The Star Agency
It has been an uneasy weekend for Amy and me. I spent it with her at her flat in Kensington, but our thoughts were with Dot and what was happening to her. There has been no further communication from Mr Trilby and the police have made no progress in finding her. We sat in the local pub last night wondering what she must be feeling and speculating on what his next moves will be. It was all pointless, of course, because I think I know what he is up to. It’s the waiting game; making us sweat while he decides what he wants us to do so that we will be more malleable in meeting his demands.
I found it difficult to believe that he thought we were trying to fool him into thinking that it was not Amy he has got captive. All he has to do is to wait outside her flat and sooner or later he will see her.
Is it possible that he is Howard Balmer who I put the finger on with the illegal cosmetics racket he was running? I know his life fell apart but to blame me for that is a nonsense and if he thinks I am going to go public and announce to the world that I made a mistake, he will have a long wait. I have an answer prepared if that is really what he is after and he won’t like it. I don’t think he will harm Dot whatever threats he makes. His future lies inside a prison cell and it is simply a question of for how long. If he has any sense, he will do a runner and get out of the country while he still can.
It is Monday morning and I am sitting at my desk at the office. I should be cheered at the prospect of a lunch with Mr Paddock in Liverpool, but Dot and Trilby are constantly at the back of my mind and I am finding it difficult to concentrate. I must get a grip and be my usual self for my meeting with him which, by the way, is in the Racquet Club on Upper Parliament Street, a place I have never been to but heard a lot about. Despite its somewhat seedy surroundings, it is reputed to be a place of some opulence populated by barristers and the like. I reflect that when it was built in the late 1700s it would have been surrounding by homes occupied by wealthy ship owners and merchants. I must confess I am rather looking forward to it. It is not often I am treated to a good lunch, rather than the usual beer and sandwich.
Richard walks in and heads straight for me. He asks if there is any news. He doesn’t have to elaborate. I just shake my head and lean my head on my hands. I tell him that this will not end until there has been some kind of showdown between Mr Trilby and me. I tell him about the story involving Balmer and the racket he was running.
‘Why does he blame you?’ says Richard perplexed. ‘You were just doing your job. He might as well blame the cop who arrested him and, in the end, he only has himself to blame.’
I tell him that we both know, but there are some people who will always blame others for their mistakes. He readily agrees, sighs deeply and tells me that if I need any help, day or night, I am to ring him. I know he means it and I thank him. Who knows, I may well need it. I suspect Richard is the sort of guy who would be extremely useful if any rough stuff were required. He asks what is on the agenda for today so I tell him I am out to lunch with the new boss and I would like to him to man the newsdesk for the rest of the day. I also tell him that I will be putting in a good word for him while I am at it and that I suspect Paddock is a better judge of character than Jerry.
‘That wouldn’t be difficult,’ he says sarcastically, smiling at me. ‘Are you still aiming for the Echo do you think?’ he asks.
It is something I have thought about on and off. I think he would have to offer me something quite spectacular to stop me moving to the Post or the Echo. Staying at a news agency, no matter how successful, is something of a dead end. There are exceptions, of course, like Reuters and the Press Association both of which are national agencies. Indeed, Reuters is international and many people think it is American, but it isn’t. It has offices in New York but it’s HQ is in Fleet Street which is where I would like to end up one day.
I tell Richard all that and he nods. ‘Don’t blame you. I always regret not being more ambitious. That’s where the money is without any doubt.’
My phone rings and Richard nods and he moves to his desk. I pick up. It is Lamplight and before I can say anything he says, a little apologetically that he has no news about Dot. ‘They are combing the city and looking out for lipstick marks,’ he says. ‘We will find her, have no doubt about it,’ he ends with. There is nothing I can say to that really. I was tempted to respond with a remark about them not looking in the right places, but I decided not to because it is not Lamplight’s patch and his involvement will be very limited.
Before I can respond he says that Dot’s parents have rung him to inform him that they are coming to Liverpool tomorrow and are asking why there is no press conference to help find her? He says he has talked to Willis who in turn has consulted the ACC and they have decided to hold a press conference in Admiral Street police station tomorrow. Both parents say they want to broadcast an appeal for their daughter.
I suspect that could turn out to be quite a stormy affair with the redtops asking difficult and potentially embarrassing questions and I am glad I will not be sitting on the top table. I am sure that Lamplight wishes he weren’t as well. I ask him what time it is due to start and tell him I will be there, if for no other reason, to meet Dot’s parents.
I can hear him taking a deep breath before he tells me that he also has news about Howard Balmer. We both think it likely that he is Mr Trilby and Lamplight said he would find out what has happened to him after he was released from jail.
‘He was released on licence a year ago,’ he says, sounding like he was reading from notes. ‘Apparently, he did not have a home to go to after his wife left him and he lived in a Birmingham hostel for a while. Then he vanished and nobody really knows what happened to him, but somebody at the hostel said that he was talking about coming to Liverpool.’
I ask if he had said to anyone why he intended to come here. Lamplight said apparently not but Willis and his team are asking around the hostels and B&B joints. I didn’t say so, but I think it highly unlikely anyone is going to remember a lone man who may or may not have stayed in a B&B for a few nights before moving on. I thank him for keeping me posted and then I decide to make enquiries about Amy’s neighbour Colin Parker.
Amy told me last night that she hasn’t seen him for a while. She hasn’t even heard his door closing and whenever she has left her flat to go to work there has been no sounds from behind his door. Usually, there is the sound of music.
I decide to ring BICC who are electrifying the railways. I open my contacts book and look up BICC and there he is, Walter Lathom. I met him once a while ago at a press conference to do with electrification and he seemed to me to be a decent sort. I recall him telling me he was in charge of the drawing office there which must mean that he’s Colin Parker’s boss I would have thought.
I get through to a switchboard and ask to speak to Mr Lathom. The operator says nothing. Instead, there is a silence, then suddenly there is a click and a voice says: ‘Lathom.’ I say my name and that I’m from the Star News Agency and that he may remember me from the press conference. He does, which is a good start. I explain that he may be able to resolve a rather tricky matter involving one of his staff members.
There is a rather pregnant silence at that, so I concoct a story about speaking to someone about electrification but that it just didn’t sound right, so since he said he worked at your Kirkby office I thought I would check with you that he does actually work for you.
‘Let me stop you there,’ says Lathom. ‘Nobody apart from myself and other senior managers has the authority to speak for the company, so he had no business even talking to you about it. What was his name?’
And that was the question I was hoping he would ask because it means I won’t come up against any confidentiality issues.
‘Colin Parker,’ I say. ‘I understand he is a draughtsman with you.’
There is a short silence and then. ‘Never heard of him,’ says Lathom bluntly. ‘He’s an imposter.’
‘I rather suspected he was,’ I say, thanking him for his time,’ which leaves me with the question of who exactly is Mr Parker?’