New Tom Harper

It’s definitely spring out there. The kids are enjoying their holidays, the weather is growing balmier. I’ve been able to get things planted at my allotment, and it’s beginning to take shape for the season.

But life wouldn’t be right if I wasn’t writing, and I have my head deep into what I hope will become the sixth Tom Harper novel, although Annabelle proves to be a very big part of this one. Now I just have to hope that my publisher wants it.

This extract is fairly lengthy and is still in a fairly raw state, so I hope you’ll bear with me on that. More importantly, I hope you like it. Please, seriously, tell me what you think, okay?

 

Late September, 1897

 

Tom Harper stared in the mirror.

‘What do you think?’ he asked doubtfully.

He felt ridiculous in a swallowtail coat and stiff, starched shirt. But the invitation had made it clear: this was an official dinner, formal dress required. The fourth time this year and the suit wasn’t any more comfortable than the first time he’d worn it. He’d never expected that rank would include parading round like a butler.

‘Let’s have a gander at you.’ Annabelle said and he turned for inspection. ‘Like a real police superintendent,’ she told him with a nod. ‘Just one thing.’ A few deft movements and she adjusted the bow tie. ‘Never met a man who could do a dicky bow properly. Now you’re the real dog’s dinner.’

She brought her face close to his. For a moment he expected a kiss. But her eyes narrowed and she whispered, ‘I’ve had another letter. Came in the second post. May Bolland’s had one, too.’

His face hardened. He’d expected some outrage when Annabelle announced she was running to be elected to the Board of Poor Law Guardians. A few comments. Plenty of objections. He was even willing to dismiss one anonymous, rambling letter as the work of a crank. But two of them? He couldn’t ignore that.

‘What did it say?’

She turned her head away. ‘What you’d expect.’

‘The same person?’ he asked and she nodded. ‘What did you do with it?’

‘I burned it.’ Her voice was tight.

‘What?’ He pulled back in disbelief. ‘It’s evidence.’

‘Little eyes,’ she hissed. ‘You know Mary’s reading has come on leaps and bounds since she started school. Safer out of the way.’

He breathed slowly, pushing down his anger. For a long time he said nothing. What could he do? It was dust now. Maybe Mrs. Bolland had kept hers; he’d send Ash round to see her in the morning.

‘Button me up and we’d better get a move on.’ Deftly, she changed the subject. ‘That hackney’s already been waiting for five minutes.’

Annabelle was wearing a new gown, dark blue silk, no bustle, high at the neck with lace trim and full leg-of-mutton sleeves, the pale silk shawl he’d bought her over her shoulders. Her hair was elaborately swept up and pinned. She was every bit as lovely as the first day he’d seen her.

There were calls and whistles as they walked through the Victoria pub downstairs. Her pub. She laughed and twirled around the room. He was happy to keep in the background, to try and slink out without being noticed. People didn’t dress like this in Sheepscar. They owned work clothes and a good suit for funerals; that was it.

‘What is this do, anyway?’ she asked as the cab jounced along North Street.

‘The Lord Mayor’s Fund,’ he replied. ‘Charity.’

The Mayor’s office had finally become the Lord Mayor’s office that summer, Leeds honoured by Queen Victoria to mark her Diamond Jubilee. Sixty years on the throne, Harper thought, going back long before he was a twinkle in anyone’s eye, before his parents had even met. There had been parties and civic events around the city all summer, and hardly any problems, as if everyone just wanted to celebrate the occasion with plenty of joy.

The Chief Constable had been pleased, and even happier when the crime figures came out: down everywhere. The biggest drop was in Harper’s division. God only knew why; he didn’t have an explanation. He’d praised his men then held his tongue, not wanting to tempt fate.

Annabelle’s elbow poked him in the ribs.

‘You’re miles away.’

‘Sorry.’

‘Is it a sit-down affair tonight?

‘Three courses, then the speeches.’

She groaned and he turned to smile at her.

‘We’re in for plenty more of these once you’re elected.’

‘If I’m elected,’ she warned. ‘Don’t be cocky.’

Seven women were standing to become Poor Law Guardians, their election costs paid by the Suffrage Society and the Women’s Co-op Guild. The campaign was no more than three days old, but already the Tories and the Liberals were deriding the women for trying to rise above their natural station. The Independent Labour Party had its eye on the posts, too, as stepping stones for their ambitious young men. And the newspapers had their knives out, pointedly advising people to vote for the gentlemen. He’d arrived home two days to find her pacing furiously around the living room, ready to spit fire, with the editorial in her hand.

‘Listen to this,’ Annabelle told him. ‘Apparently they think men “don’t possess the domestic embarrassments of women.” What does that mean? I could swing for the lot of them.’

She threw the paper on to a chair. But he could hear the hurt behind her words. It wasn’t going to be a fair fight.

The first letter arrived the same day. Second post, franked at the main post office in town, no signature or return address. It was a screed about how women should be guided by their husbands, live modestly and look to the welfare of their own families. Religious and condescending, everything written in a neat, practised hand. Senseless, Harper judged when he read it, but no real threat. All the women running for the Board had received one. He’d placed it in his desk drawer at Millgarth and forgotten about it. But another…that demanded attention.

 

‘Take a look at that,’ Harper said and tossed the letter across the desk. Inspector Ash raised an eyebrow as he read, then passed it on to Detective Sergeant Fowler.

‘Looks like he’s halfway round the bend, if you ask me, sir,’ Ash said. ‘I see he didn’t bother to sign it. Anything on the envelope?’

‘Nothing helpful.’ He sat back in the chair. For more than two years this had been his office, but Kendall’s ghost still seemed to linger; sometimes he even believed he could smell the shag tobacco the man used to stuff in his pipe. ‘All the women candidates running to be on the Board of Guardians received one.’

‘I see. That was Mrs. Harper’s, I take it?’

‘There was another yesterday. She burned it.’

‘Whoever wrote this was educated,’ Fowler said. ‘All the lines are even, everything spelled properly.’ He grinned. ‘Of course, that’s doesn’t mean he’s not barmy.’

He pushed the spectacles back up his nose. The sergeant had been recommended by a copper from Wakefield. He was moving back to Leeds to be closer to his ill mother. Harper had taken a chance on the man. Over the last twelve months it had paid off handsomely.

Fowler didn’t look like a policeman, more like a distracted clerk or a young professor. Twenty-five, hair already receding, he barely made the height requirement and couldn’t have weighed more than eleven stone. But he had one of the quickest minds Harper had ever met. He and Ash had clicked immediately, turning into a very fruitful partnership. One big, one smaller, they seemed to work intuitively together, knowing what each one would do without needing to speak.

‘This woman’s had another letter, too.’ He gave them the address. ‘Go and see her. I doubt we’ll track down the sender, but at least we can put out the word that we’re looking into it. That might scare him off.’

‘Yes, sir.’ Ash stood. ‘How’s Mrs. Harper’s campaign going?’

‘Early days yet.’

She’d only held small one meeting so far, in a church hall just up Roundhay Road from the Victoria. Their bedroom was filled with piles of leaflets read to be delivered and posters to plastered on the walls all over Sheepscar Ward.

‘I’m sure she’ll win, sir.’

He smiled. ‘From your lips to God’s ears.’

Once they’d gone he turned back to the rota for October, trying to recall when he’d once believed that coppering meant solving crimes.

 

Billy Reed drew back the curtains, pushed up the window sash, and breathed in the sharp salt air. After so many years of soot and dirt in Leeds, every day of this seemed like a tonic. He heard Elizabeth moving around downstairs, cooking his breakfast.

They’d been in Whitby since July, all settled now into the terraced house on Silver Street. The pair of them, and her two youngest children, Edward and Victoria. The older ones had stayed in Leeds, both in lodgings, with work, friends, and lives of their own.

Moving had been a big decision, an upheaval. He’d come to love Whitby on his first visit. He’d left the army, just home from the wars in Afghanistan and troubled in his mind. The water, the beach, the quiet of the place had brought him some peace, and he’d always wanted to live there. But when he’d seen the job for inspector of police and fire in the town, he’d hesitated.

‘Why not write?’ Elizabeth urged him. ‘The worst they can say is no.’

‘We’re settled. I’m doing well the with fire brigade. And you have the bakeries.’

She stared at him. ‘Do you think we’d be happy there?’

‘Yes,’ Reed answered after a moment. ‘I do.’

‘Then sit down and write to them.’

It had taken time. First the application, then an interview, Elizabeth travelling with him on the train and inspecting the town while he was questioned by the watch committee. Another wait until the answer arrived, offering him the position. After that, it was a scramble of arrangements. In the end he’d gone on ahead while she finished up the up sale of the bakeries, packed the rest of their possessions, and said goodbye to all the friends they’d made.

