It’s not long until Modern Crimes is published and yes, I’m going to keep putting out teasers about it. I like Lottie Armstrong. She’s somewhat extraordinary by being ordinary – and you’ll have to read it to make sense of that. And so, here’s another short extract to hopefully whet your appetites.
For those who don’t know, the Market Tavern was Leeds institution, about 100 yards from Millgarth Police Station, and many of the city’s crooks gathered there. The force was happy to let them; it meant they knew where they were. But, at least in the 1920s, it wasn’t a place for a respectable woman, and definitely not for a woman police constable…
At the end you can find out more about Modern Crimes. The ebook comes out the same day as the UK paperback, and it’s decidedly cheap. I’ll just leave that thought in your head.
‘By God,’ Tennison said in admiration as they walked back down the street. ‘Where did you learn to do all that?’
‘Get them to talk. You should be a detective.’
She laughed. ‘And pigs will fly. Come on, he wanted to tell us, you could see it in his face. He loves her, he wants to see her safe as much as anyone.’
‘If you say so,’ he said doubtfully. ‘That touching his hand, what made you do it?’
‘I don’t know. It just seemed to be what he needed. Why? Was it bad?’
‘It was ruddy marvellous.’ He smiled at her and glanced at his wristwatch. ‘What time are you due back on patrol?’
She looked at him. ‘I don’t know. As soon as we’re done, I suppose. Why?’
‘Oh, I just thought we could drop in to the Market Tavern before you went back, that’s all.’ He glanced at her from the corner of his eye, a sly grin on his lips.
‘Go on, then,’ she agreed quickly. ‘As long as it stays quiet. Mrs Maitland will have me off the force if she finds out.’
‘I won’t say a word, cross my heart.’ He winked. ‘For a lass, you’re all right, you know that?’
She nudged him in the ribs, hard enough for him to feel. ‘And I’ve come across worse blokes than you.’ Her eyes were laughing. ‘So who’s this rich man, do you think?’
‘Haven’t a clue, but someone’s bound to know. You won’t find many Standards in Leeds, they’re not cheap. Whoever owns it has a bit of brass.’
She’d gone into pubs with Geoff, a few times with gaggles of girls from Barnbow when they enjoyed a night out. A cocktail bar with Cathy. But never anywhere like the Market Tavern. It was early enough in the day to stink of stale beer and old smoke, dust motes hanging in the air.
A few hardened drinkers slumped in the corners, shunning company; a man listlessly mopped the bar. The spittoons hadn’t been emptied and the brass needed a healthy polish.
‘Morning, Bill. Is Nancy about?’ Tennison said, looking around the faces in the place.
‘In the cellar, Henry. She’ll be back in a minute.’ He stared at Lottie, the look becoming a leer as he licked his lips. ‘Who’s the bird?’
‘That’ll be Woman Police Constable Armstrong to you.’ There was an iron edge to his voice. ‘Unless you fancy a belting into next week. Not from me, from her. And don’t go thinking she wouldn’t dare.’
Bill bowed his head and seemed to deflate into himself,.
At Barnbow the men had flirted. Some of them had tried it on, hands free when they thought they could get away with it. But she’d been one girl among many, plenty of them prettier and more happy-go-lucky. Since she put on the uniform it had been worse, as if she was fair game. Plenty of comments, someone trying to grab her breasts on a crowded tram. Even one of the coppers at work had fancied his chances, thinking he could drag her into a cupboard. A sharp knee had ended that idea and kept him off work the next day. Since then they’d treated her warily around the station. Everyone knew what had happened; no-one ever spoke about it.
Footsteps echoed on stone stairs. A door opened and a woman filled the opening. She was large, tall with wide shoulders. Big-boned in every way, around forty, but she carried it handsomely, wearing expensive, stylish clothes, make-up carefully applied to hide the wrinkles, her hair cut to suit her broad face.
‘Well, well, well, look who’s blown in.’ She had a voice like a contented purr, low, pleasant, but with the edge of teasing. ‘Where have you been keeping yourself, Henry?’ Her eyes turned to Lottie. ‘This must be one of them WPCs.’ She nodded approval. ‘The uniform suits you, dear. And Henry wouldn’t be dragging you in here unless you could hold your own.’
‘I’ve got a question for you,’ Tennison said. The attention, and everything that lurked beneath it, didn’t seem to bother him. ‘About someone who drinks in here.’
Nancy took a Woodbine from a packet on the bar and lit it.
‘Well,’ she said finally. ‘Spit it out. I don’t have all day.’
‘He drives a Standard,’ Lottie said quickly. ‘Probably in his twenties or so. Very likely thinks he’s the bees’ knees.’
The woman laughed. ‘You’re not backwards about coming forwards, are you? You’re looking for Ronnie Walker. Comes in here a couple of times a week. Likes to think he’s hard stuff because he’s slumming it. What’s he done?’
‘Maybe nothing,’ Tennison said. ‘We need to talk to him and find out.’
‘You need to take a look in Headingley. Somewhere round there.’ She stared at Lottie. ‘What’s your name, luv?’
Nancy sighed. ‘Your real name. Like he’s Henry and I’m Nancy.’
The woman extended a large hand and Lottie shook it. ‘You’ll do. You need anything, come and ask for me.’ She nodded at Tennison. ‘You don’t need to wait for him. And no-one will hurt you in here. Not unless they want to answer to me.’ She grinned, showing a set of discoloured teeth. ‘And they don’t, believe you me.’
‘You went in the Market Tavern?’ Cathy put her hands on her hips. ‘Come on, tell me all about it. I keep hoping someone will take me in there.’
They were walking through County Arcade, all the old glamour looking a little faded and dreary, the black and white tiled floor sad and grubby.
‘There’s not much to tell,’ Lottie told her. ‘It’s a dreary place. We weren’t even inside for ten minutes.’
‘What about the woman?’ Cathy asked eagerly. ‘I’ve heard about her.’
‘Nancy? She’s lovely. Big, but… it suits her.’
‘Are they keeping you on the investigation? What did Mrs Maitland say?’
‘The case has gone to the detectives.’
She didn’t want to say more. After her hopes had been raised for a few hours, they’d been dashed again. Still, that was to be expected. Outside the matron’s office Henry had given her a sympathetic look and a shrug before heading back to his beat. It was the way of the world.
Evening report was almost complete when Mrs Maitland looked at her. Her next words seemed to come out grudgingly.
‘Inspector Carter wants you to report upstairs to CID before you leave.’
Want to know more about Lottie and Modern Crimes? Click here.