Chapter Thirty-Four

Kensington, Liverpool

February 3

Dot and the WPC, whose name is Wendy Fairclough, are in Amy’s flat, munching their respective ways through slices of lemon drizzle cake accompanied by mugs of coffee. It is 2.30 p.m. and Amy has made them very welcome. She has been curious about Dot anyway having heard snippets about her ability and Keith’s open admiration for her. There have been moments when she would wake up and stare at the ceiling and find herself wondering what Keith’s admiration was based on. And then she scolded herself for even beginning to speculate that Keith might be tempted. And now, having met her, she could understand why he might be attracted to her. There is no doubt about it, Dot is an attractive lady. She is about the same height as Amy but with long, flowing blonde hair and a figure that would turn any man’s head. Having said that, they are of a similar build and Amy can understand why the deception they are embarked on might just work.

   Dot has been almost effusive in her admiration for Amy and the way she has coped with ‘the watcher’ and his implied threats. They compare hair and Dot produces her long flowing copper-coloured wig, quickly realising she will need to tie her blonde hair up. She sits on a dining chair while Amy attempts to use clips, but it doesn’t work. Dot’s hair is too long and luxuriant to sit on top of her head. They all stare at each other with Dot saying angrily that she hasn’t thought it through.

   There is a poignant silence. Without an Amy look-alike it cannot go ahead unless Amy herself takes Dot’s place.  But that has been entirely ruled out by both Keith and Lamplight on the grounds that if things should go wrong, Dot has been thoroughly briefed by Lamplight earlier on what action to take. She also has some training in martial arts, she revealed almost as an afterthought. Quite apart from that, it is Amy he is targeting, and the appearance of Dot will conceivably thwart whatever he has planned if he attempts anything other than following her.                     

   After a few minutes when Wendy is about to transmit an abort message, Amy snaps her fingers saying she has an idea. She has a hair colourant she uses for highlights. They could colour Dot’s hair. She and Wendy stare at Dot who looks bemused and doubtful, but Amy insists they will just about have time to do it if they start straight away. It won’t be permanent, she reassures Dot. It will wash out after a few days, she says encouragingly. Dot hesitates but agrees.

   WPC Wendy stares out of the window at the street below. There is nobody lurking opposite that she can see. Her radio buzzes. ‘Receiving’ she says. ‘In position’ says a voice, meaning that the detective whose name is Bruce is in place. ‘Are you all set?’ asks another voice which Wendy assumes is Lamplight’s. ‘Just a little hair problem,’ she says. ‘But we think we can resolve it.’ She looks in the direction of the bathroom where Dot is emerging in her underwear and a slip with a towel wrapped around her head.

   ‘We will have this dried in no time,’ says Amy brandishing a hair dryer. ‘What time do you need to move out?’

   ‘That depends on him,’ says Wendy. ‘If he shows up, we radio Lamplight who will decide when we move. He will probably give him half an hour or so,’ she says.

   In half an hour Dot’s hair is dried and she lets it hang loosely down to her shoulders like Amy’s. Wendy studies them both as they stand side-by side and nods. ‘That is surprisingly good,’ she says finally. ‘The only way he could tell you apart is if he sees your face and even then, there are similarities. As far as we know he has never actually met Amy so he may not know what she looks like from close up.’

   Amy dives into her bedroom and emerges with a red coat. ‘Try this on. It’s a coat I wear quite a lot and he may well have seen me in it if he has been watching me for some time.’ Dot puts it on and it is a perfect fit. Amy and Wendy stand back and study Dot who grins at them and gives a twirl. ‘I’m ready for him now,’ she declares.

   ‘We might as well finish the lemon cake while we’re waiting,’ says Amy. ‘It’s fattening,’ says Wendy.

   ‘Who cares,’ says Dot. They all giggle and cut generous slices.

   Twenty minutes later, Wendy’s radio buzzes. It is Bruce who says he thinks someone may have turned up and asks her to look at the opposite side of the road. They all rush to the window but before they get there, Wendy holds up her hand: ‘Careful girls, he is sure to look up and if he sees three faces, he will smell the proverbial rat. Just one at a time please and stand well back. Wendy looks first and radios Lamplight: ‘Target is in place. Wearing a mac and a trilby, lounging in a doorway.’

   ‘Roger,’ comes the reply. ‘Stand by.’ Dot looks at the figure in the doorway across the road and then moves to the door.

   ‘Relax,’ murmurs Wendy. ‘DI Lamplight is sure to give him at least 15 minutes before you move out.’

   She was right. In what felt like an age her radio crackles to life. ‘We have go,’ says Lamplight. I repeat we have go.’

   ‘He sounds like Cape Kennedy,’ giggles Amy.

   Wendy moves to the door but before opening it she tells Dot to walk casually, not quickly or slowly but as she would normally and not to look behind her. Once she gets to the ice rink, she should slowly head for the coffee bar. She can watch the skaters before she gets there for a while, if she wants, but not for too long. Once she is in the coffee bar she is to sit tight as though waiting for Keith.

   She then opens the door. ‘When this is all over, we must all go for a drink, just the three of us,’ says Dot. They all smile in agreement.

   ‘Good luck Dot,’ says Amy. ‘I can’t wait to find out who he is. Be careful. Don’t take any risks.’

   Dot grins and winks and heads off down the stairs.

*

Lamplight slowly drives the car around the corner onto the main road just a block away from Amy’s flat and stops. He and Keith Wilder watch as Dot emerges and walks along to the traffic lights and then waits for them to change. They can see a figure in a doorway a little further along on the opposite side of the road and as the lights change, she and half a dozen other people cross over and disperse when they reach the other side. Dot and two other people walk in the opposite direction to the figure in the doorway who slowly and casually follows. Further down the road, Bruce the busker puts his harmonica away and ambles along after them.

   ‘Why don’t we drive straight to the ice rink,’ says Wilder. ‘There’s no point us crawling along after the procession. For one thing cars are going to sound their horns at us for going so slowly and that will only attract attention which is the last thing we want.’

   ‘Good thinking,’ mutters Lamplight and speeds up until he gets to the junction of Kensington, Prescot Road, Sheil Road and Beech Street. The Silver Blades ice rink is next to a derelict cinema on the corner of Prescot Road and Beech Street.

   Wilder attempts to glimpse the follower as they drive past but his trilby is pulled down obscuring most of his face. As they near the ice rink Wilder asks if DCI Willis is aware of what is going on.

   ‘Of course.’ Lamplight replies. ‘This is his patch and if anything goes wrong, we will need his co-operation.’

   Lamplight turns right at the junction and then into the car park. Before they get out, he tells Wilder to stay hidden as much as possible, perhaps in a corner of the coffee bar where he can’t be seen or perhaps just outside.

   ‘If he spots you the game will be up,’ he says ominously. ‘So, keep out of the way.’

   ‘Where are you going to be?’ he asks Lamplight.

   ‘I am going to be watching Dot as well,’ he says. ‘I’m not sure exactly where as yet. I’ll have to see how things play out. Don’t forget we also have Bruce following.’

   ‘The watcher is going to be lucky to dodge this,’ mutters Wilder.

*

Wilder knows the ice rink well. He and Amy are regulars so he has an idea of one or two places where he can keep an eye on Dot without being noticed himself. He is wearing a duffle coat and he has pulled the hood up as he sits on one of the seats at the side of the rink where he can also see the coffee bar. Sometimes the best way to hide is to be in plain sight.

   He does not have to wait long before a ginger-haired Dot in Amy’s red coat appears at the rink-side. He smiles. She really does look the part. If she has spotted him, she doesn’t show it but just gazes at the skaters with a wistful expression as if she wants to join in.

  He looks around to see if he can see her follower and he spots a trilby in a cluster of people near the skate hire area, but his face is obscured. He quickly turns back so he can see Dot out of the corner of his eye.

   She suddenly turns and walks towards the coffee bar, disappearing while she presumably orders a drink. Ten minutes later she sits down at a table and gazes out of the window at the skaters below. Wilder looks around to see if he can spot Lamplight or Bruce, but neither are to be seen. Trilby has also disappeared.

   He turns his gaze back to Dot, but she has also vanished. He decides she may have returned to the coffee bar for something to eat and decides to see if she returns. But she doesn’t. The minutes tick by and her seat by the window is taken by somebody else. He decides to investigate.

   When he reaches the coffee bar he is joined by both Lamplight and Bruce. There is no sign of Dot anywhere. Wilder asks a girl behind the bar if she remembers seeing a girl in a red coat sitting by the window. He points to her seat. She nods and says she gave her a message from an Inspector Lamplight asking if she could meet him at the skate hire centre.

   ‘I’m Inspector Lamplight,’ he snaps. The girl looks at him and says the man who gave the message was wearing a trilby and he was also shorter.

   The three of them rush to the skate hire centre and but there is no sign of her. They return to the rink and separate to conduct a search of the entire rink, both people on the ice and those seated around it. Wilder decides to go to the foyer and ask people if they have seen her in her distinctive red coat.

