A Walk on the Wilder Side
When my stomach has finished emptying itself on the doorstep because of the nightmare I have just witnessed, I tell myself that I must ring the police, so I step back into hall and dial 999 and tell the operator not to bother with an ambulance because there is obviously nothing they can do for the man in the armchair. There is a short silence and a voice at St Helens Police Station answers – the desk sergeant I imagine. I know him well – Ernie James. I briefly relate what has happened. He tells me to hang on and that a couple of cars will be with me in a few minutes.
I can’t bring myself to go back into the house, so I sit in my car. It is still raining hard. I stare out of the windscreen sightlessly. The image of what I have just witnessed is seared into my mind and no doubt will be with me for many years to come. Who was he and why did he do it? Also, come to think of it, who was it who rang me at the office? How did he know my name? No doubt the police will want to talk to him. My thoughts turn back to the office. I need to get back there to file the story. Maybe I’ll write a first-person piece. That might go down well with the red tops.
I can hear sirens in the distance. It’s not that long ago that they began using them instead of bells. At first, I thought the sirens sounded very American but now I realise it was the bells that sounded really old fashioned and outmoded.
The two cars arrived in the farmyard and four uniformed officers get out, together with two men from CID. I recognise one. He’s an inspector by the name of Harry Lamplight; in his early forties, a decent chap if not a little officious, wearing a trilby and a walrus moustache and an open coat revealing a jacket and a waistcoat.
I climb out of the Capri. ‘It’s Wilder, isn’t it,’ he says, eyeing up my car. ‘How come you can afford that? Ill-gotten gains no doubt.’ He turns and stares at the house. ‘Where’s the body then?’
I warn him that it isn’t pretty and they all head off, leaving one officer standing outside the door. ‘Don’t go anywhere,’ Lamplight shouts back at me.
Ten minutes later he heads back and climbs into the passenger seat. I notice he is pale. ‘Was it you who threw up on the doorstep,’ he asks. I nod. ‘Can’t say I blame you,’ he mutters. ‘One or two officers have had to go to the WC.’
I tell him about the phone call at the office and the odd fact that the caller knew my name. I tell him the caller had a Lancashire accent and is unlikely to be a local. I ask what the farmer’s name is. He looks at his notes. ‘Arthur Jenkins,’ he says. ‘Lives alone. Divorced. We are trying to discover if there are kids somewhere.’
I ask him if it is definitely suicide. ‘Looks like it but we have to wait for the boffins to confirm that. They will be here as soon as.’ He frowns. ‘You will no doubt be filing a story. Do not say it is suicide until that’s confirmed. At the moment we are treating it as an unexplained death. Understand me?’ I nod meekly. He climbs out. ‘Off you go then. We’ll be in touch.’
I’m back at the office. It is almost 2.00am but I might just make the last editions if I pull my finger out. Half an hour later I have put together around 600 words and get on the phone to the Telegraph, asking for a copy taker. I get one who obviously does not take kindly at having to take down a story near the end of his shift, but I insist saying that Ralph the news editor will have his guts for garters if he doesn’t file it, and fast too.
Ten minutes later it is done. I have written it in the first person so with any luck they may give me a by-line because if they don’t, a sub-editor will have to re-write it and there isn’t time. I grin at my cunning. Sadly, despite that I doubt if I will be paid because they know who I work for and it’s the agency who will benefit. The boss will be pleased. Maybe I can squeeze a pay rise out of him. Worth a try. I have to get on and get the story out to the Express and the Mail. I know it’s too late for the Guardian. There will be nobody there at this time of night.
I place a couple of blacks (carbon copies) on the boss’s desk so that he can put the story on the wires in the morning, pack up and head off to my flat. I’m done in. It’s been a long day and night.
I’m late arriving at the office. I have no intention of apologising to anyone after last night. I walk in nonchalantly, head for my desk yawning hugely, ignoring stares from the troops. Out of the corner of my eye I can see that Jerry Reynolds, the boss, has spotted me. He is standing up in his office and heading for the door.
‘Well done for getting it in the late editions,’ he says, arriving at my desk. Jerry has an annoying and slightly disgusting habit of wiping his nose with the back of his shirt sleeve. ‘Were you really first on the scene?’ I nod emphatically and describe it graphically, not just to him, but to the office in general. You could hear a pin drop. I ask if he got the blacks I left on his desk. He tells me that he did and the story is on the PA (the Press Association) wires as we speak.
