I have only visited Admiral Street once before and that was some time ago, long before I knew Lamplight who I think worked here at one time, before he got promoted and moved to St Helens. I arrived early so that I could have a brief chat to Willis, whom I rang yesterday afternoon to tell him I would be there to answer questions if necessary. Lamplight has also arrived and we are standing together at the back of the room while ACC Howard hosts the conference with Willis assisting. The top table is set out for five people; I assume the fifth chair will be for the police PR person.
We have already decided that it will be pointless to deny that Dot was attempting to lure Mr Trilby into a trap with the co-operation of the police and that she had volunteered for it. It is deeply ironic that she walked into a trap devised by him. The nationals already know that this is not just an abduction story and they have sniffed out the makings of a major crime story. It would not totally surprise me if cheque books were produced, discreetly, afterwards. Or, who knows, maybe not so discreetly and I suspect the agency is going to make a pile of money out of it. Whether any of it will find its way into my bank account is a matter for speculation. It bloody should do. And Dot should as well, both financially and professionally…if she survives this drama of course. I try not to think about that.
I expect it to be a lively meeting and I know I could be the target of some scathing comments and questions. Actually, I am quite looking forward to it. I have already thought through my responses to the questions that are likely to be thrown at me. I think it a strong probability that the agency’s name is going to be mentioned and then all eyes (and cameras) are going to be turned on me. I have already decided that I am going to call him Mr Trilby publicly for the first time because I know the boys will latch on to that and it will be in every headline in the morning. So far, it’s a name we have only used among ourselves.
The room is already rather full. There are at least four full TV crews with one or two one-man bands which I suspect could be foreign networks. Nearer the front are a couple of rows of photographers and behind them, in rows of seats, are reporters. I know quite a few of them, including John Bate from the Echo who waves and makes a drinking motion with his right hand. I give him the thumbs up.
Apart from Lamplight and me, various other people are scattered around the walls. Some are plain clothes police; some are simply hangers-on who have managed to talk their way in and others are probably connected with the case in other ways. It is then I notice, on the wall to the left of me, Durham Paddock, who is looking straight at me. He gives a small wave and a smile. I smile back.
It was a good lunch yesterday. Very convivial. I like him. He talks my language and I think I could very successfully work for him. He is very keen for me to continue in my role but also to have an editorial overview of both agencies, in St Helens and Liverpool. Although salaries were not mentioned, I think there is no doubt there would be a substantial increase. It is very tempting, and I need to ring the Echo to find out what is going on there before I decide. I will talk to John after the conference and find out if has heard any whispers. When I think about it, I am a little surprised to see Paddock here. He didn’t mention over lunch that he intended to come, although he is certain to have found out how involved The Star Agency is in the drama that has unfolded.
A door at the side of the room opens and five people troop in and arrange themselves behind the table with ACC Howard in the centre, Mr, and Mrs Sykes to his right and Willis and the PR person to his left.
The PR person stands up and the chatter subsides. She is a woman I would guess to be in her early thirties, and she runs the press room at Police HQ. She introduces herself as Miranda Thirkettle, and then ACC Howard, DCI Willis, followed by Dot’s parents, Mr, and Mrs Sykes, who are looking mildly terrified by the roomful of media. She then announces that ACC Howard will make a statement and then Dot’s mother, Winifred Sykes, would also like to make an appeal to Dot’s abductor.
AS ACC Howard stands, the TV crews switch on their lights and he reads from a sheet of paper: ‘You will all by nowknow of the abduction of Dorothy Sykes at the Silver Blades ice rink on Tuesday, February 3 and although we are following up several leads, we have not, so far, managed to locate where she is being held, nor have we received any demands from her abductor. I would appeal to him to release her and to ring me or one of my officers at any time. She is entirely innocent and should not be harmed.
He then invited Winifred Sykes to make her appeal. In many ways she is an older version of Dot but shorter, with greying hair and a careworn face. Her husband, Ronald Sykes, grey and balding with a thin, narrow face, looks on anxiously. Winifred stands, slides on a pair of spectacles and holds a sheet of paper. She begins reading, addressing her daughter’s abductor directly.
‘I don’t know why you have taken our daughter Dorothy or what you hope to gain by holding her, but I would beg you to let her go. You will gain nothing by harming her or by keeping her prisoner and I appeal to you to talk to the police as the Assistant chief Constable has suggested. Dot is our only child, and we love her. She stops and blows her nose in a tissue and wipes tears from her eyes. There are a series of flashes from the photographers as she stands there uncertainly looking as though she has more to say before being helped back to her seat by ACC Howard.
The PR woman announces that she will take questions and asks for reporters to state their newspapers or TVchannel.
The Telegraph: ‘Have you any idea what the abductors demands are?’
Willis: ‘No, he has not outlined any demands so far.’
The Sun: It isn’t true that you haven’t heard from Dot’s abductor, is it? We understand he has spoken to DI lamplight in St Helens.
Willis Looks meaningfully at me and Lamplight before answering. ‘No, somebody purporting to be the kidnapper did ring DI Lamplight, but we have reason to believe that this is one of the many hoaxes we get in cases like this.’
The Sun: ‘But he has been in touch with Star Agency we understand.What was that all about?’
Willis. ‘You will have to ask Mr Wilder about that. He is at the back of the room.
All heads turn to stare at Lamplight and me. I can sense Lamplight moving away imperceptibly, as though I had suddenly become infectious.
‘Yes, it is true,’ I tell them. ‘Mr Trilby did send me a note, thinking that he had my girlfriend as his prisoner and doubting that Dot is who she says she is.’
That resulted in a loud buzz in the room. It was the first they had heard about a ‘Mr Trilby’.
John Bate, Liverpool Echo: ‘Why has he picked on you Keith?’
Me: ‘Because he appears to think that something I wrote about him ruined his life, but since I have no idea who he is or what I am supposed to have written, it’s difficult to know.’
The Press Association: ‘So he is holding Dot, thinking she is your girlfriend. Is that correct?’
I simply nod in response to that.
Daily Mail,addressing Willis: ‘Is it true that Mr Trilby is suspected of two recent murders in a drugs turf war?’
Willis: ‘We would like to question him in connection with those.’
Daily Express: ‘Is it true that the police were using Dot in a Sting operation to trap her abductor, but it all went wrong?’