He had no regrets. He liked his job, but it was time for a move, for something new. And this was certainly different. He could make out the shouts of the fishermen at mooring points as they unloaded their boats, and hear the gulls calling.

‘You’d better come and get it while it’s hot,’ Elizabeth shouted up the stairs.

The children were already eating, ready to scramble off to their jobs. Soon enough, Elizabeth would march down Flowergate, across the bridge, and along Church Street to the shop she’d leased, ready to open her tea room and confectioner’s in the spring. She’d made the bakeries in Leeds turn a fair profit, and she wasn’t one to be content as a lady of leisure. She relished work.

‘It’s right by the market,’ she pointed out to him. ‘And all those folk going to the abbey in holiday season will pass by the door.’

She’d developed a good eye, he knew that, and she’d already managed to cultivate a few friends in town, like Mrs. Botham, who ran her bakery and the Inglenook Tea Room on Skinner Street. A formidable woman, Reed thought, but she and Elizabeth could natter on for hours.

He’d quickly settled into the rhythm of his job. During the summer it was mostly dealing with complaints from holidaymakers and breaking up fights once the pub closed. There had only been one fire, and that was easily doused.

He strolled over to the police station on Spring Hill and went through the log with the uniformed sergeant before setting off in the pony and trap. Sandsend and Staithes today. Both of them poor fishing villages, and little trouble to the law, but he still needed to put in a monthly appearance. Show the flag. He covered a large area, going all the way down to Robin Hood’s Bay, but on a day like this, with the sun shining and a gentle breeze blowing off the water, nothing could be a better job.

No, Reed thought with a smile as the horse clopped along the road, no regrets at all.

 

 

 

 

 

Two

 

‘I saw Mrs. Bolland, sir.’ Ash settled on to the chair in the superintendent’s office. ‘She’d kept the letter.’ He ran his tongue round the inside of his mouth. ‘It left her scared.’

‘What does it say?’ Harper put down the pen and sat back.

‘Read it for yourself, sir.’ The inspector pulled a folded sheet of notepaper from his inside pocket.

A woman’s place is in the home, tending to her family and being a graceful loving presence. It’s not to shriek in the hustings like a harridan or to display herself in front of the public like a painted whore.

The Good Lord created His order for a purpose. Man has the reason, the wisdom, and the judgement. He’s intended to use it, to exercise his will over women, not to be challenged by them, the weaker element. Eve was persuaded to eat the apple and tempted Adam, and since that time it has been her duty to pay for the sin.

It is time for you to withdraw your candidacy. Should you fail to do so, if you continue to talk and challenge men for what rightly belongs to them, we shall feel justified in taking whatever means necessary to silence you for breaking God’s profound will.

‘A death threat. No wonder it frightened her.’

‘Yes, sir. Funny what these types come up with in the name of religion, isn’t it? It was all love thy neighbour when I was at Sunday school.’ Ash gave a wry smile.

Harper took out the first letter from his drawer and compared them.

‘The same handwriting. Twice means he’s more than a crank. We’re going to follow up on this and make sure nothing happens to her.’ He thought about Annabelle. ‘To any of the women. Where’s Fowler?’

‘I sent him off to talk to the others, to see if they’d had anything like this.’

‘Odds are that they have. That “we” in there makes me wonder, too.’

‘I noticed that, sir.’ Ash pursed his lips. ‘If I had to guess, thought, I’d say it’s a man on his own.’

‘I agree. Still…’

‘Better safe than sorry, sir.’

‘Exactly.’ He wondered why his wife had destroyed the letter. Not to keep it away from Mary; she could manage that by hiding it in a drawer or on the mantelpiece. Had it terrified her? She was so strong that it seemed hard to believe. But this election campaign was already putting a strain on her and it had hardly begun. ‘No signature again. Handy, isn’t it? He can just pop it in the post, then sit back and stay anonymous behind the paper.’

‘Any ideas for catching him, sir?’

‘No,’ Harper said with a sigh. ‘We’ll just stay on our guard.’

‘How was your dinner last night, by the way, sir?’ The inspector smiled slyly. ‘Big do, from all I hear.’

‘Big?’ Harper asked. ‘Pointless, more like. Tasteless food that was barely warm by the time it reached the table, followed by an hour of mumbled speeches.’

‘The perks of rank, eh, sir?’ Ash’s eyes twinkled with amusement.

‘You’d better be careful, or I’ll start sending you in my place.’

‘My Nancy would probably enjoy that.’ He grinned, slapped his hands down on his knees and stood. ‘I’ll go out and ask a few questions. Who knows, maybe we’ll be lucky and our gentleman writer isn’t as discreet as he should be.’

‘If you really believe that, I’ll look out of the window for a herd of pigs flying over the market,’ Harper told him.

‘Stranger things have probably happened, sir.’

‘Not in Leeds, they haven’t.’

 

‘Was your letter like this?’ he asked. Mary was tucked up in bed, exhausted by a day of school and an evening of telling them every scrap of learning that had gone into her head since morning. Harper was weary from concentrating, trying to make out all the words with his poor hearing.

Annabelle read it. ‘Word for word,’ she said, quickly folded it and handed it back to him.

‘Ash and Fowler are after him.’

‘Doesn’t help if you don’t know who you’re chasing,’ she said. They were in the bedroom. He sat by the dressing table while she counted election leaflets into rough bundles, ready to be delivered tomorrow. She raised her head. ‘I’m not a fool, Tom. There’s not enough in that for you to find him.’

‘We can ask around. And I’ll make sure there’s a copper at the meetings.’

Annabelle stopped her work and stared at him. ‘Would you do that for the men?’

‘Yes,’ he told her. ‘If I believed things could get rowdy,’

‘Don’t you think it’s wrong that women should need special protection? We’re in England, for God’s sake.’

‘Of course it’s wrong. But when there are men like this poison pen writer, it’s better than something bad happening.’ He let the idea hang in the air. ‘To any of you.’

Her stare gradually softened to a curling, twinkling smile.

‘Well, if you really want to look after me, Superintendent, perhaps you could offer me some very close guarding of my body.’

He grinned and bowed. ‘My pleasure, madam.’

 

‘They all received identical letters,’ Fowler said. He pushed the glasses back up his nose and produced the papers from his pocket. ‘Three had burned them. But it’s the same wording and the same handwriting as Mrs. Bolland’s.’

‘And the one my wife received,’ Harper confirmed. ‘What do you two have on your plates are the moment?’ he asked Ash.

‘Next to nothing, sir. We’ve been too successful, that’s the problem.’ He smiled. ‘They’re all too scared to commit crimes these days.’

‘Better not get over-confident,’ the superintendent warned. ‘We might be up to our ears tomorrow. While you have the chance, spend some time with this. Do you have a list of where and when these women are holding meetings?’

‘I do,’ Fowler said. ‘There are four tonight.’

‘Make sure there’s a uniform at every one of them. And I want him very visible.’

That should deter any trouble, he thought. If it didn’t, the weeks until the election were going to be difficult.

‘Mr. Ash and I have been talking, sir,’ the sergeant began. ‘We thought perhaps we could each go to a meeting. You know, stay quiet and keep an eye out for anything suspicious.’

‘A very good idea. Not my wife’s, though,’ he added. ‘I’ll take care of that.’

 

He’d grown used to the routine of running a division, of being responsible for everything from men on the beat to the number of pencils in the store cupboard. But it still chafed. So much of the work was empty details and routine; a competent clerk could have managed it in a couple of hours.

Meetings were the worst times; every month, all the division heads with the chief constable. So far they’d never managed to resolve a single thing. Then there was the annual questioning by the Watch Committee, the council members who oversaw the force. Several of them had no love for him, but he’d managed to fox them. The crime figures kept falling, and he stayed well within his budget. He hadn’t walked away with their praise, but he’d been pleased to see that his success galled them.

Small, worthless victories. Had he really been reduced to that? Sometimes two or three days passed with him barely leaving Millgarth. It felt as if an age had gone by since he’d been a real detective. It was one reason he was looking forward to tonight. Standing at the back of the hall, watching the faces and the bodies, thinking, alert for any danger. At least he could feel like he was doing some real work. That made him smile.

 

One the stroke of five, Harper pulled on his mackintosh and hat and glanced out of the window. Blue skies, a few high clouds, and a lemon sun; a perfect autumn afternoon. Saturday, and a little time away from this place. Not free, though: he’d spend it walking round Sheepscar, delivering leaflets for Annabelle’s campaign.