   Most people have only just arrived and are of no help but a couple waiting for their daughter to appear do remember seeing a girl in a red coat leaving about ten minutes ago.

   ‘Was she on her own?’ asks Wilder.

   The couple look at each other and finally the woman says: ‘I think she was with a man. They left together.’

   ‘Can you describe him?’ he asks

   ‘Not really,’ she says and then by way of explanation. ‘He had his back to us. I do remember he was wearing a trilby hat though.’

Chapter Thirty-Three

The Glass House, St Helens

February 2 – later

Keith

I think everyone was in shock after Jerry made his announcement yesterday afternoon. His statement was short and lacking in virtually every detail that the staff wanted to know; what are the new management’s policies? Are jobs safe? Will the agency be moved out of St Helens? Jerry was completely unable or unwilling to answer any of these questions and having delivered his statement, he retreated to his office ignoring all the questions that were put to him.

   I joined them all in the Glasshouse later where the unquestioned leader was Richard. They were all gathered around him discussing the various scenarios that might result after the takeover. As soon as I walked in the questions were fired at me. I held up my hands and told them that I know nothing more than they do but that I will be making enquiries on the grapevine to see what the rumourville is saying about it. In cities like Liverpool journalism is rather like a village where everyone knows everyone else and a takeover like this is certain to cause ripples in the rumour sphere, mostly in the pubs I suspect.

   I told them that in my opinion they should not be worried. It would be hard, I said with a grim smile, to inherit a worse boss than Jerry and that the new tie-up might actually bring new opportunities for them. Although Jerry has not revealed who the new owners are, I strongly suspect that they are the owners of Paddock Press, a large and highly successful agency in Liverpool who I know by reputation are very professional and used by many of the nationals if they are unable to cover stories themselves.

   That cheered them all up noticeably and Richard and Dot remained while the others crowded around the bar, their mood much lightened.

   ‘What does the future hold for you Keith?’ say Dot, staring at me seriously. ‘Are they likely to want to put their own man in as news editor? Isn’t that what usually happens in takeovers?’

   I look at Richard who treats me to a knowing smile. ‘I rather think Keith has his future mapped out,’ he murmurs, giving her a wink. She gazes at me, obviously expecting me to elaborate, but all I say to her is that all will be revealed at the appropriate time.

   ‘Which means that you are going to leave as well,’ she says, rather too loudly for my liking. ‘I might as well start looking for a job,’ she says glumly.

   I tell her that I don’t doubt that she will move on and that, indeed, she should when the time is right, but that time is not now. Richard nods in agreement. I tell her that I have read her feature and done an edit, here and there. She will find it on her desk when she returns to the office.

   ‘What did you think of it?’ she asks searchingly.

   I tell her that I liked it, especially since it was a complicated subject to get to grips with. I thought it a little preachy in places and I have written in suggestions to water that down.

   ‘I hope you aren’t going to become one of those idiotic women libbers,’ says Richard. ‘Some of them are just men haters with all the bra-burning nonsense. Don’t get me wrong I am all in favour of fair pay and equal rights and all that, but women should be women. What is wrong in being attractive anyway?’

   ‘I think some of them probably have good reason to hate men,’ says Dot. ‘But I agree with you Richard, I have no wish to despise men. In fact, I rather like them.’ She turns and glances at me with a half-smile, ‘One or two of them anyway,’ she adds. We all burst out laughing.

   We are joined by DI Lamplight who marches into the pub and heads straight for us. ‘I thought I would find you here,’ he says without any preamble and sitting down. ‘We need to discuss arrangements for tomorrow,’ he says. I ask him if he would like a drink. He would, a whisky, so I head for the bar along with Richard who says he is going to join the troops.

   When I return Lamplight has lit one of his dreadful Capstans and Dot is sitting far away. I don’t blame her. I do the same and then tell him about the takeover.

   ‘Does that mean you will all get the sack?’ he asks cheerfully. I tell him that he should hope not because we might be replaced by people who don’t believe in co-operating with the police. And then I tell him that it is extremely unlikely anyway because it is a very profitable agency. I should know. I keep a record of how many stories we sell and how much we get in lineage. And that doesn’t include fees for features like the one Dot has just completed which do not come under the lineage rate.

   ‘Well, I hope not,’ he says looking at us both in turn. ‘I would hate to have to train a new lot.’ He treats us to a rare smile and takes a generous sip of whisky.

   I ask how he sees tomorrow’s operation going. He glances at Dot and asks if she is still happy to go along with it and reassures her that she will be perfectly safe and then he leans forward in a conspiratorial way and explains how he has planned it.

   ‘You will need to be at Amy’s flat well before 3:00 pm,’ he tells her. ‘By that I mean on the ground floor hallway, not upstairs in the flat. You can don your wig and change your coat to one like Amy’s. You will have a WPC with you who will have a personal radio.’

   ‘By the way, does Amy know about this?’ he asks me. I tell him that she does. In fact, she was quite keen to do it herself, but I persuaded her that it would be better for Dot to do it because she might make a first-person special crime feature later. Amy has invited both Dot and the WPC to keep a discreet look-out from her sitting room window. She will no doubt make sure you have a coffee and a slice of cake while you are watching and wish you good luck when you leave, I say, turning to Dot who smiles and asks when I was going to tell her about the feature. I say she would have thought about it herself in time.

   ‘So, this is the timetable for tomorrow,’ says Lamplight. ‘Once Amy is in position at the flat, my detective will position himself on the same side of the road but a few doors down. He will be a busker playing a mouth organ. He will also have a radio.

   ‘Keith and I will be parked around the corner on a side road and we will be in touch with both you in the flat and the busker. He who will tell us if anyone stops and appears to be taking an interest in Amy’s flat, no matter how casually.

   ‘We will wait for an hour which is when Amy would normally arrive home. If nobody has shown up by then will just abort and re-arrange for another day,’ he says finally.

   ‘What if he turns up much later or indeed earlier?’ asks Dot. ‘We will have missed him, won’t we?’

   ‘That is very unlikely,’ says Lamplight. ‘What would be the point of him doing that. He is only going to keep watch if there is a prospect of following Amy. True, she might go out of an evening but then she might not and there is even less point in him turning up earlier because she will be at work.

   ‘What happens then?’ asks Dot.

   ‘Well, assuming he turns up we give him half an hour then I will radio you to begin and you will set off along Kensington to the ice rink. When you get there, you will go to the coffee bar and order a drink, then you will sit down as though you are waiting for Keith to turn up.’

   ‘And do I?’

   Lamplight tugs his ear lobe and frowns. ‘That is when we play it by ear,’ he says. ‘It depends on what he does. If he follows her in, then we go in too. We will make a decision about sending you in depending on what happens next,’ he says to me. And then to Dot reassuringly: ‘Our detective will be watching you at all times so don’t worry.’

   ‘Maybe I’ll put some skates on,’ says Dot. ‘I used to cut a fine figure on the ice. I’d like to see him following me there,’ she sniggers.

   ‘Don’t get carried away,’ warns Lamplight. ‘This is not a game. This man could be dangerous and we do not as yet know what his end game is. So be sensible please.’

   ‘Sensible is my middle name,’ laughs Dot.

Chapter Thirty-Two

The Star Agency

February 2

Keith

The more I think about Dot’s plan the more I like it. Lamplight likes it as well and is prepared to provide the detective to do the following, so we have decided to go ahead with it tomorrow. Dot will be Amy’s look-alike; the detective will follow the follower and Lamplight and I will follow him in Lamplight’s car. My Capri would be far too distinctive and if he should glance behind him and spots us the game would be up. If the follower isn’t there or doesn’t show up, we will simply abort and try again another day. I will tell Dot when she arrives. I suspect she will be delighted. I am also quite curious to hear how she got on yesterday with the women libbers. I do hope they didn’t eat her alive!

    I look once again at the note that was on my desk when I arrived first thing this morning. It was from the boss saying quite brusquely that he wants to see me at 11.00am. It doesn’t give a reason or an explanation so I suppose I should be worried but quite honestly, I’m not. If he wants to fire me that’s fine, I will walk out there and then and he can try and run the agency on his own. I know it will be a total disaster. If he had any sense, he should know that, but common sense is not something Jerry is blessed with in any abundance. All the same, I am intrigued. Usually, if he has something to say he simply walks over to my desk and tells me, so evidently this is not some run-of-the-mill decision or announcement. I mentally shrug and stare at the great heap of mail that has just been dumped on my desk by the boy from the mail room.

   It is Monday and the mail is usually greater because PR men and women think they have a greater chance of their stuff getting noticed on a Monday, so they time their press releases accordingly. It is a nonsense, of course. It makes no difference as far as Iam concerned. If a pressrelease has something interesting to say it will get used, even if it nearly always must be re-written to get rid of all the blatant advertising copy. If it has nothing interesting to say, it will just get spiked or binned.

