by DI Lamplight who marches into the pub and heads straight for us. ‘I thought I would find you here,’ he says without any preamble and sitting down. ‘We need to discuss arrangements for tomorrow,’ he says. I ask him if he would like a drink. He would, a whisky, so I head for the bar along with Richard who says he is going to join the troops.
When I return Lamplight has lit one of his dreadful Capstans and Dot is sitting far away. I don’t blame her. I do the same and then tell him about the takeover.
‘Does that mean you will all get the sack?’ he asks cheerfully. I tell him that he should hope not because we might be replaced by people who don’t believe in co-operating with the police. And then I tell him that it is extremely unlikely anyway because it is a very profitable agency. I should know. I keep a record of how many stories we sell and how much we get in lineage. And that doesn’t include fees for features like the one Dot has just completed which do not come under the lineage rate.
‘Well, I hope not,’ he says looking at us both in turn. ‘I would hate to have to train a new lot.’ He treats us to a rare smile and takes a generous sip of whisky.
I ask how he sees tomorrow’s operation going. He glances at Dot and asks if she is still happy to go along with it and reassures her that she will be perfectly safe and then he leans forward in a conspiratorial way and explains how he has planned it.
‘You will need to be at Amy’s flat well before 3:00 pm,’ he tells her. ‘By that I mean on the ground floor hallway, not upstairs in the flat. You can don your wig and change your coat to one like Amy’s. You will have a WPC with you who will have a personal radio.’
‘By the way, does Amy know about this?’ he asks me. I tell him that she does. In fact, she was quite keen to do it herself, but I persuaded her that it would be better for Dot to do it because she might make a first-person special crime feature later. Amy has invited both Dot and the WPC to keep a discreet look-out from her sitting room window. She will no doubt make sure you have a coffee and a slice of cake while you are watching and wish you good luck when you leave, I say, turning to Dot who smiles and asks when I was going to tell her about the feature. I say she would have thought about it herself in time.
‘So, this is the timetable for tomorrow,’ says Lamplight. ‘Once Amy is in position at the flat, my detective will position himself on the same side of the road but a few doors down. He will be a busker playing a mouth organ. He will also have a radio.
‘Keith and I will be parked around the corner on a side road and we will be in touch with both you in the flat and the busker. He who will tell us if anyone stops and appears to be taking an interest in Amy’s flat, no matter how casually.
‘We will wait for an hour which is when Amy would normally arrive home. If nobody has shown up by then will just abort and re-arrange for another day,’ he says finally.
‘What if he turns up much later or indeed earlier?’ asks Dot. ‘We will have missed him, won’t we?’
‘That is very unlikely,’ says Lamplight. ‘What would be the point of him doing that. He is only going to keep watch if there is a prospect of following Amy. True, she might go out of an evening but then she might not and there is even less point in him turning up earlier because she will be at work.
‘What happens then?’ asks Dot.
‘Well, assuming he turns up we give him half an hour then I will radio you to begin and you will set off along Kensington to the ice rink. When you get there, you will go to the coffee bar and order a drink, then you will sit down as though you are waiting for Keith to turn up.’
‘And do I?’
Lamplight tugs his ear lobe and frowns. ‘That is when we play it by ear,’ he says. ‘It depends on what he does. If he follows her in, then we go in too. We will make a decision about sending you in depending on what happens next,’ he says to me. And then to Dot reassuringly: ‘Our detective will be watching you at all times so don’t worry.’
‘Maybe I’ll put some skates on,’ says Dot. ‘I used to cut a fine figure on the ice. I’d like to see him following me there,’ she sniggers.
‘Don’t get carried away,’ warns Lamplight. ‘This is not a game. This man could be dangerous and we do not as yet know what his end game is. So be sensible please.’
‘Sensible is my middle name,’ laughs Dot.