Ash was at his desk in the detectives’ office, writing up a report.

‘Did you find anything?’

‘Not a dicky bird, sir.’ He sighed and scratched his chin. ‘You weren’t banking on it, were you?’

‘No.’ He shook his head. ‘If there’s anything tonight, make sure you let me know.’

‘I will, sir. Let’s hope it’s peaceful, eh?’

It was warm enough to walk back out to the Victoria. Even if the air was filled with all the soot and smoke of industry, so strong he could taste it on his tongue, it still felt good to breathe deep after a day in a stuffy office.

 

‘Do you think I look all right, Tom?’ Annabelle stood in front of the mirror. She was wearing a plain dress of dark blue wool. It was cut high, at the base of her throat, modest and serious. Her hair was up in some style he couldn’t name but had probably taken an hour to engineer so it looked nonchalant.

‘I think you look grand,’ he told her. ‘Like a member of the Poor Law Board.’ He nudged Mary, who was sitting on his lap, staring in awe at her mother.

‘Da’s right. You’re a bobby dazzler, mam,’ she said. ‘I’d vote for you if I could vote.’

‘That’ll do for me.’ Annabelle picked up her daughter and twirled in the air. ‘You’re absolutely sure?’

‘Positive,’ Harper replied. He pulled the watch from his waistcoat. ‘We’d better get going. That meeting starts in three-quarters of an hour.’ It wasn’t that far – the hall at the St. Clement’s just up Chapeltown Road– but he knew she’d want to arrive early, prepare herself, and put leaflets on all the chairs. Ellen would bring Mary shortly before the meeting started.

It was a fine evening for a stroll, still some sun and a note of warmth in the air. The factories had shut down until Monday morning, the constant hums and drones and bangs of the machinery all silenced. The chimneystacks stood like a forest, stretching off to the horizon, their dirt making its mark on every surface around Leeds.

Annabelle took his arm as they walked. He’d put on his best suit, the dove-grey one she’d had Moses Cohen tailor for him seven years before. It was still smart, but growing uncomfortably tight around the waist.

‘It’s going to be fine, isn’t it?’ she asked.

‘Of course it is.’ He glanced over at her. ‘It’s not like you to be so nervous. You usually dive right in.’

‘This is something new, that’s all. And if I fail, well, it’ll be obvious, won’t it? I’d be letting everyone down who’s helping.’ She nodded at the hall, just visible beyond the church, its low outline stark against the gasometers. ‘All of them who turn up tonight. If anyone does.’

‘You’ll be fine.’ He kissed her cheek. ‘That meeting two nights ago was packed.’ He grinned. ‘Trust me, I’m a policeman.’

‘I thought you lot were only good for telling the time.’

The words had hardly left her mouth when he heard the low roar. It grew louder, then a deep violent explosion ripped out of the ground. A column of smoke plumed up from the hall, throwing wood and roof and bricks high into the air.

‘Christ.’ They stared for a second, not knowing what to say. It was beyond words. ‘Stay here,’ he told her, then changed his mind. ‘No. Go home.’

Tom Harper was running towards the blast.

The Death of Tom Maguire

Next month On Copper Street, the fifth book in my Victorian series, will be published. One ongoing minor character has been Tom Maguire, a real person, and one of the unsung heroes of British politics, and one of the greatest unknowns ever to come from Leeds.

He discovered socialism in the 1880s and became a firebrand speaker, rousing the men and helping them win strikes. He was someone who helped in the formation of the Independent Labour Party, only to find himself sidelined by others with more of a taste for power. Tom Maguire died in Leeds in 1895. This is an extract from the new book. The circumstances of Maguire’s are true to reports of the time.

tom-maguire-lead

 

‘I had word about something while you were gone,’ Superintendent Kendall said.

‘What?’ From his expression, it couldn’t be anything good.

‘Tom Maguire. They found him dead at home. You knew him quite well, didn’t you?’

Knew him and liked him. Maguire had organized the unions. He’d helped them win their strikes, and he’d been there at the birth of the Independent Labour Party two years before. All that and not even thirty yet. But politics never paid the bills; he’d earned his money as the assistant to a photographer up on New Briggate.

‘How?’ The word came out as a hoarse croak. Surely no one would hurt him…

‘Natural causes,’ the superintendent said. ‘The doctor’s there now. I said we’d send someone over.’

‘I’ll go,’ Harper said.

‘A couple of friends called to see him this morning. Nobody had heard from him in a few days. The door was unlocked. They walked in and he was there…’

 

He knew Maguire had a room on Quarry Hill, no more than two minutes’ walk away from Millgarth, but Harper had never been in the place before; they’d always met in cafés and pubs and union offices. It was up two flights of rickety, dangerous stairs in a house that reeked of overcooked cabbage, sweat, and the stink from the privy next door. How many others lived in the building, Harper wondered? How many were packed into the rooms? How many more had lost their hope and will in a place like this?

The door to the room was open wide. The table was piled with books and magazines and notebooks. Politics, poetry, all manner of things. A few had slid off, scattered across the bare wooden floor. No sink, just a cheap cracked pitcher with a blue band and a bowl. A razor and leather strop, shaving brush and soap. A good, dark wool suit hung on one nail, a clean shirt on another.

That was the sum total of the man’s life.

The doctor was finishing his examination, wiping his hands on a grubby piece of linen. The inspector tried to recollect his name. Smith? That seemed right. An older man. Not uncaring, but hardened by the years. They’d met a few times before, always in situations like this.

‘He’s not one to trouble the police, Inspector.’ Dr Smith closed his bag. ‘Pneumonia. Sad at his age but nothing suspicious.’ He said good day, and the sound of his footsteps on the stair slowly faded away.

Harper could feel the cold all the way to his bones, as if there’d been no heat in here for weeks. The hearth was empty, carefully cleaned, but not a speck of coal in the scuttle. He opened a cupboard. The only thing on the shelf was a twist of paper that held some tea. No food. Nothing at all to eat.

The bed was cheap, pushed into the corner. A thin, stained mattress. Maguire lay under a grubby sheet and a threadbare woollen blanket. On top of that lay a heavy overcoat to give more warmth.

Two bodies in their beds, he thought. So different, he thought, but the ending was just the same. The doctor had covered the man’s face, trying to offer a little decency against the brutality of death. Harper pulled it gently away. The policeman inside needed to see for himself. Maguire’s skin was so pale it barely seemed to be there. His eyes were closed. No lustre in the ruddy hair.

A gust of wind rattled the window. Tom Maguire dead. No heat, no food. And no one to really care. Maguire had been ill; Harper had heard that. But this? How could he have died with nothing and no one around him?

Harper laid the sheet back in place. He’d liked the man. He was honest, he had principles and convictions that didn’t bend with the wind or the chance to line his pockets. He’d believed in the working man. He’d believed in the power to change things.

Very quietly, as if a loud sound might cause the corpse to wake, Harper pulled the door to. He started the walk out to the Victoria public house in Sheepscar. He needed to tell Annabelle.

 

‘Did you see him?’ she asked. ‘His body?’ He nodded.

When he entered she’d been standing by the window in the rooms above the bar she owned, gazing down at Roundhay Road. At first she didn’t even turn to face him and he knew. The word must have spread like ripples across Leeds: Tom Maguire was dead.

His eyes searched around for their daughter, Mary.

‘I asked Ellen to take her out for a little while,’ Annabelle said.

He put his hands on his wife’s shoulders. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said. He tried to pull her close but she didn’t stir.

‘I knew he was poorly. I should have gone down to see what I could do.’ Her voice was tight and hard. Blaming herself, as if she could have kept him alive. ‘I could have done something.’

What could he tell her? She’d known Maguire all her life. They’d grown up a few streets apart on the Bank, Annabelle a few years older. Life had taken them in different directions, then politics had brought them together again after she began speaking for the Suffragist Society.

Annabelle began to move away, ready to gather up her hat and shawl. ‘I can go over there now. I’ll see what I can do.’

Harper shook his head. ‘Don’t. There’s nothing. Honestly.’ If she saw how Maguire had lived and the way he died, then she’d never forgive herself. He put his arms around her, trying to find some words. But they wouldn’t come, just thoughts of a barren, bitter room.