  The PR industry must spend a small fortune on photographs to go with their press releases, most of which are quite unusable and would never be printed in any newspaper. The PR industry does not appear to realise that, by and large, newspapers will only print news. Features are a different matter, of course, but it is rare for a press release to form the subject for a feature.

   I am working my way through the mail when Dot arrives looking generally pleased with herself. She walks briskly over to my desk treating me to a broad grin in the process. I can’t help smiling back as she sits down.

   I ask her if she has been converted to bra-burning and under-arm hair. Her grin becomes even broader. ‘Actually, it was nothing like that. I met a lady called Sue Crockford who I have since found out it is something of a name in the women’s movement nationally. Most of what she said I completely agree with – equal pay, equal rights, fair promotion opportunities, abortion on demand. That sort of thing.’

   I point out that some women libbers take things to extremes. How does she feel about that?

   She giggles. ‘I have to admire them,’ she confesses. ‘They are planning to disrupt the Miss World contest at the Royal Albert Hall later this year and there are other campaigns in the pipeline too and Sue Crockford is in the process of making a professional movie, a documentary. She has invited me to the premiere sometime next year.’

   I’m not surprised. I can imagine Dot going down well with them. I ask if she has enough material for the feature.

   She gives a short ironic laugh. ‘Absolutely loads. Ms Crockford had invited a lady by the name of Alex Fenton who told me her story, literally rags to riches. In fact, she is worth a story just on her own, but I am going to include her just to show how a determined woman with a good idea can do it on her own without help from any men.’

   I ask her if she managed to get any opposing views and this time she giggled.

   ‘Oh yes, I went to The Athenaeum to talk to the bosses, or three of them at any rate. Actually, two of them were generally supportive which I thought was interesting but the third really wasn’t. He was also the one who was leering at me.’

   I ask if she is likely to finish it today so that I can begin making calls. She says she already started at home last night and that she should finish it this morning. She stands and is about to walk to her desk when she stops and turns.

   ‘I almost forgot,’ she says. ‘One of them was a man named Paul Smith who, just as I was about to leave, took me to one side and asked me if I worked for you. Naturally, I said I did. He gave me an odd look and asked if I would pass on his regards and before I could ask him anything, he donned his trilby and took off. Do you know a Paul Smith?’

   I shake my head and tell her that a trilby rings bells with me though. Did he say what he does. She tells me that he is in the cotton business. I decide to look him up. He may be a broker in which case he will be listed.

   Before she leaves, I tell her that the game is on for tomorrow if she is still happy to go through with impersonating Amy. A huge smile envelopes her face and she says she can’t wait. I tell her it will be late afternoon, but I will finalise all that with her later.

   ‘I’ve got the wig already,’ she says walking away jauntily.

   By 11.00am nearly everyone is out on jobs apart from Dot who is immersed in her feature and a junior who has the unenviable task of re-writing a few press releases. It is time to see what is behind Jerry’s mysterious note so I walk to the end of the office and rap on his door.

   Once inside, I see he appears to be half buried in a sheaf of papers. I knew it couldn’t be anything journalistic that commanding his attention so it must be financial. He looks up and waves me into a chair.

   He puts a pile of documents on one side and stares at me. I am expecting the sack and I have a little speech all ready for him but instead he delivers a major surprise.

   ‘I’m leaving,’ he announces abruptly. ‘I have finally decided to sell up. I made the decision a few months ago and have been looking for a buyer and finally I have found one.’

   ‘Your father began the agency, didn’t he?’ I ask. ‘It must be painful to sell what has been a family business all these years.’ I couldn’t really care less but I am supposed to say something in situations like this and that seems appropriate.

   ‘I thought it would be, but journalism is changing, and I can foresee the day when agencies like this won’t exist. The way newspapers are produced will change too; I am reliably informed. When you think about it, newspaper pages are produced by hot metal being cast into lines of type. They were doing that in the 19th century for God’s sake. This is 1970 and industry insiders tell me that change is coming – maybe not for ten years or so but it is coming. I have decided to get out while I can and put my money into something else.’

   I am tempted to say something along the lines of rats leaving a sinking ship but decide to hold my tongue and see what else emerges, so I ask who the lucky buyer is. He glares at me, no doubt thinking I am taking the piss, which I am, but I maintain a straight face.

   ‘It’s the owner of a Liverpool news agency who is looking to expand,’ he says guardedly.

   ‘What about the staff here? Is there likely to be redundancies? Is he going to keep both agencies going, competing against each other?’ There are other questions I want to ask as well, including what my future role is likely to be, but I decide to wait to see how he responds to those questions first.

   ‘We have not discussed any of that,’ he snaps. ‘That is going to be entirely up to him.’ He obviously doesn’t care what happens. I know our agency has a good reputation which is completely down to the staff and that is what has made it so saleable. Hopefully, a new owner will simply want to expand an existing operation rather than close us down.

   ‘Are you going to make an announcement to them?’ I ask, nodding in the direction of the newsroom. ‘They have a right to know,’ I add. ‘They will want to know if their jobs are safe.’

   He drums his fingers on his desk. ‘I suppose you’re right. I will talk to them later when everybody is in the office.’ I stare at him. He evidently wasn’t going to tell them and if he thinks he can just walk out of here and just leave them in the lurch he can think again. I will make bloody certain he makes an announcement before he leaves the office. And if he doesn’t, I will!

Steam and the ‘Sixties

I am in the process of designing pages for a new book focusing on the 1960s and particularly on the demise of steam on Britain’s railway system. I both loved and hated that decade in equal measure; I loved it because of the colour and the music and I hated it because of the vandalism and senseless demolition of anything that was old, only to be replaced by concrete monstrosities.

Anyway, here is a sample page from the book. Enjoy!

A new Naomi thriller

My second novel Kill Joy has just been published. It is the second book in the Naomi Richards series and rather longer than the first book, The Poseidon Files, in which she made her debut.

Children’s author Joy Davis mysteriously disappears after her car crashes during a snowstorm on the outskirts of Liverpool in the UK. Has she simply escaped her cheating and wasteful husband Jon, or has something more menacing happened? Could her disappearance be linked to her writing which has moved in a new, darker, direction, following her interest in the story of a convicted serial killer? Or has she simply decided to disappear like Agatha Christie?

Her friend, Naomi Richards, decides to investigate and discovers that Joy’s disappearance is more menacing and leads her and journalist Sandra Parry into uncovering a conspiracy involving murder, intrigue and trafficking. Here are the first three chapters to give you a taste of the story. If you would like to read on it is available on Amazon. For the eBook, use the Ref ASIN: B09D3N3XN6. And for the paperback search ASIN: B09F1KMVT6 or ISBN 9798462731341

Chapter One

Rodney Street, Liverpool.

Monday, January 29

Naomi

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 that 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.

Two

Liverpool

January 29

Joy Davis

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.

Three

 

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.

Chapter Thirty-One

The continuing story of A Walk on the Wilder Side

Liverpool

February 1

The Women’s Liberation Movement centre at Gambier Terrace, a three-storey Georgian building alongside Liverpool’s majestic Anglican cathedral, is warm and welcoming. Around the walls are Feminist publications – magazines, leaflets, posters and newsletters and Dot looks around she notices, striding towards her, a stern-looking woman who holds out her hand when she reaches her and they shake vigorously. ‘You must be Dot Sykes from The Star agency. I’m Sue Crockford,’ she announces, her face breaking into a beaming smile.  ‘I hear you want to hear everything about the Women’s Liberation Movement. Well, you’ve come to the right place.’

   This is Dot’s second major feature: not only that but it is her idea, so she is determined to make a success of it. She had decided that a good starting point would be the Women’s Liberation Movement where she is hoping to get one or two success stories together with views about what career women want from society and what they are aiming for.

   She walks around the room with Sue Crockford looking at the various publications. They stop and Dot picks up a leaflet with a headline announcing: ‘Fair pay for the fair sex.’

   ‘This is fair enough,’ she says waving the leaflet at Crockford; ‘but my focus really is attempting to define the role of women in 1970’s society. That is what the feature I am writing is all about and I thought I would talk to somebody from the WLM as a starting point because I’m sure you have defined views on the subject.’

   ‘Yes, we certainly do. As a starting point we challenge the idea that youthfulness and sexual attractiveness to men should define either a woman’s social and economic value or her erotic potential. I can imagine as a reporter you have to fight every inch of the way to be equal to your colleagues or to be promoted fairly.’ Dot nods in agreement. ‘I can’t argue with that,’ she says.

   They walk into an adjacent room where there are cubicles. ‘This is our pregnancy testing area,’ Sue Crockford explains. ‘It’s also a place where women can hold meetings, run workshops or just generally socialise. Would you like a coffee by the way?’ Dot would and they walk to yet another room where there is a short bar with coffee and tea-making facilities. They sit at a nearby table.

   ‘I want to explode the scary Feminist myth,’ Crockford says. ‘It is not that we don’t want to be attractive or appreciate beauty in others, but equally it does not mean that we want to slavishly follow the beauty industry.