Willis: ‘I cannot comment on that.’ All heads turn to look at me, but I assume a sphynx-like expression. I decide I will do a runner before the conference ends.
Daily Mirror: ‘Do you know if Dot is still alive?’
Willis. ‘We have no reason to believe that she has come to any harm.’
I decide it is a good time to go and I slip out of the room while Willis struggles to answer another question. It is as I thought. The boys have sniffed out that there is more to the story than just a simple abduction. I know how it works.
When I get to the office, I ring Amy. I know she is off this morning because there were problems with the toilets at school, so the decision was taken to close the school for the day. She answers a little hesitatingly and I quickly tell her it is me. I tell her the national have got hold of the story in a big way and they are almost certain to find out where she lives. I tell her it will make no difference that she is my girlfriend and that it would be best if she did not answer any questions.
‘What am I supposed to do?’ she cries. ‘None of this is of my making. Why are they coming after me?’
I explain that it is because Mr Trilby insists that he is holding her despite all the press coverage saying that it is Dot he is keeping prisoner.
‘Why don’t you ask your mum if you can stay with her for a few days,’ I suggest. ‘They won’t know her address and you will not be plagued. Dan can get you from school in his car. It will be more convenient than moving in with me. What do you think?’
To my surprise she laughs. ‘It’s all very cloak and dagger, isn’t it?’
‘You can be the Mata Hari of Kensington,’ I say blithely,
‘She was an exotic dancer and artist’s model as well as a spy, wasn’t she?’
‘Yes, she was famous and had many admirers and you will be famous too. Your name will be in all the papers,’ I say.
She giggles. ‘Maybe I should try exotic dancing then?’
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?’
It is a bitterly late January day, a piercing east wind blowing a dusting of snow over the roofs and pavements on Rodney Street on the edge of Liverpool’s picturesque Georgian Quarter. It is late afternoon and dark already, the yellow street lamps casting shadows on the pavements as office workers lean against the wind, their collars drawn up as they hurry to catch their buses home.
I am looking out from my first-floor window at the wintry scene below, having abandoned the day’s art endeavour, a canvas I have been working on for weeks and which is defying all my attempts to get it right. It is needed for an exhibition in two months and I know I need to put in the time. The problem is that I can only really work in daylight and there is precious little of that around.
But I am a little perplexed and concerned right now. A few minutes ago, I received a text from an author friend I met a few months ago while in a beauty spot called Beddgelert in North Wales. Her name is Joy Davis and she has a picture postcard cottage there which she stays in to create her children’s stories. I must confess I haven’t read any of them, but I’m told they are hugely popular. The publisher must love her!
Anyway, her text simply said she had left him. It was strangely terse and completely out of character for her. She must be feeling desolate and would have been more likely to ring rather than just text. She would have wanted to tell me all about it; maybe meet up for a drink and a chat. I am concerned because, when I rang back to ask if she is OK, it just rang out. I have tried a few times since but with the same result. I am not too sure what to do. Why does she not pick up? I feel uneasy.
I like Joy. She is fun to be with. She is intelligent and creative, and she has been a regular visitor to Rodney Street.
We first met in Beddgelert at a restaurant in the village when sitting at separate tables. It was a busy day and the manager asked if we would mind sharing. We glanced at each other and she treated me to an infectious grin. ‘They’re always doing that,’ she whispered when I joined her and sat down. ‘They’ll bribe us with a free drink in a minute.’ She winked at me as the manager approached and asked if we would like a drink on the house. We both had a gin and tonic. ‘It’s the least you can do Evan,’ she retorted, eyeing him up sternly. ‘You should bring a bottle too considering all the money you’re making.’ His largesse, however, did not extend to a free bottle of wine. He walked away pretending not to hear. He was evidently quite accustomed to Joy’s taunts.
Joy is slim, her dark brown hair framing a friendly oval face with brown understanding eyes that twinkle with laughter. ‘Do you come here a lot?’ I asked her. ‘Only when I want peace and quiet,’ she replied frowning slightly. We compared notes and discovered that we both live in Liverpool, she in the leafy south as the newspapers term it, and I in the city centre. She was genuinely interested in my art and I was equally fascinated by how she crafts her tales. It was a really pleasant lunch and two hours just flew by. Since then we have kept in touch. I have visited her house and she has been a regular visitor to Rodney Street, saying she envied me living in the city centre.
Anyway, her text, which arrived a few minutes ago, simply said she had left him. I knew her marriage was a bit rocky and perhaps that is putting it mildly, but I had no idea that it had become so unbearable that she was on the point of walking out on him.
I have met her husband Jon a few times since we became friends and I can’t say that I like him. There is something about him that makes me wary. I can’t quite put my finger on it. All I know is that he is not what he seems.
A few moments ago, I sent her a text asking if she was alright and to come to Rodney Street if she needs to. So far, there has been no response. I don’t like that. It makes me scared.
Anyway, in a couple of hours, I will be at my usual table at a pub in south Liverpool for the weekly psychic session. Quite apart from helping to pay the rent I quite enjoy meeting people, many of whom have become regulars.
My list is usually over-subscribed ever since my involvement in helping to resolve a conspiracy last year in which my psychic abilities played such a decisive part. Since then I am regularly consulted over missing people; sometimes I can help and sometimes I cannot.
There has also been a lot of media interest and I have often been asked about my psychic abilities, most often because there are people who regard it all as a bit freaky. I suspect they think of me as almost a witch with a pointed hat and broomstick and nothing could be further from the truth. To me it is as normal as breathing. And that’s exactly it. I am a normal woman of slender build, around 29, 5ft 8in tall with casual, shoulder-length blonde hair surrounding a serious face and grey eyes. I have been told that my eyes have a magnetic quality. I’m not too sure whether that’s good or bad. They are what they are I suppose.
Ever since I was a little girl, I have been able to pick up on things that people around me could not. I felt things, heard things and even saw things I could not explain. When it first happened when I was about eight, I was terrified and told my mum who rushed me to the doctor, but after all kinds of tests they just shrugged and said I appeared to be entirely normal. After that, I learned to keep my mouth shut.
But it’s an ability that has had its uses over the years. I have always been able to tell when someone is dishonest with me. When I was little, I had no idea how I knew. I just knew. I also knew instantly which people I should steer clear of because they were untrustworthy or sly. I always knew something was different about me. I just didn’t know what it was until later in life.