He thought back over things he’d heard in the last few months. Word was that the new Labour Party was pushing Maguire away, that he was the past, not the future. He’d been seen out drinking a fair few times, so far gone that people had to help him home. That wasn’t the man he’d known, not the one he’d want to remember. It certainly wasn’t the one he’d watched who inspired hundreds of labourers with a speech on Vicar’s Croft and helped win them a cut in working hours. Not the man who led the gas strike like a general and beat the council. And definitely not the shyly humorous man he talked to in the café by the market. That was the Maguire who’d remain in his memory.

on-copper-street

A Christmas Tale

For someone who doesn’t care about Christmas, I seem to end up writing a Christmas story every year. Most of them have been little present for the wonderful Leeds Book Club, and you can find them here if you scroll down the page. This time, though, I thought I’d simply put it up here. And, in an even more unusual twist, for once it’s very contemporary. I hope you like it, and happy holidays of whatever kind you celebrate (or none).

 

For a moment she didn’t even realise she was doing it. Then Kate caught herself, singing along with Joni Mitchell’s “River” as her car idled at the traffic lights. At least it was a depressing Christmas song. This was always the worst time of year. Both her parents had died in December, years apart, and it always brought back memories, some good, most of them bad.

Ahead of her, the decorations glowed along the Headrow. Four o’clock and it was already full dark. She felt as if she’d barely seen daylight today. In the Magistrates’ Court since nine, waiting, then just five minutes of evidence before she was off the stand. At least she could duck off home early for once.

She glanced out of the passenger window. The big tree in front of the Town Hall was lit up, trying to give some spirit to the city. Kate was about to turn away when something caught her eye. A man looking around cautiously before ducking close to the tree and putting down a pack.

A horn beeped and her eyes slid to the rearview mirror. The lights had changed and traffic was moving. Kate put on her indicator, crept round the corner to Calverley Street, then on to the cobbled forecourt. She could still see the man at the bottom of the steps, gazing up to the top of the tree. Kate turned off the engine and suddenly Joni was silent. She took the radio from her briefcase.

‘This is DI Thornton.’

‘Go ahead, ma’am.’

‘Got something at the Town Hall. A man’s just left something under the big tree outside.’

For a few seconds there was nothing from the other end. She could feel her heart beating fast.

‘Sent out the alert, ma’am.’ The voice was tense now. ‘The super wants to know if you’re you sure you saw it?’

Typical Silver Command question. Don’t believe the bloody officer on the scene.

‘I’m certain. I can make it out. I’m parked close. I can still see the man.’

‘Description, ma’am?’

She stared.

‘White, maybe five feet nine. Wearing a parka. It might be green, hard to tell. Looks a little stocky. Dark bobble cap. Wait, he’s starting to walk away.’

‘We’re going to talk to the CCTV centre. Silver Command says they can track him. He wants you to move away from the area.’

Nobody was saying what could be in that package. These days it was safer to assume the worst.

‘There are people all around. What about them?’

‘Units are on the way. They should be there very soon.’

She could make out the distant wail of the sirens. Five or six of them, maybe more.  Another thirty seconds and they’d probably be here; certainly no more than a minute.

‘I’m going to follow him,’ Kate said. She clicked off the radio, dropped it on the seat and locked the car behind her. Cameras were fine, but nothing beat someone on the ground. Someone there and ready to act. Her heels clicked briskly as she walked. In her pocket the phone was buzzing; she switched it to silent.

He was crossing the road and starting to disappear into the throng on East Parade. Kate hurried, ducking through the traffic and ignoring the blaring horns. Too many people around for him to spot her. He hadn’t even looked back, he wasn’t hurrying.

She kept ten yards away, close enough to keep him in easy sight and rush him if it was needed. A glance over her shoulder. Flashing lights all around the Town Hall, traffic stopped on the Headrow. Good, everything was in hand there.

He left the pavement, going over then along South Parade. For a moment she’d been able to see his face as he turned his head. About fifty, jowly, stubble on his cheeks. Along Park Row, past Becketts Bank, the smokers gathered outside the bar, then on to Bond Street.

Shit.

Kate took out her phone. Five missed calls. She swiped the screen as she walked and pressed the number that had been trying to reach her.

‘What the hell-’

‘Another hundred yards and he’ll be on Commercial Street, sir. How many people do we have close?’

‘Two on Briggate heading your way and another coming up Albion Street. Why-’

Too far away, Kate decided. He needed to be stopped now.

‘I’m moving in on him, sir.’ She ended the call and put the phone back in her pocket.

Deep breath time. Kate could hear the busker on the corner ahead, the old man with the good voice doing his Johnny Cash songs. She walked faster, trying not to run; she didn’t want to panic him. Her heart was pounding so hard she thought it would break her ribs. Kate checked: the handcuffs were in her pocket. Five yards away now. Three. Two.

He went down easily. Before he could even react she had his wrists cuffed behind his back.

‘Police’ she shouted as people stopped to watch. ‘Move away.’

Then she heard the thud of feet as three uniforms came running.

bond-street

No weapon. There was nothing at all, besides his wallet, a couple of pounds in change, and a bloody nose where his face had hit the pavement. He was sitting on the ground, dazed, wrists cuffed behind him.

Kate had laddered her tights, she saw as she squatted to talk to the man. Brand new pair that morning, too.

‘Right, Kenneth.’ She had his wallet open, looking at the driving licence. Kenneth Mitchell. Fifty one. A Belle Isle address. ‘What did you leave under the tree outside the Town Hall?’

‘Eh?’ He squinted at her.

‘You put a package there. I saw you. That’s why we stopped you.’

His face cleared and he smiled.

‘A present,’ he said. ‘For the kiddies.’

‘What?’ She stood again, hands on hips and looked down at him.

‘Me neighbour, like. We were talking and he said wouldn’t it be a good idea if people left presents for the kiddies under that tree? So I bought summat, wrapped it, and came into town. I didn’t mean any harm.’

Christ. She walked few yards away and took out her phone.

‘Detective Inspector…’ Silver Command was purring note, delicious triumph in his voice.

‘He claims he was leaving a present for children, sir.’ Maybe the ground would open up and swallow her so she wouldn’t have to continue this conversation. Kate tapped her foot. Typical luck. No bloody sinkhole.

‘He’s telling the truth. It’s a Fisher Price something or other. You can apologise and let him go. You might take the time to thank him, too, Detective Inspector.’

‘Yes sir.’ Kate swallowed. ‘He had a nosebleed. I’ll have one of the uniforms get a paramedic.’

‘Make sure you do.’ A pause. ‘But good work, eh? These days…’

He didn’t need to finish the sentence. You couldn’t afford to look for the good in people now, only the bad.

‘Thank you, sir.’ Kate ended the call. At least he’d let her off lightly. But it would be all over the station tomorrow.

She turned to look at Mitchell. The cuffs were off now and one of the uniforms was helping him to his feet.

‘I’m sorry, sir. I hope you understand, though, with the ways things are.’ She smiled at him. ‘It was a lovely thought.’

He nodded and she started to walk away.

‘Merry Christmas,’ Mitchell said.

Kate smiled again. ‘Merry Christmas, sir.’

 

I’ll finish with one of those seasonal reminders that books make wonderful gifts any time of the year, and both The Iron Water and Modern Crimes are still warm-ish off the presses. On Copper Street, the firth Tom Harper novel, comes out in February, and you can pre-order it here.

Lottie at the Market Tavern

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?’

‘What?’

‘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?’

‘WPC Armstrong.’

Nancy sighed. ‘Your real name. Like he’s Henry and I’m Nancy.’

‘Lottie.’

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.

Lottie cover

Modern Crimes – A Taster

Out on September 7. Remember, since a study shows that reading can lengthen your life, reading this book might help you live longer. It’s a thought.

And maybe you’ll love Lottie. I do.

Oh, last thing. The publisher has decided to make the ebook version nice and cheap. I prefer a hard copy, but grab it while you can. Lottie’s depending on you, So is your life.

Here’s the book trailer and the start of the novel, just to whet your appetite.

Leeds, 1924

As she walked into Millgarth Police Station, Charlotte Armstrong nodded to the desk sergeant then strode back along the corridor to the matron’s office. The day shift of bobbies had already gone on patrol and the building was quiet. She rested her hand on the doorknob, took a deep breath and straightened her back.

‘Good morning, ma’am. WPC Armstrong reporting.’

Mrs Maitland looked up, giving her a quick inspection. She was a pinch-faced woman in her late forties, dark hair going grey and pulled back into a tight bun. She’d never mentioned Mr Maitland, but in two years the woman had never revealed anything personal; the job seemed to be her life. She was here first thing in the morning and long into the evening, as if she had no better place to be.

‘There’s a hair on your jacket, Armstrong.’

Lottie looked down. One hair, dark blonde, hers. She plucked it away, annoyed at herself and at the matron.

‘Sorry, ma’am.’ She stayed at attention.

