Chapter Twelve

Naomi

Day 14

‘Do you have any idea how many lonely people there are out there?’ Joe asks, but it’s a rhetorical question because he is frowning at a couple sitting at the next table in the coffee shop. They are completely ignoring each other as they stare at their smart phones.

   ‘God knows, millions I would think,’ say I, stirring my cappuccino, wondering what was coming next. The Atkinson gallery has closed for the day and we were going to have a pint but I needed a coffee after two or three glasses of wine so we opted to come here near the station before getting a train back to Liverpool.

   ‘It’s all because of social media, you know,’ asserts Joe emphatically. ‘I was talking to this guy in uni the other day and he reckons that the more people are connected on social media, the lonelier society becomes.’

   I must be looking doubtful at this. ‘Surely the opposite. It has to be good to have a wide circle of friends, doesn’t it?’

   ‘But they aren’t friends,’ sneers Joe. ‘People actually fucking hate each other. They are overloaded with non-friend friends.’

   I can’t help giggling at this. ‘You really do come out with some crap sometimes Joe.’

   ‘It isn’t crap. Have you ever heard of a guy called Robin Dunbar?’ he stares at me. I shake my head.’

  ‘Well, you should have since you major in psychology. He’s an Oxford don and he reckons that the number of relationships humans can maintain is about 150 which includes family. That was the average size, apparently, of hunter gathering communities. And if you look at the Domesday Book, that was average size of communities then too.’

   ‘I can meet that many people in half an hour on Facebook,’ I say smiling.

   ‘Except that you aren’t meeting them, are you? You have no idea what they are really like. They could be mass murderers but you wouldn’t know. They are not real friends and anyone who thinks otherwise is just kidding themselves. They’re just electronic images. They don’t really exist. You might just as well just invent them.’

   ‘This is the world according to St Joe then, is it?’

   ‘No, it isn’t. It is why there are so many lonely people these days. In your mum’s day and certainly in your granny’s, people would chat to their neighbours. Not only that but they would help each other out as well. Now, everybody is staring at a sodding computer screen kidding themselves they have a circle of friends when in fact they are as lonely as fuck.’

   He stares contemptuously at the next table where the couple are still silent, their thumbs moving vigorously.

   ‘Did you really see two dead people in the gallery?’ he says, abruptly changing the subject.

   ‘Why do you ask? Do you think I make things up?’ I am beginning to become a bit annoyed.

   ‘No, of course not,’ he says hurriedly. ‘I’m just curious. Are they ghostly when you see your spirits?’

   ‘They are solid as you,’ I say. ‘Perhaps, even more so.’ I grin and squeeze his arm. He leans back with a thoughtful look. ‘You saw something in that lecturer lady the other day as well, didn’t you? I could tell.’

   He’s right of course. I did. I saw death but I’m not sure whose. It may be hers. I just don’t know. I suspect that there is more to Maggie Taylor than meets the eye. I don’t tell Joe any of this, however. He is, after all, one of her students.

   I get back to Liverpool and have been in my apartment for little more than half an hour when Steve Bannon calls around asking me to go for a drink at the Philharmonic pub, just up the road from Rodney Street. I reluctantly agree. I was actually looking forward to putting my feet up and watching a little TV but I don’t have the heart to turn him down so I pull my coat on and we emerge on to Rodney Street.

   Sgt Steve Bannon is an old friend from previous cases we have worked on together. A year ago, there was the distinct possibility of our friendship developing into something else but it never happened. I’m not sure why, although if I’m honest I think the blame lay with me. Even though it’s five years since my divorce, I still find it difficult to commit to anyone, with the result that I back off when anyone shows any interest.

   It wasn’t fair on Steve and it had nothing to do with my abilities. I didn’t have bad vibes about him or anything like that. He’s a decent guy in every way and I know that now. I am still troubled by my treatment of him but fortunately we are still friends and go out for a drink now and then.

  As we turn right into Leece Street he casually says that he hopes my other friend Joe doesn’t appear. They don’t really get on. Talk about chalk and cheese! The immaculately dressed and highly intelligent Steve and the scruffy, anti-establishment, unconventional, but equally intelligent Joe are at opposite ends of the spectrum.

   We get to the Philharmonic pub on Hope Street. It’s one of Liverpool’s most famous Victorian pubs where the Beatles did gigs and where tourists head for when they are in the city’s creative quarter.

   Steve automatically orders me a pint of Ghost Ship. He knows it’s one of my favourite beers; light and hoppy.

   I ask him what he’s been up to lately. He looks thoughtful. ‘I had to talk to students the other day appealing for information about the lad found murdered in Prince’s Park. I met their lecturer, a woman by the name of Maggie Taylor.’

   I tell him I briefly met her too. I ask him what he made of her.