When I was little, I would see people in my room at night and I had paralysing nightmares well into my twenties. I dreaded being alone because I never felt I was. I spent most of my childhood feeling uneasy.
I get around fifty messages a day. The nights are the worst because they come to me in the form of dreams: I have very powerful, imaginative dreams. I’ll pick up things about the future. Sometimes they are specific messages about people I know; other times they are about strangers which doesn’t make sense at all. Either way, I always wake up and remember them.
Psychic messages come to me in various guises – a shiver, a cobwebby feeling over my body, an itch or just a flash, a brief vision. It’s then up to me whether I want to focus on the feeling and what it is telling me.
Earlier today DCI Ken Salisbury from the local Police called round to the apartment. I met him last year during the stolen files investigation during which I was abducted, and I know him to be a kindly man and a copper of the old school. He has a round, beaming face, just a fringe of hair and a ready smile, but with eyes that miss nothing. I know he thinks my psychic stuff, as he calls it, is all nonsense and that I make it up, but at least he humours me because he knows I get results which is why he calls round when he has a particularly baffling problem.
Accompanying him is DS Bannon, a sharp dresser with a No.2 haircut and film-star gleaming teeth of which he is obviously proud. During the last case we were jointly involved in I got the distinct impression he was working his way up to dating me, and I realised that despite the swagger, the smile and the smart suits, DS Bannon is fundamentally shy.
Salisbury has made a point of calling round to check up on me after my abduction, and I have come to regard him almost as a father figure. After giving me a hug, watched by Bannon, awkwardly standing by, he announced the reason for calling round.
‘I think we have one for you and your skills, Naomi. It’s a really strange one this time, and we have no leads, apart from a husband I am deeply suspicious of.’
‘You are going to talk about Joy Davis, aren’t you Chief Inspector?’
‘Yes, I am,’ he says looking surprised.
‘She sent me a text not long ago saying she has left him.
‘Why you?’ he asks.
‘We have been friends for a few months. I have a lot of time for Joy. In my text, I told her to come here if she needs to.’
‘Any response?’ I shake my head. ‘I’m a bit worried.’
‘It’s really strange,’ Bannon pipes in. ‘According to the husband, she said she needed to be on her own for a while and was going to their cottage in Beddgelert but she doesn’t appear to have arrived. The phone isn’t answered and the neighbours haven’t seen her according to the local lads.’
‘I know it’s stating the obvious but has Jon tried ringing her? And what about her car? Has that been seen?’ I ask. They shake their heads.
‘At the moment it’s just a missing person case,’ says Salisbury. ‘She may turn up after a day or two for all we know. There is nothing much we can do other than go through the usual routine. It is just a matter for our uniformed colleagues at the moment.’ He shrugs and stares doubtfully out of the window
‘Maybe they had a row and she’s teaching him a lesson,’ I say. ‘It wouldn’t be the first time from what she told me’
‘Did she say that?’
‘As good as. She was very upset last time I saw her a week ago. I think you should talk to Jon.’
‘We already have, but I think maybe a return visit is indicated.’ He gives Bannon a sideways nod indicating the door.
‘Anyway, we’ve put her on the missing person database, and we are about to put out another appeal.’
As they are leaving Bannon gives me one of his winning smiles. ‘See you soon,’ he says. I can’t help smiling back.
I have just sent Naomi a text telling her I have left him. I haven’t left a note. I am simply going to disappear and leave Jon to face all the questions that are likely to be asked and maybe it will be revealed what a philandering liar he really is.
He probably thinks I am blissfully unaware of his affairs. That would be typical of his arrogance and conceit even though he appears to have forgotten that he contributes little or nothing to the household.
Well, it will be interesting to see how he manages to pay the bills without me. I imagine it will only be a matter of a month or two before his affairs are in complete chaos. And what conclusions will the police come to when I am nowhere to be found and his liaisons come to light, which they will. People talk and he will have been seen in pubs and hotels with his various conquests. He will be forced to come clean and be obliged to account for his movements for today. He will probably assume that I have gone to my cottage in Snowdonia, but he will be wrong. I have other plans.
I have just received a text back from Naomi offering to put me up. So typical of her. She is such a genuine person and I am tempted to take her into my confidence but that would be unfair because people, and especially the police, are certain to ask her if she has any idea of my whereabouts and she is not the kind of woman who would tell lies so it would be unfair of me to put her under pressure so it is best, for now, for her to be just as puzzled about my disappearance. Maybe a little later I will be able to take her into my confidence but for now I shall maintain an ominous silence.
I suspect though that Naomi will somehow ‘know’ what I am up to. I have a great deal of respect for her psychic powers and her ability to read people. I wonder what she really thinks of Jon. She has never said even though I have gently attempted to squeeze an opinion out of her. In a way I can understand why because marriages and relationships can be very complicated, and often what is seen from the outside is completely different from the reality of what couples really think of each other.
I have no doubt that Jon will tell everyone about my latest literary venture which I am excited about because it concerns a killer, and a serial killer at that. He might even try to link it to my disappearance. That should be interesting. I shall watch, with amusement, from afar.
The teenage stories have been very good for me. They have put me on the map as a writer and provided me with a good living, but I have felt for a while that it is time to move on and tackle a new challenge.
At first I wasn’t quite sure how to go about it and then I hit on the idea of seeing if I could talk to a convicted murderer to get into his mind as it where, so I went to the Central Library in the city centre and began to research for convicted murderers in back numbers of newspapers. I was amazed at how many there were and how different they were too. I wasn’t really interested in anyone who had killed his girlfriend in a fit of rage over an affair. No, I wanted somebody much more complex than that; somebody who had killed more than once but who was not a professional. They just do it for the money. I wanted to talk to somebody who had developed a taste for it; somebody who enjoys watching the light of life switching off in his victims. I wanted to find out what makes him tick as it were, even if that comes down to a kind of insanity. I discovered there are relatively few of them but then I found the ideal candidate.
His name is John Armstrong and he is in Durham jail serving a 35-year sentence for murdering three women in Newcastle. According to press reports of his trial he pleaded not guilty, his counsel maintaining he was unfit to plead but the court was having none of it and the trial went ahead. The evidence against him was so overwhelming that it took the jury just an hour to find him guilty on all three counts of murder.