Maitland returned to the letters on her desk. This was her way. Keeping someone waiting was the way to enforce discipline.

The door opened and Cathy Taylor marched in. She was late and she knew it. Lottie could see it in her eyes. But she just winked, stood to attention and said, ‘WPC Taylor reporting, ma’am.’

‘You were supposed to be here at eight, Taylor,’ Mrs Maitland said.

‘Sorry, ma’am, my watch must be running slow.’

The matron sniffed. There were only two women constables in Leeds and she had to keep them in order.

‘Well, since you’re finally here, I have a job for the pair of you.’ She scribbled an address on a piece of paper. ‘Go and see her. She runs a home for unmarried mothers. One of her girls has been acting strangely and causing a fuss.’ She stared at the pair of them. ‘What are you waiting for? Off you go.’

 

‘It’s in Woodhouse, we might as well walk,’ Cathy said as they set out up the Headrow. She folded the note and put it in her uniform pocket. Early September but it was already feeling like autumn, enough of a nip in the morning air for their breath to steam. ‘Bet you the girl’s just gone off to find some fun. It’s always old cows who run those places.’

‘At least it makes a change from talking to prossies or chasing lads playing truant.’ Lottie sighed. She loved the job, but she wished the force would let them do more, rather than treat them like delicate flowers with tender sensibilities.

Still, it was better than working in a mill or being a housewife. Like so many others, she’d developed a taste for freedom when she worked. Earning her own money, that was important. Stuff the vote. The government had only given it to women over thirty; she still had five years to go.

Lottie had been a clerk at the Barnbow munitions factory in Cross Gates during the war. 1916, she was just seventeen, fresh in the job with everything to learn, newly promoted from the factory. But she’d managed, even finding time to flirt with the procurement officers who came to check things.

Geoff had been one of them. Shy, diffident, still limping badly from a wound he’d suffered the year before at Gallipoli. He had a modest charm about him, like he had nothing to prove. In his uniform he looked quite dashing.

Lottie was the one who made the running. Someone had to and he wasn’t the type to put himself forward. On his third visit to the factory she’d suggested an outing to the pictures, watching him blush as she spoke. From there it had taken two years until they reached the altar. By then the fighting was over and he’d returned to his job in the Dunlop area office.

She tried to become a housewife, but life chafed around her. Other women were having babies but Geoff’s injuries meant she never would. Lottie needed something, but there was nothing that appealed, until the Leeds Police advertised for policewomen. They particularly wanted married women. And suddenly life excited her again.

 

‘You’ll be getting yourself shot if you keep coming in late,’ Lottie warned.

Cathy pouted. ‘It was only a couple of minutes. Anyway, Mrs Prissy wouldn’t know what to do if she didn’t have something to complain about.’ She stifled a yawn with the back of her hand.

‘Late night?’

‘I went to the pictures with my friends, then they wanted to go on dancing so I couldn’t say no.’

Cathy was twenty-four, a year younger than Lottie, with a husband who was gone most of the year in the merchant marine. No children. Hardly a wonder she liked to be out a few nights a week, dancing and flirting and enjoying herself. Married but single, she called it with a small laugh.

Lottie had gone with her a couple of times after work, changing into civvies at the station then on to a see a film at the Majestic. It had been fun, but not something she’d want to do often. Cathy had wanted to carry on, to have a cocktail. God only knew where she found the energy. By the end of a shift all Lottie wanted was to be at home and off her feet. When the working week was over, she was exhausted. She was lucky to stay up until ten, never mind the wee hours.

But Cathy wanted to embrace life. She was pretty enough for a portrait, always getting looks from men. She wore her hair in a modern bob, and had a pair of shapely legs and that bony, modern figure that always made Lottie feel huge in comparison.

‘What are you going to do when your Jimmy comes home?’ Lottie had asked her. ‘You can’t go gadding about then.’

‘We’ll enjoy our time together. After a month he’ll ship out again. Don’t get me wrong: I love him and I’d never, you know… but I can’t sit at home every evening, can I? He wouldn’t want me to, anyway.’

They matched each other step for step along Woodhouse Lane and out past the university, going towards the Moor, with its library and police sub-station on the corner.

‘Down here,’ Cathy said, turning briskly along Raglan Road, followed by the first right and second left. She scratched at her calf through the skirt. ‘God, I wish they’d do something about this uniform. It’s not bad enough that it itches, it’s so heavy, too. Like wearing a battleship. This is it. Thirty-six.’

On a street of imposing terraced houses, this one loomed on the corner, detached, standing apart at the back of a long, neat garden and looking out over the Meanwood valley, with all the factories and chimneys spewing smoke into the air. Hardly an inspiring view, Lottie thought.

She knocked and waited. Some lovely stained glass in the window; she wouldn’t mind that at home. She was miles away when the knob turned and a small woman in an apron stared up at her.

‘I was wondering how long it would take the police to get here.’ There was no welcome in the voice. The woman raised an eyebrow and stood aside. ‘Well, are you coming in or do we do it all on the street?’

Lottie led the way, following an open door into a neat parlour. A Sunday room, still smelling of wax, the wood on the furniture gleaming.

‘Go on, sit yourselves down.’ The woman bustled around, flicking off some non-existent dust.

‘You run a home for unwed mothers here, Mrs…’ Lottie said.

‘Allen,’ she answered briskly. ‘Yes, I do. It’s a Christian thing to do, and I try to put on them on the right path.’ She sat very primly, back straight, her stare direct.

‘One of your girls has been causing problems, is that right?’ She took her notebook and pencil from her pocket.

‘She has. Then she went out and didn’t come back last night. No word this morning, either.’

That was bad; a missing girl. Lottie’s eyes flickered towards Cathy, and she felt a prickle of fear.

‘Could you tell us a little bit about her, Mrs Allen? Her name, what she looks like, where she’s from.’ Lottie smiled. She kept her voice calm and even. There was usually a simple explanation.

‘She’s called Jocelyn Hill. Seventeen, but she could easily pass for younger. You know the type, looks like butter wouldn’t melt, but she’s a sly little thing. Always out for a chance. A bit extra food, this and that.’ She shook her head in disgust. ‘Half of me wishes I’d never taken her in.’

‘What does she look like?’ Cathy asked. She liked facts, something solid.

‘Only about five feet tall, I suppose. Dark hair in one of those bobs they all seem to wear. Like yours,’ she added. ‘Thin as you like, no figure on her at all. Apart from the baby, of course.’

‘How far along is she?’ Lottie wondered.

‘Eight months,’ Mrs Allen replied, ‘so it’s not like she can hide it.’

‘Has she gone missing before?’

‘Of course not.’ She snorted. ‘They all know the rules when they arrive. No going out, only family to visit, in bed by ten. Break a rule once and they’re gone. I won’t stand for it otherwise. I give them a warm, clean place to have their children and I help find good homes for the little ones. I’m not about to let them take advantage of me.’

‘Have you had others disappear, Mrs Allen?’ Cathy asked quietly.

‘Only the one,’ the woman said after a while. ‘Three years ago. But she was a wild one, wouldn’t ever settle down here. Jocelyn liked to push things, but she was nothing like that.’

‘Where did she come from?’ Lottie had her pencil poised, ready to take down the address. Mrs Allen took a ledger from one of the empty bookshelves, found a pair of glasses in her pocket and began to search.

‘Here we are.’ She read out an address in Cross Green. Lottie glanced towards Cathy and saw a tiny shake of the head.

‘Thank you,’ she said, standing. ‘Is it possible to take a look in her room? Perhaps we could talk to some of the other girls who knew her?’

‘Nothing to see in the room,’ the woman told them. ‘I’ve already packed her case. If she shows up at the door she’s out on her ear. And she never really got along with the others. Kept herself to herself.’

‘Maybe a look in her case, then…’ Lottie suggested.

‘Two dresses and some underwear that’s as flimsy as nothing. Not hard to see how she ended up this way, is it?’

 

The door closed quickly behind them. As they walked back along the street Cathy looked over her shoulder.

‘She’s watching us from the front window.’ She shivered a little. ‘Blimey, I think I’d run off from that place, too. She’s…’

‘Strange?’ Lottie suggested.

‘Worse than that. Did you smell it in the hall?’

‘You mean the mothballs?’ She crinkled her nose. ‘She must have them everywhere.’

‘I could feel the joy being sucked out of me as soon as I walked through the door.’

They didn’t even need to talk about where they were going next. Over to Cross Green to see if Jocelyn Hill had gone home. A tram back into the city centre, then a walk through the market and up the hill towards St Hilda’s and Cross Green.

