Star Press Agency, St Helens
January 11, 1970
Star Press Agency, St Helens
January 11, 1970
I’m bored. My feet are on my desk and I’m listening to Radio Caroline. It’s one of my favourite numbers; Freda Payne’s Band of Gold which followed Mungo Jerry’s In The Summertime. I hum away to the haunting tune staring at the phones on my desk. It is January. The fireworks, the parties – and the hangovers – are now distant memories, to be replaced by the grey, dismal days that lead up to a no-doubt even more dismal February. My name is Keith Wilder and I am news editor of the Star Press Agency. I joined as a reporter three years ago until the last news editor left for a more lucrative job on The Times. Can’t say I blame him. I aim to emulate him in the not-too-distant future. Anyway, the boss offered me his job. At first, I thought it may have had something to do with my talent, but the sad truth is that I was probably cheap. So now I lead my fellow hacks on the agency in assisting to make the boss rich. I think they all have an eye on a job on a daily judging by the feverish way they all take cuttings from papers that have run their stories.
The weather has been in the news of late because of the heavy snowfall after New Year, but it has warmed up slightly in the last few days and so the focus has shifted back to local stories, especially with the voting age coming down to eighteen. I organised quite a few vox pops to support that.
I glance at the pile of papers on my desk. On top is the Times and I notice an item which I must have missed first time round. It is that the half-crown is no longer legal tender. How did I miss that? I empty my pockets and notice I have two. Damn! I will have to go to the bank when it opens tomorrow.
I sigh. Nothing is happening. Has the third world war started and I haven’t noticed? The phones have been silent for the past two hours. I have read all the Sunday papers; the pages that matter anyway. I haven’t even had the usual Sunday crank or nutter wanting to tell me that I will rot in Hell or that Martians have landed.
Sunday nights on the news desk are usually enlivened by people who have nothing better to do than to vent their feelings about the government, the council, or the world in general. And for some reason they appear to think that we have influence over just about everybody and everything and when they realise we don’t, they take off. I have been called just about every evil name under the sun. I’ve heard it all before and if they get too abusive, I simply tell them to fuck off and put the phone down.
I’m really quite a patient sort of bloke, but there are times when I feel generally pissed off with the world and I simply can’t be bothered listening, so I just put the phone on the desk and let them get on with it; picking up now and then to see if they’ve finished.
But tonight, not even the nutters are ringing. I stare at my typewriter, a battered old Imperial, thinking that I might do the nightly rounds which mostly consist of ringing the police, fire, and ambulance to find out if anything is breaking.
I sometimes reflect in quieter moments, usually when I’m holding a pint, that my family wanted me to follow the family tradition to become a joiner or carpenter. I’m beginning to think they may have had a point, but I have always had an insane ambition to be a journalist even when I managed to get into the University of Liverpool to read English. That was even more of a shock to my mum than it was for me. Nobody in my family had ever managed to make it to uni and I discovered later that not that many scribes have a degree. It’s a bit different on the nationals and the BBC but up here, in the frozen north, there is a tendency to view reporters who do have a degree with a little suspicion, so I simply don’t mention it.
I stand up and look around the office. It’s a typical newsroom; paper everywhere; dirty, scruffy, newspapers in great piles strewn around casually; ashtrays full of fag ends; typewriters that during the day fill the room with a loud clatter and bells that sound when the carriages reach the end of their travel. But now it is empty. It is just me and a reporter who I know is in the local pub. He won’t be back tonight.
I slowly walk over to the window and gaze out at the street below. We are in the centre of a Lancashire town called St Helens, not far from Liverpool, most famous for its Pilkington’s glass works and rugby team called The Saints. Before I came here, I truly knew little about rugby, not having had the advantage of a posh school education, so I had a steep learning curve to follow because in this town rugby is a religion. And the very first thing I learned was that this is Rugby League country not Rugby Union, words you don’t even dare whisper!
Despite coming from a long line of carpenters and joiners, all I ever wanted was to be a journalist. I have always excelled at English; so much so that my school entered me into a national essay writing competition when I was just eight. I still remember the subject; it was the RNLI – the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. I can’t remember how many words it was. All I remember is that I won it. Amazingly. Astoundingly. I have no idea how many kids entered; Maybe I was the only one. Anyway, the prize was cash for the school and a certificate for me. I recall thinking how unfair that was; it should have been cash for me and a certificate for the school.
After that I could do no wrong. My primary school had never won a prize for anything before, so I was a hero. I don’t feel like a hero any longer. All the lofty ambitions I had at university; all the high ideals we were fond of discussing in the pub have ended up here, just three years later in a scruffy provincial news agency where our work is judged by the number of words and how much they can earn.
Despite all that I have managed to buy myself a Ford Capri which might raise a few eyebrows considering I earn £37 a week. It isn’t new of course. There was no way I could afford around £900. I got it for £600 mostly on HP but the deposit managed to wipe out most of my savings, earned mostly by a bit of freelancing here and there but I don’t care. It’s the closest I am ever going to get to an E-Type. It is also a 1.6 litre and pure white. It’s the sexiest car I have ever driven, and it pulls the ladies. Who said 1970 was a lousy year?
Just as I am contemplating packing up for the night the silence is broken by the news desk phone ringing. I stare at it debating whether to pick up or not. I decide that if it’s a nutter I will just cut him off. I am not in the mood to listen to the ravings of one our regular lunatics.
I pick up saying ‘News desk’ in a stern voice I use for what hopefully might be a hard news story. For what seems like an age there is just silence at the other end. I am about to end the call when a voice asks for Keith Wilding.
‘That’s me,’ I say, wondering how the caller knows my name.
‘You’re the news editor, aren’t you?’
I say I am and ask how I can help. There is another silence, eventually broken by the voice, which seems somehow detached and unnaturally quiet, asking me if I have ever heard of Bluebell Farm. I haven’t and I tell him so. Another long silence ensues and then the voice says it is on the way to Moss Bank just off the A571. I am beginning to get a little impatient with all this and ask what it is he wants to tell me. The voice sinks to almost a whisper and I can hardly hear him as he says that there is something strange going on there and I should go and take a look. I take a deep breath, and patiently ask what is so strange and why he can’t tell me himself.
‘Just take a look thyself lad. It’ll be worth thy while,’ says the voice in its Lancashire accent, suddenly louder and then there is silence and the line goes dead. I replace the handpiece and sit there wondering whether it’s just somebody taking the piss or if indeed it is worth pursuing. I think of the alternative. It is midnight and the pubs will have been closed since 10.30pm. It’s possible the office ‘local’ will be having a ‘stay behind’ but I couldn’t depend on it so it would be home to a cold bedsit. I decide to drive the Capri to Bluebell Farm to see for myself. If it turns out to be somebody having a laugh at my expense, I will bloody well find out who and they’ll be wearing their guts for garters.
I turn off the A571 and can see farm buildings at the end of a track through fields. As I get closer, I can see lights, a lot of them. The caller was right; the place looks like a bloody Christmas tree; every light is turned on. I stop and stare. I don’t like it. There is something wrong. Why are all the lights on? My instincts tell me to get the hell out of here, but I’m a journalist; a seeker after facts; after the truth, aren’t I?
I switch off the engine and climb out of the Capri and walk slowly towards the front door. When I reach it, I see it is slightly open.
I rap on the door shouting ‘hello’ but there is just silence, a menacing silence. I look around thinking that perhaps the occupant has gone out to get some coal but there is no movement anywhere. It has also started raining heavily. I am not going to hang around in the rain, so I decide to push the door open wider. It creaks dramatically. I shout out again.
I walk along a hall which has one or two paintings of country scenes gracing itswalls. I notice a small table with a phone on top and directories underneath. There is a door to the left. I walk into what must be the dining room which looks like it is hardly ever used judging by the musty smell and the dust everywhere. I call out, but again there is just an oppressive silence, somehow more menacing that it was before or is that just my imagination. I am back in the hall. In front is another door which is open. I can see a cooker and cupboards and a sink full of dirty dishes.
There is one more door to the left. It is closed. I rap on it, calling out yet again. I press the handle down and slowly push it open. It is a sitting room with a sofa and two easy chairs facing the fire where embers are glowing. A sideboard sits solemnly along one wall and on the opposite wall are shelves full of books waiting patiently to be read. There is a strange smell I can’t identify.
I look at the two easy chairs. They both have high backs which face me. It is then that I notice a hand dangling on the left of one of them. My heart begins to beat wildly. I creep up to the chair and peer round.
A man is sitting there, a shotgun resting between his legs. His face is turned towards me, his eyes wide open staring at me, blood still dripping down the sides of his face and jacket forming a pool in his crotch. The top of his head has vanished. It is only then that I notice the ceiling which is a mass of blood and grey bits.
At first, I can’t take it in and then it hits me. I can feel bile forming in my throat. I rush out and manage to reach the doorstep before throwing up.
When my stomach has finished emptying itself on the doorstep because of the nightmare I have just witnessed, I tell myself that I must ring the police, so I step back into hall and dial 999 and tell the operator not to bother with an ambulance because there is obviously nothing they can do for the man in the armchair. There is a short silence and a voice at St Helens Police Station answers – the desk sergeant I imagine. I know him well – Ernie James. I briefly relate what has happened. He tells me to hang on and that a couple of cars will be with me in a few minutes.
I can’t bring myself to go back into the house, so I sit in my car. It is still raining hard. I stare out of the windscreen sightlessly. The image of what I have just witnessed is seared into my mind and no doubt will be with me for many years to come. Who was he and why did he do it? Also, come to think of it, who was it who rang me at the office? How did he know my name? No doubt the police will want to talk to him. My thoughts turn back to the office. I need to get back there to file the story. Maybe I’ll write a first-person piece. That might go down well with the red tops.
I can hear sirens in the distance. It’s not that long ago that they began using them instead of bells. At first, I thought the sirens sounded very American but now I realise it was the bells that sounded really old fashioned and outmoded.
The two cars arrived in the farmyard and four uniformed officers get out, together with two men from CID. I recognise one. He’s an inspector by the name of Harry Lamplight; in his early forties, a decent chap if not a little officious, wearing a trilby and a walrus moustache and an open coat revealing a jacket and a waistcoat.
I climb out of the Capri. ‘It’s Wilder, isn’t it,’ he says, eyeing up my car. ‘How come you can afford that? Ill-gotten gains no doubt.’ He turns and stares at the house. ‘Where’s the body then?’
I warn him that it isn’t pretty and they all head off, leaving one officer standing outside the door. ‘Don’t go anywhere,’ Lamplight shouts back at me.
Ten minutes later he heads back and climbs into the passenger seat. I notice he is pale. ‘Was it you who threw up on the doorstep,’ he asks. I nod. ‘Can’t say I blame you,’ he mutters. ‘One or two officers have had to go to the WC.’
I tell him about the phone call at the office and the odd fact that the caller knew my name. I tell him the caller had a Lancashire accent and is unlikely to be a local. I ask what the farmer’s name is. He looks at his notes. ‘Arthur Jenkins,’ he says. ‘Lives alone. Divorced. We are trying to discover if there are kids somewhere.’
I ask him if it is definitely suicide. ‘Looks like it but we have to wait for the boffins to confirm that. They will be here as soon as.’ He frowns. ‘You will no doubt be filing a story. Do not say it is suicide until that’s confirmed. At the moment we are treating it as an unexplained death. Understand me?’ I nod meekly. He climbs out. ‘Off you go then. We’ll be in touch.’
I’m back at the office. It is almost 2.00am but I might just make the last editions if I pull my finger out. Half an hour later I have put together around 600 words and get on the phone to the Telegraph, asking for a copy taker. I get one who obviously does not take kindly at having to take down a story near the end of his shift, but I insist saying that Ralph the news editor will have his guts for garters if he doesn’t file it, and fast too.
Ten minutes later it is done. I have written it in the first person so with any luck they may give me a by-line because if they don’t, a sub-editor will have to re-write it and there isn’t time. I grin at my cunning. Sadly, despite that I doubt if I will be paid because they know who I work for and it’s the agency who will benefit. The boss will be pleased. Maybe I can squeeze a pay rise out of him. Worth a try. I have to get on and get the story out to the Express and the Mail. I know it’s too late for the Guardian. There will be nobody there at this time of night.
I place a couple of blacks (carbon copies) on the boss’s desk so that he can put the story on the wires in the morning, pack up and head off to my flat. I’m done in. It’s been a long day and night.
I’m late arriving at the office. I have no intention of apologising to anyone after last night. I walk in nonchalantly, head for my desk yawning hugely, ignoring stares from the troops. Out of the corner of my eye I can see that Jerry Reynolds, the boss, has spotted me. He is standing up in his office and heading for the door.
‘Well done for getting it in the late editions,’ he says, arriving at my desk. Jerry has an annoying and slightly disgusting habit of wiping his nose with the back of his shirt sleeve. ‘Were you really first on the scene?’ I nod emphatically and describe it graphically, not just to him, but to the office in general. You could hear a pin drop. I ask if he got the blacks I left on his desk. He tells me that he did and the story is on the PA (the Press Association) wires as we speak.
‘Is there any follow-up?’ he asks. I tell him I would like to find out who it was who rang me. How did he know my name? There is no directory of who’s who in the agency anywhere as far as I know. Have I had dealings with him before? Was he really just an innocent passer-by? I also want to keep in touch with Harry Lamplight to confirm that it is was suicide. I have a niggling feeling that it may not have been.
He gives me a sideways glance. ‘The Telegraph have given you a by-line. It’s on page three.’ I smile a satisfied smile. I haven’t had a chance to look through the papers yet. I wonder what the Mail and the Express have done with it.
‘Well done anyway,’ he says to the room. ‘It’s a major story. There’s obviously more mileage in it. Keep on it.’
I look at the diary and see what is on for the day. We have six reporters, seven if you include my deputy, three of them serving their time, one about my age and a couple of old stagers in their forties. We have the magistrates court to cover as well as the town council. Both need experience which will keep Bill and Richard busy most of the day. I assign one of the cubs, Dot, to go with Richard to the council meeting. She shows promise and with any luck I may be able to send her solo very soon. I think her shorthand is up to it. The other cub can cover a Pilkington story. Some new process they want to talk about apparently. I hand out assignments to everyone.
Richard Armitage is probably our oldest reporter at 48 and my deputy. Why he hasn’t moved on is beyond me. He certainly has the experience. I know he likes a drink or two and perhaps that is the problem. I suspect it cost him his marriage. Despite all that I like him. He is the father figure I never had and if I were to confide my feelings to anyone it would be to him.
I missed having a dad. All my pals had dads when I was a kid and I never understood why I didn’t. I would make up stories about him being in Africa or on secret missions which is why he couldn’t come home. All nonsense of course. It was only when I got to my teens that I really understood why. It was really quite simple. The bastard had got mum pregnant and did a runner.
That hasn’t stopped me wondering who he is; what he is like and where he is now. He is probably dead I would think but that doesn’t lessen my curiosity. Why has there been such a conspiracy of silence? Nobody in my family ever talked about it, not even my grandparents. It always made me think that there must be some truly awful secret for it to be such a closed subject. I tried to talk about it to my mum when she was alive, but she made it clear that it was a closed subject. After that, I gave up. Until, that is, I met my girlfriend Amy a year ago.
Her full name is Amy Sunderland. She was fascinated by the mystery of my missing dad and has been insisting that we should find out who he is and why he deserted my mother. The problem is that there is no father’s name on my birth certificate so we are having to resort to detective work to find out who may have lived at my mother’s address in 1942. Yet another problem is that it was in the middle of the war and records were not as reliable. There is also the strong possibility that he may have been an American serviceman; another avenue we will be exploring. It’s a mystery that is becoming all the more opaque the longer we look at it.
I met Amy on a station platform a year ago when the famous Mallard steam loco was at Liverpool’s Lime Street Station. I have always had a sneaking liking for steam engines and on an occasional day off I manage to get myself into engine sheds by befriending managers and showing them my press pass. Amy is also a railway nut and she occasionally comes with me. I was once told I would never find a girlfriend in an engine shed. They were wrong!
It was a cascade of copper curls that first caught my eye, together with a pair of mischievous green eyes that stared at me inquisitively. I was hooked instantly. After a few weeks we made love in the Capri one night and became inseparable after that.
Quite apart from the sex which was greatly improved when she very helpfully went on the Pill shortly after, I became fascinated by her. I never knew how she managed to persuade her GP to prescribe it; I think I preferred not to know! She is a talented lady, an artist in her spare time, but also a bit off the wall which I like. Nobody could ever accuse Amy of being boring. She is also a teacher, helping young souls aspire to great things, as she laughingly puts it.
My phone rings. It is Lamplight. ‘Thought you might like to know that the boffins have decided that Arthur Jenkins was murdered. It was definitely not suicide. The gun was in the wrong position. His finger or thumb could never have reached the trigger. We need to find your caller. Could you come into the station later?’ I say I will.
Half an hour later, Amy rings. She wants to meet up for a drink later. She thinks she might have found something out about my father.
The walk to the police station on College Street is only a five-minute walk from our office on Standish Street. It’s an old building and rumour has it that it’s going to be demolished next year to be replaced by something more modern and no doubt more outlandish. The craze for demolishing everything in sight and replacing it with concrete over the last ten years, is not yet wearing off, sadly. So, it remains to be seen what kind of monstrosity they will build to replace the police station. Indeed, talking of change, it was only last year that the St Helens force became part of Lancashire Police, much to the disgust of many in the town.
I walk in and say hello to desk sergeant Ernie James, a jolly, rotund man, in his forties with red cheeks and an unruly moustache. I have often thought he would make a superb Father Christmas but have never said so because being called that rather implies you are fat and not everyone appreciates it!
‘Have you recovered from yesterday,’ he says, eyeing me sympathetically while reaching for the phone. I tell him I will have nightmares for months which is quite true. I will. The sight of that head, or what remained of it, will be with me for a very long time to come.
‘I suppose you want to see the guvnor,’ he asks. I nod. I ask him if his wife is any better. I heard she had gone down with the flu which has been striking people down for almost eighteen months. ‘Yes, she is over the worse. Thanks for asking.’
Just then, DI Lamplight pokes his head around the door and nods for me to follow him. I wave goodbye to Ernie James and follow him along the corridor to what passes for an interview room, a grim place calculated to make offenders feel guilty whether they are or not.
As I sit down behind a table pockmarked where numerous fag ends have been stubbed out over the years, Lamplight asks if I would like a cuppa. This is VIP treatment, I think, as I thank him. When he returns, I mention Ernie James’ wife recovering from flu.