I wrote to the prison governor requesting permission to interview Armstrong and I was invited to go to Durham to explain exactly why I wanted to talk to him. At first, the governor, a mild-mannered, studious-looking man in his late forties, obviously thought I was some sort of thrill-seeker but when he realised who I was his attitude changed dramatically. It seems his kids are ardent fans of my stories and he was intrigued as to why I wanted to talk to Armstrong, so I explained why I was changing direction as a writer and he nodded his understanding. After that, he couldn’t do enough to help me. Having said that he explained that it would be completely up to Armstrong. If he declined to see me that would be the end of it. He promised he would talk to him and let me know.
Hale Road, Liverpool
Thursday, February 1.
Early February can be the coldest month of the year, even on Merseyside which perversely often displays its independence with a mini climate quite different to surrounding areas. Whatever the national weather forecast may predict, it seldom holds true for Liverpool and its surrounding areas.
The previous night witnessed a heavy snowfall and the airport had been brought to a standstill, as indeed had the city’s entire infrastructure. No buses ran and there were numerous accidents as drivers, unaccustomed to black ice and snow, attempted to slide their way to work.
Almost two miles past the airport lies the village of Hale, with its thatched cottages and olde-worlde houses. Hale Road, which leads up to the village, can be quite isolated and was particularly affected by the snowstorm during the night but traffic is normally quite light after the airport turn-off and many people had heeded the weather forecast, remaining inside with their central-heating on full.
Earlier, just after 7.00am, a lone Audi A4 had made its way past the general aviation turn-off and picked up speed as it headed to the village. There had been no snow-clearing during the night; Hale Road was not considered a priority by the council and had not been cleared or gritted. There had also been a degree of drifting, leaving a bank on the side of a road where it curves quite sharply at the outskirts of the village.
The A4 was travelling far too fast given the conditions and it hit the bank and slid off colliding with a hedge where it stayed, stubbornly refusing to move despite the driver’s ever-more desperate attempts to reverse as the wheels spun on the now-compacted snow and ice. The engine finally faded and the driver – a woman – sat and stared helplessly out of the windscreen.
Ten minutes later a Range Rover carrying a couple on their way to the airport to meet their daughter from an early morning flight, its headlights scything through the snow and early morning mist, approaches from the village and on catching sight of the A4, stops, a car’s length in front. The driver, wearing fashionable green Wellingtons, climbs out and walks carefully to the car.
‘Are you alright,’ the man enquires, tapping on the window and staring at the woman inside who is sitting motionless in the driver’s seat. She turns, apparently startled by the tapping and winds down the window.
‘I think I drove into drifted snow and crashed into some bushes,’ she says apologetically, smiling at him.
The driver looks at her uncertainly. ‘You look a little shaken up. Are you sure you don’t need an ambulance?’ She smiles at him and shakes her head. ‘No, I will be fine honestly. I’ll ring the RAC. They’ll get me started and I’ll be on my way in no time.’
‘It might take them a while to get here in this weather,’ says the driver doubtfully. ‘You’ll freeze to death just sitting in your car. Can we give you a lift anywhere? We’re on our way to the airport. We could drop you off there if you like. At least it will be warm.’
‘You’re very kind,’ she says adamantly but I will be OK.’ She gets out her mobile phone and rummages in her bag until she finds her RAC card. She holds it up triumphantly. ‘I’ll ring them now,’ she says smiling.
‘OK, up to you,’ says the driver shrugging and trudging back to his Land Rover. Once inside, he starts the engine and pauses, saying to his wife, ‘Something odd about that. I would have welcomed a lift to somewhere warm in this weather. It might be some time before the RAC can pick her up there and drive her home given the weather.’
‘Maybe she didn’t want to take the chance,’ says his wife.
‘Hmmm. All the same I think I’ll call the Police when we get to the airport. There could be a delay to Julie’s flight anyway for all we know.’
The desk sergeant at Speke Police Station has spent an entirely uneventful night dealing with routine matters. Little has been happening. The local pubs have been quiet and apart from a few accidents and a rowdy party which required one or two officers to go around and persuade party-goers to calm down, it has been a humdrum shift which is due to end. He is about to sign off when a call comes through from a Mr Maddox who says he has just driven past a car on the Hale Road on his way to the airport and had tried to assist a driver whose car had crashed into a snowbank. He says the driver looked disorientated but had refused all help which Mr Maddox thought was odd given the weather conditions and he suggests they might want to investigate. The sergeant ends the call and mentally shrugs. It doesn’t sound like a matter for the Police, he thinks, but on the other hand the lads at the airport will be twiddling their thumbs on a day like this so why not give them something to do. He decides to log the call and radios for assistance. Inevitably, the call is received by the patrol cars stationed at the airport, which are the nearest, and one responds and heads off since it is only a couple of miles away.
When it reaches the crashed car there is no sign of the driver. The driver’s door is unlocked and the key is in the ignition but strangely there are no footsteps in the snow. The only tracks are those left by the Land Rover. One of the officers walks around the car and opens the passenger door. On the seat is a credit card and a phone. On the back seat is a patch of what looks like blood and a bottle of wine, half full.
The officer shows the card to his colleague. The name on it is Joy Davis.
The complete book is available on Amazon bot h as an ebook and a paperback. ASIN: B09D3N3XN6
Alice Hardman has worked for Meccano for three years in the sales department. She joined not long after the company was taken over by Lines Brothers who were serious competitor to Hornby Dublo with their Tri-ang Trains. Her friend, June Kirby, has worked there much longer and often recalls that it used to be such a friendly company. She is fond of saying that people would visit Binns Road from all over the world to see where their favourite products were made. It was almost a pilgrimage; such is the fame of Meccano and Hornby.
Alice is 26 and is an assistant to the sales manager who was parachuted in when Lines Brothers took over, He is aggressive and bucolic and inclined to have wandering hands so female staff have worked out a strategy never to be alone with him. She has a regular boyfriend who is a copper with the police in the city centre.
Her friend June is 34 and works in accounts which she says is boring, but it pays well. She compensates by leading an alcoholic and rather frivolous private life with a variety of boyfriends.
They have just left the offices and are about to stroll up Binns Road to Rathbone Road in the opposite direction to Edge Lane. As usual they will catch a bus to Mossley Hill where they both live.