Wherever they went, people stopped to look at them. Policewomen were still a novelty in Leeds. By now Lottie was used to it. If she had sixpence for every time someone had asked if she was a real rozzer, she’d be a rich woman. She was every bit as real as the beat bobbies out there. Probably better at her job than half of them, too.

Even Lottie’s mother had been doubtful about her taking the job. It wasn’t becoming, she said. Not like marrying a grocer three months after being widowed and upping sticks to Northallerton. That was perfectly acceptable.

 

There was nothing inspiring about Cross Green. Not even much that was green. Street after street of tired people and back-to-back houses. Small groups of men hung around on the street corners and outside the pubs. Far more than there should have been, Lottie thought. But what were they supposed to do when there weren’t any jobs?

The men who fought had been promised a home fit for heroes. Fine words, but if they’d built any homes it hadn’t been in Leeds. There had been jobs when the women were sacked, but not much of that work had lasted. According to the newspapers it was the same all over the country.

There was nothing she could do about that. Lottie was just glad Geoff’s position was secure. And that she had work of her own.

‘You’re miles away,’ Cathy said.

‘Sorry.’

They passed another group of men and she was aware of them watching her backside as she walked. Someone said something in a low voice and there was a flurry of laughter.

‘Ten to one that was a mucky remark.’

‘More like two to one.’ Cathy smiled. ‘Look on the bright side. At least they noticed.’

Lottie wasn’t too certain. Just because that was part of life she didn’t have to like it.

‘Charlton Street,’ she said. ‘Down here.’

It was close to the railway embankment. Number nine stood towards the far end, exactly like its neighbours on either side. She assessed it quickly: dirty windows, mud on the doorstep. No pride in the place.

‘Ready?’ she asked.

‘As I’ll ever be,’ Cathy said.

The woman who opened the door stared at them with folded arms and a glare on her face.

‘He can’t have done too much wrong if they’re sending the lasses out,’ she said with a sneer. ‘What is it this time?’

‘Jocelyn,’ Lottie said. ‘Is she here?’

‘Here?’ The woman’s expression moved from surprise to panic. ‘Why would she be here? Oh God, something’s happened, hasn’t it?’

‘Why don’t we talk inside?’ It was a gentle question, and Mrs Hill gave a short nod, leading them back to the scullery. A scarred wooden table, battered chairs. Stone sink and a blackleaded range. How many of these had she seen in the job?

‘Right.’ The woman had gathered herself. ‘You’d better tell me what’s going on. What’s happened to our Jocelyn?’

‘She left the home last night and hasn’t come back.’

‘Stupid little bitch.’ She spat out the words like venom. ‘I told her it were for her own good.’

‘Why don’t you tell me about it?’ Lottie suggested. ‘Then we can find her.’ She gave Cathy a look: make some tea. As she started to bustle around, Mrs Hill was looking down and biting her lip.

‘Why did you send Jocelyn over there?’ Lottie asked softly but the answer was obvious. Woodhouse was far enough away that no-one would recognise her.

‘She got herself in the family way. Why the bloody hell do you think?’ The woman sneered. ‘It weren’t for the fun of it. Didn’t want everyone round here talking about us like that.’

‘Have you talked to her since she went there?’ It had been a while; there must have been some contact.

‘Oh aye, I pick up the telephone every day and we have a natter.’ She snorted. ‘Course I haven’t. Don’t have time to write letters. She wouldn’t answer if I did, anyway.’

Lottie tightened her lips.  ‘Mrs Hill, do you have any idea why she might have run off, or where she might have gone?’

‘Not really. But once our Jos gets an idea in her head there’s no shifting it.’ She shrugged. ‘Been that way since she was little.’

‘Do you have any idea at allwhere she might have gone?’

‘Not really.’ She reached into the pocket of her apron, took out a packet of cigarettes and lit one, just as Cathy put three mugs of tea on the table. The woman heaped in two spoonfuls of sugar and took a long drink. ‘I’ll tell you what, I’ll swing for her if she’s done owt daft.’

‘What about the baby’s father? Could she have gone to him?’

‘Possibly,’ Mrs Hill admitted. ‘She’d never say who it were, though, not even when her dad took a belt to her.’

‘No idea who it could be?’

‘One or two.’

And they could easily deny it, Lottie thought. Not much help at all.

‘What about her friends? Who are they?’

‘You’d do best talking to Elizabeth Townend and Eileen Donnelly, then. Thick as thieves, the three of them.’ She gave a dark glance. ‘I’ll warn you, though, they wouldn’t tell me owt.’

‘Where do I find them, Mrs Hill?’

Lottie cover

One More Richard Nottingham Story

This is the last of the Richard Nottingham stories I have sitting on the hard drive. Called December, I probably wrote it as a Christmas story for Leeds Book Club in 2012, and it’s just been sitting there quietly ever since. So it’s time it saw daylight again.

Will there be more? I’ve a feeling there will. I’m just not sure when.

The frost lay heavy on the grass and the branches as he walked towards Timble Bridge, his breath blooming wide in the air. The dirt was hard under his boots and the air bitter against his face. Richard Nottingham pulled the greatcoat more tightly around his body and walked up Kirkgate.

It was still dark, dawn no more than a line of pale sky on the eastern horizon. In some houses the servants were already up and labouring, plumes of smoke rising from a few chimneys. At the jail he checked the cells, seeing a drunk who’d been pulled from the street and a pair brought in by the night men for fighting at an alehouse. Another quiet night.

He pushed the poker into the banked fire and added more of the good Middleton coal kept in an old scuttle nearby. As warmth filled the room he removed the coat and settled to work. So far the winter had been gentle, he thought, but it was still only December. Come January and February, once the bitter weather arrived, the poor would freeze and die.

It was the same every year, he thought sadly. He’d been Constable of the City of Leeds long enough to know that all too well. When the cold bit it was always those without money who paid the price.

Down on Briggate the weavers would be setting up their trestles for the cloth market. They’d be laying out the lengths ready for the merchants, then eating their Brigg End Shot breakfast of hot beef and beer in the taverns, close enough to the door to keep a wary eye on their goods. He’d go down there before the bell rang to show the start of trading, walking around to watch for cutpurses and pickpockets, hearing the business of Leeds carried out in low whispers, thousands of pounds changing hands quietly in an hour.

He fed a little more coal onto the fire and straightened as the door swung open, bringing in a blast of chill air.

“Morning, boss,” said John Sedgwick, edging closer and holding his hands out as if he was trying to scoop up the heat. He’d been the deputy constable for little more a year, still eager and hardworking, a lanky, pale lad with pock marks fading on his cheeks.

“Looks like you had an easy time of it last night,” the Constable said.

“Aye, not too bad,” he agreed, pouring himself a mug of ale. “You know what it’s like. As soon as the nights turn chilly they stay by their hearths at night.”

“You wait. It’s Saturday, they’ll all be out drinking come evening,” Nottingham warned him. “You’ll have your hands full then.” He shook his head. “Get yourself home, John. Have some sleep.”

The deputy downed the ale and wiped the back of his hand across his mouth. “I’ll be glad to see my bed, right enough. I might even warm up for a few hours.”

Alone, Nottingham wrote his daily report for the mayor, nothing more than a few lines. He delivered it to the Moot Hall, the imposing building that stood hard in the middle of Briggate. The city was run from there, from rooms with polished furnishings and deep Turkey carpets that hushed the dealings and the sound of coins being counted. He gave the paper to a sleepy clerk and made his way down the street just as the Parish Church bell rang the half hour to signal the start of the cloth trading.

The merchants were out in their expensive clothes, the thick coats of good cloth, hose shining white as a sinless day and shoes with glittering silver buckles. They were moving around the stalls, making their bargains and settling them with a swift handshake before moving on to the next purchase. He saw Alderman Thompson softly berating a clothier, his face red, trying to beat the man down in price in his usual bullying manner.

The alderman glanced around, noticed him and glared. There was bad blood between them and Thompson was loath to forget it, a man who kept grudges in his mind like a ledger. But the man had been a fool, trying to cheat a whore of the few pennies that would have been food and shelter for her. The girl had complained and the Constable had confronted the man in front of his friends, shaming him, forcing the money from his pocket and passing it on to the lass.

He knew what he’d risked, the enmity of a man who was powerful on the Corporation. But the girl had earned her payment and deserved it; the man could afford it easily enough.

The Constable walked up and down the road, alert for quick movements, but there was nothing. He settled by the bridge, leaning on the parapet and looking at the rushing black water of the Aire. How many bodies had they pulled out of the river this year? Twenty, perhaps? Enough to lose count, certainly. Those who couldn’t cope any more with life and had found refuge in the current, the ones who’d drunk too much and fallen in, unable to get out again. There was always death, always hopelessness.