He strokes his pencil thin moustache and grimaces. ‘It’s been a bugger. We still have people off with it. His wife Sheila is one of the lucky ones. She survived. Many didn’t. It can’t go on for much longer I would have thought.’
He has a point. The epidemic began late in 1968 and ravaged the country last year with around 30,000 people dying from it. We have reported on many stories of local people who have lost loved ones. Sad really that death from flu is no longer news; such is the nature of journalism.
I tell him, thoughtfully, that we should be grateful it isn’t as bad as 1918/19. ‘That’s not much consolation if you’ve lost your wife, or sister or a child,’ he replies grimly. He’s right, of course and I can think of nothing to reply to that. Instead, I ask him what he wants me to do. He produces a statement pad and a Biro and asks me to write everything I can think of about the caller; what he said, how he said it and if I could hear any background sounds that might give a clue as to where he was calling from. He leaves the room telling me he will be back in ten minutes.
Police stations are never really quiet. There are always voices talking, laughing, arguing, sometimes shouting with doors being slammed and phones ringing and typewriters clacking away. I can hear a real racket in reception and sounds of a scuffle. ‘Somebody helping police with their inquiries,’ I think mischievously.
When he returns, I hand him the statement and he nods his satisfaction. I tell him that I will be taking a reporter out this afternoon to do a bit of doorstepping around the farm to find out what people have to say about Mr Jenkins. While I’m at it we will be asking if anyone has noticed any strangers hanging around in the days before his death. I tell him that if we hear anything of interest, we will pass it on to him.
I knew he wouldn’t object because people are often happy to talk to us where they are reluctant to talk to the police, or ‘filth’ as some local lads call them, especially coal miners who regard the police as being in the pay of the mine owners. St Helens was historically an important part of the Lancashire coalfield.
Back at the office I spot Dot Sykes, one of our trainees, busily typing away. She is our glam reporter and everyone fancies her, including me! I ask her what she is working on and she says it’s a short from magistrate’s court about somebody convicted of a string of burglaries. I tell her she can finish it later and to get her coat on because we are going on the knocker, as it’s called, around Bluebell Farm.
‘I’ve never done that before,’ she says excitedly. ‘What do I do?’ I tell her she will be with me and I will ask most of the questions and she can take a note of what people say. Dot has all the qualities to make an extremely competent reporter and I have no doubt she will go far. She is in her early twenties, intelligent, resourceful and her shoulder-length blonde hair, shapely legs and egg timer figure are enough to turn any head.
We head outside and I stop when we get to the Capri. She has hurried on and turns when she realises I am no longer at her side. She stares at the car and then at me. ‘This is yours?’ she asks, wide-eyed. I grin modestly and tell her that I don’t have many weaknesses but one of them is cars.
‘I bet you pull the girls with this,’ she says laughing.
I don an innocent expression and tell her it never even crossed my mind. She laughs again. I rather think she has sized me up.
We head off. Fortunately, she does not pursue the finer details of my sex life. Instead, she chatters away about how much she is enjoying her training. She is on the final year of a two-year NCTJ course (National Council for the Training of Journalists). I ask her why she wanted to come into the industry. It is, after all, not the highest paid of professions. The hours can be long and varied with bosses who are often unfeeling arseholes. I suppose in some ways you have to be slightly stupid to be a reporter.
‘The last thing I wanted was to be in a 9 to 5 job,’ she says. ‘I would hate to be stuck in an office doing some boring, meaningless, job. I know girls whose only ambition is to get married, have a couple of kids and be a housewife. Not for me. No thank you.’ She says it very assertively. I glance at her and smile. I can see her as editor of Vogue one day.
‘Why do you do it?’ she asks.
I smile wanly. ‘When I was at university, I wanted to change the world, in between smoking pot of course. It took a few years for me to realise that the world is not going to change so I decided on journalism because if I can’t change it, at least I can write about it.’
‘That’s a bit cynical,’ she says.
I shrug. ‘That’s the way it is.’
We arrive at a row of semi’s just down the road from the farm. I tell her that I will ask the questions and she can take a note. A man answers the door, ignores me and stares at Dot. When I ask him if he knew Mr Jenkins, he shakes his head and says that he has never spoken to him but has seen him in the neighbourhood from time-to-time. ‘Why did he kill himself?’ he asks. I tell him that it is looking more like murder and then I stare up and down the road and ask if he has noticed any strangers hanging around recently. Cars parked up for no apparent reason, that kind of thing. He shakes his head, saying he works shifts so he wouldn’t necessarily notice.
We work our way down the row; one lady says she had spoken to him a few times saying that she thought he was lonely after his wife left; another man said he thought he had financial problems.
‘What makes you say that?’ pipes up Dot.
He stares at her quizzically. ‘He used to be a regular at the local pub, The Swan, and then, quite suddenly he stopped going.’
‘Perhaps he went somewhere else,’ she suggests. He shakes his head.
‘Don’t think so love. He had also been selling stuff as well, I heard.’
‘What kind of stuff?’ she insists.
‘Paintings, for one thing. He used to be a bit of an art lover.’
As we move on down the road, I congratulate her. She smiles: ‘I’m not just a pretty face,’ she says. I tell her she can take the lead at the last house in the row. We stop at the door and she rings the bell. A man opens up and Dot launches into the usual questions treating him to a winning smile. Like other locals he ‘knew’ Jenkins, but he didn’t, ending with regrets about his death. But then, when she asked him about suspicious cars or people, the man, whose name was also Jenkins, looked thoughtful.
‘Interesting you should ask that,’ he says.
‘There was one car that was parked up just down the road a couple of times last week. I noticed it because it’s a car I fancied but could not afford.’
‘What was it?’
‘A Rover 3.5 litre Coupe. Dark blue. Quality motor,’ he says enthusiastically. ‘I’d have to win the pools to buy one.’
‘I don’t suppose you saw the driver or took a note of the number?’ Dot asks hopefully. He shakes his head. And then, just as we are about to walk away, he says: All I can tell you is that he must be tall.’
‘How do you know that?’ I ask.
‘Because I was looking through the rear window and I could see his head almost touching the roof.’ He grins at us. I tell him he should be a detective. He likes that and laughs.
As we walk down the road towards the Capri, I tell Dot I will pass that information on to Lamplight. It’s very sensible to stay on his right side, I tell her, because when it comes to tips of what is going on, it is us he going to talk to… hopefully.
‘What is so important about the car?’ she asks. I tell her that the Rover 3.5 is a very expensive car and is usually driven by company directors or senior managers.
‘So, there can’t be that many about,’ she says.
She’s right. Dot catches on fast.
Liverpool city centre
I narrowly beat a bloke in a Jag to a parking space in the car park at the back of Municipal Buildings on Victoria Street in the business centre of Liverpool. He scowls at me and in response I give him two fingers. He probably thinks I’m an arrogant bastard, but I don’t care. Its dog eat dog where parking is concerned.
It’s my day off and I’m meeting the gorgeous Amy who says she has news for me about my father. I am obviously curious as to what she might have uncovered although I don’t seriously think I will ever find out who he was despite all her efforts. My family have successfully buried his identity and it has died with them. Mum was one of seven; three of whom emigrated to New Zealand and although she was one of the eldest, she was the last to die. I have cousins, of course, but the subject of my dad was never spoken about to them either. It reinforces my view that it must have been something truly shocking to be so successfully hidden for so long.
Amy has a flat in a suburb called Fairfield. It’s on the first floor of a terrace house, self-contained with its own entrance, just off a busy main road, Kensington. She doesn’t own a car but then she doesn’t really need one because the school she teaches in is a short walk away and there are shops everywhere. It is also on a major bus route into the city centre. I occasionally spend the weekend there on the rare occasion when I get a weekend off. There is an ice rink within easy walking distance as well and we often spend a fun Saturday cutting a dash, followed by a good session in the pub and back to her flat for adventures in bed. We even get around to eating as well!
My mentor, Richard Armitage at the agency, has been telling me to move to a major paper and not to waste away in a backwater like St Helens. He has a point and although I like the town and its people, I know it’s a dead end as far as a career goes and I have decided it is time I wrote up my cv and applied for jobs. Liverpool has two daily papers, a morning and an evening, so I think I’ll begin with them.
I’m walking to a Kardomah café on nearby Dale Street which is one of our regular haunts. As soon as I walk through the door the waft of ground coffee hits me. I stop and breathe it in. Who needs drugs when you can have coffee?
I like this particular Kardomah. It tends to be the haunt of intellectuals and oddballs. You can hear people arguing about the merits of Sartre or Joyce or the finer points of Malevich and the Supremacist movement. Last week, I overheard two people having a heated row about the merits of EM gauge versus Protofour which I think has something to do with model railways!
Anyway, I spot Amy in the corner so I walk over and give her a juicy kiss and then ask if she would like a refill. She would. She is wearing a gauche safari jacket, which doubles as a mini skirt and has a mock chain curling around her waist. It is partly open at the front revealing a yellow top. Together with her copper hair, she looks a million dollars. I instantly put all thoughts of Dot out of my head.
When I return with coffees and two rum rumbabas, she asks me what I have been up to, so I tell her about the body in the chair. She stares at me, her eyes wide.
‘So, it was you who found him,’ she says quietly, putting her hand over mine and squeezing it. ‘It was on telly last night and in the papers.’ I nod. I can still see the dreadful scene. Will I ever forget it? I tell her that I was not the only one who threw up. So did one or two of the coppers.
‘Judging by the news reports they seem to think it was suicide,’ she says shaking her head. I tell it her it wasn’t, it was murder, and I will be filing a story saying exactly that in the morning.
‘Let’s change the subject,’ she says decisively. ‘I have been doing a bit of detective work of my own on your behalf. Do you remember telling me that your mum lived on Sunbeam Road, Old Swan? I tell her that I do and that one of my earliest memories was of me and my Uncle Alf playing trains on the floor with a Hornby clockwork train set.
‘Well, I thought I would do a bit of doorstepping to find out if there was anyone who lived there in 1942 and who remembers your mum at No 66. Obviously, it was wartime and a lot has happened since then, but I thought it was worth a try.’
I tell her I’m impressed and it is then I decide to get rid of the two full ash trays on our table. We are both non-smokers which puts us in a minority. I can’t stand the stench despite all the ads telling us how cool it is to smoke. Amy looks on impatiently. ‘Do you want to know what I found out or not?’
Once the table is clean again, I sit back and tell her that I’m all ears. ‘Well, just a few doors down from No 66 I came across an elderly lady who remembers your mum, Nora, and her little boy which was you of course. She said this would have been around 1944 when you were two years old. She also remembers someone called Paul who vanished shortly after. I asked her if she ever spoke to him, but she didn’t. She said he wasn’t there for very long and another family moved in with your mum. She said it was your mum’s sister.’
That all makes sense and fits in with what I know and now, at least, we have a name. I tell her she has done really well and that it deserves a Wimpy and fries. ‘Is that all you cheapskate? What about a slap-up feed in the Adelphi’s French restaurant?’ I tell her she will get that if she finds a surname for him. Her response is to call me a tight-fisted swine and to throw sugar cubes all over my suit.
Just then an overweight, florid man in his thirties wearing a kipper tie, stops at our table. ‘It’s Keith Wilder isn’t it?’ he says, holding out his hand. I groan inwardly. People approach me all the time because I may have filed a story on them at some point. I treat him to a fixed smile. ‘You don’t remember me, do you?’ he says. ‘It’s George Moran from the Post and Echo. You gave us the story of the girl who helped save a family from a fire in Huyton last August. You gave it to us exclusively if you remember.’ I do and apologise to him. It was the splash on the front page of the Liverpool Echo in the same edition that had a picture of the first astronaut to get to the Moon. We shake hands and I introduce him to Amy who is staring at him curiously.
I tell her that George is the news editor for both papers. He sits down and asks how life in St Helens is going. I glance at Amy and smile. I tell him that I am thinking of moving and that things have become a bit static at the agency.
‘Drop me a line,’ he says. ‘So, Jerry has predictably managed to piss you off eh? He is referring to Jerry Reynolds, the agency boss. ‘It was always going to be a matter of time. Nobody lasts there. I’ve seen them come and go. He runs a sweat shop but I daresay I don’t need to tell you that?’ He grins maliciously. ‘I wondered how long you would last there.’ He slaps me on the back when I just shrug nonchalantly. ‘Anyway, we can always find a role for people like you. I’ll have a word with the editor. If you want me to that is?’ He stares at me and raises a questioning eyebrow.
The fact that I was about to send an application is something I decide not to mention. It is better to be head-hunted than to be an applicant because it means they are interested in you rather than the other way around. So, I tell him that would be cool. He stands, eyes Amy appreciatively and says. ‘Nice to meet you love. Keep him in line. OK, later days dudes.’
‘Looks like you could be joining the Echo,’ says Amy. ‘You’re a cunning bugger, aren’t you? I wink at her and inform her that I’m a valuable property. She snorts at that and gives me a kick under the table. ‘Let’s go get that expensive Wimpy,’ she says. ‘You owe me Wilder. My services as your own private detective agency do not come cheap.’
There is a Wimpy bar just down the road. I sit while Amy feeds the jukebox. When she returns, she orders a Wimpy Salad Platter 6/- (six shillings; 30p) and I settle on a Brunchburger which also costs 6/-. Both come with chips or fried potatoes as Wimpy euphemistically call them.
We munch away as Kenny Rogers belts out Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town followed by
Elvis and Suspicious Minds. I stare at her and ask if she chose that number deliberately. She giggles and says with a mock aloofness that if the cap fits, I should wear it.
I drop her off at her flat on my way back to St Helens. She invited me to stay over but I am up at 6am on the early shift and I would have no chance of making that after a night with Amy.
I park the car and have just opened the door when I spot an envelope on the mat. There is no stamp; just Keith Wilder typewritten on the envelope. I rip it open and inside is a single sheet of paper. Inside is pasted a message cut from large newspaper headline letters. It quite simply and rather ominously says:
KEEP YOUR TRAP SHUT
The Star Press Agency
I am awake! It is dark. There is not a sound. It is as if the world is holding its collective breath awaiting the coming of the light.
Dawn is a magical time of day. I know it’s a cliché to call it an awakening, but it is much more than just the beginning of a new day. There is a magic time just before dawn when a narrow ribbon of blue on the eastern horizon heralds defeat for creatures of the night; when dreams make way for the dawning of consciousness and the coming day is full of promise waiting to be fulfilled.
In early October last year, I took myself off camping to the Lake District, pegging my ridge tent under the shadow of a tree with stunning views of the hills in the near distance. As I climbed into my sleeping bag that night, I remember thinking how wonderful it woul6 be to wake up to the dawn and watch as the first rays of the sun sliver over the hills. I was not disappointed.
I had opened my eyes to birdsong even though it was dark outside and cold too. I had to put my parka on to light the primus to make a mug of tea. The birds were not fooled; they knew it was that special time just before dawn when nothing breathes in the hour of silence. When everything is transfixed, when only the light moves.
I don’t why I am awake so early. It is the hour before dawn. I know it instinctively even though my blinds are down. Then I remember. The note with its implied threat. It explains the dream full of menacing shadows that became conflated with a faceless figure that I was vainly trying to reach but who was always out of reach. I sit on the side of my bed and sigh rubbing sleep out of my eyes. It is easy to see where all that came from. It must be the mysterious caller who in my dream became intertwined with the riddle of my father.
So, it would seem that the caller, not content with involving me in the murder of Mr Jenkins, is now telling me to keep quiet about it which is absurd. He must know I’m a journalist and that keeping quiet is not one of our hallmarks unless there is a powerful reason.
Up until now, I was mildly curious as to how he knew my name and why he rang me and not the police but now I am worried that he evidently knows my address as well. There is an implied threat in that, I think. Telling me to keep my mouth shut is odd too because he must realise that I have already told the police everything I know and that I have nothing further to reveal. Or have I? Could he possibly be aware of Dot and me doorstepping two days ago. Perhaps he is wondering what we discovered. But how would he know about that? Is he watching us?
For me though the central questions are still how he knows my name and my address. Could he be somebody I know?
I rub my eyes again. Too many questions. I have to be at the office for 6.00am so I wash and shave, drag on a clean shirt and shorts, tossing yesterdays on a growing laundry pile in the corner. I put on my office suit and tie. Reynolds insists on everybody wearing a tie. I regard it as a bit 19th century, but he says it is all about image because we are a sober news organisation not a fashion magazine. I think that is an outdated view. It is 1970 for heaven’s sake. We have just had the swinging sixties. Sex, drugs and rock n’roll and all that. These days it’s all about flares, kipper ties and colour as well as girls on the Pill. Who wants the grey days of the 1950s back?
I stare at my laundry pile again. I will need to go to a launderette up the road later, otherwise I will run out of clothes.
I arrive at my desk and turn on the radio to listen to the Today programme and the mellifluous tones of John Timpson and Brian Redhead. It often sets the news agenda for the day nationally but now and then it will cover issues that are pertinent to the regions. I also look at the diary to see what we have to cover today: there is an ongoing strike at Ford’s, Halewood; there is trouble brewing at Pilkington’s over pay; I will get someone to talk to the unions; accusations of corruption in the council; a murder trial at Liverpool Crown Court and the ongoing flu epidemic which appears to be tailing off. Two stories that are not for us but which are interesting nevertheless is that of MP Will Owen, who has represented Morpeth since 1954, and who has been arrested on charges of espionage and The first Boeing 747 ‘jumbo jet’ is due to arrive at Heathrow airport next week.
‘Softer’ and more local stories is a woman who is celebrating her 100th birthday and a man who claims he can run his car on water. Probably a complete nutter but it’s something everyone will read. That stacks up to quite a busy day. We will have our morning conference chaired by Jerry at 8.00am and then I will begin to assign jobs to the troops.
There is one other task I must do this morning and that is to talk to Lamplight about the note that was pushed through my door yesterday. I have brought it with me and have been careful to handle it as little as possible, in case he wants to check it for fingerprints. As I sip my tea and munch a couple of rounds of toast while listening to the radio, my mind wanders off to speculate what our next step should be now that we can be reasonably certain that my father’s name was Paul. I should have talked to Amy about that but, oddly, it never came up after she had said what her doorstepping had revealed. I must also type up a letter to George Moran of the Post and Echo after Jerry turns down my request for a pay rise which he almost certainly will when I go to see him after conference.