   ‘All too often women are measured by their looks and not by their brains. That is what we want to change.

   ‘We also resist ideas of beauty manufactured in the marketplace and instead we embrace beautiful women of all ages, sizes and types, and focus on physical, mental and spiritual self-possession and confidence.’

   ‘I am interested in gender equality, at work and in the home too,’ says Dot. ‘What does the WLM say about that?’

   ‘They are included in our seven aims which you will find outlined in that leaflet. Take it away with you and study it.’

   ‘You’re not from Liverpool, are you?’ asks Dot suddenly, making it more of a statement than a question. Crockford smiles. ‘No, I’m just visiting. I originate from Surrey and I help set-up centres like this one. There are local women’s centres all over the UK and any campaigns grow out of small groups like this.’

   ‘What else are you doing to further the cause?’ asks Dot.

   ‘Well, I’m making a documentary film which will be called A Woman’s Place. It covers the first national conference held at Ruskin College, Oxford, and it examines the movement’s demands.’ She pauses reflectively. ‘It’s my first film and doing all the research into the WLM has made me realise why I want to make films. I want to see whether people can be engaged by what I believe in.’

   ‘When is it likely to appear?’ asks Dot. ‘It should be finished by next year all being well. You must come to the premiere.’

   They are joined by another woman. ‘This is Alex Fenton. I asked her to join us because I thought you might be interested in her story. She invented a product which is now sold internationally.’

   Dot smiles and they shake hands. Alex is tall and slim with short ginger hair. ‘I would love to hear your story,’ she says. Alex smiles slightly and nods. ‘I grew up penniless in a one-bedroom flat and started working at the age of ten, running a paper round.’ She says it in a matter-of-fact voice without any bitterness.

   ‘At the age of 12, I worked in a fruit shop. When I was 15, however, my dad suffered an illness that left him paralysed so I left school, with no qualifications to support my family and started working as a model.’ She sighs as Dot looks askance. Alex smiles ruefully. ‘It’s sounds romantic and glamorous but quite honestly it wasn’t and it didn’t last.’

   ‘When I was 17, I met my husband and landed a job at Labatt’s, the Canadian brewers, by lying on my CV. Within 18 months I was head of sales and marketing, but the company was taken over and I was made redundant.’

   ‘That is remarkable,’ says Dot, impressed. ‘To achieve a senior position like that so young has to be exceptional.’ She looks at Crockford who nods in agreement.

   Alex looks somewhat bashful and grins playfully. ‘A little later I bought a cleavage-enhancing bra for a dinner dance, but it was really uncomfortable, and I was convinced I could make a better one. So, I put together a team and began lengthy research which in fact took three years and put me £100,000 in debt. It ended with the “perfect” bra.’

   ‘I wouldn’t mind trying that,’ smiles Dot.

   ‘I will send one to you. Let me know your cup size before you leave.’

   ‘The story doesn’t quite end there,’ she says. ‘To get public attention, I hired nine actors, dressed as surgeons, to demonstrate in Oxford Street, London. They were all arrested, but the stunt worked.’

   ‘What would you say your company is worth now,’ asks Dot. Alex pauses and smiles modestly. ‘About £50m I would say.’

   ‘Rags to riches eh,’ says Dot. They all laugh. ‘I can just see the headline now,’ says Alex grinning hugely.

   ‘Alex is just one woman who beat the system,’ says Crockford. ‘As you have heard she is every bit as entrepreneurial as any man.’

   ‘I can’t disagree with that,’ says Dot. ‘And now ladies I am on my way into the Dragon’s Den.’ They look at her inquisitively. ‘The Athenaeum Club, to talk to the bosses,’ she explains pulling a rueful face.

    They both burst out laughing: ‘The very best of luck with that,’ retorts Sue Crockford. There will be an abundance of chauvinistic pigs there.’

   The Athenaeum Club is one of Liverpool’s treasures, tucked away right under the noses of the thousands of shoppers usually walking up and down Church Street in the city centre

   Founded more than 200 years ago in 1797, the club has been based on Church Alley since 1927 – and it’s grand rooms have acted as the backdrop for a number of film and TV settings. The club was originally created to allow businessmen to get the news from Fleet Street as quickly as possible.

  Dot announces herself at the door and is met by a Mr Tulip who welcomes her graciously and escorts her up to the Newsroom. ‘We have invited three local businessmen to talk to you,’ he says quietly. ‘They have been told what you are writing and why.’

   They walk over to a circular table with five chairs. Mr Tulip introduces her and then the three men in turn. The first is Paul Smith, a shipping forwarding agent. He is in his 40s, balding and short. The second is Paul Morrison, a merchant banker, in his 30s, good-looking, swarthy, almost 6ft who runs his eyes appreciatingly over Dot’s figure. The third is Dave Philips, a cotton merchant. He is Mr Average; dressed in a black suit, waistcoat, club tie, a puffy face and average height.

   Dot begins by declaring what her feature will try and encapsulate and she asks if they have any views on the subject. Paul Smith begins.

   ‘Feminists were clear that some of the oppressions faced by women were structural, built into the economy, the state and social norms. But they also expected individual men to change their behaviour. Many anti-sexist men felt that they needed to meet in men-only spaces to gain the confidence to confront their sexism and homophobia, and to find new, more honest and loving ways to interact with other men, as well as women. They also took up practical forms of activism, such as providing childcare, picketing sex shops, defacing sexist advertisements, working at women’s refuges and marching with women on issues such as abortion rights.’

   ‘Is all that true.’ Says Dot. ‘If it is, you have kept very quiet about it. What I want to know is why so many women have to fight for equality, for equal pay, equal opportunity. Also, we all know sexism is rife and that women are the targets of abuse and innuendo. How is that going to change?’

   Paul Morrison decides to take that on: ‘I think it is changing slowly. You have to change fundamental attitudes and how people think and that is not going to be achieved overnight. Women’s liberation challenged men to think about and act on inequalities between the sexes. For many men, this involved a painful examination of their relationships with women, their parenting and their work within the home. Change was required on several levels, by both men and women.’

   Dave Philips is frowning. ‘The WLM has led directly to the growth of men’s groups. They read feminist literature, and attempt to listen and respond to women’s needs, but often found it hard to manage their relationships with feminist women. Separatist and revolutionary feminists were not interested in interaction, and many other feminist groups found working in mixed-sex groups unproductive.’

   ‘I think the men I work with would laugh out loud at that. Are you serious? If you went into a pub and came out with that you would be ridiculed. How do treat the women you work with? Do you treat them as equals? I bet you don’t.’ Philips does not respond.

   Instead, Paul Morrison decides to answer. ‘Men are being blamed for everything. Let’s be quite honest here. If you employ a woman you must face the fact that she will highly likely take time off because of periods or other women’s problems. And then there is pregnancy. She may well be clever, hard-working and all the rest of it. But as an employer this is something you will have to face.’

   Dot is about to argue back when Mr Tulip intervenes and asks her politely if she would join them for lunch. A free lunch in such plush surroundings is not to be missed so she accepts and an unspoken truce is declared. A small buffet appears and they help themselves. Morrison, in particular, is keen to develop his theme as to why women remain static in the workplace. The others obviously agree but obviously decide they have said enough. Dot is tempted to challenge Morrison but instead she just takes a note. She catches him staring at her legs when one of the others are speaking and moves her chair away gradually.

   As they prepare to go their separate ways Paul Smith takes Dot to one side. ‘You’re from the Star news agency, aren’t you?’ Dot says she is and asks if he knows of it.

   He doesn’t answer directly. Instead, he gives her sidelong glance: ‘Is Keith Wilder still the news editor there?’

   Dot is suddenly aware of a frisson of trepidation. ‘Why, do you know him?’ she asks.

   Again, he doesn’t answer directly. ‘In a manner of speaking,’ he says looking directly at her. ‘Give him my regards when you get back to the office.’

   And with that he dons an overcoat and a trilby hat and walks purposefully to the door.

   Dot stares after him. Why does the figure in a trilby hat remind her of something?

Chapter Twenty-Nine

The Star agency

January 30

Keith

‘I just don’t see the need for it,’ declares Richard holding up a new 10p coin and scowling. I have decided to do a vox pop on decimalisation in St Helens town centre this morning and I know Richard is implacably opposed to it, whereas Dot is all in favour. Whether he likes it or not he will have to get used to it because D day is looming. Officially, we will wave goodbye to the old coins on February 15 next year. We have already waved farewell to the halfpenny and the half-crown disappeared last December. It will be interesting to hear what people think, although I suspect the majority will be opposed to it. Anyway, I am going to send a team out led by Richard with Dot and another reporter, together with a photographer.

   ‘I can tell you this,’ says Richard. ‘Whatever the government says, prices will go up, you can bet on that. The only people who will benefit are big business and the Americans.’

