The Star news agency, St Helens
It’s Friday morning and I am back home at Raglan Street in St Helens. Amy has a friend staying with her, although I doubt she is still in any danger. I think we are past that. Mr Trilby must by now know that he does not have her as a bargaining chip. He would have been blind not to have seen the coverage in the papers. I wonder what his reaction was. Anger at first, probably, because he had been tricked, but then a realisation that he had captured the bait that was supposed to have led him into a trap. That would no doubt have given him some satisfaction together with the realisation that in some ways Dot is a much more valuable hostage because she’s a reporter. He is no doubt busy telling her how he is innocent and has been stitched up by the evil Keith Wilder!
I am expecting his next move any time. In fact, I am a little surprised I haven’t heard from him already. I know he will want me to absolve him for his crimes in some way, a story in the papers perhaps or a statement. I have no intention of doing anything of the sort, of course, so I have developed an alternative strategy in my mind which I am going to discuss with Lamplight later.
One of the reasons I returned home last night was to do my laundry which had built up into a menacing heap. I also needed to do some basic housework and clean the place up. I know bachelors have the reputation of living like pigs, but it really isn’t true in my case. I hate having a filthy house and the sight of a sink overflowing with grimy food-stained dishes makes me feel nauseous. I have one or two pals who appear to be content when they are surrounded by half-finished takeaways, overflowing ashtrays and dirty clothes scattered randomly about. Not for me!
I think that was what Amy was expecting when she made her first visit to Raglan Street, so it must have come as a pleasant surprise to discover that her new boyfriend was actually quite civilised and not the slob that so many blokes are these days.
I think it highly likely that we will move in together some time this year but not in St Helens. We will buy are own place somewhere in Liverpool, probably in the south of the city. It would be nice to have a garden where I can grow vegetables; something I have always fancied doing but never been able to. I know Amy would love a garden as well so when all this Mr Trilby business is over, I plan to take her out for a really good meal so that we can talk about it and make plans.
I am having a thoughtful breakfast of toast, marmalade and a great mug of tea when I hear the letterbox going. The postman is early this morning. I stroll into the hall and pick up the single letter that is lying on the mat. I see it has the Liverpool Echo flash on it. Probably some junk mail, I think. I put it on the table and finish my toast and take a gulp of tea. It’s time to head for the office and I put my jacket on. I am about to walk out of the door when I glance at the letter again. I might as well open it and the put it in the bin.
It isn’t junk mail at all. It’s a letter from the editor of the Echo, Mr George Cregeen, inviting me to come for a talk and to ring his secretary to arrange a date. I realise that ‘talk’ is shorthand for an interview, and I smile a satisfied smile. At last! I will ring from the office a little later.
When I get to the office, I look at the diary to see what we have to cover today. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Mr Paddock’s calls in later too. He said he wanted to meet the staff during our lunch and I had responded with the rejoinder that they would like to meet him. I must tell Richard when he arrives because I put in a word on his behalf telling Paddock how experienced he is and how invaluable he has been as my deputy.
I also realise that if my ‘talk’ with Cregeen is successful I will have to make the difficult decision about how I see my future; on a big daily like the Echo or sweating away for the rest of my life on a news agency. Even as I think it, I know what the answer is; it has to be the Echo.
I miss Dot’s cheery face in the newsroom, and I frequently worry about her predicament. I don’t doubt that she can look after herself, but we are not dealing with a normal person here, we are obviously dealing with someone who is unstable and unpredictable judging by his actions so far. Why else would he pursue the myth that he is innocent when the evidence against him was so overwhelming. It also takes a special kind of deranged mind to go to the extreme lengths he has done. I know what my strategy is going to be when he does get in touch and I will drop round to the police station later.
Richard is the first to arrive and he walks slowly over to my desk. ‘Any news?’ he asks hopefully. I shake my head and then tell him that I have news of another sort. When I tell him about my ‘talk’ with Cregeen he grins. ‘He will like you,’ he says. ‘Just remember to talk about ghosts and trains and you will be alright.’