Dot Sykes is the first to arrive. She twinkles at me and informs me that she has written up the results of our doorstepping. It’s just a background piece really, she explains, because no hard news was revealed. It is just what neighbours thought of Mr Jenkins basically and an appeal for anybody who may have seen the Rover 3.5 coupe. I tell her about the note I found on my mat and she looks startled. ‘How did he find your address?’ she asks and then; ‘Does it mean he will come after me too?’ I tell her that I will be seeing Lamplight later and asking that very same question but that it appears it is me he is primarily interested in and so she needn’t worry.
‘Oh, I’m not scared,’ she declares. ‘It’s all part of being a reporter, isn’t it?’ I give her a quizzical look to see if she is serious and decide that she is. I tell her that she might as well get used to threats, bribes, insults and people wanting to screw her. It all goes with the territory. She hands me her copy which I put to one side. I will go through it later.
‘Do you get people wanting to screw you?’ she asks looking at me innocently. I tell her not as often as I would like and pick up the phone to ring Lamplight. I get through to Ernie James and ask him how his wife is. He tells me she is out of hospital. I can hear the relief in his voice and I ask him if he is going to party on the strength of it. He chuckles and says his partying days are over but that he did allow himself a dram or two of whisky. We both have a laugh at that and then I ask if Lamplight is about. A couple of minutes later he comes on and I tell him about the note.
‘Bloody hell, he isn’t messing about, is he?’ says Lamplight. ‘He obviously knows who you are, where you live and what you do. Do you really have no idea who it can be?’ I tell him I really have no idea who would want to play these kind of games, especially if it is him who is the murderer. He tells me to bring the note in when I get the chance.
After I put the phone down it suddenly occurs to me that it could well be somebody I have interviewed or written a story about: maybe someone I exposed for a fraud or some other crime and this is his way of getting payback. The problem with that theory is the murder of Mr Jenkins. You wouldn’t go out and murder somebody just to take revenge on a reporter. Would you? I shake my head in exasperation. There must be a link with something in my past. It’s the only explanation. I will just have to go though my cuttings file to see if there is anyone I have annoyed enough for them to do this.
The troops have arrived and it is time for the morning conference. They gather round as Jerry turns up to chair the meeting. He cracks a weak joke about the weather and we all smile politely. He then hurries on to the diary items and as I list them, he suggests one or two other stories that interest him and suggests individuals to cover specific jobs. I always ignore that. After all, I am the news editor and it is up to me who does what. I will get the more experienced hands to talk to the council leader and the Pilkington’s unions and someone with a good shorthand note to cover the murder trial. I look over at Dot and ask her to go and talk to the nutter who claims he runs his car on water. He will probably say he uses electrolysis. If it works, he will be a millionaire in no time, but I doubt it. Ask him to pour water into the tank while you watch I tell her. And then when she has done that hold a match to the exhaust pipe. If it works, the match will flare up because it will be oxygen. If it doesn’t it’s a fraud. I tell her she can also talk to the 100th birthday lady. I tell her it will be a preparation for when she is old and crusty one day. Her frown tells me it won’t be.
After conference, Richard Armitage stays behind for a chat. I have assigned him to crown court. I tell him about the note and my unease over the mystery caller. He looks thoughtful and says he has heard of journalists being hounded because somebody didn’t like what they have written.
‘If you had libelled someone you would have been sued so he might be trying to fake you out because of something else you have written or it might be nothing more than it happened to be you who answered the phone when he rang. Simple as that.’ I nod and then ask him if he fancies a pint later. Silly question really.
Time to see Jerry about a pay rise. I have already written my resignation
The Glass House, St Helens
I have always liked traditional pubs; places that have a history and a story to tell rather than the modern concrete and glass emporiums that are totally lacking in character or even worse, pretending to be what they are not with fake relics and pictures scattered about; a nasty trend that began in the 1960s when many pubs were ‘modernised’. A modern bar is just a bar, nothing more, whereas a traditional English pub is a place you can melt into and become part of its fabric.
The Glass House is such a pub. What is more its landlord also likes journalists which is good because not everyone does. Mind you, his liking could well be influenced by the amount of money we spend there but that’s Ok. He seems content to listen to our never-ending shop talk and banter which is an improvement on being thought of as drunks, boors, or self-opinionated arses – to name but a few of our better qualities.
It became my ‘local’ when I began working at The Star. I believe it has been the office ‘local’ ever since Jerry’s old man set up the agency in the late 1930s. It also has the advantage of being quite near the office on Market Street.
I usually head there after work for a few pints to commune with the troops. These days Dot, as the only female on the payroll, is often the centre of attention. I think she may have a boyfriend from one or two things she has said but, wisely in my view, she doesn’t really talk about her home life any more than I do. I once made the mistake of telling someone I was an only child which was unwise because people appear to have set views about people like me; we are supposedly loners, screwballs and antisocial misfits. And if I were to reveal I was the product of a one-parent family as well I would be viewed almost as an alien – even now in these enlightened days of 1970! What it must have been like in 1942 I really can’t imagine. Mum must have had a seriously hard time which is why I am a little obsessed in finding the truth about my father.
I suppose, in truth, I am often alone, but not lonely and I am certainly independent. I have had to be because there was no dad to run to. I think people with my kind of history do have a certain way of thinking and, yes, I can be bossy but that does not make me into some kind of Napoleon!
The one person who does know my back story is Richard Armitage who is older and wiser than anyone else in the office. He is also a bloody good journalist with years of experience and if I’m honest, it is he who should really be the news editor and not me, but his face does not fit: quite probably because of his addiction to booze and women and his age. Jerry is definitely prejudiced against anyone who is older than thirty. The fact that younger people are also cheaper doubtless has something to do with it. One of the other reasons Richard and I get on is because he does not suffer fools lightly. Neither do I.
I sit on a stool by the bar and look around expecting to see a few faces from the office but there is nobody here. There are one two ‘regulars’ at the other end who wave at me and I nod back with a smile. Ted the landlord shouts: ‘Usual Keith?’. I give him the thumbs up. He knows what my tipple is, a pint of Walkers, a good amber cask beer. ‘It’s gone up,’ he informs me. When I look at him questioningly, he says. ‘Didn’t you see the Echo last night? They’ve slapped a penny on it to 1/11d (One shilling, eleven pence: just under 10p). The price of beer is very sensitive. It’s headline news even if it goes up by a penny. I’m not a particular fan of the new keg beers like Double Diamond which is everywhere these days. Some pubs will only serve keg beer and there is a new poison called lager which is beginning to be popular. I daresay it has something to do with all the advertising and the fact they are easier to keep.
I spot Richard ambling through the door and signal to Ted to pull another pint. He flops down on a stool and takes a generous gulp of beer. I ask him how the murder case at Crown Court is going, a particularly nasty case of a woman beaten to death by her boyfriend who is denying it has anything to do with him.
‘The bastard is guilty as hell. We know it, the judge knows and so do the jury judging by their expressions. He’s got one of his mates to give him an alibi, but the prosecution will rip that apart when he takes the stand tomorrow. Five years ago, the evil bugger would have swung. They should never have abolished hanging in my view.’
Richard is an inveterate court reporter. Four years ago, he covered the Moors Murders case at Chester Crown Court when Myra Hindley and Ian Brady were found guilty of a series of crimes that shocked the country when they first came to light. Brady and Hindley murdered four children during 1963 and 1964 and buried their bodies on Saddleworth Moor, near Manchester. Lesley Ann Downey, 10, John Kilbride, 12, Keith Bennett, 12, and Pauline Reade, 16, were all sexually assaulted before their deaths at the hands of the couple. Richard once told me how much the case had sickened him.
I ask him how long the Liverpool murder case is likely to go on and he says it should all be wrapped up by the end of the week. I decide to bring up the mystery caller whose activities are becoming more threatening and menacing and appear to be aimed exclusively at me.
Richard is silent for a while staring in his beer. Finally, he looks up. ‘I wouldn’t be too worried if I were you. It’s not unusual for journalists to be targeted by lunatics who feel aggrieved over some imagined insult in a story. In the end they usually get fed up and find somebody else to become obsessed about. I’ve known it happen a few times and to people even more noteworthy than you.’ He grins at me. I can’t help laughing at that.
I tell him that I have just been to see Lamplight to hand him the note who is taking it seriously. ‘I should bloody think so too,’ splutters Richard. ‘That’s his job. Just because you’re a scribe doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have the same protection as everybody else. Lunatic or not, the bastard should be caught, especially if he turns out to be the killer. At the very least he should be called upon to explain his behaviour.’
I ask him if he thinks there is more to it than meets the eye. I tell him that Bluebell Farm is not somewhere you happen to pass because it is at the end of a road. You only go down there if you have a reason.
‘So, you obviously think he is implicated.’ I exclaim that he must be. What was he doing there? If he was innocently visiting someone else why hasn’t he come forward? All we know about him is that he drives a Rover 3.5 coupe and that he is tall.
Richard shrugs. ‘If I were you laddie, I would leave it to Lamplight. You don’t have the build to be an amateur detective. Go back to that house of yours and snuggle up to the gorgeous Amy. She should take your mind off it.’ He digs me in the ribs with his elbow.’
Maybe Richard is right. If I just ignore him maybe he will go and find somebody else to annoy. And if he is guilty of the murder it is up to Lamplight and his merry men to find it out. I tell Richard that the inquest is coming up. It is unlikely to be a mere formality because there can be no doubt how Arthur Jenkins died. The verdict is almost certain to be ‘murder by person or persons unknown’ I would have thought. I tell Richard that it could be worth attending if for no other reason to see who else turns up. I have to go because I’m a primary witness. Our mystery man may not be able to contain his curiosity. A bit like an arsonist who has to watch while a building is consumed by his flames.
We are on our second pints and I know it will run to a third. I decide to tell Richard that I plan to move and that I have sent off a letter to George Moran of the Post and Echo at his suggestion.
‘Moran is OK,’ mutters Richard. ‘Decent type even if he does have his head up his arse at times. You will be an asset there and he’s astute enough to know that.’ He puts his arm around my shoulders and looks me in the eyes. ‘You will be sorely missed here laddie. That fucking idiot Jerry should know better than to let you go. If it wasn’t for the fact that his dad started the agency, he would be lucky to get a reporters job on a weekly.’
I can’t help smiling at that because I have no doubt he’s right. Richard treats me to a wicked smile. ‘And what will the delicious Dot do when you’re gone eh?’ I shrug nonchalantly. His grins widens. ‘What’s the betting she follows you.’
As we leave, I notice a man sitting in a corner. He is wearing a long raincoat and a trilby is sitting on the table next to a whisky. He has his back to us but there is something about his stillness, his rigidity, that make my hackles rise. I have no idea why. I must be getting paranoid if I start suspecting every stranger I see.
I shake my head and follow Richard out.
St Helens Town Hall
I knew I would be called as a witness at the Arthur Jenkins inquest. In fact, I am probably the most important witness having discovered Mr Jenkins’ body in all its gruesome horror. I have reported on several inquests in my time, of course, but I have never been a witness. It’s a daunting prospect, even for a hard-boiled reporter like me!
The inquest is at St Helens Town Hall on Bickerstaff Street in a side room. I have discovered that the coroner is Mr Andre Stanley B.Sc. (Hons), a solicitor. I know him to be a rather stern, humourless man but then I suppose there is not much room for humour in discerning the reasons why people have died.
To his left is a jury of 12. They all look somewhat uncertain and fidget uncomfortably.
I would normally have covered the inquest personally but I can hardly report on myself as a key witness so I have asked Bill Danvers, one of our senior reporters to come along and take a note of proceedings. I would normally have asked Richard, but he is still tied up at Liverpool Crown Court. Danvers is sitting on the press bench along with one or two other reporters. I am sitting with DI Harry Lamplight and next to him is the pathologist. On the front row is sitting a small, subdued group of people who must be Jenkins’ relatives. There are also a few people sitting behind us who I assume must also be witnesses.
I look around the room. It is mostly empty. A few seats at the back are occupied by the curious and I also recognise a few of Jenkins’ neighbours whom Dot and I talked to during our doorstepping exercise.
A hush falls on the room and everyone stands as a side door opens and the Coroner enters and sits at the top table. In front of him sits a clerk taking a note of proceedings. Mr Stanley opens by announcing that this is an inquest into the death of Mr Arthur Jenkins. He looks at the family and thanks them for attending.
He pauses, consults his notes and calls Lamplight who walk to a chair set to one side of the Coroner and clerk. He asks Lamplight to tell the court the circumstances surrounding his attendance at Mr Jenkins farm. Lamplight glances in my direction and tells how he received my phone call in the early hours of January 11th and how he and fellow officers attended the scene and discovered Mr Jenkins body. His testimony continues with the measures they took ending with him saying that it his belief that Mr Jenkins was murdered because of the position of the 12-bore shotgun. He ends by saying that the police are pursuing several leads which may identify the killer.
I am next to be called. I begin by telling them about the mysterious phone call and why I decided to respond. When I tell them about my arrival at the farm I pause, the memory of what I discovered still fresh in my mind. I take a deep breath and then tell them how I found all the lights on and the front door open; how I called out several times and finally entered and slowly walked from room-to-room until I finally reached the sitting room or lounge. I pause again, swallow, and tell them the terrible scene I discovered, leaving nothing out. There are gasps of horror from the family and from the back of the court. I end, rather lamely, by saying that I rang the police when I had recovered from the shock.
The coroner thanks me for my testimony and tells me to stand down. As I do so, I notice another person has entered the room and is sitting alone on the back row. He is wearing a long beige coat and I see he is holding a trilby. Can it be the same man I saw in the pub? I can’t quite see his face because he is leaning slightly sideways and it is obscured by a person sitting in front of him. I decide to take a better look as soon as I can.
The pathologist from St Helens Hospital is called next and he describes, using medical jargon, how Jenkins died and exactly what both barrels of the 12-bore did. I feel sorry for the family having to listen to all that.
A forensic scientist, Dr Caleb Jarvis, is called next and he tells why it was impossible for Jenkins to have committed suicide given the position of the shotgun. As I remember it, the gun was resting against his left thigh, the muzzle pointing to his right. According to the scientist, had he committed suicide he would have pointed the muzzle under his chin and pulled the trigger with his right hand. The gun would have recoiled, the stock hitting the floor and it would almost certainly have fallen flat on the floor in front of him. He then says there are also other reasons for suspecting foul play. On examining the body there were signs of ligatures around the wrists and ankles.
The coroner intervenes. ‘Are you telling us doctor that Mr Jenkins was tied up before he was shot?’
‘I am,’ says Jarvis. ‘The perpetrator then removed the ligatures which was green twine of the kind in common use in gardens. The gun was then arranged to make it appear that the wound had been self-inflicted.’
The coroner then calls Jenkins brother, Alec, whose haggard face stares out at us tentatively. He is asked when he last saw his brother. He hesitates. ‘It must have been at least two months,’ he replies.
‘What was his state of mind then, would you say?’
‘He had money worries. I don’t think the farm was doing too well. He needed help but could not afford to pay anyone.’
‘Was he in debt to the best of your knowledge?’
Jarvis shrugs. ‘He didn’t say.’ He hesitates before continuing. ‘We weren’t really all that close.’ He glances at other members of the family on the front row.
‘Can you throw any light on why anyone would want to harm him?’ He shakes his head and is then excused.
The coroner then faces the jury and outlines the verdicts that are available to them. He virtually instructs them that the only possible verdict is one of murder. They file out of the room.
‘This shouldn’t take long,’ whispers Lamplight in my ear. ‘We may as well stay put.’ I ask him when he knew about the ligatures. He says that it only came to light in the last day or so when he received a full forensic report.
A few people have left the court. I remember the mysterious man sitting at the back and stand up to get a better look, but he has vanished.
‘What are you looking at,’ says Lamplight. I return to my seat and tell him that I think someone may be following me. First, the stranger in The Glass House and now I am almost certain the same man was sitting at the back of the room. I tell him, before he asks, that I could only give a rudimentary description because I have not been able to see the man’s face.
Word must have got out that the jury are about to return because the family are back in their seats. I look at my watch. It has been just twenty minutes. We all stand as the coroner returns. He turns to the jury and asks if they have reached a verdict. The foreman stands and says that they have. It is, as I expected, ‘murder by person or persons unknown.’
Two of the women in the family are in tears and the brother looks distraught. They slowly walk to the door after the coroner closes the inquest and thanks everyone for attending. I follow them at a respectful distance.
Outside the town hall a small crowd watch silently and a clutch of photographers spring to life as the family emerges. There are flashes and a few shouted questions as they climb into a waiting car. As I walk out there are more flashes accompanied by shouts of ‘Hey, Keith, this way.’ More flashes. Looks like I have become the story too. It’s an odd feeling to be on the receiving end for once.
I cross the road and turn to look back at the town hall as the crowd disperses. Standing next to the door is a tall man wearing a long coat and a trilby pulled slightly down over his face. I can just about make out a moustache. He is standing upright and still. Very still.
He is staring straight at me.
Raglan Street, St Helens
I hope Richard is right about my watcher losing interest and moving on to a more worthy subject. The intensity of his stare outside the town hall unsettled me. I am still no nearer knowing why he picked on me. All I did was answer the phone and report the murder. He must have expected that, otherwise why ring? If he wanted it to be kept quiet all he had to do was drive away. In all likelihood, it would probably have been days, or even weeks, before Jenkins’ body was found and by that time he could have been long gone. In saying that, I am of course, assuming that he is the murderer but then perhaps he isn’t. Is it possible that somebody else was the killer and that our mystery man has his own reasons for wanting the crime discovered? If that is so, why all the skulduggery? And why involve me for Christ’s sake?
I am in my little house on Raglan Street. It is only a two-up, two down but its snug. I have lit the coal fire and I am in my armchair luxuriating in the warm glow of the flames. It’s not that long ago that the second bedroom was converted into a toilet and bathroom. Before that a trudge down the backyard was required whatever the weather. It was all a bit primitive but then that is how generations of people lived in the ‘good old days.’
It is Sunday and it is the only day of the week the agency is closed on the basis that nothing much happens. If a major story breaks, I will go in and drag out a reporter and photographer if necessary. And it would have to be necessary because Jerry would have me by the bollocks if it weren’t because of the overtime it costs him.
Loads of people moan about Sunday being boring but I don’t. I like the quietness and the tranquillity. Yes, the shops are all closed apart from newsagents; town centres are largely deserted but cinemas are open. Pubs, however, are only open for a couple of hours at lunchtime for what the Aussies call the 12 O’clock swill. I hate it. The insane scrambling for that last pint at 2.00pm is just lunacy.