Almost opposite the offices are a row of terrace houses which were, originally, probably railway cottages. Most days one invariably has a parrot in a large cage outside and many people stop to talk to it. Over the years the parrot, whose name is Jimmy, has learned a number of words but his favourite appears to be ‘Hello Scousers’ whichhe is prone to screech out to any passing strangers.
The two girls quite often stop at his cage and stroke his head on their way up the road. ‘Parrots are very intelligent you know,’ says June, stroking Jimmy who gives out a raucous ‘hah, hah, hah my beauty’.
‘At least somebody appreciates you,’ murmurs Alice, grinning. ‘Who’s your favourite at the moment and don’t say a salesman. I would have thought you would have had enough of them.’
‘Well as a matter of fact he is, but he says he will soon be sales manager.’
Alice looks sceptical. ‘I suppose he’s married too.’
June just shrugs nonchalantly.
‘They never leave their wives, you know. You of all people should know that,’ says Alice remembering the time, not that long ago, when June was head over heels with a man who swore blind he was leaving his wife but never did. In the end it was her who dumped him.
‘I’ve given up caring,’ mutters June looking up the road a few doors away to where a blue Ford Cortina is parked. She points to it. ‘Look at that,’ she says.
Alice turns away from Jimmy and looks to where she is pointing. ‘The Cortina. Look at the boot,’ she says.
They both stare at the large red tick on the boot lid. ‘The bloke who owns that is going to be well pissed off, especially if it’s paint,’ says June.
They both walk up to get closer and June touches is and in so doing, slightly smudges it. She smells the tip of her finger and looks at Alice smirking, ‘It’s lipstick,’ she announces. ‘He must have totally pissed some girl off for her to do that.’
Then Alice points to the house door where there is another large tick. ‘Perhaps it means something else,’ she says, like signs the gypsies put out to tell other travellers things. What do you think?’
‘Why hasn’t he removed it?’ says June. Alice shrugs. ‘God knows, although lipstick isn’t that easy to remove. You should know. You have left it on enough collars in your time.’
They both giggle and walk up the road.
Later that day Alice and her husband Jeff are about to settle down for the night after their evening meal. Jeff has been on an early shift at the station and has changed from his uniform to a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. They have lit the fire and Alice is looking at the today’s TV programmes.
‘Benny Hill is on tonight,’ she says. ‘Do you want to see that?’
‘I’m not that bothered,’ says Jeff. ‘It’s all girls with big boobs. It’s crap really.’
‘Since when have you gone off girls with big boobs,’ grins Alice.
‘It’s dirty old man stuff,’ says Jeff. ‘I can image creepy old fellers in long macs watching it.’
‘The Americans love him apparently,’
‘They would,’ sneers Jeff
‘So, what do you want to watch?’ says Alice studying the programme list
‘Callan is on,’ he says. ‘That will do me. You watch whatever else you like.’ In fact, Jeff had fancied going to the pub with some of the lads from the station, but he had hardly been home of an evening of late due to a succession of late shifts and had decided that a night in with Alice would be diplomatic.
It is then that she remembers the ticks she and June had seen on the way home. Perhaps it was the mention of dirty old men that triggered it but was odd, so she tells Jeff that she and June saw something really strange. She tells him about the ticks on the car and door.
Jeff sniggers. ‘Sounds like somebody has seriously pissed a girlfriend off. He’s lucky she didn’t use a screwdriver on the paintwork. He shrugs. ‘Just sounds like a domestic,’ he says dismissively.
And then he forgot all about it until he was in the pub a few nights later with some colleagues from CID. Policemen are like journalists. They are notorious gossips and the chatter is either about their colleagues, office politics or work.
It was when one of his colleagues was talking about a particularly nasty domestic when a wife had wreaked her revenge on a cheating husband by taking a razor to his shirts when she had found lipstick on one of them, that Alice’s story came to mind.
He repeats it with a few embellishments to make it even more outrageous than it really is and everybody has a good snigger about it, all apart from one colleague who looks at Jeff thoughtfully.
‘Did Alice say where this was?’ he says.
Jeff asks why he wants to know. ‘It just rings bells with an ongoing enquiry we have over a missing girl,’ he says. ‘I seem to recall the gaffer saying something about a lipstick.’
‘Well Alice works at Meccano on Binns Road so it will be somewhere around there I would have thought,’ he says.
And then the chatter moved on to female colleagues and their charms or otherwise and errant lipstick ticks were forgotten as the chatter and laughter became louder and more raucous.
When the footsteps stop outside her door, Dot shrinks back to her chair, hiding the nail she has been using on the first of the iron bars. She wonders what is coming. Is it going to be some kind of retribution for the subterfuge of impersonating Amy? If Mr Trilby has read the papers or seen the TV news, he will know he has been duped. So, what will he do? She can hear what sounds like a bolt being drawn back and then the door handle turns slowly and noiselessly.
The door creaks slightly as it opens, revealing a grotesque figure. Dot stares at the clown mask with its unnatural creepy snarl of a grin, its yellowed fangs, malevolent eyes with purple shadows and red hair escaping from a skull cap. The figure walks purposefully and slowly into the centre of the room, the clown grin mocking her. The figure places a plate with a large Cornish pasty on the table along with just a plastic fork and a bottle of water. Dot can see a wicked, curved serrated knife in his other hand.
The figure speaks with a strange, metallic voice. ‘Your friends may think they have fooled me but let me assure you they haven’t. I know exactly who you are and very soon you are going to give Mr Wilder a message. I’m sure he would like you to stay alive.’
He turns and walks to the door and just before closing it the clown mask leers at her with a final message: ‘I’m sure you would too.’ There is a metallic snigger as the door closes.
Dot glances at the table. The pastie is hot and she is hungry, so she tucks in ignoring the fork. Does he really intend to kill her if he doesn’t get what he wants? Or is it just an empty threat? And why is he wearing the mask? Is it because she could identify him?
She sits and ponders her predicament. Should she use her martial arts training to tackle him next time he turns up? He wouldn’t be expecting it, that’s for sure. She would have to disable him very quickly so that he drops the knife. One way would be to hit his armpit with the edge of her hand so that his arm goes numb and he drops the knife. It would also be quite painful. She could follow that up by chopping his neck above the collarbone and to one side of the windpipe. At best, if she manages to hit his carotid artery, he could also lose consciousness and at worst, it may stun him long enough for her to do a runner.