He shook his head and started to make his way back to the jail. Atkinson was striding out, thirty yards ahead of him. A girl running headlong down the street crashed into the man, and he batted her away idly with his arm, sending her tumbling before uttering a loud curse moving on.

The girl picked herself up and began to walk. As she passed, Nottingham took her by the arm.

“You shouldn’t have done that,” he told her, his grip tight.

“Done what?” she asked, the fright in her eyes as she raised her eyes to him and tried to pull away. She was young, no more than thirteen, thin as March sunlight, cheeks sunken from hunger, wearing nothing more than an old, faded dress and shoes where the upper was coming away from the soles. Her flesh was cold under his touch, puckered in goose pimples.

“You know exactly what you did. You cut his purse.”

“I didn’t,” she protested and began to struggle.

“Do you know who I am?” he asked gently. She shook her head, her mouth a tight, scared line. “I’m the Constable of Leeds. I think you’d better come along with me.” She tried to wriggle away, but his hand was firm on her. After a few moments she gave up, hanging her head and shuffling beside him.

The jail was warm, the fire burning bright and loud. He sat her down then held out his hand for the purse. Reluctantly, she brought it from the pocket in her dress and gave it to him.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Elizabeth, sir.” Now, with the cells so close she could see them, she was shivering in spite of the heat. “What’s going to happen to me?”

“Nothing just yet,” he assured her. “But I can’t make you any promises, Elizabeth. Where do you live?”

“Nowhere, sir.” He looked at him. “Me and my man and my sisters, we sleep where we can.” It was a familiar tale, one he’d heard so many times before, one he’d lived himself when he was young.

“How many of you?”

“Five, sir.”

He nodded at the purse. “How long have you been doing that? And give me an honest answer,” he warned.

“Two month, sir. But I’ve only managed to take three,” the girl pleaded.

He sat back, pushing the fringe off his forehead then rubbing his chin. “When did you last eat?”

“Thursday.”

“How old are your sisters?”

“Nine, seven and six, sir.”

“What happened to your father?”

“He died, sir. A horse kicked him in the head during the summer.” He could see the beginning of tears in her eyes.

“What was his name?” Nottingham wondered.

“William Marsden, sir. He worked at the stables.”

He remembered the name and the incident. The man had been a farrier, experienced and good at his trade. He’d been about to put fresh shoes on a horse when it reared, the sharp hoof catching him on the temple. He’d died instantly. “Doesn’t your mam work?”

“She has a bad leg, sir, she can’t walk proper.”

“And what about you? You’re old enough.”

“I’ve tried to find work, sir, but no one has anything.” The girl raised her chin defiantly. “I have, sir, honest.”

He stared at her face. All the guile vanished now, leaving a terrified girl who knew she could be sentenced to hang for what she’d done. He hesitated for a long moment, then said, “When you leave here, go next door to the White Swan. Talk to Michael and tell him the Constable sent you. He needs a girl to help there. It won’t pay much, but it’s better than nothing.”

Her eyes widened in astonishment and happiness as she began to understand he was letting her go. “Thank you, sir. Thank you. Do you really mean it, sir?”

He nodded, weighing the purse in his hand. It was heavy enough. With a small movement he tossed it to her. As she caught it, her mouth widened into a silent O.

“Rent a room for all of you and buy some food. Now go.”

He stood at the window, watching her in the street, looking back in disbelief before she vanished into the inn. Off to the west the clouds were heavy and pale as pearls. If they came in there’d be snow later.

 

I hope you won’t mind me going on about it, but another favourite character of mine, Annabelle Harper, takes to the stage in June. Seats are limited, and if you’re near Leeds I hope you’ll book a ticket here.

Another Story

You’ve enjoyed the Richard Nottingham (and Amos Worthy) stories I’ve posted. Here’s another one, called Home. It’s appeared in a couple of anthologies, but many of you won’t have seen it. Richard’s mentioned, but he’s not part of the tale. Well, read it and see for yourselves…and if you spot one or two similarities with Cold Cruel Winter, perhaps it’s no surprise. This came first.

Revenge.

He savoured the word on his tongue, letting it run like an infection through his veins, thinking it remarkable what a fire burning in a man could do. It could keep him alive all these long years away and then bring him back home.

‘Nicholas Andrews, I sentence you to seven years’ transportation,’ the judge had intoned, allowing himself a merciful smile at keeping another felon from the gallows dance, and all for the crime of cutting a few purses. He could still hear the words with their smug inflection and feel his hands gripping the polished wood of the dock.

He’d expect things to be bad, but the truth proved far more cruel than anything he could have imagined. Puking his empty guts out in the hold of the ship, fettered hard and helpless as the guards and sailors taunted him. Then, in Jamaica, a heat so harsh and hellish he thought it might burn the skin from his back, so intense the thought the devil was pricking his lungs. They’d set him to work cutting the sugar cane, day after day out in the steaming, stinking fields, wounds from the machete festering on his hands and arms, healing slowly and painfully as he prayed with quiet fury for his preservation. For the chance of revenge.

He survived two bouts of fever, raving off his head and swearing murder, so they told him later as he lay in bed, thin as a pauper’s dog and so weak he couldn’t even raise his hand to take they drink they offered.

It was education that saved him, those brief years he’d hated of sums beaten into his skull and making his letters. After the clerk died, the plantation owner needed someone who could read and write and Nick had pushed himself forward, grovelling and despising himself for his arse-licking words, but knowing it was better – that anything was better – then serving the rest of his sentence in the cane.

The job became his life, and he was good at it, quickly trusted for his accurate accounting and good hand. The master never suspected the occasional coins he filched and buried in the dirt beneath a tree.

Every single morning he formed his lips to spit the name of the man he hated – Richard Nottingham, Constable of Leeds, the man who’d caught him, put him in gaol and landed him here. Once he was home again he’d have Nottingham’s blood for that. Seven deep cuts from the knife, one for each year he’d been gone, the last gentle and loving across the throat so he could watch the man’s life bubble away in hopeless breaths. And tell him just why before he died.

When his freedom finally came, the days ticking slow like a clock running down, the ticket of leave in the pocket of his threadbare coat, the owner asked him to stay. Nick looked at him as if the words made no sense. All he knew now was home and the flame burning strong and hot in his heart.

 

The ship landed in Liverpool in January 1732. The money he’d stolen at the plantation had paid for his passage and his food, hard tack riddled with weevils and small beer turned sour before the gale-ridden crossing was halfway complete.

He arrived penniless to an England that seemed like a foreign land, in the grip of a bitter, bruising winter which had no mercy. But Nick didn’t worry about the weather. One thing drove him on, a coal in his gut to keep him warm. It was no work at all for him to cut the purses of a pair of drunken sailors, the skills of his old life still sharp. He ignored the port whores, all pox-ridden, rowdy and consumptive, and bought a hot meal and a bed for the night instead. In the mirror he caught a glimpse of himself, his shoulders stooped, face dark from the sun and lined, hair matted and hanging to his shoulders, thin and grey though he wasn’t yet thirty. He pulled the worn blanket over his body. There were fleas in the sheets, but at least the bed didn’t rock and shiver in the waves. The next morning, without a second thought, he turned his back on the coast and began walking east.

By the time he reached Winnat’s Pass the pain from the cold weather had seared to his bones and his old boots were ribbons of leather, feet flayed and bloody from the stones and ice on the roadway. But he was lucky, finding a stranger for company whose corpse at least provided new shoes, even if it added nothing to his small supply of coins; when the snow melted in the spring they’d find the body and never know what happened.

From Sheffield he made his way north, face set tight against the snow and the chill, the ragged coat held tight around his body as the gusts tore at his cheeks more brutally than any overseer’s whip.

He passed Wakefield in the early dusk. His money was running precious thin and he was looking at a hungry, freezing night burrowed in a copse when he saw the farmer, a florid man with ugly, fat thighs jiggling in his breeches as he walked briskly home through the fields.

It took little to slice him, pull the body into the trees and take the rich, warm coat. There were coins in the waistcoat, enough to see him to Leeds.

Back to his home.

Back to Richard Nottingham.

Back to kill.

 

He crossed Leeds Bridge in the late morning, blending with the market crowds, and heard the traders shilling their wares up on Briggate. The snow piled against the houses and walls, the slush icy and treacherous in the streets. He could smell the tannery on Swine Gate and the rich earthiness and piss of the dye works down by the river. For a small moment he stopped to stare up at the bulk of the new, graceful Holy Trinity Church. Soon he was at the top of Kirkgate, watching silently as people lurched and slid around him.