I am able to catch up on my reading and have a look through the weekly mags to see what is happening in the world and what the opinion formers are saying. It is beginning to look like Harold Wilson’s government is beginning to crumble but what of the Opposition? I couldn’t see Ted Heath and the Tories in power. That would be disastrous. And I see that Carl Marx’s grave has been vandalised in London’s Highgate Cemetery. Somebody unhappy with his legacy evidently.
I put a few singles on the record player; Diana Ross and the Supremes with their ‘Someday We’ll be Together’ and a Dave Clark Five number ‘Good Old Rock ‘n’ Roll’ and also Marmalade with ‘Reflections of My Life’. I remember seeing Diana Ross at a Liverpool nightclub called ‘She’. It was one of my first dates with Amy and a night to remember in more ways than one because I ended up in her flat.
The bell rings and she is standing on the step with two full bags. She looks fabulous with her copper curls cascading down to her shoulders and her green eyes staring at me. ‘Are you going to let me in,’ she demands. I laugh apologetically and open the door wider. She heads for the kitchen, pausing only momentarily to listen to Diana Ross. I follow her asking what is in the bags. ‘A treat you will enjoy. I am going to cook some decent food for a change. Baked trout with asparagus and potato boulangère.’ She kisses me. I kiss her back and she puts her hand on my chest smiling provocatively. ‘Later cowboy if you play your cards right.’
I leave her in the kitchen and I return to my reading. Suddenly, an idea pops into my head regarding my mystery watcher. I must have been subconsciously turning it over in my mind for some time without even realising it. It has dawned on me that despite Richard’s view that it might all just go away, I don’t think it will. He obviously has a purpose in pursuing me, so I need to discover who he is and why he is doing this. If he really is the killer, surely, he would want to conceal himself and not play games? Anyway, the idea that has surfaced in my mind is to set a trap that lures him into the open. I put down Time Magazine and stare out of the window at the deserted street outside. What kind of trap would achieve that? It would have to be something so compelling that he would not be able to resist being drawn in. I must give it some thought and then discuss it with DI Lamplight who I feel sure will go along with it so long as it isn’t illegal.
I walk into the kitchen to see how Amy is getting on. She is wearing a plastic pinny showing a pair of breasts and suspenders. I put my arms around her waist and kiss her neck telling her that I much prefer the real ones. She giggles and tells me to get lost unless I fancy peeling some onions. I don’t. Onions invariably make me cry. Instead, I decide to change the records. I ask her if she has any requests. She asks for the Beatles Sergeant Pepper’s. It’s a good choice. While I’m in the kitchen I take a couple of beers out of the fridge and hand one to her.
There are times when I wonder what Amy sees in me. I am not one of those men who thinks he is God’s gift. I don’t really think I’m good looking at all. Yes, I’m tall, six feet exactly; slim, some people might even say thin. I did at one time sport a ponytail, but it was always a bit bedraggled because I don’t have thick abundant hair that lends itself to that kind of treatment. And in any case that was in the early sixties when I was going through a trendy phase and into the psychedelic experience. Now I have my blond hair cut fairly short. One or two previous girlfriends were unanimous is declaring my blue eyes to be my best feature. I must take compliments wherever I can find them!
When I was at university, I got in with a crowd that was experimenting with acid. We used to go to a Liverpool club called the Iron Door, pop a pill and sit in a side room and let the world dissolve into dreamy colours and shapes with soothing female voices whispering love and sex into my ears. It was magic. It didn’t do too much for my studies at university, however; I was reading English and my professor was a noted Shakespearian scholar. I think I was close to being sent down in my first year. It was one particular ‘trip’ that saved me in the end.
It didn’t happen in the Iron Door. It was somewhere else and to this day I cannot remember where. It was in a room with wooden walls and I was sitting on the floor having downed several pints and popped a pill.
At first, it was the dreamy colours and shapes and soothing, alluring voices which rather suddenly began to change into angry reds and purple. The room appeared to get darker as if a thunderstorm were about to break and the voices began to become strident and threatening. Then one deep base voice drowned all the others out and it was telling me I could fly. Fortunately, I was not on a roof; had I been I may well have put it to the test.
Then another voice began telling me to kill myself. It was not strident; it was soft and persuasive; soothing even. I tried to stand but my legs wouldn’t work and then, horror of horrors, the walls of the room grew legs and they all began walking towards me.
Apparently, my screaming would have woken the dead. I am told people poured water over me and were slapping my face. Friends took me back to my flat and I slept for 24 hours straight. That was the end of my experience with drugs – of any sort!
I’m still not sure how I managed to get a 2:1 at graduation. I’m sure I was not as surprised as my professor.
Amy emerges from the kitchen, and seductively takes off her apron. I give her an expectant look inviting her to carry on, but she announces that dinner is ready, so I obediently go and set the table. I suddenly realise I am hungry.
The trout is cooked to perfection, baked with lemon and herbs, and with asparagus, my favourite vegetable, and the potato Boulangère is the ideal accompaniment – layers of potato and onion with thyme. I tell her she is an angel and lean over to give her a kiss.
‘Do you think I’ll make someone a good wife,’ she asks innocently, her eyebrows raised. I grin at this because she has frequently said she isn’t interested in ‘settling down’ as her mother cutely calls it. I don’t believe it for a minute and maybe we will tie the knot one day, but I don’t think either of us is ready for that kind of commitment just yet. But this is not the time for a serious chat of that sort. I have opened a bottle of white Burgundy and we fill our glasses and look into each other’s eyes. There is the hint of a mischievous twinkle in hers. I know she is trying to put me on the spot and I laugh out loud.
I tell her that she is perfection personified and that she would hate being wed – to me or anybody else right now and then I get serious, hold her hand and tell her that we will both know when the time is right. I decide it is time to change the subject and ask her if she would like to be the bait in a trap I am thinking of setting for my mystery watcher.
‘Are you serious?’ she asks, an expectant smile lighting up her face. ‘Do you want me to be a Mata Hari and entice him into your web with my feminine charms. I tell her that it may be something like that and I am still working it out in mind.
I move my chair next to hers and kiss her, my right hand gently caressing a breast. We decide to explore each other’s charms upstairs.
Thoughts of traps can wait.
The Star agency, St Helens
Monday, January 19
I have not long been in the office and am munching my way through a couple of rounds of toast with a mug of tea while studying the diary. I am alone and it is silent and expectant: absent is the clatter of typewriters and the cacophony of voices and phones. I was once asked by someone how I could possibly work and think in such a febrile environment. It wasn’t something that had occurred to me. I suppose I’ve become so accustomed to being surrounded by hubbub that I actually find it difficult to work in silent surroundings. I’m sure every journalist who works in a busy office will say the same.
I study the diary. There isn’t much going on by the looks of things. I will assign people to the usual bread and butter jobs; magistrates court and the council and we will do the usual rounds of the police and hospitals to see if the weekend has produced any dramas. There may have been a major accident late yesterday that hasn’t made it onto local radio yet. You never know. Apart from that I think I will get a couple of the trainees working on features. A couple of ideas come to mind: Do the railways have a future in the North West? and Life as a trainee nurse. I think both subjects are likely to find column space in the local rags and perhaps an even wider audience in some of the weekly mags. Who knows? I will give them a couple of leads to follow up, suggest who they should talk to and then a couple of days each for research and a day to write up, on the understanding that they are to be put on ice if something more immediate comes up.
As usual Dot is the first to arrive. She bursts in, panting, looking flushed and out of breath. I tell her with a smile that there really was no need to hurry, I wasn’t going anywhere. I ask her if she would like a mug of tea. I wave her into a chair and she takes off her coat and flops down.
When I return, I hand her a mug and ask if there was any special reason why she was in such a hurry. She takes a deep breath. ‘I saw a 3.5 Rover coupe on my way here. It was dark blue and the man inside was tall because his head was touching the roof. It must be the murderer surely? I had to run after it,’ she explains.
I point out that are probably any number of blue Rovers out there and quite apart from that, we don’t know for certain that the man in the car was the murderer. He is just ‘a person of interest’ as the police would say. I ask her if by any chance she saw the number plate. She did and she produces a piece of paper with it written down. I don’t usually beam at people, but I treated her to one now and told her that she’s a star and that I will give it to DI Lamplight.
Later in the morning when everyone had been given their assignments for the day, I call Dot over and tell her to get her coat on. ‘Where are we going,’ she asks, looking pleased. I tell her that we are going to St Helens cop shop to see DI Lamplight to give him the car number and she can tell him herself exactly what she saw and in what direction the car was going.
St Helens Police Station is not far from the office, but I decide to take the Capri anyway. When we stop at traffic lights, I tell her that I am hatching a plan to trap my watcher and that I intend to visit the farm after I have seen Lamplight.
‘What do you hope to find there?’
I shrug saying that I have no idea. I am simply hoping that there will be something there that will lure him out and we will finally discover who he is and why he has been watching me.
‘The number plate may do that, don’t you think?’ I nod. ‘Yes, it’s possible.’ I tell her that I will drop her back at the office once we have seen Lamplight.
‘Can I come to the farm with you Keith? I may spot something you miss and it is always better to have two sets of eyes, don’t you think?’ She sits back in her seat and then adds firmly: ‘Also, it is only fair that you involve me because I was with you when we were told about the car.’
She does have a point I suppose. There will be mutterings at the office but what the hell, I will probably be leaving soon anyway.
I tell her that if CID are still there we will turn around but if we are able to wander around, she must not touch anything. Also, there is no point going into the house, I tell her, the police will have been over every inch of it. I am more interested in the outbuildings which I suspect have been ignored.
We arrive at the police station and I park up in a visitor’s space. We arrive at the desk and I say hello to Ernie and introduce Dot. Ernie is obviously much taken by her and gives me a wink when she isn’t looking.
‘I suppose you have come to see his nibs,’ he says picking up the phone and announcing that we are here.
‘Hope he’s treating you well,’ says Ernie to Dot. ‘You look like far too nice a girl to be in his business.
‘She can run rings around me,’ I say resignedly. They both laugh at that.
‘He’s OK,’ says Dot grinning hugely at me. ‘I’m sure there are worse bosses.’
I am about to retort that she shouldn’t bet on that when the door opens and Lamplight stares at us both uncertainly. I introduce Dot and he nods for us to follow him. When we reach his office, he looks at me questioningly with a slight sideways nod in Dot’s direction.
Before Dot can say anything, I tell him about the car and Dot takes over and repeats what she told me earlier and before he asks, she produces the reg on a slip of paper and hands it to him. He smiles at me and says: ‘Hang on to her Keith, she’s a bright girl.’
‘I imagine you will be able to trace the address from that?’ she asks, ignoring the somewhat patronising remark.
‘Oh yes and we will be going round to interview the owner.’
She nods. ‘Well, I think we should come with you when you do.’ She glances at me. ‘Keith may be able to say if it is the man he saw in court even though he didn’t see his face. You would have a reason to question him then, wouldn’t you inspector?’
Lamplight stares at her. ‘I have no objection providing you stay out of the way. I’ll let you know when we have the address.’
I clear my throat to conceal a grin and hurry to tell him that if that doesn’t prove to be our man, I am hatching a plan to lure my watcher into the open.
‘I hope you run that past me first,’ says Lamplight. I assure him I will.
On our way to the farm, Dot asks if I have decided how I am going to trap my watcher. I tell her that I haven’t, yet, but my girlfriend Amy has said she is happy to be the bait if needed. There is a silence after that.
‘You may be better using me,’ she finally says. I conceal a smile and then ask her why she would want to put herself at risk. It could be dangerous after all. I glance at her. Her grey eyes are staring at me earnestly. Is it my imagination or she making a play for me and what would I do about it if she is? Or is she just trying to be helpful? I ask her why it would be better for her to be the bait rather than Amy and that she is under no obligation to do something like that. It isn’t part of her job and I wouldn’t expect it.
‘Well, you would want to get a story out of it, wouldn’t you, otherwise what would be the point?’ I glance at her again. She is serious. As baits go, they don’t get much more alluring than Dot. I tell her that naturally if there is a story in it, I would want to do it – and not just for the agency either. I have a feeling that there is more to all this than some madman trying to make life uncomfortable for me.
‘So, you think there is some underlying reason behind this? Maybe you stumbled across something in the recent past that completely pissed him off. You probably didn’t even realise it. Whatever the reason there is highly likely a bloody good story in it and I would like to write it, which I could do if I was the bait. Alongside you, of course,’ she adds hurriedly. And then, as a clincher. ‘Your Amy is not a journalist, is she? I am.’
‘You are beginning to sound like a seasoned hack,’ I say grinning. We look at each other and burst out laughing. I’m not sure how Amy will take it if she is replaced but I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.
We get to Bluebell Farm and drive through the gate. I park in the same spot I did on my previous visit. As we walk towards the farmhouse, I see police tapes in front of the door but there is no sign of anyone. There are three barns or outhouses, one of them some distance from the house. I send Dot to investigate there while I look around the other two. One is full of farm machinery and a tractor and the smell of decay. The other is more like a hay loft, which is odd because there does not appear to be any animals anywhere; no sheep or cattle and no hens clucking their way around the farmyard. What kind of farm is this? I ask myself. How did Mr Jenkins make a living?
I emerge and see Dot waving vigorously at me from the other barn. I walk over thoughtfully and ask her what is inside.
‘There are just lots of plants,’ she says. ‘Nothing of any importance really.’
I go inside. She is right. There must be hundreds, from wall-to-wall.
And all of them marijuana.
Eccleston, St Helens
I found it difficult to believe the police couldn’t be bothered to inspect the outbuildings at the farm. They must have assumed it was a cut-and-dried case of robbery ending in murder, although the fact that Mr Jenkins was tied up must have indicated a degree of premeditation I would have thought. There must be red faces all round following our finding the drugs farm there. It is now clear how Mr Jenkins earned his living and it obviously wasn’t from farming. It puts a whole new perspective on the case. Naturally, we filed a story on it which has been taken up by the nationals. I let Dot have the by-line, her first, which some papers have used but not all. You would think I had given her a Christmas present when she first saw it in the papers. I saw her feverishly cutting the story out of several to no doubt begin her own file of published work. And why not? It’s what I did when I was a cub reporter. It’s only later that cynicism will set in.
The first assumption that it was suicide was an easy one to make because there have been several farming suicides of late, 58 or so I seem to remember, universally blamed on the struggle to make ends meet on small farms in the late 60s and even now in 1970. Most of them were found hanging, either in their out outhouses or from trees.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, through his Sherlock Holmes stories, put it rather more dramatically when talking about the countryside. Holmes and Watson were on one of their many train journeys when Watson remarks on the peace and tranquillity of the countryside as he looks out of the window. Holmes follows his gaze: ‘The countryside fills me with a certain horror. It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.’
‘You horrify me!’ says Watson, whereupon Holmes treats him to one of his typical monologues: ‘But the reason is very obvious. The pressure of public opinion can do in the town what the law cannot accomplish. There is no lane so vile that the scream of a tortured child, or the thud of a drunkard’s blow, does not beget sympathy and indignation among the neighbours, and then the whole machinery of justice is ever so close that a word of complaint can set it going, and there is but a step between the crime and the dock. But look at these lonely houses, each in its own fields, filled for the most part with poor ignorant folk who know little of the law. Think of the deeds of hellish cruelty, the hidden wickedness which may go on, year in, year out, in such places, and none the wiser.’
He may have had a point. What was true in 1892 may also be true today in many ways. Would Jenkins’ weed farm have been discovered if he had not been murdered? Probably not, I suspect, unless a disaffected customer snitched on him.
DI Lamplight’s face was a picture when I told him about the cannabis farm. At first, it registered disbelief, especially when I added that it was Dot who discovered it. ‘Bloody women,’ was his first reaction, then he sighed and said resignedly that it puts an entirely different perspective on the case. ‘I suppose you are doing a story too?’ he had asked wearily, already knowing the answer. He told me that they will be putting out a formal statement later. We will do a second story on that too, of course, which will doubtless include an appeal for witnesses.
In the meantime, we are on our way to the mystery man’s house. Lamplight leads the procession, followed by a car with unformed officers and then Dot and I are in my Capri. Before we set out Lamplight told me that the car is owned by a Mr Archie Danforth, whose address is on Broadway, Eccleston, on the outskirts of St Helens
It’s a wealthy neighbourhood; all semi-detached and detached places with their own garages, some of them built recently, I would have thought. What would Holmes have to say about the people who live around here, I wonder.
We come to Broadway, all the houses set back from the road with lawns in front; in quite some contrast to my place on Raglan Street, I think ruefully. ‘I suppose this is where all the nobs hang out,’ mutters Dot. I tell her that if she has ambitions to live in a place like this, she should choose a different career. ‘You won’t be saying that when I become editor of ‘The Spectator’, she says smiling. I glance at her; the smile is still there but tinged with a hint of resolve. For the first time, perhaps, I realise I should not underestimate this lady. Dot may be young and inexperienced but underlying all that is an ambitious and determined individual.
Our procession comes to a halt outside a nondescript house halfway up Broadway. There is no sign of a Rover or any other car on the driveway. We have previously been told to stay put until Lamplight gives us a signal. He and four officers are standing on the doorstep and as we look one moves to peer through the window and another opens a side door leading to the back of the house. Either nobody is at home or the occupant is hiding. I know Lamplight has a court order to search the house so they will gain entry one way or another.
I decide it is time for us to get out of the car and we do so, standing against the Capri observing all the activity. A few minutes later it looks like they have either found a way to get in at the back or forced an entry because everyone suddenly disappears. We walk up to the gate as Lamplight appears at the front door and beckons to us.
Once we are inside, I gaze in astonishment as we walk from room-to-room. Everywhere is empty, of furniture, of carpets, of any sign of human habitation. When we reach the kitchen, Lamplight smiles at me grimly and points to a note on the front of the fridge. It simply says:
Welcome Keith and friends; you finally got here. What kept you?
I stare at it dumbfounded. Everyone is looking at me. I finally find my voice and blurt out: ‘How the bloody hell did he know we were coming?’
‘He must have noticed your colleague taking a note of his number plate,’ says Lamplight grimly, motioning to Dot as if she isn’t here.
‘He couldn’t possibly have done,’ she snaps. ‘I was too far away, and I was just one person among a dozen others on the pavement at the time.’ And then, as an afterthought. ‘And anyway, he doesn’t know who I am. How could he?’