I must be looking puzzled because he adds: ‘George Cregeen is a well-known eccentric,’ he informs me. ‘Yes, he is “Mr Echo” and there isn’t much that goes on in Liverpool that he doesn’t know about, but he also has a weak spot for the bizarre which includes ghosts, UFOs; you name it. If it’s weird, George will go for it.’
‘Why will he like me then? I know nothing about that kind of stuff.’
Richard scratches his nose and looks at me with a half-smile. ‘Keith, you are a straight-talking kind of bloke. You don’t suffer fools lightly and neither does he. His staff either loathe him or love him. It will be interesting to see which category you fall into.’
‘You seem to be assuming I’ll get the job,’ I tell him.
He shrugs. ‘You will,’ he replies simply. What have we got on today?’
‘It’s mainly stuff for the weekend editions,’ I tell him. ‘But there is a news conference later on over the latest drugs murder in Sherdley. I will cover that because I want to talk to Lamplight anyway. You might like to do a background piece on the way forward for Pilkington and there are a couple of interesting planning applications you might like to put people on. There is also a 1970 fashion ‘spectacular’ on at the town hall. Put the new girl on it and let’s see what she’s made of.’
Richard pulls a face at that. The new girl only arrived at the office last week. Her name is Pamela Henry and she has been making a name for herself with the boys. She’ll learn!
My phone rings and I pick up. It is reception telling me that there is somebody to see me. I head over there. April, behind the desk doubles as Jerry’s secretary and does whatever typing is needed. She is staring disapprovingly at a scruffy youth standing there.
‘I was told to give you this,’ he says, handing me a package and sniffing. I suspect he is on drugs and he coughs as I take it from him.
I ask him who gave him the package. He shrugs. ‘Dunno,’ he mumbles so I ask him to describe the man. He shifts uneasily from one foot to another. ‘I dunno. He just had a hat. That’s all I know.’ And with that he ambles off.
I feel the package. It’s a padded envelope which obviously has more than a sheet of paper in it. I get back to my desk and open it and a cassette falls out. There is piece of paper glued to it which simply says, ‘Play me.’
We don’t have a cassette player in the office. I think Amy has one at home, but I need to listen to the tape as soon as possible. I shout out asking if anyone has a player. Pamela sticks her hand up and walks over to my desk with a portable player. She gives me a winning smile. I thank her and insert the cassette and listen to Dot’s message. The troops gather round as I play it.
When it finishes Richard asks me what I am going to do about it. I tell him and the rest of them that I will leave a message on the church noticeboard as requested but it won’t say what he is expecting it to say and with that I wave them all away.
I pick up the phone to Lamplight. He answers straight away and I tell him about the cassette and the message. I ask him if he has a cassette player anywhere in the station. He does rather surprisingly. I tell him I will call round.
I am sitting opposite Lamplight as the tape plays. He listens intently and when it has finished, he looks at me asking what I intend to do. I tell him that I will post a message on the notice board as requested but it will not say what he wants it to say.
‘What will it say?’ he asks tersely.
‘I will suggest that we meet to discuss things,’ I say.
He looks doubtful at that and then he puts his head to one side and asks to listen to the tape again. ‘There was something odd about it,’ he says.
We listen again. ‘Did you hear the tapping?’ he asks.
‘It’s just Dot drumming her fingers on a table,’ I say.
‘Yes, but its not just that. Let’s listen again.’ We do and I see what he means, there appears to be a pattern to it. We play it thorough yet again and he taps a finger in time with Dot’s.
‘It’s Morse code,’ he exclaims. ‘Bloody Hell, the girl is a genius. He gets a sheet of paper and makes a note of the dots and dashes. When he has finished, he rushes out of the office and shouts for Ernie, the desk sergeant. When he returns, he says Ernie was a wireless operator with the army during the war.
He passes the note with dots and dashes to him. Ernie looks at it and smiles. ‘That’s easy,’ he says. ‘It spells out Binns Road. That’s where the Meccano factory is in Liverpool.’
Lamplight stares at him and smiles. He grabs the phone and yells into it. ‘Get me DCI Willis immediately.’