   I ask him how the Americans come into the equation and he fixes me with a contemptuous stare. ‘Everyone knows that they are behind it, just because they don’t have the brains to figure out 12 pennies to the shilling and 20 shillings to the Pound. What could be simpler?

    I smile. It’s an argument I’ve heard before. I tell him that it gets complex when you have to sort out sixpenny pieces, threepenny bits, half crowns, florins and some years ago you could have added farthings and groats to that.

   ‘Bring back the groat, that’s what I say,’ declares Richard at the same time giving Dot a winning smile who has just arrived at my desk. He tells her that they are going to town this morning to talk to the Great Unwashed about decimalisation.

   ‘Great,’ she says. ‘I will enjoy that.’

   ‘Bloody typical,’ mutters Richard. I wave them away saying that I want them back by lunchtime. Apart from the vox pop I also have the aftermath of yesterday’s power cut to deal with. It caused chaos because there was no warning and it was about the time when families were having their evening meal. Our phones never stopped ringing and the nationals were full of it this morning. Is this a sign of things to come I wonder? Anyway, I will also despatch a reporter to talk to the strikers. What everyone is asking is will there be repetitions. A sidebar story I also want to investigate may well be a few paragraphs on how much candle sales have increased from the local shops.

   It looks like being a really busy day which is just how I like it. All this has taken my mind off the events of yesterday. I know the threats aimed at Amy are all because of me and I hate the fact that Amy is being targeted in this way. Dianne was right, she and I do need to talk and I know one of the topics will be us moving in together, but I am honestly not sure whether it is the right time for that. One of the problems is that if she moved in with me it would be difficult for her to get to school and conversely if I moved in with her it would involve a daily drive to St Helens which is not ideal. Because of the unsocial hours I work I really need to be fairly close to the office.

   Maybe the trap that Lamplight and Willis have planned will bring it all to a close, but I have a feeling it won’t. I have increasingly felt in recent weeks that the killer and the note writer are two different people. I have no logical reason for believing that; it is just a gut feeling I have.

   I am sure the note writer is pursuing a personal vendetta against me for reasons I can only guess at, but we shall see. I will ring Lamplight later and see what he thinks.

   The mail arrives with the usual batch of press releases. I am leafing through them to see if there is anything vaguely important or interesting when Jerry Reynolds sidles up to my desk.

   ‘A lot going on today?’ he sniffs wiping his nose with the back of his shirt sleeve, a habit I find rather repulsive. Jerry is the boss and the owner of the agency which was started by his father in the 1930s. I know he has never worked for a newspaper and would struggle if he had to cover a court case. He is one of the reasons I want to leave. Pay is the other. I have heard on the pipeline that I am likely to be hearing from the Liverpool Echo in the near future which is another reason to bide my time as far as moving in with Amy is concerned. A move to the Echo would solve our problems.

   ‘I hope you are going to talk to the politicians about last night’s cuts,’ he mutters meaning the Tory opposition leader on the council, who I know is a personal friend. They play golf together I’m told.

   ‘Only if it’s pertinent,’ I say. ‘I place rather more importance on what the strikers have to say and why they took the action and, of course, it will be balanced by a response from management. You know the routine Jerry.’

   I know why he is so keen to include the Tory leader. It is because council elections are looming. He sniffs again and frowns, His goatee beard protruding out truculently. ‘I want him included,’ he snaps and is about to walk away. It is on the tip of my tongue to tell him to do it himself but decide this is not the time to create a confrontation. Instead, I tell him that there is something I have been meaning to talk to him about.

   Since the office is virtually deserted with everyone out on jobs, he sits down at the end of my desk and stares at me, expressionless. Perhaps he thinks I am about to hand in my notice. I wish I were.

   I tell him that around a year ago he promised that I would get a salary review if I had run the news desk successfully. Since there have been very few complaints, from him or indeed anyone else, I think I can justifiably claim to have done exactly that so I ask him when I can expect a salary review to bring me in line with other news editors.

   He clears his throat noisily. ‘Yes, you have been doing a good job,’ he concedes, ‘But you are still relatively inexperienced you know. Let’s see how things go and in another six months we can review your progress.’

   I stare at him. Is he serious? I have been doing this job for the best part of two years and have not had a pay rise since I was appointed news editor. I badly want to tell him to stuff his job. He has got me on the cheap and he knows it. I grit my teeth and ask him if that’s his last word on the matter. e has got me on the heap and he knows itH

  • He says it is and promptly walks away.

   Fine. At least I know where I stand. That has made my mind up for certain and he can fucking whistle as far as the Tory leader is concerned.

   I am furious. I know I am being taken for a ride by a man I have little respect for. I daresay he will find another sucker to take my place instead of appointing Richard, a real pro, who has forgotten more about journalism than Jerry ever learned. I am going to talk to Richard later and tell him to officially apply as soon as I hand my notice in. It’s worth a try, especially if I also put pressure on Jerry.

   I turn to the unopened mail on my desk. Most are addressed to the news editor, but I spot one addressed to me personally. I open it and take out a folded sheet of paper. It’s another note.

Mr Wilder

You must be getting really pissed off with me by now. How did the lovely Amy like my art on her bedroom mirror? Life must be getting pretty shitty for you especially since you and Lamplight are no nearer catching your killer.

But take heart, the best is yet to come. Think on your sins.

I stare at it. All I need is my watcher crowing about his latest misdeeds. What does he mean ‘the best is yet to come’, not to mention, ‘think on your sins’. What sins? I decide to ring Lamplight.

   He answers after some delay and sounds impatient. I don’t beat bout the bush and tell him immediately about the new note and read it out to him. He says he was sorry to hear about the events in Amy’s flat and asks if she is able to stay somewhere else. I tell him that she is staying with a friend for the time being. I ask him what his thoughts are about this morning’s note.

   ‘My first impression is that he appears to be stepping things up,’ Lamplight says thoughtfully. ‘Amy’s flat yesterday and a note to you today. That is actually a good thing in my view because the more notes he sends the more likely he is to make mistakes and inadvertently tell us things that may lead us to him. Take the line about catching the killer, for example, that implies that it is somebody else.’

   I say that it may, of course, be deliberate in trying to make us think he is not the killer. ‘True,’ admits Lamplight. ‘It will be revealing when we set the trap. Whoever turns up to silence you will be the killer, but he may also be your watcher.’ There is a slight pause. ‘Are you still up for that Keith?’

   I tell him that I am and the sooner the better. I say that I am heartily sick of it all and deeply regret picking up the phone that night just two weeks ago.

   ‘It wouldn’t have made any difference,’ says Lamplight. ‘If he were determined to target you, he would have done so anyway – always assuming of course that the man on the phone is the same person as your watcher. And as far as the trap is concerned, we are talking about launching that in a week or so. We will be in touch of course.’

   I turn back to the note and read it yet again. I tell him that there is one ominous bit that makes me uneasy: it is the bit about the best is yet to come. That means he has something planned and it is certainly something I will not like.

   I wouldn’t worry. ‘says Lamplight soothingly. ‘It’s probably all talk.’

   ‘Think on your sins,’ says the note finally. I must have upset somebody pretty drastically for him to go to all this trouble. Who could it possibly be?

Chapter Thirty

Thirty

St Helens

January 31

It was Dot’s idea to do an in-depth feature on working women and their role in society. The thought had come to her after reading about the Women’s Liberation Movement in Oxford when more than 600 women attended their first national conference where they discussed a wide variety of issues affecting women. The first four WLM demands were equal pay, equal educational and job opportunities, free contraception, and abortion on demand and Free 24-hour nurseries. She had also read that in the US there had been strikes and protests over equality and it had become a big issue.

   She had worked on what a feature on the issue would say, who would be interviewed and what papers and magazine would be likely to take it. She had put her thoughts on paper and handed it to Keith a couple of days ago asking him to let her know what he thinks. She has already decided that if he says no, she is going to do it anyway in her own time.

   She found out yesterday that Amy had been threatened in her flat and that had been followed up by another note delivered to Keith at the office and when she arrived early today Keith was at his desk looking tired and weary.

   ‘How are you Keith? I was sorry to hear about Amy yesterday. Is she alright?’

   He nods, staring at the ceiling sightlessly. ‘Yes, she’s moved in with a friend for the time being. Hopefully, the bastard won’t be able to get at her there.’

   ‘Why is he doing this to Amy do you think? She can’t be a threat to anyone surely.’

   ‘She isn’t. It’s me he’s getting at. He must know I don’t give a shit about notes he sends to me and that my point faible is her.’

   Dot is looking thoughtful, her head on one side. ‘Do you think he knows what Amy looks like? I know that sounds like a silly question because he has broken into her flat; into her bedroom even, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he knows what she looks like close up.’

   Wilder stares at her in puzzlement. ‘I have no idea. I suppose it’s possible. Why do you ask?’

   ‘Well let’s imagine he was watching her flat and realises she’s vanished after his stunt with the mirror. He won’t know where she’s gone, in all likelihood, so he may just keep a cursory eye on the place now and then, or he may not care and just concentrate on you. Personally, given his track record, I think that unlikely. Don’t you?’