She would have the advantage of surprise, but it would still be very risky and if it failed, she knows she would be in real trouble. As she munches her way through the pastie she decides to keep that option in reserve. If she manages to free the iron bars, she might be able to escape through the window, even if that means smashing the glass. She can just about see a back yard outside. What’s the betting the backdoor is only bolted from the inside.
As she thinks about these options, she hears the front door banging and she decides to get work on the first bar again. It is set about half an inch into the cement and she is making good progress because it is old and crumbly. She thinks she can just about spot the end of the bar. Then she realises she will also have to dig out a channel so that it can be pulled upwards. She sighs. It is going to take quite a few sessions.
She sets to work and suddenly she can hear voices and footsteps. People talking. People laughing. She glances at her watch. It is just after 5:00pm. Why, suddenly, is she hearing lots of voices? It’s as if a crowd of people have just been let out of somewhere.
She listens for a while. She can’t make out conversations just the sound of voices that gradually fade and then new ones emerge. And then the realisation dawns on her. It must be a factory. If she is right and they were on Edge Lane and then turned off what factories are there in that neighbourhood? There is the Automatic Telephone and Electric Company, known as ‘The Auto’ which was taken over by the Plessey Company nine years ago. It can’t be that because their works and offices were on Edge Lane itself and not on a side street.
She thinks for a while and then it hits her. Of course! It must be Meccano on Binns Road where they make Hornby trains, Dinky Toys and, of course, Meccano and what she heard must have been the sound of the workers clocking off.
She suddenly feels excited. Is it too much to hope that with so many people walking out of the gate, some will walk past this house and notice the red ticks on the car and the front door? They may find them strange or funny and laugh at them but then maybe they will mention them to other people and then perhaps, just perhaps, it will spread until it reaches the police.
But just in case that doesn’t happen she will press on trying to dig out the iron bars, in what she now considers her prison cell. She retrieves the nail she had hidden under the mattress and get to work.
Steam andthe ‘Sixties is publishedas an eBook onAmazon today.
It is a stop gap until the finished and enlarged book is published in hardback, probably early next year and gives potential readers the opportunity to decide whether they like it or not and if they want to own the physical volume. It only costs £2.99 from Amazon ASIN: B09KVFKVBT
In the book, Liverpool artist and journalist Mike Rickett takes a personal journey through Britain in the 60s, witnessing the end of steam in the North West of England as well as York, Chester and North Wales.
He also reflects on the mistakes of the 1950s when the government felt that the railways were obsolete and refused to invest in them, followed in the 1960s by the vandalism of the Beeching report which closed hundreds of stations and branch lines. Something that has been debated ever since.
Mike also has a lifelong interest in photography as well as railways and the industrial scene and he took many pictures which have never been published before.
He witnessed and recorded the closure of Liverpool’s historic south docks which became derelict and overgrown as well as the final days of city street trams as generations of Britons knew them.
This is a personal and reflective journey through an age when the face of Britain changed forever.
These are two pages from Steam and the ‘Sixties. Unfortunately the published pages are much darker than shown here obscuring a lot of detail and I am not pleased with the result so while it is available from Lulu, I would advise interested poeple to wait until I publish it on Amazon. It will then have an extra 20 pages detailing every heritage railway in the UK.
It is Sunday and I am having the day off. We only have a skeleton staff on at the office anyway which today is headed up by Richard with a junior reporter. They will man the office until about 3:00pm and then call it at a day, unless something big breaks.
The story of Dot’s abduction is still news, albeit no news because nothing has happened. The police are no nearer locating her than they were two days ago. DCI Willis had a lengthy conversation with me yesterday when I arrived at Amy’s flat. He wanted background on Dot and I was actually able to tell him remarkably little. I have never enquired about her private life; I only discovered she didn’t have a boyfriend after she disappeared and we were looking for people to inform. I obviously know what her abilities are as a reporter and that she is a determined and resourceful lady which are qualities she will need if she is indeed being held prisoner. Willis readily agreed with that but then he threw a rather odd question at me.
‘Do you think she went willingly?’ he asked and before I could respond, he followed it up with: ‘The reason I ask is because she obviously just calmly walked out of the ice rink with the man. There was no fuss, no screaming, no struggle.’
I point out that he may have been threatening her with a knife or a gun and any kind of struggle could conceivably have put other people in danger. He nods in agreement at that.
‘All the same, do you think it is possible that she may have had other reasons for going quietly?’ I stared at him and a niggling thought that had been at the back of my mind surfaced and I told him that her curiosity may have persuaded her to find out more about him and why he is doing it.’
‘Bloody journalists,’ he murmured, shaking his head.
‘It’s a damn sight better than having bodies and blood everywhere,’ I snapped. He waved his hands, deprecatingly as though I was about to have hysterics.
‘I can admire her bottle I suppose,’ he said, ‘but it might have been better if she had just done a runner. That would have left him standing there looking foolish.’
‘Now I think about it,’ I said looking at him quizzically. ‘How come you were not watching him? How could he just walk out of there with not a policeman in sight?’
Willis scowls. ‘You must understand I was not there,’ he growls. ‘I left it to Lamplight to organise and it seems they thought they were watching him but what they were actually watching was a man wearing a trilby. After Dot vanished, we talked to him and he was completely innocent. He said he found it on the seat next to him, so he put it on.’
I laughed out loud at that. I just couldn’t help it. It was straight out of the Keystone Cops it was so ridiculous.
‘I suppose you are going to include that in a report, aren’t you,’ he says wearily.
‘Possibly,’ I say grinning. ‘But it won’t be until all this over, and maybe not even then.’
‘I would appreciate it if you would keep quiet about it,’ he says. ‘We have enough problems these days without us making fools of ourselves. The fact is we are dealing with a very clever and resourceful individual. Nobody can describe him. Nobody has seen his face and he must have known that we would be looking out for the hat. It’s no excuse but all the same…’
I laughed again and told him not to worry. Then I brought up something else that had been worrying me. I tell him that we were unable to keep Dot’s name out of the papers or TV and he is almost certain to have seen it. What is his reaction likely to be, I wondered?