   ‘Embarrassingly clever and good looking,’ he says, grinning and then, more thoughtfully: ‘Although there is something about her that I can’t quite put my finger on. ‘Then a day or so later she turns up at the station with a friend after they had been attacked near Hanover Street.’

   I ask if they were injured. ‘That’s the really interesting bit. No, they weren’t because she apparently attacked the two attackers. They may even have needed hospital treatment. So, there is more to our Ms Taylor than meets the eye. It isn’t exactly what you would associate with a mathematics and psychology don, is it?’

   I am not sure how to respond to that but then, after a pause, he continues. ‘I had a new WPC with me at the time and I could tell it was instant dislike the moment they met each other. Really strange. Mind you, WPC Fairchild is not everyone’s cup of tea. I think she has a personality gene missing but don’t tell anyone.’ We both laugh at that.

   After that, we are both silent sipping our pints. I suddenly decide to tell him what I saw when I met her. I gaze at him. His pint is half-way raised and he puts it back on the table.

   ‘I know that look,’ he says. ‘Do tell.’

   ‘When I met her, I saw death,’ I say softly. He knows me too well to scoff.

   ‘In what form Naomi?’

   I sigh. ‘I have no idea whose. It may be her. It may be somebody else. It may be somebody she knows. I couldn’t tell. Also, it could be in the past or in the future. If I did a reading for her, I might be able to tell more.’

   ‘Could it have anything to do with the boy in the park do you think?’

   ‘I don’t think so. I don’t think it was anything that immediate. And apart from that why would she murder one of her own students?’

   Bannon frowns. ‘There is something going on there,’ he says. ‘Somebody dropped a memory stick into her bag apparently. It’s got all kinds of technical stuff on it. I passed it on to Special Branch because it looks like the theft of intellectual property involving the Chinese.’

   ‘You don’t think she is working for them, do you? If she were why would she give it to you?’

   He shrugs. ‘I have no idea. My only interest is the murder in the park. The rest is up to Special Branch.’

   Just then a group of plain-clothed CID enter and among them is Audrey Simmonds, a woman in her thirties who I like. She takes no nonsense from her male counterparts or anybody else either I shouldn’t wonder.

   As they approach, she waves and grins. I smile back and she walks over. ‘Come and meet little Miss Perfect,’ she says softly leading me over to the group. Bannon follows behind.

      ‘Lucy, meet Naomi,’ she says. We shake hands briefly. A pair of steely grey eyes gaze at me, a slight sardonic smile slightly displaying pearly white teeth behind a narrow mouth in a face fringed on the top and sides by streaky blonde hair tied into a loose ponytail. She is slightly shorter than me by about two inches or so.

      ‘So, you’re the famous Naomi, she declares, glancing round at her colleagues and grinning. I know instinctively that she doesn’t like me. I have no idea why or what I have done but that opening remark has set the seal. I say nothing and look into her mind. I don’t like what I sense which is that this lady has an agenda, but I cannot tell what that might be. She turns away and I am suddenly staring at her ponytail. Bannon glares at the back of her head and then looks apologetically at me. We move slightly away from the others.

   ‘What was all that about?’ he exclaims softly. ‘Have you met her before somewhere?’

   I shake my head slowly. ‘No, I have never met her before but for some reason she has taken an instant dislike to me. I can’t think why. Maybe she simply doesn’t like psychics but there could be other reasons too, I suppose.

   ‘What do you mean?’ he says looking puzzled.

   ‘It doesn’t matter,’ I say. ‘I’m unlikely to have much to do with her anyway. Behind us there is raucous laughter. I have a feeling I might be the target.

   ‘I should go,’ I say

   ‘He glances angrily at DC Fairchild’s back. ‘I am going to have a word with her. There is no reason for such rudeness. It’s unforgivable.’

   ‘No don’t Steve. I don’t want to cause trouble or ill-feeling. She’s new. Maybe it’s her way of making a name for herself with her colleagues.’

   Bannon frowns. ‘Well, I’ll walk to the door with you at least.’

   Just before we leave, I turn to glance at DC Fairchild. She is staring at me, a malevolent sneer on her face. I walk to the door with Bannon. He gives me a hug as I leave the pub.

   As I walk slowly down the road towards Rodney Street there is something I know with some certainty.

   I have not seen the last of DC Fairchild.

Published by pod1942

I am a cereer journalist having worked for the London Dail Mail, Reuters and latterly the Liverpool Daily Post on Merseyside as well as the journalists’ leader in the region. I have experience as a crime reporter, feature writer, business editor and latterly, a senior sub-editor. My qualifications include a BA (Hons) English, from the University of Liverpool; a BA (Hons) Fine Art and an MA in Creative Practice both from Liverpool Hope University. I now divide my time between art and writing. I will shortly be publishing my first full-length novel, The Poseidon Files and as a taster I have written a short story which features the same central female character in which she talks about her world and her life. It is, however, essentially a ghost story.

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