    ‘Where is all this going Dot?’

   She smiles mischievously. ‘Bear with me. This could be fun.’ Wilder stares at her doubtfully.

   ‘Let’s just suppose he sees me emerging from her flat, he is going to assume I am Amy. After all, we do look a bit alike from a distance apart from the hair. I could get a copper-coloured wig and he wouldn’t know the difference I bet.’

   Wilder is staring at her, a mixture of astonishment and amusement vying with each other.

   ‘What happens then,’ he says ignoring the phone on his desk that has started ringing. He picks it up and puts it down, cutting the caller off.

   ‘This is the best bit,’ she says, treating him to a smile of satisfaction. We get someone else to stand a little distance away and if the watcher is there and starts to follow me, our follower can follow him until we find out where he lives and then the police can grab him. How’s that?’ she ends triumphantly.

   ‘You have been reading too many detective novels,’ says Wilder leaning back in his chair. He looks at her reflectively for a while and then says. ‘It could be me that follows him – at a distance, naturally.’

   Dot looks doubtful. ‘Too risky. It would all go up in smoke if he turns around and recognises you. We wouldn’t get a second chance but I’m sure Mr Lamplight will provide a detective if you ask him nicely.’ She smiles encouragingly.

   ‘It’s an idea,’ admits Wilder. ‘Might even work as well.’ His expression changes to one of concern. ‘It might be risky though Dot, you do realise that don’t you. We have no idea how he will react if he discovers he has been bamboozled. I wouldn’t want to put you in any danger.’

   She shrugs. ‘I’m a big girl. I can take care of myself and besides don’t forget there will be a detective following him.’

   ‘Maybe we should go together,’ he says. ‘I can’t let you take all the risks while I’m at home twiddling my thumbs and wondering how it is going. I have to be involved in one way or the other.’

   They sit in thoughtful silence as the office fills up and the clatter of typewriters begin their daily chatter. A bundle of mail is dropped onto Wilder’s desk and the phone starts ringing again. He sighs and picks up, listens and takes a note, finally thanking the caller.

   ‘There’s a strike at Pilkington’s,’ he mutters. ‘Could you talk to the union and then the management. Find out what it’s all about.’ He pauses. Let’s put the other matter on ice for now. We can talk about it later if you like.’

   Dot hesitates. ‘Was there something else?’ he asks.

   ‘Yes, my suggestion about the role of women in modern society. I handed you a paper if you remember but since then other events have come to light which make it even more relevant.’

   ‘What are they Dot?’

   ‘Well, there is a strike going on right now by Leeds women clothing workers after the union accepted a low wage rise that discriminated against them. It’s really big Keith. 20,000 women from 45 factories marching in protest.’

   Wilder is looking impressed, but Dot hasn’t finished. ‘Then the WLM are planning a protest later this year against the Miss World beauty contest. They intend to storm the stage of the Royal Albert Hall and disrupt the contest. The organiser is Sally Alexander. I want to talk to her and find out why they are doing it.’

   ‘OK, go ahead with it but it will have to be as well as your regular work. If it sells, which I’m sure it will, I’ll make bloody sure you’re paid extra by the Beadle.’ He nods in the direction of Reynold’s office. Dot grins and heads back to her desk.

   Later that morning he rings Lamplight and outlines Dot’s idea. ‘I like it,’ he exclaims. ‘You and I could follow in a car at a discreet distance. I have just the man to do the following too. I’ll get him to dress as a drop out; quite honestly it is something he does naturally and he’s done it before when we after some conmen fleecing OAPs out of their savings. I’ll have a word with him now and get back to you later today.’

   Wilder decides on a pub lunch at The Glasshouse. He is joined by Richard Armitage who is back from court unexpectedly when a case was dropped by the CPS. He outlines Dot’s plan to trap his watcher.

   Richard smiles in approval. ‘She’s a bright girl is Dot,’ he murmurs. ‘It’s a good idea. Let’s face it the alternative is to sit around waiting for something to happen. This way you are taking the initiative with the prospect of trapping him and unmasking him. It’s a great opportunity to end this saga once and for all. If he turns out to be the killer as well, Lamplight will be over the moon. He will have both cases wrapped up in an afternoon.’

   Wilder nods. ‘That’s true. I am just a bit concerned that Dot is putting herself in the firing line. I am not sure she understands what she is getting into.’

   ‘Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that. She might be a good-looking girl but underneath she is a tough nut. If you knew how hard her childhood was you would have no doubts about her ability to look after herself. Believe me Keith. She can be a hard case when she has to be.’ He looks at Wilder seriously. ‘Apart from that, it’s your round,’ he ends holding up his pint glass and staring into it expectedly.

   Wilder takes the hint and orders another two pints of Walkers. When they arrive, he tells Richard that he has been meaning to talk to him.

   ‘I asked Jerry yesterday for the rise he promised me when I got this job. You won’t be surprised that I was fobbed off with vague talk about needing more experience and that he will look at it again in six months.’

   ‘That’s a load of bollocks,’ says Richard. ‘You’re a real pro. You could run a news desk on a national never mind a tinpot news agency in the sticks. You must have felt like giving him a slap.’ He grins at Wilder’s dark expression. ‘So, when are you leaving?’

   It’s Wilder’s turn to grin. ‘Funny you should say that. I have heard on the grapevine that the Echo want to talk to me. I also need to talk to you because you should replace me. You call me a pro but so are you matey. You have been at this game far longer than me and you know how to handle people. You also have the contacts.’

   ‘He won’t give it to me,’ says Richard shaking his head. ‘I just won’t stand for his bullshit. He will appoint somebody on the cheap just like he did you. And I mean that in the nicest possible way mate.’

   ‘He will appoint you,’ says Lamplight. ‘I can almost guarantee it.’

   Richard stares at him. ‘What have you been up to, you cunning dog Wilder. Why are you so sure he will appoint me?’

   Wilder smiles at him grimly. ‘I’m sure because I will blackmail him. If the NUJ knew how he treats his trainees and how he doesn’t even pay the NUJ rate, he would be put on a blacklist and members would simply spike his copy. The agency’s income would dwindle and could even dry up.’

   ‘That would mean we would all lose our jobs.’

   Wilder shakes his head. ‘It would never come to that. He could not afford the agency becoming a pariah. He will appoint you. And he won’t regret it because you will be a good news editor. Better than me.’

   Richard stares at him. ‘I think it’s my round.’

The Poseidon Files

Chapter One

Naomi

Liverpool, England – Thursday, October 10

The pub is quite crowded this evening. I have my usual corner by the window and a spartan table in front of me. That is all I need really. And Sid Driscoll has arranged appointments every half hour or so throughout the evening. I call him Sid the Fixer; a label I think he quite likes.

   ‘Busy night for you again luv.’ He walks over giving me the list of clients up to around 9.30 pm. He grins at me, his ponytail swinging from side-to-side as he sashays around the table. Apart from being the organiser of the psychic sessions he is also something of a bodyguard. I suppose because I am probably the youngest psychic to do these sessions Sid keeps a fatherly eye on me.

   ‘The old dears just love you and the younger ones just fancy you I reckon.’ He pauses. ‘Well, the blokes anyway,’ he sniggers. ‘And as for the divvies, one look from you will swerve them.’ He gives me a triumphant smile at that.

    ‘Stoppit Sid.’ I give him a mock serious look, but he knows me too well to take it seriously.

   His smile widens, displaying a few stained teeth with gaps. I have a feeling that Sid the Fixer has had a very chequered life before deciding to specialise in the more social occupation of arranging psychic nights.

   So, Sid is my Scouse minder, and whatever he thinks of ‘the psychic stuff’ as he calls it, I know he would sort out any troublemakers in no uncertain terms. And, at 6ft 2in, with the physic of a prize-fighter, he is not someone to be ignored.

   I guess he might have a point though. There aren’t too many psychics around at 26, not the genuine kind anyway. And I am genuine because age has nothing to do with psychic ability. Indeed, I have always had the gift, only I didn’t understand it until I was about nine or so.

   I have always been able to hear words and sometimes see things and people that other people could not. Sometimes I could hear words – loud and clear – that tipped me off that something was happening. At first, I thought I was going nuts – my mum had my hearing checked, got me evaluated for mental health problems, and so on. However, I was OK, and the only explanation was that I had an ability that other people do not.

   When my mum was on a cruise one year, I woke up in the middle of the night because I had heard her voice saying ‘flood.’ I rang her to make sure she was OK because, you know, she was on a ship in the middle of the ocean.

   Everything was fine. The next day, I went to her house to feed the cats and found that a water pipe had burst about ten minutes before I got there.

   My business card declares to me to be a psychic consultant. When I had them printed, I felt it sounded sophisticated ‘Naomi Richards, Psychic Consultant’. Now, I’m not so sure. I have a suspicion it might just sound pretentious.