He shrugs. ‘You know as much as I do, maybe more,’ he says. ‘You tell me. It’s anybody’s guess. He may just give up and do a runner.’ I tell him that I very much doubt that. He has done all this for a reason and he appears to want me to confess to something, but I have no idea what. He may not have Amy as a hostage, but he still has a hostage.’
Amy had been in her kitchen while all this was going on and when Willis left, she came out and asked what was so funny. I told her and she stared at me in disbelief.
‘That is just incompetence,’ she said angrily. ‘Dot could be in danger because of it.’ I told her that I doubted that. It will just change things but what it won’t change is his apparent hatred of me.
Anyway, with it being Sunday and my day off, we both slept in and while Amy was still sleeping, I get up and make her a cooked breakfast – two eggs, sausage, bacon, tomatoes and Ulster Fry which I know she likes. The smell of cooking must have awakened her because I hear her coughing so I take her a mug of tea and plonk it on the bedside table telling her that breakfast will follow shortly and she is not to move.
‘Is it my birthday?’ she says smiling.
‘Let’s make it your official birthday, like the Queen,’ I say to her, heading back to the kitchen.
Later, when we have both eaten and I am reading the Sunday papers, she leans on my shoulder and blows in my ear. ‘What shall we do today Oh Mighty Media Mogul?’
I tell he if she does that again we will end up back in bed. She giggles. ‘I must sleep in more often,’ she says.
She sits next to me on the sofa and I can feel her staring at me as I try and concentrate on a particularly riveting story about the Prime Minister Harold Wilson, whom I have met a couple of times when he stays at a penthouse at the Adelphi Hotel while visiting his constituency of Huyton. It seems his adeptness at keeping the warring wings of the Labour Party together may well be fading and the pundits can feel an election coming.
Finally, I give up and ask what it is she so desperately wants to ask me. ‘Are you likely to stay at The Star now that you will have a new boss? And I have another question too. What is it this Mr Trilby wants? You must have some idea surely.’
I tell her that Mr Paddock wants to have lunch with me next week and I will reserve judgement until after that, but at the moment if the Post or Echo off me a job I will accept it. I have no intention of working for a news agency for the rest of my life.
I pause and gaze reflectively at the window. I tell her that I have had a cursory look through my cuttings and one story caught my eye. It was about a man whose business went bust after I did an investigative job on him. I found out he was selling cheap but dangerous cosmetics from China and several people went blind as a result. He was prosecuted and jailed for three years. His life fell apart apparently. He went bankrupt and his wife and kids left him as well, I believe.
‘Did you ever meet him?’ she asks.
‘I shake my head. ‘I managed to interview him on the phone once but never face-to face. There were pictures in the papers, of course. It was a long time ago. It was a major story and I had not long been a reporter.’
‘Could it be him do you think?’
I shrug and say that if it is I fail to see why he could blame me. It was him who broke the law and blinded people with the crap he was selling. So, if he wants to me to admit to ruining his life, he will have a long wait. He did that all on his own.
‘Where is he now?’ says Amy.
I tell her that I have no idea and that once you have done with a story it is rare to keep track of what happens to the protagonists, unless it becomes a follow-up. ‘You just move on to something else,’ I tell her.
‘You are going have to find a way of telling Mr Trilby that,’ she says. ‘What was the name of the man in your story?’
I tell her it was Howard Balmer. She nods and scribbles it on a notepad. ‘Well, what shall we do today Mr Big Shot? You decide.’
I consider the options. ‘I don’t suppose you fancy skating?’ I ask pensively.
She gazes at me. ‘Why not! We can see how Dot managed to walk out without anybody apparently noticing.’
I thought that an eminently good plan and suggested we go after lunch. ‘I have ironing to do anyway,’ she says, which means that I can settle down with my papers and a good strong coffee.
Almost an hour later the phone rings and Amy calls over saying that it is for me. I reluctantly get up expecting it to be the office, but it isn’t, it is Lamplight.
‘You won’t believe who I’ve just had on the phone,’ he growls and before I can respond he says. ‘It was the bastard kidnapper. He had the fucking nerve to ring me as bold as brass.’
To say that I am all ears is an understatement. ‘What did he have to say for himself,’ I ask in wonderment.
‘He said he knows what we are up to and it won’t work.’
‘Did he expand on that,’ I say.
‘Oh yes. He said we might fool everyone else in thinking that he has somebody called Dorothy Sykes, but he knows he has Amy and he intends to hang on to her.’
‘You’re kidding,’ I say incredulously.
‘Nope. And he had a message for you too which was “Tell Wilder to think on his sins. I want a public apology for what he did to me.’
I tell Lamplight about my story and the possibility that Mr Trilby may be Howard Balmer. I suggest he may be able to discover what happened to him when he was released from prison and that if he does manage to locate him could I come along when they talk to him.
Lamplight rings off without answering. I think he was ringing from home. His wife will not be happy about him working on a Sunday.
Could this be the break we have been waiting for?
My thought turn to Dot. What is happening to her? Is she safe?
This is my latest non-fiction book. It is a personal memoir of the 1960s and which I both loved and hated at the same time. It is also a record of the demise of the steam locomotive in the UK during that period. There are also chapters on Liverpool’s iconic dock system, as well as areas in the north of England where steam made its final stand.
Apart from that it is a personal and reflective journey through an age when the face of Britain changed forever.
This edition is published by Lulu. It is just about 50 pages but a longer (and probably cheaper) version will be available from Amazon in the near future.
Dot takes the blindfold off as soon as her hands are untied. Her captor left the room immediately after, locking the door behind him without saying a word. Indeed, he has not uttered a sound since they walked out of the ice rink and she hasn’t really had a good look at his face either because she was told to walk in front of him. She has only seen the back of his head and the trilby hat.
She had thought it odd to receive a message purporting to come from Lamplight when she was sitting at her table at the rink. She had spotted Keith in his Duffle coat sitting at the rink-side, but she could not see either Lamplight or the other detective. She couldn’t think of any reason why he should want to send her a message which was asking her to come and see him in the foyer. Could that mean they have taken Mr Trilby into custody? If so, why hasn’t Lamplight come to her or sent Keith to get her for that matter?
Something is telling her to beware. Should she go to the foyer or should she simply go and tell Keith? The problem with that is it would risk blowing her cover as well as his if Mr Trilby is there and watching.