‘Unless he’s made a point of finding out who works at the agency,’ says Lamplight quietly.
‘He’s playing games with all of us,’ I finally say. I point out that it was only two days ago that Dot spotted the car. Could he really have emptied the house so comprehensively so soon. He must have realised that it would only be a matter of time before his address was discovered. I suggest to Lamplight that he send his men to ask the neighbours when Mr Danforth moved out. Somebody is bound to have noticed a removal van.’
Dot looks at me admiringly. Lamplight looks somewhat less pleased, but I tell her that I know that is exactly what the inspector was about to tell his men to do. It doesn’t do to alienate a senior copper, especially one who is co-operative and a useful source of copy. It will be rather interesting to hear what the neighbours have to say. My betting is that he moved out at least a week ago and quite possibly two weeks ago.
‘Quite so,’ says Lamplight turning to a sergeant and telling him to organise a door-to-door. He frowns and studies me. ‘He really does have it in for you, doesn’t he? And you have no idea why?’ I shake my head but then point out that despite his apparent obsession with me, the fact that he has moved out rather points to him being linked to the murder of Mr Jenkins doesn’t it, otherwise why move out if you are innocent?
‘And then there is the cannabis,’ says Lamplight. ‘How does that fit in I wonder? I’m surprised we have heard nothing about a major drug dealer in our area. I would have thought Jenkins’ name would have come up when people have been caught using.’
I ask if it is likely that Jenkins did not deal with the public but only supplied wholesale, as it were, possibly to people like Danforth? In fact, I continue, there may be other dealers out there who are not aware of Jenkins’ death and who may turn up at the farm intending to do business.
‘In order to find that out we would have to keep a 24-hour watch on the place, and we just don’t have the resources,’ says Lamplight with an air of resigned finality. ‘No, I think we will concentrate on finding Mr Danforth, or at least his car. I will alert patrols both here and in Liverpool as well as Lancashire. We will find the bastard and then we will see what he has to say.’
I have a feeling that even when they do find his car, they won’t find Danforth, if that really is his name. He has been one step ahead of us so far and he obviously has an agenda. Only time will reveal what that is.
Amy Sunderland wasn’t entirely sure she even liked Keith Wilder when she first met him. At first sight, he was attractive in a slightly bookish way; he was tall, at least six feet, with short, almost blond hair with a parting to one side. He also had an easy smile with blue eyes that stared quizzically at the world with ill-concealed amusement. It was later that she discovered a streak of arrogance, an aloofness, that set him apart from other men she had met.
It happened on Liverpool’s Lime Street Station about a year ago when the famous steam locomotive Mallard was paying a visit with a special train for railway enthusiasts. Wilder’s secret passion has always been railways; something that began when he was only four or five when an uncle introduced him to a Hornby train set. So, very often, his days off are spent train watching or visiting one of the preserved railways that have sprung up all over the UK.
It is something that Amy shares with him and she had gone armed with her Greek-style shoulder bag and camera. They had both arrived separately at platform seven to watch the A4 Pacific locomotive arrive. They happened to be standing quite close to each other when Wilder had to move suddenly to one side as a woman with a pram charged past him. In doing so, he almost sent Amy flying. He grabbed her arm to prevent her from falling off the platform and apologised. He glared at the woman’s back as she continued her headlong advance along the platform, oblivious of the drama she had left behind.
‘That bloody woman was using her pram like a sodding bulldozer,’ Wilder exclaimed, his hand still holding Amy’s arm. ‘Are you alright?’ he said, staring at her earnestly.
Her first reaction was to hit him until she realised that it really wasn’t his fault. ‘It’s Ok,’ she said, removing his hand from her arm. ‘No harm done. Just as well you grabbed me though. I could feel myself falling.’ She shudders at the thought of the consequences.
They continued to stand alongside each other as people climbed aboard the train and then they walked to the end of the platform where the A4 was coupling up to its train.
‘Have you ever travelled on the footplate,’ Amy asked as they gazed at the engine. He nods. ‘It was a while ago, but I engineered a Press trip on one of the last steam engines on the railways,’ he said almost casually.
‘Press trip?’ Amy had asked curiously, staring up at him. ‘Does that mean you’re a journalist then?’ He simply nods.
‘Who do you work for?’
‘A news agency in St Helens.’
Amy digested this in silence for a while as an occasional cloud of steam enveloped them.
‘Aren’t journalists drunk most of the time?’ she asked, not entirely seriously.
‘Only when we’re busy libelling people,’ he replied laconically, a half-smile hovering around his face.
‘What kind of journalism do you do then?’ she had asked, curiosity overcoming a feeling that she should walk away.
‘The kind that tells other people what to write,’ came another laconic reply. Instead of waiting for another question he could see forming, he asked. ‘So, what do you do when aren’t looking at trains and attempting to jump off platforms?’
‘I’m a teacher at a primary school here in Liverpool. We go back next week,’ she added by way of explanation. We are a week late after the Christmas hols because there has been water bursts and the classrooms have had to be closed.’
Wilder studied her. He liked what he saw. She was about four inches shorter than him and playful green eyes stared at him from under long copper curls that reached down almost to her shoulders. She was wearing a wool-wrap coat that was open revealing a dress with large green, black and white squares with a wide belt and zip-up boots concealing shapely legs.
They walked back silently along the platform when Amy was about to say ‘goodbye’ and go her own way when Wilder turned to her and asked if she fancied a coffee. Curiosity overcame her instinct to walk away from this enigmatic man and so for reasons she still doesn’t understand she agreed, and they made their way to a café on the station concourse.
As they sipped their coffees, she opened the conversation: ‘What is your name?’ she asked, thinking he looked like a Dave or possibly a Bill. She wasn’t expecting Keith and she informed him that it was a Scottish name meaning woods or forest.
‘You are a mine of information, aren’t you,’ he grinned. ‘So, what’s yours?’
‘It comes from being a teacher. It’s Amy and before you ask it is an old French name meaning beloved.’
‘And are you?’
‘Don’t be nosey.’
‘I’m a journalist. It’s my job to be nosey.’
Instead of answering, Amy decided to divert the conversation. ‘You must meet a lot of people in your business. How can you tell if people are lying or just making stuff up?’ Wilder gets the message.
‘You develop a sixth sense after a time but if you’re reporting a news story you are not there to pass judgement on people, you are there to report what they say. It’s for other people to pass judgement on what they say or do.’
Amy gazed at him, a smile in her eyes. ‘You don’t really like people do you Mr Wilder?’ He simply stared at her. ‘I bet you were an only child, weren’t you?’ she said. Again, he doesn’t reply. ‘Only children are often loners or fruit cakes,’ she said with an air of finality.
‘Those are very profound questions for a teacher.’
‘And that’s a very patronising answer from a journalist,’ she replied evenly.
Wilder smiled thinly, held up his hands. ‘OK, I deserved that. My apologies.’
Amy stood up, hoisting her bag on her shoulder. ‘I think I should go,’ she said.
Wilder stands hurriedly: ‘Can I offer you a lift. My car is just around the corner and by the looks of things it is pouring down out there. Where do you live?’
Amy hesitated. A lift would be useful because she is due to go to her mum’s on Shiel Road for lunch and he is right, it is bucketing down. ‘I live in Kensington. Do you know it?’
‘I go that way to St Helens,’ he replied so they set off walking the short distance to the car park. When she spots the Capri, an ironic grin appears.
‘I can imagine you entertain quite a few ladies in this,’ she said as he opened the door for her.
‘Not as many as I would like,’ came the prompt reply.
‘You’re a real smoothie, aren’t you?’
‘Not to the people who matter,’ he countered
‘Well, if you think you can add me to your score, you can think again,’ she said climbing in.
Amy lives on Kensington and she was brought up in the neighbourhood which used to have a thriving Welsh community. It is a busy, bustling area and her flat is above a newsagent’s. Next door is a butcher and a few doors along, a greengrocer and there are several grocery stores. The school she teaches in is just a short walk away.
Amy loves her job. She is popular with both pupils, parents, and colleagues. Her open personality wins her staunch friendships, and her mischievous humour is enjoyed by the kids. One eight-year-old boy even worships her; gazing at her reverently as though she were the Greek goddess Artemis.
Apart from teaching, she is also an artist and has had work shown in several exhibitions locally. Her speciality is screen-printing but only in a small way because the equipment needed for anything larger is beyond the space she has in her flat. Amy is also an expert Scraperboard artist, a form of direct engraving where the artist scratches off dark ink to reveal a white or coloured layer beneath.
What she didn’t tell Wilder was that she had broken up with her long-term boyfriend Steve just three months ago. They had known each other since schooldays and everyone, including both sets of parents, had assumed that they would marry. But it was not to be.
It is often the case that the person being cheated on is the last to know and so it was with Amy. Dave had met a girl called Phyllis who had something of a reputation for hitting on other people’s husbands or girlfriends and he had fallen fatally under her spell. Nearly all Amy’s friends knew about it after Dave and Phyllis had been seen in an in an intimate embrace in a night club. It could have continued like that until her best friend quietly and hesitatingly told her one night. Amy was completely devastated and there followed many tear-filled nights.
She had finally confronted him when they had gone to the pub a few nights later. He had greeted her with a big grin and had put his hand on her thigh. She had promptly removed it and stared at him stonily.
‘When were you going to tell me about Phyllis?’ she had begun. He had attempted to bluster but she had cut him short. He then began telling her how much he loved her and in response to that she grabbed the pint that was resting expectantly on the table in front of him and poured it over his head. His hair drooped in sodden strands as the beer dripped down his face soaking his shirt. There was a stunned silence and conversation stopped abruptly on surrounding tables as the silence spread like a tsunami throughout the room.
Dave’s mouth opened and closed soundlessly like a netted carp, his eyes wide in shock. Without another word, Amy stood up and walked purposefully and slowly out of the pub not looking at the astonished faces on either side. As she reached the door, she could hear suppressed giggles beginning.
She didn’t look back.
When Wilder’s car reached Kensington, he stopped when she asked him to. For a while they both sat side-by-side in silence. Finally, she thanked him for the lift and had half opened the door when he had asked if she fancied going for a drink or a meal sometime. She hesitated and for some reason she still doesn’t understand she said ‘yes.’
‘I think I could run to a Wimpy,’ he said smiling.
‘It would have to include chips,’ she said. ‘And all the trimmings.’
‘No expense spared.’
‘Last of the big spenders eh?’
She reaches into her bag and finds a pen. She scribbled a number on a slip of paper and handed it to him saying with a faint smile: ‘If you want me, just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you, Keith? You just put your lips together and blow.’
Wilder laughed out loud: ‘Here’s looking at you kid!’
Liverpool city centre
As the city sleeps, it awakes stealthily, silently, creating an enchanted world of white, layer upon layer, until a new pristine carpet has converted the everyday world of buildings, chimneys, cars, roads, pavements, into a new magical kingdom.
It is 6.00 am and the sky is clear, the moon glistening off roofs, the stillness broken only by the whine of the milkman’s cart and the clinking of bottles as he makes his deliveries.
Slowly, reluctantly, the city awakes and shivers. Early workers leave deep footprints. A few cars make tyre tracks, disturbing the virgin carpet of white. But then there is also laughter, as eager young hands wipe frost from windows and see the prospect of snowballs, tobogganing, and fun.
PCs Irwell and Standish are in their Panda patrol car. Their shift has only just begun and they expect there will be the usual casualties, mostly of drivers who think they know how to deal with the challenges of the first snow of winter.
They park their car outside St Georges Hall, opposite Lime Street Station. It is a good vantage point for observing traffic moving in both directions, both in and out of the city centre. As they watch the sparse traffic, their combined breaths misting up the windscreen, the gritters appear.
‘About bloody time too,’ mutters PC Irwell. ‘They should have been doing that last night.’
PC Standish nods. ‘The council can hardly say it has taken them by surprise because the Met Office sent out a warning on Radio M last night.’
PC Irwell was gazing across Lime Street to the frontage of what used to be the historic North Western Hotel, but which is now Lime Street Chambers. He is gazing at a dark blue Rover parked clumsily outside, partly on the pavement and partly off. There are no parking meters outside, so it is illegal.
‘Look at the way that car is parked,’ he says pointing at it. ‘Cheeky bugger. Shall we do him?’
Standish studies it and shrugs. ‘It’s traffics problem really.’ He looks at it again. ‘It’s a Rover isn’t it? I seem to remember an alert for a Rover 3.5 litre. Can you see the index plate?’
Before Irwell can reply they notice a man walking away from it. He takes a few hurried steps, glances behind him, and then breaks into a brief sprint before slowing down to an urgent walk again, glancing back as he does so. He heads for the station steps.
Standish and Irwell glance at each other. ‘Let’s take a look,’ says Standish. They turn on their blue lights and siren and perform a U-turn, pulling up behind the Rover, which is indeed dark blue. They don their caps and walk towards the car which appears to have someone sitting inside it. Standish heads for the driver’s side and Irwell walks on the pavement.
Standish raps on the glass. The driver’s head is resting on his chest as though reading something. He takes no notice of Standish who opens the door. The man slides slowly sideways out of the car onto the road, his head banging on the concrete. His chest is covered in blood.
‘Bloody hell Steve, look at this?’ Irwell walks around and stops when he sees the man now half in the car and half on the road. ‘I’ll call it in, is he dead do you think? Standish attempts to find a pulse but there is none.
‘The man heading for the station,’ yells Standish. Get after him Steve for fuck’s sake.’ Irwell sprints along Lime Street and takes the station steps two at a time. He stops and briefs two British Transport coppers that there has been a murder on Lime Street and he is looking for a man in a fawn raincoat and a trilby in a hurry. They look at each other.
‘There was a man who was half running. We didn’t think anything about it. Just assumed he was running to catch a train.
‘Did you see where he went?’ The other copper said he thought he was heading for platforms one or two. All three begin running to the other end of the station. When they get there, a train is just disappearing into the tunnel on its way to Edge Hill.
‘Where is it going to?’ asks Irwell.
‘Manchester Victoria,’ says one of the BTP coppers. ‘It’s a stopping train. The first stop is Edge Hill. I’ll radio the office and get someone to take a look to see if we can find your man.’
Irwell thanks them and heads back to Lime Street which now has three police cars and an ambulance in attendance. Lime Street has been closed to traffic and two officers are redirecting traffic.
Back in the station, a man is sipping a coffee, watching the police activity. Underneath his table is a trilby. His fawn raincoat is thrown casually over the back of his chair. He will take his time and enjoy his coffee. There is another train to St Helens in an hour. He will catch that.
I am at my desk leafing through a pile of handouts, mostly from PR people or agencies, who don’t appear to have any real idea what constitutes a news story and who send out ‘news releases’ that are basically just puffs for products or services. I have a large spike mounted on a plinth on my desk and nearly all the handouts end up impaled on it.
Why do firms waste their money? If the PR people were honest with their clients, they would explain the difference between news and advertising. I look around the office. Most people are out on assignments. There is just a junior re-writing a press release into a story and Dot who is working on a feature. My phone rings. It is DI Lamplight whose voice has an urgency to it.
‘You won’t have heard,’ he begins without any preamble. ‘The blue Rover has turned up, on Lime Street outside the North Western Hotel.’
‘I don’t suppose anybody was inside it,’ I say, smiling.
‘As a matter of fact, there was,’ says Lamplight pausing for effect. ‘There was a dead man. He had been stabbed in the chest.’
‘What!’ I yell standing up. ‘Could he be my mystery Man?’
‘No idea but another man was seen hurrying away from the scene. He almost certainly caught a train on the Manchester line.’
‘Do you know who the dead man was inspector?’
‘Apparently not. There was no ID of any sort on him. No driving licence; no credit cards. The Liverpool force are going to do a search through missing persons and we will do the same but if that comes up blank, it will be dental records.’
I thank him and beckon to Dot to come over. I tell her briefly about the car and the corpse and that she should get her coat on because we are going to Liverpool to investigate. She looks at me, a satisfied smile on her face and asks if it is likely to lead to the identity of the mystery man being finally discovered. I tell her that I wouldn’t bet on it.
I park the Capri as near to Lime Street as possible. All the same, it is a ten-minute walk until we reach the crime scene which is taped off. A copper is standing guard on the other side of the tape moving the curious on. I show him my press card and ask who the SIO is. He looks me up and down contemptuously, ignores my press card and tells me to move on. I sigh. There are some PCs who refuse to recognise the NUJ card despite all chief constables and others signing up to recognise it. I tell the man that I need to speak to the SIO because the crime scene car was at the scene of a murder at St. Helens and I was the one who discovered the body. I end by telling him that the two are almost certainly connected.
He looks uncertain, so I decide to reinforce my request by telling him that if he refuses, my next phone call will be to Detective Chief Inspector Willis who will not be happy.
‘He’s over there,’ he snaps lifting the tape to let me through. He holds up his hand as Dot tries to duck under. I tell him that she is with me. He grimaces and reluctantly lifts the tape for her as well.
As we walk across the road, I tell her she should join the NUJ and then she will be able to apply for a press card. She would certainly qualify as a trainee and as someone who has earned her NCTJ Proficiency Certificate. I tell her that I would be happy to propose her. She looks really pleased at that, no doubt thinking that I am making a special case for her and indeed, maybe I am, but after a little pause I spoil it by going on to say that all our people should really be in the union.
We approach a group of what can only be plainclothes CID officers near the Rover and I ask for DCI Willis. We are pointed in the direction of a gaunt-looking man with sparse sandy hair in a long navy-blue mac and a Fedora hat standing slightly apart and staring at the car. I walk up and introduce myself, showing my press card and then introduce Dot.
‘How did you get through the tapes,’ he says irritably. ‘Press are not allowed near the crime scene.’ He looks like he is about to call the copper by the tapes over. Before he does, I explain that I have just spoken to DCI Lamplight in St Helens and how it is was me who discovered the body of the murder victim, Mr Jenkins. I tell him we both believe the two cases are connected and that I may be able to help him with his enquiries. He looks thoughtful at this: ‘How is Harry,’ he murmurs. ‘Still smoking those bloody awful fags of his? They will fucking kill him one of these days. Mind you, if I had to do my coppering in the sticks maybe I’d smoke ‘em too.’ He laughs grimly at that.
I know what he means. Lamplight is well known for smoking Capstan Full Strength. I accidentally got a lung-full a few months back and I coughed for two hours afterwards. I tell that to Willis who laughs even more heartily.