   I know the local Police take me seriously. They regularly call me in to help locate missing people, or more seriously, in the grim and immensely sad task of locating bodies. At first, I could see doubt writ large on their faces, as well as the sniggers behind my back. But four successes in a row ended that and now I am treated with respect. I guess I would have been burned at the stake 400 years ago. Thank heaven we are more indulgent these days. Or at least some of us are.

   The clients are always a mixed lot in pubs. The recently bereaved, nearly always women, who are hoping for messages from their departed. Then, there are girls hoping I will tell them who to marry or who to sleep with.

   I won’t.

   Then there are the sad people who are fundamentally lonely but who are happy to pay me to talk to them for half an hour. I often don’t think they care if it’s from the spirit world or not.

   No two nights are the same. I do sometimes ‘see’ disturbing things, but I am careful not to let it show. In any case, it’s illegal to reveal anything bad like a forthcoming death, for example.

   I read somewhere that Einstein talked about there being no real division between past, present, and future which may be why psychics can sometimes see into the past, present, and what’s likely to happen in the future. I know that I will almost certainly be asked the same question I am invariably asked, which is: ‘Is our future set in stone, or can it change? The honest answer is that I just don’t know.

   Later that night I make my way home. It has been a wearying evening, and I am ready to put my feet up.

   I have an apartment on Liverpool’s Rodney Street in the city centre. When I was married, I lived in the suburbs in a typical three-bed semi with husband, David, and I looked forward to a life of middle-class mediocrity, but it was not to be. My ever-loving husband turned out to be ever-loving with another, which I was not prepared to tolerate. I knew all about it before I squeezed it out of him. Being psychic can have its uses!

   Now, I have no intention of repeating the experience. I would rather be single than find myself in another suffocating marriage, so while I do have male friends, they are inclined to be other artists where the only topic of conversation is art rather than sex. And if any start a conversation on matters other than art I begin to back off. I know only too well how things can develop.

   As far as work is concerned, I know a few of my friends think I’m crazy not having a regular job but the thought of a corporate nine-to-five existence makes me feel sick. I prefer my way of life no matter how precarious it might be.

   I enjoy living in the city centre. I like the hustle and bustle, especially the tourists who wander around the city’s Georgian quarter. It is also a great address for any consultancy business, as all the brass plates outside testify.

   Sadly, I am not in the rich medical and legal league that occupy the ground floors. My clients are obliged to climb two flights of stairs to get to me.

   I decide to do a little artwork before turning in. As something of a sideline, I produce quirky necklaces from odds and ends which sell quite well at art and craft fairs.

   At one time I had a burning ambition to be an artist and followed the well-trodden path through university with a BA (Hons) and then an M.A. I always knew that making a living from art was not going to be easy. I might as well have said impossible. Sure, I’ve sold the odd canvass now and then. I have even sold a few prints to people in Europe, but I rarely earned enough to pay the rent.

   I finish a couple of necklaces made from bits and pieces of computer hardware for a forthcoming art fair and decide it’s time to turn in. I look out of the window; the streetlights are glinting in the cold October air, the street quiet now, with not even the sound of revellers from the nearby bars and pubs to disturb the tranquillity.

   It’s 3 am, and I am suddenly awake. I am covered in sweat. My heart is pounding. I sit on the side of the bed and try to recall what I had just ‘seen’. Was it a nightmare or something else? I’m not sure.

   I was in a building – and old building – and before me and to the left was a plain wooden staircase which curved upwards to a bare door at the top. There was something about the stairs itself that held a terror – almost as though they were alive. The light was dim, just a bare bulb dangling from the ceiling barely illuminating the room. My eyes focussed on the dirty yellow door at the top which somehow leered at me. The air was thick with menace, and I knew with certainty that there was something malevolent and evil in the room behind the door, but I also knew it is beckoning me. I was being compelled to climb the stairs.

   I slowly climbed, step-by-step, my footsteps ringing out on the bare wood; my dread growing, as a muttering behind the door gradually sounded louder. My heart pounding, my terror reached a crescendo, the door mocking me and as my dread grew, I heared screaming, slowly becoming louder. I reached out to grasp the door handle…but the door began opening before I could touch it.

   Before me was a scene shrouded in a dense fog. I could see vague shapes on either side as ghostly shadows loomed silently out of the murk; stooped, scarves over their faces, coughing. The fog had a greasy, gaseous feel and it stifled sound but despite that I could hear someone weeping but it was difficult to know how far or how near they were. I suddenly realised I was having difficulty breathing too and I began spluttering. I could feel the pollution in the fog creeping into my lungs, my eyes, my brain. I searched for a tissue and put it over my nose and mouth.

   Around me, the figures faded and the scene changed to a hospital ward with rows of beds, all with children in them; all staring at me expressionless and wide eyed, the only sound an almost inaudible hiss from the oxygen masks they were all wearing. There was no sound, no talk, no play, no laughter. They all just stared accusingly. The scene was repugnant in its silent, sepulchral horror. I backed away from the nightmare.

   I was outside again. I looked up to see a blood-red sun. The smog, for I have no doubt that is what it was, had receded slightly. I was standing by what should be Liverpool’s waterfront by the city’s ‘Three Graces’ that include the Liver Buildings, famous for its Liver birds, and the Cunard Building. What was an open plaza in front of them with a canal running along it, was now a lake with small waves lapping gently along the pavements. An eerie silence hangs malignantly over the scene. There was no clatter of life; no traffic, no screeching of seagulls, no undercurrent of distant conversation. Nothing. I look to the left and right and could see nothing but water. The River Mersey had risen at least five metres.

   I sit on the side of my bed trembling as the visions gradually fade. Was all that real? It was obviously meant to be a message. But a message of what?  

Chapter Two

 Gakona, Alaska. Friday, October 19

George Parry and Keri Murdoch are sitting in their 4×4. They are nervous and uneasy. What they are about to do may have far-reaching consequences. It is early evening, but dark already as a storm builds up to the east and forked lightning scythes down on the scene behind them.

   They are about to make a hurried escape from an installation called HAARP in Gakona, situated in the centre of Copper Valley, 15 miles northeast of Glennallen and just east of the Richardson Highway on the Tok Cut-off Road. Nearby is neighbouring Gakona Junction at the confluence of the Copper and Gakona rivers. It is a spectacularly beautiful area, surrounded by mountains and forests.

   Behind Parry and Murdoch is what at first sight looks like a large field of oversized TV aerials with a few administration offices and buildings and a large hangar-like building, slightly separate from the others. This is a US government research facility focused on the physical and electrical properties of the earth’s ionosphere. It is surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards in watch towers.

   They know only too well that it is only a matter of time before it is discovered they have copied top secret files from the installation; files that prove secret research is taking place; research that could cause an apocalypse. 

   Murdoch glances at Parry and then at the guards ahead. ‘Let’s go,’ he says urgently. ‘Before it’s too late.’

   Parry nods, stares through the windscreen, and guns the 4×4 towards the barrier, which is raised as they approach, the guard waving them through.

   They glance at each other relieved. ‘Put your foot down,’ snaps Murdoch. ‘We need to get to Anchorage before they realise what we’ve done.’

   Parry’s initial doubts were reinforced a few weeks ago when he decided to visit a lab at the far end of the site he had not been to before. It’s a lab he normally has no reason to visit because it is ostensibly conducting experiments into snow which is completely outside his area of expertise. It was Murdoch who suggested he go there with the sinister suggestion that he will not like what is going on if he can manage to see inside.

   The lab is so remote he has to use one of the many insulated electric buggies to get there. He is careful to park at an adjoining building, not wanting to draw suspicion from security who will no doubt be watching the CCTV images.

   He disappears around the building, out of sight of the CCTV camera, and quickly runs across to a window at the far end. His Parka is covered in snow and frost and the window is also covered in snow. He breathes on it and rubs it with his thick gloves.

   The snow melts enough for him to glimpse inside.

   At one end are dozens of cages containing various animals. Parry can see foxes, mice, rats, squirrels, and in a separate section, chimps. As he looks, a white coated figure Parry vaguely recognises, takes a cage with a chimp into an area with a control panel next to a dais with wires dropping down from a terminal above. The chattering chimp is wired up and the scientist is joined by another man who enters with what looks like a large ornate machine gun which he mounts on a terminal. The two men retreat behind a screen and a dazzling blue light surrounds the chimp for perhaps 20 seconds.

   The men emerge and detach the wires from the chimp whose body glitters with ice. It is frozen solid. Nearby are carcasses of animals that are obviously ready for disposal.

   Parry steps back horrified. So, this is what is really happening, he thinks to himself. This is what the research is really all about.

   They are trying to weaponise the weather.

