The Star Agency, St Helens
I rang Cregeen’s office yesterday and spoke to a secretary saying that I had heard from him yesterday asking me to make a date for a talk. There was almost a silence in the background for a while and I listened carefully thinking that perhaps the line had gone dead. I may have been mistaken but I thought I heard a suppressed giggle faintly and a whispered conversation as though someone was holding their hand over the mouthpiece. Finally, the female voice returned and said curtly that Mr Cregeen will see me on the 16th at 11:00am. Before I had a chance to thank her the line went dead. I stared at the mouthpiece as though it were a poisonous snake.
When Richard arrives, I tell him about the phone call and the apparent rudeness. I ask him if that is typical of the dailies.
‘Pretty well,’ he says casually. ‘If you had any idea how many crank calls any daily paper gets and how many people want to talk to the editor you would not be surprised by that response.’
He snorts at the look on my face. ‘I know we get our fair share of nutters here,’ he says. ‘But by comparison that it is a tiny fraction compared to the calls a daily’s news-desk gets.’
‘But I was invited to get in touch to talk about a job,’ I protest. He shrugs. ‘As far as she is concerned you are just another voice at the end of a phone.’ He grins at me. ‘Relax, it will be fine. You will see.’ I nod a little reluctantly thinking I was glad I had not handed in my notice yet.
The new girl, Pamela Henry, is the next to arrive. She treats us both to a winning smile. I nod back and continue talking to Richard about the events listed in the diary. He glances at Pamela. ‘I think she’ll be OK,’ he murmurs. ‘She is learning how to handle the chaps and the stuff she has written so far shows definite promise.’
I tell him to assign her on to something a little more challenging today. ‘Why don’t you take her to Crown Court and babysit her. Get her to cover a down page story. You know the kind of thing, one of those stories where it doesn’t really matter whether you cover the prosecution or the defence; so long as you get the names, the charges and the verdict right, it doesn’t really matter.’
‘I don’t somehow think she’s another Dot though,’ he says a little wistfully. ‘Do you think she will come back here when all this drama is over?’
It’s a good question. I tell him her job will still be here if she wants it, but I have a sneaking feeling she will be enticed to a national or even TV. He nods in agreement.
As we chat, the receptionist walks up to my desk and hands me an envelope simply addressed to ‘Keith Wilder’. This arrived for you,’ she says.
‘Who brought it?’ I ask.
She shrugs. ‘Not sure. I just found on the counter when I got back from the loo.’
I tear open the envelope. It’s one sheet of paper and it’s from Trilby.
Nice try Wilder. If you think I am going to walk into a trap, you can fuck off. And by the way, I haven’t murdered anyone and you can tell Lamplight that. You have 24 hours to do what I ask or I lock the Dot girl’s room and throw the key away and she can starve to death for all I care.
I hand it to Richard wordlessly. He reads it and stares at me. ‘The bastard is going to let her die,’ he shouts angrily. I shake my head. ‘No, he isn’t. Look at the message. He has gone out of his way to let us know he is not a murderer, so having gone to all that trouble is he likely to murder Dot having told us that’s what he is going to do? If he really did, then he certainly would be a killer and he not stupid enough to do that. At the moment, he is guilty of abduction and that’s all.
I pick up the phone and dial Lamplight’s number. Somebody answers it and tells me that DI Lamplight is out of the office. I tell him to leave a note asking him to ring me urgently.
I had left a note on my desk yesterday reminding myself to ring Charles Danforth whose daughter died of a drugs overdose and whose wife had a mental breakdown as a result. He has been reported as swearing revenge on all drugs dealers. Who can blame him given the terrible price his family have paid? I doubt he was responsible for the three drugs killings but who knows? I feel I have a stake in this story having been the person to discover the gruesome corpse of Arthur Jenkins just over a month ago now. It feels much longer somehow. How much has happened in just four weeks!
I pick up the phone and dial the number Lamplight has given me. It rings out for quite a while and I am about to ring off when I voice answers…a little irritably, I think. I ask if I am speaking to Mr Danforth. There is a curt ‘yes’ and I hurry on to explain why I am calling following the latest murder in Sherdley Park.
There is a silence and I hurry on to ask if I could call round for a chat. I go on to explain that as a well-known anti-drugs campaigner I would like his views on recent developments and whether he thinks the police are doing enough to stem the recent surge in drugs use. I threw in the last bit knowing all too well that he almost certainly would not pass up an opportunity to sound off about that. I am right and he agrees to see me this afternoon at 2:00 pm.
I’m not quite sure what I expect to get out of it, other than to get a feed on whether he has any idea who the killer might be. Lamplight is sure that it is not a ‘turf war’ as originally thought following the Lime Street killing. ‘If the murders are not related to drug gang rivalry, it occurs to me that the only other motive would be revenge.’
It could well be that he is the author of some of the notes taunting Lamplight and me. Those notes, I have now realised, must not be confused with the ones Mr Trilby has sent. Why am I still calling him that? His name is Howard Balmer
and I will not be able to truly relax until he is behind bars. He is a very resourceful and dangerous man and probably psychotic, believing himself to be completely innocent and that everyone else is to blame for the ills that have befallen him.
It is almost midday when I am in Jerry’s office listening to him giving me a hard-luck story about why he hadn’t really wanted to sell the agency and that it had been forced on him by the bank who required him to settle his overdraft.
I don’t believe a word of it. The truth is more likely to be that he had planned to move to tax-haven Jersey and transferred all his assets there. I am very tempted to tell him that I am very unlikely to be here very much longer anyway, but our conversation is interrupted by someone bursting in and saying the DI Lamplight is on the phone wanting to talk to me urgently. It is the excuse I need so I say I have to take the call and hurry to my desk.
As soon as I pick up and without any preamble Lamplight says: ‘We have found her Wilder. The team are moving in as I speak.’
I knew without asking he is talking about Dot. ‘Where?’ is all I ask.
‘Binns Road,’ comes the reply.
‘I’m on my way,’ I say.