I’m not quite sure where this came from – even less where it’s going. Maybe nowhere. We’ll see.
But it’s Leeds, it’s 1968. Times are finally beginning to change.
He had a description – five feet five, slender, fair hair neatly set, blue eyes, conservatively dressed – and a sample of her handwriting, the start of a letter back to her parents in Ireland. No photographs; she’d taken them all from her lodgings when she left. Her mother was putting a couple from the last holiday in the post.
That was it. Five days had gone by since Sheila Grady vanished. She was over twenty-one, the police barely wanted to know. The Irish grapevine had finally come up with Gerry Hanlon’s name, an enquiry agent who might be able to help. And Hanlon had palmed the initial slog on to him.
‘Ask around,’ he said. ‘You were a copper. You know what to do.’
Oh yes, he did.
Graham Blake parked the Mini on Albion Place. All around him, Leeds was busy, full of Friday afternoon fever, the anticipation of the weekend on the faces. He pushed open the door to the building and climbed three flights of stairs to the Top Temp offices.
Caitlin Parsons had been just sixteen years old when first he’d seen her in 1959. Just over from County Mayo and living with the Rileys. She’d found work in three days, already out skivvying every hour God sent.
But she watched. She learned quickly. Within two years she’d shed all her country manners and acquired a soft sheen to her personality. Her accent had become a gentle, welcoming lilt. She’d grown out her hair and bought clothes were more sophistication. Growing up
Now she was twenty-five and stylish in her mini skirt and tights, still almost as thin as the day she’d stepped off the train, her hair in a fashionable Sassoon bob. No more cleaning for others. She’d been clever enough to spot a gap in the market and she’d started a business. A temporary agency for employers who needed extra staff for a week or a month. Secretarial, most of them. Filing, clerical.
It was flourishing. An office on Albion Place, the new Triumph Herald Vitesse parked outside. She was a success.
‘Mr. Blake.’ She stood up to shake his hand. ‘I haven’t seen you in a long time.’
‘Two years,’ he told her.
‘That’s right.’ She smiled as she sat behind the desk. ‘A party, wasn’t it?’
‘Susan Anderson now,’ he corrected her and they grinned.
‘Times flies,’ she said. ‘Is this business or pleasure?’
‘Business,’ he said. ‘I’m wondering if you’ve ever come across a girl called Sheila Grady.’
‘No.’ She frowned. ‘Not that I know. Should I have?’
‘It’s a long shot. She’s twenty-one. Went missing at the start of the week. She’s Irish, so…’ He let the word hang and shrugged.
‘And of course every Irish person abroad knows each other.’ But there was no anger behind her words.
‘I thought it was worth trying.’
‘I’m sorry to disappoint you.’
‘It doesn’t matter,’ Blake said. He looked around the room. Trendily decorated, colourful, plenty of light. Beyond the door, he could hear the sound of telephones and typing, the two women who worked for her. ‘You’re doing well.’
‘I’ve been lucky. How about you. Since you left the police, I mean.’
Allowed to resign for the good of the force. That was how the superintendent had put it. Fitted up to take the blame by a detective sergeant, not that anyone would listen when he told them. He’d been lucky enough to find this job after all that.
Back when he first met Caitlin Parsons he’d just passed out from cadet to constable, on his fist beat in Harehills. Now she was a success and he was…whatever it was he’d become. Strange what a difference nine years could make.