Chapter Three

Gakona, Alaska. Monday, October 8

It is almost two weeks earlier that Parry first began to seriously suspect that something sinister was going on. At first, it was just little things he noticed; important files that were unaccountably missing; members of staff who suddenly disappeared without any explanation; meetings shrouded in secrecy he was not invited to; that sort of thing. However, similar things have happened at other companies he has worked for, so he mentally shrugged it all off thinking that if it didn’t involve him or his role it didn’t matter. If he put it down to anything, it would have been inefficiency or even incompetence on the part of management. After all, scientists are notoriously disorganised, and at HAARP most people are scientists of one sort or another.

   But then things began to get even stranger when there was a brief torrential rainfall from a cobalt blue sky one day. That might, in itself, not be that unusual except that the rain was green, and everyone was issued with a mask. There was no official explanation afterwards either. Then, just days later, there was a weird cyclone that came from nowhere and vanished just as quickly.

   Finally, around a week ago, while Parry was in the toilet block, his colleague Murdoch whispered; ‘I need to talk to you.’ Parry was about to answer when Murdoch put his finger to his lips and mouthed: ‘The car park, 1 pm.

   At first, Parry was vaguely amused by Murdoch’s melodramatics and intrigued by what could be so secretive that it must be discussed in the car park. So, at 1 pm he headed there, all bulked up ready for the minus 20 outside. He looked around when he reached the doorway and spotted Murdoch in his car not far from the door.

   He climbed inside; the engine was running and the heating on. ‘What is so secret that we have to come out here to discuss it,’ Parry demanded.

   ‘Because I spotted a microphone in the canteen,’ Murdoch replied. He stared outside, rubbing his chin. ‘And then when I began searching, I spotted another in my office behind a picture. You are almost certainly bugged too. If they are prepared to go to those lengths, the chances are the entire plant is bugged.’

   ‘But why?’ protested Parry.

   Murdoch gave an impatient snort: ‘You must have noticed odd things happening lately? The green rain, weird cyclones, files vanishing; people vanishing too; confidential meetings we were not invited too, research we knew nothing about?’

   ‘Well yes, I have, but I just put it down to carelessness or mismanagement. I didn’t think the strange weather had anything to do with us. We are conducting research into the upper atmosphere, not anything that could cause something like that.’ He hesitated and then said: ‘But if something secret is going on why haven’t we been re-assigned somewhere else?’

   ‘Because we are the only two physicists here, that’s why. They need our expertise. Everyone else is a climatologist.’

   ‘It still doesn’t point to anything sinister going on,’ Parry insisted, wondering where all this was heading.

   ‘Oh, but this does,’ said Murdoch reaching into an inside pocket and producing a tiny memory card.

   Parry stares at it uncomprehending. ‘What’s that Keri?’

   ‘Well, obviously, it’s a memory card. But it’s what is on it that will surprise you.’ He thrusts it into Parry’s hand. Take a look, but only on your personal laptop. Under no circumstances look at it on a network terminal.’ He stares hard at Parry. ‘I mean it, George. If they find out what is on that card, we will both be going to jail.’

   Later that day in his private quarters Parry plugged in the memory card, and there are listed some dozen or so files which he opened one-by-one and read the formulas and equations and the notes accompanying them with growing astonishment and unease.

   Half an hour later, when he was finished, Parry stared at his laptop screen, the colour  drained from his face. Now he understood. Now he knew why Murdoch had been so secretive. Now he realised why a mantle of secrecy has descended over HAARP.

   Later that day Murdoch suggested meeting up at Meier’s Lake Roadhouse, a short drive away from HAARP. It is one of only four remaining roadhouses on the Richardson Highway located 15 miles south of the Denali Highway connection. It is also open 24/7 all year round and is the only stop for fuel for 150 miles.

   When Murdoch arrived, Parry was already there sitting at the bar, with a beer in front of him. He was unshaven and looked ill.

   Before Murdoch could say anything, Parry held up a hand, leaned over the table and said quietly. ‘I am going to quit. I cannot stay in this place any longer.’ He looked around the bar seeing if any of the diners were listening.

   They weren’t.

   Outside, it was becoming dark already in the late afternoon, the snowfall from the previous day still mostly fresh and the streets lights glittering in the frosty air.

   He turned back and stared at his beer.

   ‘Are you serious?’ said Murdoch, concerned.

   ‘Have you seen what they do to animals? Do you realise what they are planning? Do you really want to be part of Armageddon? Make no mistake Keri, that is what they are developing. The American military are behind this and I want no part of it.’

   ‘Not sure I do either. It frightens me.’

   George Parry is in his late 40s with thinning ginger hair whose tired eyes betray sleepless nights despite on the surface appearing unperturbed. Ever since he read the files and understood their significance he has been wrestling with his conscience.

   He is British with a physics degree from University of Liverpool in the UK, which is also his hometown. He took the job in Alaska after a failed marriage persuaded him to move to somewhere remote and inaccessible. The prospect of researching into the upper atmosphere was also an attraction.

   Keri Murdoch is older, in his late 40s with black hair and the beginnings of a beard. He hails from New York with a physics degree from MIT. Both have been at Gakona from the beginning when they believed the HAARP installation would be of some benefit to humanity.

   ‘What we have to decide is what we do about it,’ says Murdoch. ‘I think we should just leave. We should just walk. What do you think?’

   ‘I’m going to take some leave. I’ll tell them I need to visit my folks. My father is sick, and I need to see him.’

   ‘Where do they live?’

   ‘In Liverpool in the UK. That’s where I come from,’ he said by way of explanation.

   Murdoch looked thoughtful. ‘I could come with you. Let me run this past you. Once we are in the UK, we can take it to the newspapers or even better, the BBC.’

      Parry looked uncertain. ‘Won’t they come after us once they find out files have been leaked?

   Murdoch shook his head impatiently. ‘I daresay they will but we will be long gone by then.’

   ‘OK, let’s do it. It’s the end of the week so we will just tell them we will be on leave from next weekend. Let’s leave the Friday after.

That was eleven days ago. After driving through security without incident they continued on down the Tok Cut-off highway heading for the Richardson highway which would take them all the way to Anchorage. It is unlit and runs alongside the Copper River. A full moon glistened overhead showering silvery shafts of light on the river, producing stygian shadows at both the sides of the road.

   They drove in silence for twenty minutes both lost in thought about the magnitude of what they were planning. Finally, Murdoch stared at Parry and said: ‘Can you hear that? There’s a faint throbbing sound back there.’ He nodded behind him.

   Parry opened his window letting in an icy blast and listened. In the distance is the unmistakable thump, thump, thump, sound of a helicopter. ‘They can’t be after us can they surely? Not so soon. When did you copy the files?’

   Murdoch grimaces. ‘The day before I gave the memory card to you. I would have expected somebody to ask me why I copied them before they alerted security. Stop. Let me drive. If they are after us, I know these roads better than you. I might be able to give them the slip. It’s pitch black out there and visibility is even worse for a helicopter.’ They change places and the 4×4 hurtled down the icy road. The thrump, thrump, thrump of the chopper louder now and is not far behind them. Murdoch weaved from side-to side and then switched the headlights off as they approached the point where the Copper River runs alongside the road. Suddenly the moon is covered by storm clouds and everywhere is plunged into impenetrable blackness. The 4×4 crashes into bushes as Murdoch attempted to follow the road. Suddenly, torrential hail and freezing rain lashed down driven by a vicious gale, reducing visibility to almost zero and making the road even more treacherous. The chopper fell back and climbed to a safe altitude, but Murdoch just accelerated.

   ‘For God’s Keri, slow down will you,’ shouted Parry. ‘The chopper is going away. We are going to crash. I can’t see anything out there. How can you see where we’re going?

   ‘Let’s hope it is just as difficult for them,’ growled Murdoch as the 4×4 bounced off more bushes at the side of the road, narrowly missing a tree and kidding onto the left carriageway. Suddenly, Murdoch loses control and the 4×4 mounted an embankment and hurtled down the other side careering into the Copper river.

   Parry banged his head as the 4×4 hit the water. Murdoch slumped over the steering wheel as the water rushed in quickly filling the 4×4. There is blood on his chest and his eyes are closed but the icy water revived him, and he mouthed something to Parry, holding out something and dropping it into Parry’s hand.

   Parry managed to force the door open and tried to pull Murdoch out, but he was slumped over the wheel and its airbag. Parry swam to the other side but could not open the door. The Copper River has a strong tide and now the partly submerged 4×4 is in its grip and is swept downstream by storm water. Parry struggled to find his footing and scrambled up the bank. There was no sign of the helicopter. He lay on the bank and opened the palm of his left hand. Inside was a small memory card.

   The rain stopped as suddenly as it had started. Parry got unsteadily to his feet and saw in the distance a hut used as a refuge during heavy snowfalls. He trudged towards it shivering as the cold seeped through his soaking clothes. He hoped he would be able to start a fire and dry out his clothes. At the very least it would be somewhere to spend the night.

   He put memory card in his wallet.

The Poseidon Files is available from Amazon either as an ebook or paperback. ASIN: B085W6C6LH. Poseidon ebook ASIN: B0892668HX