He looks at me. ‘Ok laddie. If Harry trusts you then I reckon I can too. From now on it’s all off the record. Right?’ I nod. ‘You can come and have a look. Just you. Not her,’ he says looking at Dot disdainfully. We walk over to the car. I shrug at Dot sympathetically.
The car is surrounded by a large tent. Forensic people are busy and a pathologist is packing up, telling Willis he can move the body and that he will get his report in the morning. ‘It’s a serrated knife in the heart that did for him though,’ he says matter-of-factly. He then glances at me and promptly dismisses me, muttering ‘good afternoon’ to all and sundry.
I study the corpse which is still half out of the car. It’s the face of a middle-aged man, mostly bald, the mouth half open and the tongue lolling out. The eyes have gone white and the flesh a ghastly white. Three men begin pulling him completely out of the car and laying him out on a stretcher.
‘The other victim blew his head off, didn’t he?’ says Willis conversationally. I tell him I still see it in the small hours. He looks at me almost sympathetically. ‘You get used to it after a while,’ he says finally.
I tell him about the taunts from the murderer who appears to be following me and I would dearly like to know why. I look at the dead man again, now in a body bag and about to be taken away. He is obviously another victim of the phantom killer. What connection could there be between him and Jenkins? And who was the man leaving the scene is such a hurry?
I ask Willis if he will be issuing a statement later. He reaches into his pocket and produces a sheet of paper, giving me a wink. I read it quickly and ask if I can give it to Dot to make a note. He nods and as I leave the tent, they begin dismantling it. I hand the note to Dot and ask her to make a copy as quickly as she can. She gives me a sour look but takes it and gets her notebook out.
I thank Willis for his help and promise to keep in touch if I find out anything. He hands me his card and tells me the forensic people are going to take the car apart. ‘You never know, it just might help us find the bastard behind all this,’ he frowns giving me a pat on the shoulder. As he turns to walk away. I hand him his statement back.
When Dot and I reach the other side of the road I apologise for excluding her. I tell her that’s what coppers are like these days. Sexism is rife and I wouldn’t dare repeat the nicknames they give WPCs.
We get back in the Capri and I tell her we must get back to write it up before Willis holds his press conference. And after that, I tell her, I will take her for a drink if she would like that and not in the office pub either.
She smiles at me. It seems she would.
Liverpool city centre
January 23 – later
I decide to take Dot to an ancient pub called the Poste House on Cumberland Street quite near the Post and Echo office on Victoria Street. I think it used to be called the Muck Midden at one time and is on a narrow street between Dale Street and Victoria Street. I believe it dates from around 1820 and the luminaries who have been served there are said to include Prince Philip, Jack the Ripper suspect James Maybrick, a young Adolf Hitler, Bob Dylan, Noel Gallagher and wordsmith Jake Thackery and no doubt many others.
It’s a bit of a walk from Lime Street but we got there at around 12:30 pm, plenty of time before closing at 3:00pm. I know she was unhappy about being so rudely excluded by DCI Willis and I try to explain to her that it would have been nothing personal: that is just how so many coppers are. They treat WPCs the same way, if not worse. I tell her that female coppers must be really determined to survive the sexism and innuendoes. It is changing slowly, especially with the more enlightened and younger officers, but it will be some time before they will be considered equal to their male colleagues in my view.
‘You’re a bit of a one-off, aren’t you,’ she says as we reach Victoria Street. I look at her and ask her to explain.
‘Well, a lot of blokes I meet are only interested in women for one thing: they don’t really seem to think that we have brains and ambitions but you’re different. You treat women as equals. I smile at that. I tell her that sexism exists even in journalism: how many newspaper editors are women? How many women are crime reporters or sports reporters? It will change, I tell her, but don’t hold your breath!
‘And so it should,’ she says brightly. ‘I wouldn’t mind learning how to report a footy match. My dad used to take me to watch Everton. I loved the atmosphere, the laughter, the groans. Even the hot pies at half time. Nobody seemed to care that I was a girl. I was just part of the crowd and that’s how it should be.’ I nod in agreement as we reach Cumberland Street.
‘I love this part of Liverpool,’ she says laughing. All these narrow streets. You can just imagine meeting someone wearing a tricorn hat coming the opposite way.’
I push the door open and usher Dot in. It is busy, smoke-filled and bustling with loud chatter in all directions, some men standing holding pints in earnest conversation. I suspect many of them will be from the Echo offices.
The Poste House is only a small pub with a small bar and seats all round and a restaurant upstairs. A couple stand up to go and I point Dot in the direction of the seats and motion to her to go and claim them She quickly does so. Frank the landlord is behind the bar. I have known him since I was at university and we have always got along, even when I was a smart-arsed student who drank too much and thought he had the answers to everything.
‘New girlfriend?’ he says, looking at Dot appreciatively and pulling a pint without me even telling him what I wanted. It happens to be Walkers, a favourite beer of mine. I tell him that her name is Dot, that she is one of our reporters and that we have just been out on a job. He grins at me in a rather lascivious way. I tell him he has a dirty mind. He grins at me. ‘And how is the gorgeous Amy,’ he says meaningfully. I tell him I will bring her in next time I am in town. I lean over the bar conspiratorially and whisper that I may be moving over the road in the near future. I give him a wink. He looks impressed. I look over at Dot and make a drinking motion with my hand. She points to my pint. I nod and ask Frank for another one.
I join her with our drinks and squeeze into the seat which is really a small booth with a table in between the two double seats. I really didn’t intend to sit quite so close to her: our thighs are touching and I can feel the heat from her body, but she doesn’t appear to mind. I decide I quite like it too.
I look around to see if there is anyone I know from the Post and Echo. I know this is one of their office pubs. News reporters are inclined to come here; features to a pub around the corner and management to a rather more select (and expensive) place on Victoria Street. It’s all a kind of class system I suppose. I’m not too sure where the sports scribes go, somewhere exotic no doubt.
‘I’ve never been here before,’ she says smiling at the bar where Frank is looking at us, a crooked smile on his face. ‘The man behind the bar seems to know you,’ she says, treating him to a wide smile. I tell her that he is Frank Fairclough the landlord and that he knows me from my university days when I was pissed most of the time.
‘So, you have something of a reputation, do you,’ she says grinning. ‘Why does that not surprise me.’
I tell her that there was a rather infamous occasion when I came here when I was more than slightly inebriated. I was in my second year at university at the time and I thought I would pop in and have a chat to Frank. So, I breezed in and propped up the bar and then noticed a woman sitting in that chair next to the door. I point it out to Dot and then continue saying that the woman was quite attractive in a mature way. She was all alone and nursing a drink. I think I must have felt vaguely sorry for her in my drunken state which is why I suppose I suddenly decided I had to speak to her. It was not a good idea, I say, smiling guiltily. Dot looks at me expectantly, no doubt wondering what is coming.
‘I have a feeling this is not going to end well,’ she says. I smile grimly then pause as the memory comes flooding back. I grimace and plough on.
For some reason I still do not comprehend, I tell her, I asked the woman if she was a prostitute. I asked it in a very polite way, almost as if I was asking what the time was.
‘Whaaat…’ gasps Dot, putting her hand to her mouth. ‘You didn’t. Were you serious?’
‘As serious as any drunken bum can be, I suppose,’ I reply.
‘How did she react?’ says Dot staring at me, her mouth wide open.
‘Well, she didn’t actually say anything. She just stood up, hit me on the nose and poured her pint all over me. The surrounding drinkers thought it all hilarious.’ Dot stares at me, a mixture of emotions on her face, chief of which was hilarity which within a few seconds won over and she gurgled with laughter, her hand still over her mouth. I am not too sure whether she is laughing at me or with me. Anyway, people around us stared, no doubt wondering what the joke was.
‘Why on earth did you think she was a prostitute?’ she finally asks.
I have often asked myself that question too I tell her. I think it may have been because she was on her own. Not many women, apart from the women libbers, went to the pub on their own in those days.
Dot is still staring at me, a mixture of astonishment and glee on her face: ‘Did she say anything afterwards?’
I tell her that that the woman just stood in front of me glaring at my dripping head: ‘I think you have my answer,’ was all she said. Then Frank intervened and escorted me upstairs where he had towels. He told me to stay there until things calmed down. Had it been any other pub I would have been barred out.
‘Who was the woman? She obviously wasn’t on the game’ I tell her that I learned later she was a poet and a regular; just someone who lived locally and who fancied a drink now and then and who had the bad luck to meet me. Weeks later, I apologised profusely and bought her many drinks, so peace and honour were restored. I think we actually became pals after that and it all became a bit of an urban legend. Her poetry was good too.
‘So, you’re a different person when you’re pissed, are you?’ she asks. I say indignantly that I was only around eighteen at the time and that I have learned how to handle booze since then. And then as an afterthought, I say that it is something she should learn to do as well.
‘Oh, I don’t drink much,’ she says. ‘A couple of these and that’s my lot. I know my limits. A couple of blokes have attempted to get my pissed, but I know the routine; it’s the overture before attempting to get me into bed. I’m wise to it and it doesn’t work.’ She stares at me expressionless. I’m not sure what message she is conveying so I decide it might be a good idea to change the subject. She moves slightly away as well so that our thighs are no longer touching.
I ask her if she is hungry and tell that Frank’s steak and kidney pies are famous. She nods at that, so I go over and order the food together with another couple of pints. Frank looks at me speculatively: ‘You were telling her, weren’t you, about the prostitute that wasn’t?’ I smile ruefully.
‘Well, she probably thinks you’re a real dick now, you silly bugger! If you were hoping to cop off, that will have blown it.’ I tell him I just thought she might like to hear the legend. Frank gives me a withering look and moves off down the bar.
After we have finished our portions of steak and kidney pie, I tell Dot we had better head back. Jerry will no doubt be wondering what has happened to us. I tell her we have a bit of a scoop because we can file the latest developments before Willis holds his press conference.
Before we go, I decide to ring the office from the wall phone at the end of bar. I ring the newsdesk and Richard Armitage answers. He usually does when I’m not there. I ask if anything much is happening, and he replies that there is nothing he can’t handle. He says that Reynolds has been asking for me and that a mysterious letter has arrived. I ask him to open it. There is silence and then he comes back on.
‘You had better get back here,’ he says. ‘It’s him again.’
The Star Agency, St Helens
I am back at my desk after a rather silent return from Liverpool; Dot had just stared stonily ahead saying little, which made conversation somewhat perfunctory and stilted. I’m not quite sure why either. I can only assume it has something to do with the prostitute story I told in the pub. Everything changed after that from a lively chat with our thighs touching, to a quite clear separation and an expressionless glare. In truth, I have no idea why I regaled her with the tale. I thought she would be amused but it appears have had quite the opposite effect. Maybe she thought I was coming on strong or something.
Well, there is no use dwelling on it. Judging by the feverish activity there is a lot going on. There is a walk-out at Ford’s in Halewood, rumblings of discontent at Pilkington’s, the weather, which is causing all manner of chaos and a girl sexually assaulted in Sherdley Park. And I must also write up this morning’s discovery. Indeed, that must be a priority before Willis holds his press conference.
I have just finished reading over the Lime Street story to the Press Association. I have included a few judicious quotes from DCI Willis about their being nothing to immediately identify the body but that police were seeking the car because it was last seen in the vicinity of Bluebell Farm in St Helens and could be related to Mr Jenkins’ murder.
I have been a little naughty in the pure speculation that the body may be that of Archie Danforth who was last seen driving the car and who police wanted to talk to in connection with the murder. I have nothing to make that stand up other than the fact that it was Danforth’s car at Lime Street. I think most people would make that connection whether the police like it or not.
I sit back. Everyone is busy and out on jobs, including Dot who has been assigned to understudy Richard in the sexual assault. A female presence when interviewing people in cases like this is often extremely helpful and people are more inclined to open up. The victim cannot be identified, of course, for legal reasons, but it is not the first sexual assault in the park and residents are demanding action.
I suddenly remember the letter which is why we hurried back to the office. I hunt around my desk and eventually find the envelope addressed to Keith Wilder Esq. That’s rather quaint, I think, and probably quite deliberate – a studied insult even.
The envelope had been opened by Richard and inside was one sheet of paper, folded in two. I open it. The message is neatly typed.
Hello Keith and Inspector Plod. Still trying to be Sherlock, are you? I suppose you think it was me in the car. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. You’ll have to bumble on to find out who he is. New girlfriend with you at Lime Street Keith? Very tasty. Does Amy know?
I stare at the note. The mocking tone is calculated to annoy Lamplight. In fact, I am certain he will be infuriated about being called Inspector Plod and, apart from that, it looks like I was wrong about the body. It obviously isn’t Danforth, if indeed that’s his name. I suppose just because the car was registered to a Mr Danforth doesn’t necessarily mean that it is he who is the murderer. I am also disturbed that he must have been watching us at Lime Street. For all I know he may even have been in the Poste House. That is a disturbing thought. Also, how does he know Amy’s name? Who the bloody hell is he: how does he know all this?
I pick up the phone and dial Lamplight’s number. He answers almost immediately. I read out the note to him. There is a silence and then he simply tells me to bring it round. I walk into jerry’s office and show him the note. He reads it.
‘The man is deranged,’ he says. ‘You don’t take it seriously, do you?’
I tell him that I have to, and that Lamplight certainly does. ‘He’s playing with us, but especially with the police. He must have been watching Dot and me at Lime Street after he dropped the note off here. Yes, you may be right about him being deranged but let’s not forget that he is almost certainly a double murderer and for all we know, he may kill again. I would not like it to be me!’
‘What are you going to do?’ he asks. I tell him that I will drop it around to Lamplight and have a chat to him.
‘Well, don’t be too long. We do have a business to run here you know.’ I had a sarcastic rejoinder on the tip of my tongue along the lines of ‘thanks for caring’ but decided against it. I am not quite ready to quit just yet.
Ten minutes later, I hand the note to Lamplight who reads it and frowns, lighting up a Capstan as he does so. I wave the toxic fumes away. He doesn’t appear to notice. ‘The sarcastic bastard,’ he mutters turning the note over as if to divine more information from the paper itself.
‘Well, as it happens, he’s wrong because we do know who the dead man in the car is. I have just heard from DCI Willis who told me that he is a known drug dealer who goes by the name of Rocky ‘The Nose’ Cunliffe. He was relatively small fry in Liverpool’s gangland apparently.’ I ask if the details of how he was killed have been released yet. They have, so I make note to issue an update when I get back to the office.
Lamplight stares at me, a perplexed expression on his brow. ‘Before you do that, you might like to know that although he was fatally stabbed in the chest, it didn’t happen in the car. He was dumped in that afterwards.’ I ask if they know where he was killed. He shakes his head and says that the forensic people are working on that.
‘How can a body be dumped in a car on a main road in broad daylight?’ I ask wonderingly.
‘It may not have been in daylight,’ says Lamplight. ‘It’s dark until almost 8:00am this time of year remember. Two men holding up what may have looked like a drunk would not have been that unusual. What few people around at that time would have just given the scene a passing glance, nothing more. I believe Willis is appealing for witnesses. Maybe you should ring him.’ I tell him I will.
He studies me, waving the note. ‘Why is he so interested in you do you think?’ And then, looking at the note, ‘And how does he know the name of your girlfriend? He must have been watching you.’
I tell him I think he has been watching me since the murder of Mr Jenkins and that I have no idea why since I am just a reporter, and yes, he was obviously watching Dot and me at Lime Street. I shake my head as another thought occurs.
‘How did he know I would be at the Lime Street murder scene? After all, we as an agency do not normally report from Liverpool. Was it just an inspired guess on his part or did he go there to see what was going on after dumping the body in the same way as arsonists like to watch their handiwork?
Lamplight just shrugs. ‘Probably just a coincidence. I wouldn’t worry about it.’
‘But I am. He seems to know a lot about me: where I live, who I date and where I go. It’s a little worrying. What does he want? Why is he doing it?’
Back at the office I run into Richard and Dot back from Sherdley Park. I ask how they got on. Richard shrugs. ‘As you would expect really. Virtually everyone we spoke to is demanding action to stop the perverts. They say it isn’t safe to walk there of a night and that the latest attack is just the tip of the iceberg. We are going to talk to the council to see what they have to say and then the police.’ He stops and looks at me meaningfully. ‘I take it you have read the note?’ I tell him that it is in Lamplight’s hands. There is something about the offhand way he said it that makes me realise that he has told Dot what it says. In fact, for that matter, I am sure she will have asked him. And why not? I suppose. It’s not a secret just because some lunatic tries to embarrass me. She looks at me and smiles. I smile back.
I turn back to my desk and another mountain of paperwork that has appeared. As I begin spiking nonsense press releases and examining expense claims requiring my counter signature, I reflect on Dot. She maintained a studied silence all the way back from Liverpool and now she smiles at me. I shake my head. Why are women so bloody complicated?
As she and Richard walk to the door, she turns back and stares at me, a quizzical expression and a half smile on her face.
And then she is gone.
It is Sunday morning and I am atAmy’s flat on Kensington. She is still asleep alongside me, so I gently ease myself out of bed, pull on shorts and a T-shirt and make way to the kitchento make a mug of tea. I am slightly stiff after we went ice skating last night at the Silver Blades rink a short walk away from Amy’s flat. It’s on the junction next to a cinema, just a short walk away where Kensington ends and Prescot Road begins. The fact that my legs ache after showing off on the ice just shows that I am not as fit as I should be. I must do it more often and generally get more exercise.
We are both quite accomplished on the ice and have our own skates and last night we drew many admiring glances as we quite literally danced the night away. Naturally, it ended in the pub across the road with a few pints. I have managed to wean Amy off Babycham or Cherry B. Indeed, I have never really understood Babycham’s appeal to women. I suppose what lifts it above other trendy drinks is its advertising and marketing. The logo is a playful fawn, a promise of innocent fun after just a few glasses but, as somebody once said to me with a wink: ‘It gets them pissed quicker!’
Anyway, after telling her that only silly little girls drink the awful stuff and that she would be much better off with a lager and lime, last night Amy decided she was going to join me with a couple of beers. She said her dad would pour her a glass after they had watched an Everton game, but a few years later, when she was out with her friends, it became trendy drinks that her crowd went for. Traditional beer was considered uncool not to mention boring and old-fashioned. Sadly, it’s a trend that has continued to this day with the advent of keg beers like Red Barrel and Double Diamond. They are in every pub and bar these days.