‘Is there any follow-up?’ he asks. I tell him I would like to find out who it was who rang me. How did he know my name? There is no directory of who’s who in the agency anywhere as far as I know. Have I had dealings with him before? Was he really just an innocent passer-by? I also want to keep in touch with Harry Lamplight to confirm that it is was suicide. I have a niggling feeling that it may not have been.
He gives me a sideways glance. ‘The Telegraph have given you a by-line. It’s on page three.’ I smile a satisfied smile. I haven’t had a chance to look through the papers yet. I wonder what the Mail and the Express have done with it.
‘Well done anyway,’ he says to the room. ‘It’s a major story. There’s obviously more mileage in it. Keep on it.’
I look at the diary and see what is on for the day. We have six reporters, seven if you include my deputy, three of them serving their time, one about my age and a couple of old stagers in their forties. We have the magistrates court to cover as well as the town council. Both need experience which will keep Bill and Richard busy most of the day. I assign one of the cubs, Dot, to go with Richard to the council meeting. She shows promise and with any luck I may be able to send her solo very soon. I think her shorthand is up to it. The other cub can cover a Pilkington story. Some new process they want to talk about apparently. I hand out assignments to everyone.
Richard Armitage is probably our oldest reporter at 48 and my deputy. Why he hasn’t moved on is beyond me. He certainly has the experience. I know he likes a drink or two and perhaps that is the problem. I suspect it cost him his marriage. Despite all that I like him. He is the father figure I never had and if I were to confide my feelings to anyone it would be to him.
I missed having a dad. All my pals had dads when I was a kid and I never understood why I didn’t. I would make up stories about him being in Africa or on secret missions which is why he couldn’t come home. All nonsense of course. It was only when I got to my teens that I really understood why. It was really quite simple. The bastard had got mum pregnant and did a runner.
That hasn’t stopped me wondering who he is; what he is like and where he is now. He is probably dead I would think but that doesn’t lessen my curiosity. Why has there been such a conspiracy of silence? Nobody in my family ever talked about it, not even my grandparents. It always made me think that there must be some truly awful secret for it to be such a closed subject. I tried to talk about it to my mum when she was alive, but she made it clear that it was a closed subject. After that, I gave up. Until, that is, I met my girlfriend Amy a year ago.
Her full name is Amy Sunderland. She was fascinated by the mystery of my missing dad and has been insisting that we should find out who he is and why he deserted my mother. The problem is that there is no father’s name on my birth certificate so we are having to resort to detective work to find out who may have lived at my mother’s address in 1942. Yet another problem is that it was in the middle of the war and records were not as reliable. There is also the strong possibility that he may have been an American serviceman; another avenue we will be exploring. It’s a mystery that is becoming all the more opaque the longer we look at it.
I met Amy on a station platform a year ago when the famous Mallard steam loco was at Liverpool’s Lime Street Station. I have always had a sneaking liking for steam engines and on an occasional day off I manage to get myself into engine sheds by befriending managers and showing them my press pass. Amy is also a railway nut and she occasionally comes with me. I was once told I would never find a girlfriend in an engine shed. They were wrong!
It was a cascade of copper curls that first caught my eye, together with a pair of mischievous green eyes that stared at me inquisitively. I was hooked instantly. After a few weeks we made love in the Capri one night and became inseparable after that.
Quite apart from the sex which was greatly improved when she very helpfully went on the Pill shortly after, I became fascinated by her. I never knew how she managed to persuade her GP to prescribe it; I think I preferred not to know! She is a talented lady, an artist in her spare time, but also a bit off the wall which I like. Nobody could ever accuse Amy of being boring. She is also a teacher, helping young souls aspire to great things, as she laughingly puts it.
My phone rings. It is Lamplight. ‘Thought you might like to know that the boffins have decided that Arthur Jenkins was murdered. It was definitely not suicide. The gun was in the wrong position. His finger or thumb could never have reached the trigger. We need to find your caller. Could you come into the station later?’ I say I will.
Half an hour later, Amy rings. She wants to meet up for a drink later. She thinks she might have found something out about my father.
Chapter three will be published next Saturday