She decides to take the risk and go but before she does, she dives into her bag to find some kind of marker and finds a lipstick she seldom uses. She smiles at the thought and scribbles a brief note Just follow the lipstick on the back of the note the waitress has just delivered.
She walks slowly out to the foyer and looks around. There are small groups of people either on their way in or just emerging and deciding where to go next. She cannot see Lamplight or the detective. Are they hidden somewhere, watching her? If so, what is supposed to happen next? This was not part of the plan in her briefing.
She stands there, looking around indecisively when a voice behind her says quietly: ‘Don’t look around. Just walk forward slowly. I have a knife at your back. Walk to the door and then turn left. I will be right behind you. Do nothing to attract attention.’
She does as she is told hoping that Lamplight is watching. Where is he? Where is the detective? Why are they allowing this to happen? She considers turning to face him and to try to grapple the knife from him, but all it would take would be one thrust with the knife and it would all be over and she would be lying on the floor bleeding.
What Dot does not know is that a man wearing a trilby is sitting on the opposite side of the rink to Keith and he is being closely watched. When Dot and the real Mr Trilby leave the rink, he will get up and walk out, to be confronted by the police on the way. He will be asked where he got the hat, and he will answer that he found it on the seat.
Dot has the lipstick concealed in one hand which she keeps clenched. They walk past the cinema and the voice behind says to walk to the car park. He points to a blue Ford Cortina and she is told to get in the back seat. As she is walking to the rear door, she pretends to trip and reaches out with her lipstick hand on to the boot lid to steady herself and as she pulls herself up, she puts a tick on it, covering it with her hand. He is standing behind and to her left and fails to notice.
She opens the rear door, which conceals the tick and climbs in. He closes the door and walks around the front of the car to the driver’s seat and gets in, taking his hat off to reveal thick brown, curly hair.
Dot surreptitiously tries to open the door, but he must have engaged the child lock. She sits back and while she is bursting with questions, she decides to stay totally silent. He may have been expecting a struggle, shouting, threats, questions; hysterics even. She is hoping he may be thrown by a complete, stony silence. He may be tempted to reveal more about why he is doing this or to become triumphant or boastful.
She reminds herself that he thinks he is abducting Amy, Keith’s girlfriend, for reasons she may well discover. The fact that he has instead abducted a reporter is her ace card which she will play at a critical moment.
He tosses what looks like a black bandage to her, growling at her to put it on. It is a blindfold and he watches by the rear-view mirror as she puts it on. ‘Don’t try anything stupid,’ he says. ‘Just do as you’re told and you won’t get hurt.’
The car starts up and she is fairly certain they are travelling down Beech Street and not Kensington or Prescot Road. She knows that the main road at the end is Edge Lane and if they turn right, they will be heading towards the city centre and if they turn left, they will be heading out of town.
The car turns left but does not travel far before turning right after pausing for traffic. The sound of traffic subsides and shortly after the car stops. He gets out, slamming the door behind him. She can hear him opening a door and then her door opens. He ties her wrists with handcuffs and hauls her out of the car, on to what feels like pavement and then to a door with a step which she stumbles on and reaches out to steady herself, putting a tick on the door in the process. He drags her up roughly and shoves her through a door into what sounds like a corridor and then into a room. He removes the handcuffs and immediately leaves, slamming the door behind him.
She looks around her after removing the blindfold. The room is bare apart from a dirty mattress on the floor, a small table by a grimy window with iron bars on it, an upright wooden chair and another door to one side of the room. She walks over and opens it. Inside is a wash basin and a toilet, both filthy.
On the table is a large bottle of water. She sits on the chair and gulps some down. For the first time, she can feel fingers of fear reaching out to her mind and her limbs. She begins to tremble and tells herself to stop. She gulps down more water as she feels tears beginning to form. She wipes them away with the back of her hand. What is he intending to do with her? How long will she be in this awful room? She must not let it show that she is scared.
She hears the front door slamming shut which must mean he has gone out. She rushes over to the door, twisting the doorknob but it doesn’t move. She shoulders the door hoping a panel will splinter but it doesn’t. She rushes over to the window and tries to move the metal bars, but they are set in cement. She can hardly see out of the window it is so grimy, but she can just about see a back yard outside. She tries shouting but there are no sounds outside apart from some strange squawks nearby. She listens and realises it is a parrot which must be just a few doors away. That must mean there are people living there. She listens carefully but the street is completely devoid of any sound apart from the occasional car.
She shouts out in frustration and returns to the chair. For the first time she looks around the room more carefully. In the corner is a small dirty-white bookcase she hadn’t noticed before. There appears to be a few books on it. She walks over to get a better look. She picks one up and blows the dust off it. It’s Graham Green’s Ministry of Fear. Underneath is Aldous Huxley’s Brave New world and there are one or two more as well. At least she will have something to read, she thinks grimly.
She sits by the table wondering what might be going on outside. They will obviously have mounted a full search for her, little realising just how near she really is. The problem is that so few cars seem to travel down the road that nobody is going to notice her ticks.
The walls are bare plaster with remains of an ancient brown wallpaper in places. A bare bulb is in the centre of the ceiling. The switch is beside the door. She walks over and flicks it and the bulb reluctantly lights as though awakening from a prolonged sleep.
As she returns to her seat a thought occurs to her. She wonders if she has been named as the girl who has been abducted. They might be able to keep it quiet for a day or two but sooner or later they will have to name her. They cannot say it is Amy because she will have gone to school as usual. Mr Trilby is certain to read the papers or hear it on the radio or TV. What is his reaction going to be when he realises he has been fooled? It’s a development she hadn’t thought about before. She had always assumed that it would be she who revealed that at a time of her choosing.
She is staring at the floor as these thoughts pass through her mind and suddenly, she notices something metallic almost hidden by a crack in the bare floorboards. She walks over, stoops down and prises it up with her fingernail. It’s a nail.
She holds it up. It’s at least four inches long and the end is still sharp. An idea pops into her mind and she walks over to the window and looks at the iron bars. There are three of them. They are not particularly thick, perhaps a quarter of an inch, but they are buried quite firmly. She scrapes away at the cement around the base of the nail. It crumbles quite easily. Perhaps if she can free the end, she might be able to bend the bars upwards.
She hears the front door slamming and loud footsteps echoing in the hall.