I pull on a pair of trousers and shoes and go next door to buy a Sunday paper and some milk. Sunday mornings are for reading papers and I intend to curl up in an armchair by the fire which I have made up and lit with the last of the fire lighters. It will quite quickly make Amy’s flat warm and cosy. I take a cup of tea and put it on her bedside table just in case she awakes.
I always buy the Guardian, not because of its politics but because of its objective reporting of both UK and world affairs. I see U.S. president Richard Nixon cast the first-ever nationally televised veto of legislation at the close of an eleven-minute broadcast. Calling a $19.7 billion appropriation for education “the wrong amount for the wrong purpose, at the wrong time,” Nixon then signed the veto message in front of viewers. I have a feeling that Nixon is going to be one of the most controversial U.S. presidents ever.
There is also a story about Harold Wilson clinging on to power. I think he realises that the task of keeping the opposing wings of the Labour Party together is not one he is going to win. I wouldn’t be surprised if he calls an election soon, although the prospect of Ted Heath as PM is not something to look forward to.
I have met Mr Wilson a few times. His constituency is Huyton, on the outskirts of Liverpool and he is a regular visitor to Liverpool and has a suite at the Adelphi Hotel. As it happens Liverpool Press Club is in the basement and it has an unbroken rule that politicians and stars of the stage and screen alike can say what they like and it will never be reported. It is also the only bar in Liverpool that has a 24-hour licence! I must take Dot there. She would enjoy meeting the hacks from all the national papers. I don’t doubt that they will enjoy meeting her too!
Anyway, although Harold’s public persona is pints of bitter and a pipe, in the press club his preference is for enormous cigars and large brandies. I can honestly say that I have been bought a brandy by the Prime Minister while we discussed the merits of black pudding. I kid you not!
I like Harold. He is an intelligent man and a shrewd politician and I would be sorry to see him go if he loses the next election. But the cards are increasingly stacked against him.
Economically in the 1960’s, Labour and Wilson struggled. They had inherited a large trade deficit and this became most apparent in 1966 once Labour had increased their majority. The problem was that Wilson would have had to devalue the pound so that UK exports would be cheaper and therefore more competitive. However, this was something that Wilson vowed he would not do. He believed that devaluing the pound would damage Britain’s prestige in the world.
This stubbornness resulted in the devaluing of the Pound being delayed until November 1967 which mounted a lot of pressure on money markets and lost Wilson a lot of popularity.
By finally giving in and devaluing the pound, Labour’s reputation and authority was damaged. The whole issue surrounding the devaluation weakened the party further by causing divides within. There has also been a catalogue of problems with the unions which have not been resolved which is why there is industrial trouble just about everywhere.
The paper’s splash is predictably all about the chaos caused by the weather; snowdrifts have blocked roads and cut off villages. It almost goes without saying that trains have been cancelled just about everywhere and the RAF have been dropping supplies to some communities. I sigh. We really are lucky here on Merseyside. It is rare for the weather to be extreme. I remember seeing an Echo headline a year or so ago trumpeting the ‘Costa del Mersey’ because of our favourable mini climate! Hmmm. Not sure about that now.
I am about to explore the feature pages because I’ve spotted a piece about Michael Caine whom I have often been compared to – as far as looks go, nothing else! Not his money and definitely not his Cockney accent. I enjoyed his films The Ipcress File and Funeral in Berlin which came out four years ago. Caine’s nonchalant, working class hero was a world away from the glamour and gadgets of James Bond, even if he had a similar roguish charm with the ladies and playful attitude. Bit like me really!
Anyway, I am interrupted by Amy who appears at the door of the bedroom wrapped in a dressing gown, looking all dishevelled and forlorn.
‘My tea is all cold,’ she says pitiably and shivering. I walk over, put my around her and guide her to the chair in front of the fire where she stares up at me solemnly, her green eyes wide and unblinking. I tell her I will make her another one and ask if she would like two rounds of toast with marmalade. She nods. I know her little girl lost look and she also knows, full well, that I can’t resist it.
I ruffle her hair before I go and tell her with a laugh that it looks like a rat’s nest.
‘You’re a shit, d’you know that Wilder,’ she calls after me wrapping the dressing gown even tighter around herself.
When I return, I hand the mug of tea to her and then the toast, switching on the radio as I go past. It is The Archers on Radio Four which until a few years ago was the Home Service.
‘Music please Keith,’ she says. ‘That’s bloody boring.’ So, I find Radio Caroline which I know she likes despite the anti-Labour propaganda it continually puts out. I return with toast and tea and we sit opposite each other for while munching our toast.
‘What are we going to do today?’ she finally says, looking at the snow-covered roofs opposite. I suggest driving to Sefton Park and feeding the ducks on the lake.
‘You could commune with your relatives at the Fairy Glen first,’ I say thoughtfully.
‘And you could commune with yours at Old Nick’s caves,’ she retorts.
‘Touché,’ I say, grinning.
Suddenly, she sits bolt upright. ‘I totally forget,’ she says staring at me. ‘A letter arrived yesterday from your uncle in New Zealand. You remember I wrote to him by air mail ages ago on your behalf asking about your dad. She grabs her bag and fishes around in it until she finds a blue air mail letter. She hands it to me. My uncle appears slightly indignant that it is Amy writing and not me despite her telling him that I am not a good letter writer. That is quite true. I hate writing to relatives. I generally have no idea what to say.
I quickly read what he has to say which is that my dad, whose name, it transpires, is Paul Williams, left the UK after deserting my mother without, apparently, giving a thought as to how she would cope bringing up a child on her own in wartime Britain. This was a time that being a single mother was almost a crime. Indeed, it was not that long ago that such women could be sent to asylums. Some are still in them I believe. Many children were forcibly adopted. I suppose I was lucky I was not. Or maybe I wasn’t so lucky given the hard childhood I had.
Anyway, Paul Williams – I just can’t call him dad – has not given a thought about how mum and me coped. Maybe he thinks it will all be forgotten by now. Well, he is wrong about that.
It is the final line that floors me. He says that the last he heard, which is admittedly almost nine months ago, was that Paul Williams has returned to the UK.
Is it possible he will return to Liverpool? Here, in this city. I suppose he could be anywhere. He could be the man who walks past me in the street or the man sitting on a park bench who looks at me curiously.
My problem is that I have no photo of him. I really have no idea what he looks like.
He could be almost anyone.
St Helens Cemetery, Rainford Road
I am sitting at the back of the cemetery chapel with DI Lamplight watching as mourners arrive for Arthur Jenkins’ funeral. He suggested that I might like to join him since I was the one who discovered the body and I have an obvious interest in the case.
At first, I wasn’t sure about going but then the journalist in me took over and I decided that there is probably a story in it. Indeed, I think I can spot a woman from the Liverpool Echo as well as somebody from the St Helens Reporter in the pews. The photographers have stayed outside taking shots of people as they arrive. We only have two at the agency and they are both busy on other, more important, assignments.
Lamplight is here for more altruistic reasons. He is more interested in the mourners than in the funeral. I am too because it is entirely possible that one of them may be my mystery watcher as well as Mr Jenkins’ murderer. Murderers have been known to attend their victims’ funerals in the belief that it diverts suspicion away from them, but most police are wise to that these days.
The service is not due to start for ten minutes or so and there are few people here at the moment: just two or three in the front pew which must family I suppose. I expect a few neighbours might show up and then there is always the curious: people who are simply nosey.
As I sit there listening to the organ playing quietly, I reflect on my uncle’s letter and the revelation that my father is in Britain. Is it possible that he will come to Liverpool to perhaps find the son he has never met, or has he forgotten all about the lives he abandoned all those years ago? My intuition tells me that it is the latter and if he has indeed returned, it will be for reasons completely unconnected to mum and me.
My thoughts are interrupted as Lamplight whispers to me telling me to take a look and nodding in the direction of two men who have just walked in and sat down at the back, on the opposite side of the church. They are followed by small groups of people who also sit towards the back. I don’t recognise any of them and nobody even glances at us.
The coffin arrives and everyone stands as it is wheeled to the chancel. The service begins with a hymn, Psalm 23, The Lord is My Shepherd which hardly anybody sings apart from the vicar and me, it seems. Lamplight glances at me, seemingly impressed. Afterwards, I whisper ‘former choirboy’ in his ear. He looks genuinely surprised. I suppose all journalists have the reputation of being students of Satan rather than inhabitants of choirstalls.
It was a dismal service in which the vicar did his best to reflect favourably on Jenkins’ life. There were no eulogies, no tear-filled remarks by children or friends and it drew to a close, no doubt to the relief of all concerned.
We trooped out to the graveside and stood well back for the interment. As it ended, I looked around and noticed a thick-set man standing behind us partly obscured by a tree. I nudged Lamplight and we both turned just in time to see his back disappearing from view.
‘Let’s go and talk to him,’ he mutters as we follow the figure through the cemetery. The man turns and notices us and begins running, leaping over graves and headstones. I run after him and can just about keep him in sight. He must be extremely fit to move so quickly. He reaches the cemetery entrance and turns right onto Rainford Road. He glances behind to see if I am still following and begins to sprint towards the A580, the East Lancs Road, and I break into a sprint too. I can a feel a pain in my side and my breaths are coming in short, painful bursts. Lamplight has been left far behind. The man reaches the A580 and runs across, oblivious to traffic and blaring of horns as traffic screeches to a halt, one van swerving violently to avoid him.
He reaches the other side and turns to stare at me. I am bent double, panting and for just a moment I consider following him but decide that would be foolhardy in the extreme. I might not be so lucky.
I stare back at the figure. It is too far to make out his features, but he is thick set with dark hair, wearing grey trousers and a brown overcoat. As I look, he dons a trilby and for a few moments longer we stare at each other and then he gives me a mock salute and disappears in the distance. I have no chance of following him.
Lamplight catches up, also panting. ‘You lost him,’ he gasps. I tell him that the man made a suicide dash across the East Lancs and I just didn’t have the balls to follow him. I give him the description and tell him about the salute.
‘He’s our man alright,’ he says. ‘He obviously waited outside for the interment. A pity we didn’t notice him earlier.’ I tell him that he evidently knew the police would be at the funeral and decided it would be safer to stay outside. He was right too. Could he have been Mr Jenkins’ killer or was he running away for some other reason? I know that Lamplight has already made his mind up but there are other possibilities too. He may have had something to do with the drugs found at the farm but did not kill Jenkins. He would not have wanted to talk to the police for either reason. The other question, of course, is what was his involvement, if any, with the Lime Street killing?
We walk slowly back to the cemetery to find our cars and as we reach them Lamplight thanks me for my help and asks if he can expect to read about it. I smile ruefully and say that there will only be a straight story about the funeral without the chase. He looks surprised. I explain that it would be just too complex to explain why we were chasing someone without any evidence or proof of their involvement. Their only crime was to run away but from what and why? He nods in understanding at that. We shake hands and go our separate ways.
Back at the office I write up the story and put it on the wires. I know it will only make a few paragraphs as a footnote to a particularly grisly murder. Jenkins wasn’t famous or even particularly well-liked in his community. He was just another sad loser who gave up attempting to make an honest living and became involved with criminals. Few people will mourn his passing and he will not be missed. I shake my head at the futility of it all.
Dot arrives back, along with a photographer. They have been to an art exhibition at Pilkington’s. The artist is young, female, and trendy and she paints acrylic abstracts of urban scenes that have hints of female anatomy almost hidden away. One picture I saw had a vagina as part of a brick wall and I am told that all her work has similar intriguing bits almost hidden in the geometric abstractions if you care to look for them – and of course everyone will! It goes without saying that her work is controversial which means she will almost certainly end up in a London gallery once the nationals get hold of the story. Also, of course, work that may cost just a few hundred pounds here in St Helens will at least quadruple once it gets noticed by the London glitterati.
She walks up to my desk and I ask her if she’s seen any good vaginas lately. She grins and studies her notebook.
‘Actually, what she does it quite clever. Yes, there are nipples, breasts and vaginas sprinkled about but it is all done quite tastefully.’
I tell her that I don’t quite know how you could sprinkle vaginas around and I’m not sure Mary Whitehouse would see it that way. I ask her if there is any point to it at all.
‘Well yes, that’s what I asked her. It’s all a metaphor about women not being noticed; that they may as well be part of the urban landscape and that all too often it is only our bodies that get us noticed, not our intellects.’
I can tell from her face that she is completely sold on the idea and say that she obviously got on well with the artist. I look at the blurb I have on my desk and see that her name is Dianne Routledge. I tell her to write a 500-word news piece to go with the photos which I want to put on the wires before 5:00pm. Then an idea comes to me. I tell Dot to ring Dianne up and invite her out for a drink in the next few days so that she can be interviewed with a view to doing a feature for the glossies.
A look of delight and a broad smile erupts on Dot’s face. ‘I have never written a feature before Keith. Would you really trust me to do that?’
I tell her that she is more than capable of it and that I will take her through the main points before she conducts the interview. I suggest that we could do that over a few drinks if she likes. She does like and we arrange to meet at the office pub after work. I notice that her cheeks have reddened slightly and wonder what she has been saying to Richard. I am tempted to ask him but decide not to because that would put him in an awkward situation and it simply would not be fair. I value his friendship too much to put it at risk.
Then the phones start ringing and thoughts of Dot vanish – almost. The fact is that I have to admit to myself that I am looking forward to seeing her later.
The Glass House, St Helens
January 26 – later
Dot walks to the Glass House without me. The phone rings just as I am about to leave with her and for a moment, I debate whether to let it ring, but I decide that it could be important, so I pick up. It is. The leader of St Helens council wants to explain council policy on dealing with homelessness in the town after I had informed their PR people that I am doing an in-depth feature on the subject following a report by Shelter which appeared late last year. It made startling and depressing reading saying that up to three million people in Britain urgently need re-housing because they are living in damp, overcrowded slum conditions.
Shelter says the government official figure of 18,689 homeless in 1969, based on the numbers of people in temporary accommodation, vastly under-estimates the scale of the housing problem in Britain. The charity is launching a £1m campaign called “Face the Facts” aimed at getting the government to adjust its definition of homelessness to include the many hundreds of thousands living in appalling conditions.
I had decided to look at slum housing in the town and in the North West in general but focusing on people sleeping rough. The poor bastards can be seen huddled in doorways, under bridges, wrapped in a blanket or a sleeping bag, if they are lucky, with all their meagre possessions in bags around them. I plan to go out one evening to talk to a few of them and write two or three case studies.
As the council leader starts explaining his policy, I cover the mouthpiece and tell Dot to go and that I will follow in half an hour. Even though it is an appalling indictment on society, I do have some sympathy for councils attempting to house more and more homeless in a shrinking pool of places. What I am looking for from somebody – anybody – in authority is an innovative way of dealing with the problem. What springs to mind is something like the prefabs built after the war in all the ruined cities to house the thousands of people left homeless by the Luftwaffe’s bombing. They were cheap and quick to build. Why couldn’t something like that be done again?
It is almost 45 minutes later that I manage to get to the Glass House. A few reporters are sitting around Dot who is the centre of attention and I don’t think that is just because of her looks. She has a sparkling personality and is popular with the team. I daresay a few probably fancy their chances, but I suspect they will get nowhere. I think Dot has a shrewd idea where she is going and that is not to end up as a housewife in a small provincial city. Can’t say I blame her. Richard, as the elder statesman, is also there presiding over them as though they are his children.
‘How’s your mystery follower?’ asks one as I approach their table. I nod to Ted the landlord who starts pulling a pint of my usual poison. I tell them that I almost caught him yesterday, or least somebody who may well have been him. I relate events at the Jenkins funeral and the chase that followed. I ended by saying how the cheeky bugger saluted me from the other side of the East Lancs.
‘Did you get a good look at him?’ asks Dot. I shake my head ruefully but say that I think I would know him if our paths cross again. I nod at another table and ask if she has brought her notebook with her. She has so we sit down after I have retrieved my pint. I ask if she would like a refill. She shakes her head and says she wants to concentrate.
I start by telling her that she probably already knows writing a feature has a totally different approach to reportage in that hard news stories are typically an assemblage of facts. Some are better written than others, I say, smiling and glancing over at the reporters sitting around Richard. News stories have just one purpose and that is to convey information. Feature stories, on the other hand, aim to do much more. They do convey facts, of course, but they also tell the stories of people’s lives. To do that, they must incorporate facets of writing more often associated with fiction writing, including description, a greater use of quotes, anecdotes, and sometimes extensive background information. I ask her if she is still with me. She looks up after scribbling furiously.
‘We got a lot of this on the NCTJ course,’ she says. ‘They didn’t really have much to say about features. It was basic training really. I think feature writing is a separate course.’ I nod at this. She is right. Many reporters never make it to the features desk.
I take a lengthy gulp at my beer and continue saying that just as there are different kinds of hard-news stories, there are different kinds of features. I count them off on my fingers. One: The profile: An in-depth look at a newsmaker or other personality. Two: The news feature: A hard-news subject told in feature style. Three: The trend story: A breezy look at a current cultural phenomenon: Four: The spot feature: A quick, deadline-produced story, usually a sidebar to a hard-news story that gives another perspective and finally the live-in: An in-depth piece of a place and the people who live or work there.
I tell her to do her homework before the interview. Think through the questions and never ask one that will produce a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. She will never build a feature if that is all she gets by way of responses, I say, ending by telling her to make her subject talk to her. She must decide what she wants the feature to say before she sits down with Dianne Routledge.
I sit back as she takes notes then she looks up, puts her notebook on the table, purses her lips, leans back with a slight frown and says: ‘I think I am going to ask her how she got into art: what her background is: if she has a degree and if is so what in and where from. I am interested in her childhood. What was her family like? How’s that for starters?’
I nod and tell her that it’s a good start but that she shouldn’t dwell too much on her childhood. People are going to be more interested in why she paints what she does. What makes her tick as a person? Remember too, I remind her, that she only has around 1000 – 1200 words.
The other table are looking at us curiously: no doubt debating why Dot is being given special treatment. I can just imagine the whispered comments, but I also know that Richard will put them right and that it has nothing to do with her looks or her gender but more to do with her latent ability.
I decide it is time to bring the tutorial to an end and I tell her finally to conduct the interview like a conversation by making eye contact. I tell her to make notes casually and to use her memory. She will get far more that way than by burying her nose in her notebook.
We return to the table and I offer to buy a round. Naturally, they all accept. One of them gives me a hand carrying the pints and then a young reporter called Roger Gough, who seems to have become something of a spokesman, pipes up, slightly truculently.
‘Are you going to give the rest of us the chance to do features Keith? Suppose we come up with ideas, will you take them on board?’ I tell them that I am always happy to listen to ideas and when I think anyone is ready to tackle a feature, I will take them through it as I have done with Dot.
I then turn to chat to Richard who is not looking his usual ebullient self. I ask him if he has problems. He grimaces and shrugs his shoulders. ‘It’s the wife,’ he mutters quietly, almost whispering. ‘She’s asked me for a divorce.’
I stare at him askance and motion for us to go to the bar where we sit on stools. I order a couple of pints and tell him how sorry I am to hear that. I know he has been married for years. I ask what her reasons are after all this time.
‘I think she’s just fed up with me,’ he says. ‘It’s this business really. Journalism is a graveyard for marriages. It’s not so bad now at the agency but for years she has had to put up with the booze, the unsocial hours. You know how it is. You have been in the business long enough by now.’
I ask him if there is any chance of a reconciliation and if there is anything I can do to help. I suggest going round to have a talk to her if he thinks that might stabilise the situation. And then an improbable thought comes to me and I tentatively ask if there is anybody else.
He stares at me and laughs loudly. ‘Are you fucking serious? Who the bloody hell would get involved with an ageing scribbler earning buttons at a tinpot press agency in the middle of nowhere?’ I clear my throat and tell him that I actually meant his wife. He stares at me uncomprehending. The thought had obviously not occurred to him. I have never met Doris his wife, so I have no idea how likely that is.
‘She wouldn’t,’ he whispers. ‘She’s not that sort of woman.’ I didn’t respond to that because in my experience loyalty has its limits and people will do the most unlikely of things if they are unhappy enough or are pushed enough. Instead of saying that I suggest he goes home and asks her for an honest talk. It may not change anything, I tell him, but at least he may get some answers.
For a while he is silent and then he looks at me, a tight smile on his face. ‘You know Keith, you are OK. You might be a bit of a bastard at times but at least you’re a straight-talking bastard and you are one of the few people I can trust.’
We pick up our pints and I am about take a final gulp when I spot Amy coming through the doors at the far end of the bar. Why on earth would she come all the way to St Helens to the office pub? As she gets closer, I see her face. She looks upset. Terribly upset. And she is holding something – a piece of paper it looks like.
As she reaches us, it is evident she has been crying and she glances at Richard and gives him a brief ‘Hi Richard’ before holding up the sheet of paper. ‘Keith, I have been trying to ring you for over an hour,’ she says. ‘This came through the letterbox. I’m scared Keith, really scared. What does it mean? What do we do?’
She hands the sheet of paper to me.
Hello Amy. I thought it time I said hello to you. What is a nice girl like you doing going with somebody like Wilder? You ought to have more respect for your health. He could be dangerous company to keep. It would be such a shame if anything nasty happened to that pretty little face of yours.
‘It’s a threat, isn’t it,’ she cries. ‘He’s threatening me for God’s sake. What have I done to deserve this?’
I hand the note to Richard who reads it and says: ‘You need to show this to Lamplight and/or Willis straight away – tonight if you can.’ I nod. He’s right of course.
The reporters’ chatter has gone silent after Amy’s outburst. They are all staring at us. I put my arm around Amy and tell her we are going to the police straight away.
I am angry. Not scared. Bloody angry. Threatening Amy is a step too far. The question is why?
St Helens Police Station
January 26 – 27
I am sitting in DI Lamplight’s office with a tearful Amy by my side. I have just handed him the note and we sit there in silence as he studies it frowning. Finally, without a word, he lays it on his desk, picks up the phone, dials a number and listens.
Finally, it is picked up and somebody answers. ‘Stanley, it’s Harry at St Helens. How’s things?’ ‘Things’, it seems, are fine. ‘Do you remember that reporter who turned up the Lime Street killing, Keith Wilder? Well, he is being pursued by somebody who may well be the killer of both your man, and ours at Bluebell Farm.’ He listens and nods as Wilder no doubt tells him that he does remember me, favourably, I hope!
‘There has been a development,’ he continues. ‘A rather threatening note has been delivered to his girlfriend who lives on Kensington in your patch. It significantly notches up the campaign this man has been running and it is interesting to speculate why.’ He proceeds to tell Willis about the chase the other day and how the note could be a result of that. He also says that while I couldn’t make out his features clearly, I did get a good look at him. He nods vigorously as Willis evidently has a view on it. Finally, he puts the phone down and looks at Amy sympathetically. He pats the back of her hand and tells her not to worry. I can’t help thinking that telling somebody not to worry is almost certainly calculated to have the exact opposite effect. I glance at Amy. She looks like she is about to burst into tears again. I put my arm around her.
‘This note is not aimed at you,’ he tells her. ‘It’s aimed at him.’ He says nodding at me. ‘He is attempting to unnerve Keith by threatening you.’
I sigh and say that I have no idea why he is doing this. What does he want? What have I done to deserve this other than to accidentally discover a body? And then I add that it was almost certainly him who rang me up telling me to go to Bluebell Farm in the first place. He obviously wanted the body to be discovered. So why this campaign of harassment? I shake my head.
‘Yes, I agree there is more to this than meets the eye,’ says Lamplight thoughtfully. ‘I think he is someone who knows you: he is certainly someone who has met you before the murder of Jenkins. You need to go through all the stories you have written and find someone you have upset. There must be quite a few to choose from,’ he adds grinning darkly.
‘I am going to be scared to go out or even to answer the door,’ says Amy. ‘You say it is aimed at Keith but suppose you’re wrong.’ I tell her that I agree with the inspector and that it is me he wants to get at.
Lamplight is writing on a sheet of paper. He hands it to Amy. ‘This is a number that DI Willis has given me. If you have any concerns at all or if you see anybody acting suspiciously ring it, night or day and somebody will be with you in minutes.’ He smiles at her encouragingly. Amy looks mollified, folds it and puts it her bag. He turns to me. ‘He would like you to go to Admiral Street and look at some mugshots. Even though you didn’t get a close look at the man’s face, something might ring a bell. You never know.’
We stand up and are about to leave when Lamplight grabs another note. ‘I almost forgot,’ he says pulling a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket. ‘Willis has been checking up on Rocky ‘The Nose’ Cunliffe’s associates and one matches the man seen running to the station. They have circulated his details and all patrols are on the lookout for him. It’s only a matter of time before we find him. It could wrap this whole business up, including your mystery man. You never know.’ He rubs his hands gleefully. I smile encouragingly but I doubt it will be that simple.
It is later and I am on my way to Amy’s flat. I said I would spend a few nights there to keep her company and to help quell her fears. I don’t seriously believe any harm will come to her. I think it is a veiled threat aimed at unsettling her and annoying me. If that is indeed its purpose, then it has worked. I have thought about the possibility of it being someone whom I may have mistreated in print as Lamplight suggested, but I honestly cannot think of anyone who would be angry enough to do what he is doing, let alone resort to murder, if indeed it is the same man. There must be another powerful reason why he is doing all this.
I have just been to Admiral Street and spent a despondent two hours leafing through mugshots of villains. There were one or two that rang vague bells but nothing more. I pointed them out to the detective who is sitting with me but emphasised that I could not say with any certainty that either was the man I chased. It was always going to be a long shot.
After I park the Capri around the corner from Amy’s flat, I climb the stairs to her flat and she is standing outside talking to a man. When I reached her door, she introduced me saying that he is her new next-door neighbour. We shake hands. His name, he says, is Colin Parker and he thought it was time he said hello.
He looks like he is his late thirties or even perhaps early forties. A crew-cut disguises a thinning hairline but rather suits a round, rather rugged face with dark brown, heavily lidded eyes. He is well-built, a bit shorter than me at about five foot nine or so and looks like someone who works out regularly. For some absurd reason he looks familiar, but I say nothing. As a journalist I meet a lot of people and while I may forget a name, I rarely forget a face.
Amy has been asking him if he has noticed anyone acting suspiciously at all in the last day or so and he says that when he was returning from the shops earlier, he noticed a man who looked like he was coming out of the doorway that leads up to the flats. He says he didn’t think anything of it at the time because he hadn’t met the neighbours then and he may well have been here for a legitimate reason. I ask him if he got a good look at the man’s face and he shakes his head and says that he was walking away in the opposite direction and had his back to him.
He looks at Amy and then me and asks if there is a problem. I tell him about the note threatening Amy and his face dissolves into a look of astonishment. For some reason I decide this is not the time to go into the background and do not enlarge on it. Instead, I say that we would both be grateful if he would keep his eyes open and that we must all go out for a drink soon. He says he would like that and we both go into our separate flats.
‘He looks OK, doesn’t he,’ says Amy questioningly. Instead of answering that I ask her long the flat opposite had been empty.
‘About three months,’ she says. ‘Don’t you remember, Gorgeous George was there. I really missed him when he left.
I do remember George. Everything about him was outrageous. Loud kipper ties, pink trousers, green hair and a large ring hanging from his left ear and to say he was camp was an understatement. But having said all that he was also fun. He was the centre of attention wherever he went, especially in the local pub which was essentially a working-class establishment. But when George arrived, it became showtime. At first, he was a conversation stopper but within half an hour they were all laughing with him instead of at him. I ask Amy where he went.
‘He said he needed a bigger place to entertain his admirers,’ she giggled. I could well imagine that and said that I would miss going out with him.
‘Oh, you needn’t think that’ says Amy. ‘George said he will call here regularly to stroke my fancy.’ She was grinning hugely at that.
I tell her that I’m not sure I want to know what that means. ‘He also said he’ll stroke yours if you play your cards right.’ We both burst out laughing at that.
I tell her that I’m sure Colin is Ok but is it just a coincidence that he’s moved in now. I should have asked him what he did for a living. If we do go out for a drink, I will make a point of doing so.
Was he just being neighbourly saying hello or was there some ulterior motive? Amy is staring at me. ‘What’s the matter? Don’t you like him? He was just being friendly and it will be good to have someone across the landing I can trust in view of that note. After all, you aren’t here all the time and I am alone.’
She said that rather pointedly. I know she would like me to move in, but I am not ready for a full-time relationship just yet and especially not while I am working in St Helens. So, she is right, it is a good thing that she has someone to run to if there are any more threats.
She makes us both coffee and sits next to me on the sofa. ‘If I didn’t know better, I would think you are jealous,’ she says, digging me in the ribs and giving me a wicked grin. ‘He’s quite good looking really and older men make much better lovers…I’m told,’ she adds hastily.
Now I know she is teasing me. It’s when your girlfriend or lover stays silent that you have to start worrying but teasing can go in both directions.
I asked he if she had noticed our glam reporter, Dot Sykes. I told her how I gave her a tutorial about writing features and that she is off to interview an artist who will no doubt be famous in six months’ time.
‘I’m sure she was incredibly grateful,’ says Amy, grabbing a cushion and swinging it into my face. ‘You had better make sure she isn’t too grateful because I now have a friend next door.’
A little later I found myself speculating about Mr Parker again. Is he really who he says he is or is something more menacing going on? Or is Amy right and am I just being paranoid?
Time will tell.
It is Tuesday and Amy has arrived back from school. She stayed late to have a word with the head about a little boy who has a bit of a problem. Amy teaches at a local primary school and her class is full of seven-to eight-year-olds who mostly adore her. She came home laden with presents on the final school day before Christmas with enough chocolates to keep her going for weeks!
Anyway, Amy has become increasingly concerned about a little boy in her class called Jimmy who has great difficulty with numbers and basic arithmetic. He has trouble even adding or subtracting simple numbers. He does not have learning difficulties as such and is alert and articulate, as much as you would expect any seven-year-old to be. He is also quite popular with other children in her class. Conversely and paradoxically, he is brilliant at English and writing. So much so that Amy is seriously thinking of entering him into a national essay writing competition. The subject is the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution), and Jimmy is keen to be entered. She seems to remember Keith telling her that he won an essay competition when he was in primary school. Ironic that the contest is still going. Perhaps it’s an annual event to boost literacy. But anyway, she needs to talk to the head teacher first.
Doug Bibby has been headteacher since returning from service in the army during the war. He fought a bitter campaign in Norway and then took part in the D-Day landings in France. Before the war, his teaching subjects were English and science which he continued after being demobilised in 1946 until the opportunity of this headship came up. He likes and respects Amy and has plans to promote her to his deputy as soon as the present incumbent retires, which will be later this year.
He waves Amy into a chair when she arrives and asks how she is. She tells him about the note that was delivered to her flat and he looks horrified.
‘I hope you gave it to the police,’ he says. ‘What has Keith done about it. What can he do about it?’
‘That’s the problem. There isn’t much he can do about it until we have some idea who is behind it.’
Bibby shakes his head and tells her that his door is always open and then looks at her expectantly. ‘Was there something else Amy?’
‘Yes, I wanted to talk to you about Jimmy Knowles in my class. I’m a bit worried about him.’
Bibby nods. ‘Yes, I know the family. Or rather I know the mother. There is no father apparently. I know she has difficulty coping. He’s quite a bright little boy, isn’t he? Why are you worried?’
‘Well, basically, he has great difficulty with numbers. He really struggles and I’m wondering if there is anyone we can refer him to. I read somewhere recently that there is a condition called dyslexia which could explain it. What do you think?’
‘Interesting I was only reading a few days ago that a neurologist called Macdonald Critchley has just published a paper The Dyslexic Child, which identifies ‘developmental dyslexia’ as an issue requiring urgent official attention. I will make one or two phone calls.’ He stares at Amy expectantly. She smiles and thanks him and then asks if would be Ok to enter Jimmy into the essay contest representing the school.
‘Oh absolutely,’ he says. ‘I can’t think of anyone better,’ and as she stands up to leave, he says: ‘I want to have a talk to you early next week. There is a job coming up and I would like you to apply.’
As she was walking home, she knows he is talking about the deputy head. If he really wants her to apply, she will. It will mean a big pay rise which might help her put a deposit down on a house, perhaps a house with a garden. An average semi these days is going for less than £5,000.
She is almost at the street door to her flat when there is a tap on her shoulder. She jumps in surprise and turns to see Colin Parker standing behind her and smiling. ‘Snap,’ he says. ‘I have just finished work too.’ They climb the stairs and reach their respective door. ‘Fancy a coffee? After a day on the mill, I must have decent caffeine.’
‘That would be nice,’ she says as they walk in. ‘What do you do for a living?’
Parker’s flat, like Naomi’s, consists of one large sitting room with a kitchen area at one end and a small dining table in front of it. At the other end is a sofa and a couple of easy chairs with a coffee table.
Amy stands as he busily locates a filter paper which he places in the dripper on top of the glass server which has a plastic handle. He scoops in three large tablespoons of ground coffee. And waits for the kettle to boil. The smell of coffee pervades the room.
‘It beats instant doesn’t it?’ he says smiling as Amy sniffs appreciatively. ‘Sorry, I never answered your question. ‘I’m a structural engineering draughtsman. I work for BICC electrifying the railways.’
‘You’re home early aren’t you? What time do you start?’
‘I don’t usually get home until around 6:00 pm but I was out on a site visit today. We packed up a bit early. You must be a teacher to be home at this time.’
The kettle has finished boiling and he pours into the dripper until it is almost full. ‘What age kids do you teach?’ he asks.
‘Primary school. The kids in my class are all seven or eight.’
‘What about Keith, what does he do?’ asks Parker, pouring two mugs of coffee and holding up a bottle of milk. ‘Just that and no sugar please,’ she says walking over to the sofa as he sits on the easy chair
‘He’s a journalist,’ she says beginning to wonder about all the questions.
‘Could that explain the threatening note,’ he asks tentatively. ‘Perhaps he upset somebody along the way. Journalists are able to now and then, I believe,’ he says smiling. Any stays silent and stares at her coffee.
‘This is gorgeous,’ she says. ‘You are right. It is much nicer than instant.’
The abrupt change of subject has not gone unnoticed to Parker who says: ‘I do apologise, I have been asking far too many questions. You must think me very nosey. Just tell me to shut up in future and I’ll get the message.’
‘It’s OK,’ says Amy sighing. ‘This person, whoever it is, has been plaguing Keith for weeks, on and off, but this is the first time he has targeted me and it is all a bit worrying.’
‘It must be. Well, I am only the other side of the corridor. If anything happens, please don’t hesitate. Just knock on the door, day or night.’
He looks as though he is going to say more but they can hear a phone ringing faintly and Amy stands up saying that it is hers. She thanks him for the coffee and rushes over the corridor into her own flat.
It is Keith asking if she is alright. She tells him she has just been having a coffee with Colin in his flat. There is a silence and then he asks whose idea that was. There is a definite note of disapproval in his voice.
‘He was just offering his support if I get threatened or if anyone tries to break in,’ she says. ‘Are you jealous?’ she says laughing.
‘No, I’m not,’ he snaps. ‘He did all that yesterday. Why repeat it? Maybe he is harmless, maybe he isn’t. We just don’t know. It’s a bit of a coincidence that he turns up within a day of you getting threatened, don’t you think?’
‘You are being paranoid Keith. He’s just a neighbour. It would be bloody stupid of him to be implicated in anything because he would be the first person to be questioned, wouldn’t he?’
Keith suddenly says he has to go. The police are on the other line. There have been developments apparently.
After she has put the phone down, she sits on her sofa and wonders if she was right. Why did she feel ill-at-ease in Parker’s flat? It’s natural to ask questions, isn’t it? After all, she asked him what he did. And then the thought occurs to her. A thought that had hidden itself in a quiet corner of her mind. But now it came and revealed itself and she knows why, almost subliminally, something he had said had been tucked away as being rather strange.
He had said he was a draughtsman. And yes, he dresses in the casual way that draughtsmen do, from what she has seen in photos of drawing offices with their lines of boards and paraphernalia. He was wearing grey slacks, and a jumper over his shirt and tie. All quiet and understated and what you would expect, especially of someone in their thirties or so.
No, that wasn’t what had struck a chord in her subconscious. It was something much simpler. Something much more basic. Draughtsmen are quite well paid from what she knows and given that, why is he slumming it in a humble flat in Kensington when he could probably afford to buy a house in the suburbs?
And then darker thoughts begin to emerge. Is he really a draughtman? Is his name really Colin Parker? What is the real reason for him moving in next to her?
Her flat door has a substantial bolt lock which Amy has never used while she has lived there, relying on the Yale lock as being adequate. But she walks over and slides it over for the very first time.