He’d been standing there for nigh on two hours, his feet feeling as though he was still shackled and his hands numb from the wind’s frigid tongue, when the Constable emerged. Slowly he followed, unnoticed and invisible in the throng, beyond the Moot Hall with its bloody, metallic tang of butchers on the ground floor, up to the Head Row. He watched through the window as Nottingham entered Garroway’s Coffee house, hailed some men and sat with them. Steam blurred his view through the glass and he walked on.

He’d seen what he needed, and closed his eyes as a smile creased his lips. The man was still alive, still here.

He could do it tonight, he could watch in the darkness as the blood stained the snow, then he could breathe out and live again.

His fingers twitched.

No, not tonight.

He wanted the act to last, for each moment to fill him so the memories could tumble over him in all the evenings to come.

Slowly, almost carelessly, he strolled back down Briggate. He passed the Rose and Crown, once his haunt, and walked on to the Talbot.

Inside the door the noise overwhelmed him like a wave and he stood still, eyes flickering with suspicion across a press of faces. Fire leapt in the large hearth, the heat inviting and irresistible. He pushed his way onto the corner of a bench near the blaze. As one of the serving girls swept by he ordered ale and stew, the cracked, awkward sound of his own voice surprising him.

Tomorrow he’d do it. The debt would be paid, he could leave Leeds and truly feel like a free man.

The warmth of the food and the sharp crackle of the logs left him weary. He needed a bed, he needed sleep; in this city that would pose no problem. First, though, he needed a woman.

The last time had been two years before. As a present to celebrate Christmas the master had presented him with a slave for one night. She lay, brown eyes wide and empty, silent as he forced himself on her. When he woke the next morning he was alone, and only the heady smell of her in the thick dawn air assured him that it hadn’t been a dream.

Outside the inn, the sky had stilled with early darkness. His breath clouded the air and his soles crunched over ice as a few flakes of snow fluttered half-heartedly.

She stood half on Briggate, at the corner of a yard whose name he didn’t recall. Her face was in shadow, a pathetic, patched shawl drawn across her shoulders, moonlight picking out the pale skin of her bony arms. He moved closer, astonished to find his heart pumping fast.

‘Looking to warm yoursen up a bit, are you?’ She tried to sound cheery but her voice quavered with the chill.

He nodded.

‘Down here then love.’

He followed her into the tight entrance to the yard, still in sight of the street. As she turned towards him, a sense of relief in her smile, her hands already hoisting her skirts, he rested his blade lightly against her throat so that a paint line of red drops bloomed on her skin.

He didn’t need words; she understood. He pushed her back against the wall, tore at her clothes and entered her. Her eyes opened wider, the blank, hopeless stare an echo of the girl in Jamaica. It was only seconds later that his backhanded blow sent her to the floor, still mute, and he dashed back into Briggate, tying his breeches.

 

It was God’s joke, he decided, that he’d end up in a rooming house in the same yard where he’d been a boy, before his parents had died of the vomiting sickness and he’d made his way on the streets. He glanced at the old door as he passed, but any memories were held like secrets behind the wood. It was just for one night then he’d be finished here, on his way to York or London, to anywhere a man could disappear and start life anew. There was only one tie here and he’d loosen it soon enough.

The dank room already held two men with ale heavy on their breath, their sleeping farts sweetening the air. He lay on the straw pallet fully clothed, the wretched rag of a blanket over him, and drifted away.

 

Something cold and metallic was pushing against his mouth. Confused, still sleep-drunk, he struggled to open his eyes, pawing at his face with one hand.

‘Sit up.’

The words came as a command, colder than the bitter air in the room. Without even thinking, he obeyed. Thin, early light came through a window covered by years of grime.

The man towered over him, seeming to fill the space, his presence full of menace. He was tall, with unkempt grey hair, his face lined, but his back was straight and his chest wide under dirty clothes. One large fist held a silver-topped walking stick lightly.

He knew who this was; it was impossible to have ever lived on the edge of the law in Leeds and not know. Amos Worthy.

‘I hear you were with one of my girls last night.’ The man’s eyes were dark, his voice slow, as deep and resonant as any preacher. ‘You didn’t pay her. I can’t allow that.’ He paused, letting the words hang ominously in the air. ‘But then you had to cut her as well, didn’t you? So now I have to make an example of you.’

Nick started to reach for the knife in his pocket. The man simply shook his head once and gestured over his shoulder. A pair of thickset youths, their faces hard and scarred, arms folded, stood inside the door. The two other beds were empty.

‘I know who you are,’ the man said, speaking softly and conversationally. ‘Oh aye, you’ve got the Indies burned on your face, Nick Andrews. Seven years is a long time away from home. But happen it’s not long enough.’

All he could do was nod. Whatever words he’d once possessed had deserted him. Worthy was offhand, easy in his certainty and Nick felt the piss burn hot down his leg as his bladder emptied. He was going to die here, in this room, in this bed, before he could finish his work. And all for a few short seconds with a whore.

‘All that time doesn’t seem to have made you any wiser, laddie. Just back, are you?’

Nick nodded again.

‘It’ll be a short homecoming, then.’ He raised his thick eyebrows. ‘You crossed me. You can’t do that here.’

He brought his stick down hard. Nick saw it fall, quick, effortless, but it burst his nose, the shock of pain hard and sudden, blood gushing chokingly into his mouth.

‘You can kill him now, boys. You know what to do with the body.’

 

 

Sanctuary

Plenty of you seemed to enjoy the Richard Nottingham story I posted last week. So I dug deep and discovered this…maybe you’ll like it as much.

Leeds, 1731

Outside, the wind was howling up a gale, bruising and battering. It whipped against the window, rattling it in the loose frame, and hammered sharply against the door. Night had fallen and any folk with sense were indoors, gathered close by their hearths. Winter was announcing its arrival.

Richard Nottingham, Constable of Leeds, stirred up the embers of the fire at the jail, watching the coals glow rich and red as the sparks leaped up the chimney. He rubbed his hands together, trying to pull some warmth into his flesh. He’d been out all day hunting a killer.

Ten people in the Packhorse had seen the murder happen the night before. Simon Walsh, deep in his cups, had started an argument. Those who knew him always kept their distance once he started drinking. He was a big man, violent when the mood and the ale took him. From all the Constable had learned, Walsh had begun shouting at a small man, a stranger, just words to begin, turning quickly to pushing and goading, until the man drew a knife to defend himself. Then Simon had pulled his own weapon, cutting and slashing, the rage gathering him up, until the stranger was dead.

Only then, as the blood lust faded from his mind, had he seen what he’d done. He’d run from the inn, no one brave enough to challenge him. And now it was the job of Nottingham and his men to find him.

The Constable had been called from his bed in the middle of the night and had worked ever since. He was chilled to his marrow, ready to go home to his wife and daughters and leave Simon to freeze to death out there. But he knew he couldn’t do that. They’d keep going until they found him and he was in a cell.

Nottingham poured some ale into a mug and drank it slowly while the warmth of the fire began to soak through him. Another ten minutes and he’d go back out.

He’d just started to pull the greatcoat around himself when the door opened and John Sedgwick, the deputy, appeared, breathless, his face flushed with running.

‘We’ve got him, boss. He’s down at the new church.’

‘Do you have someone guarding the place?’

‘Front and back.’ He hesitated, frowning.

‘What?’ Nottingham asked.

‘He’s taken a girl in with him. Pulled her off the street when we chased him there.’

‘Right,’ the Constable decided quickly. ‘You go and find Mr. Scott, the vicar. I’ll go and talk to Simon. He’ll be sober by now. He’s scared.’

‘Every right to be. He’s going to hang for this.’ He paused for a moment. ‘Better be armed, boss. You know what he can be like.’

Nottingham took a sword from the cupboard on the wall and strapped on the belt, then handed the other to the deputy. ‘You too, John. Just in case.’

 

The air had turned even colder, the wind brisker, more piercing than before. Their breath made small clouds as they walked down Briggate and along Boar Lane where Holy Trinity, the new church, had been built just two years earlier, its pale stone not yet blackened by all the soot, the strange wooden steeple rising up towards heaven.

The Constable pushed open the heavy wooden door and walked into the porch, then through to the nave. His boots clattered on the tile floor. Candles were lit by the altar and he could see Walsh sitting there, a young woman crumpled at his feet where she’d fainted. He was stroking her hair gently and looked up at the sound.

‘I’ve not hurt her,’ Simon said. He was close to fifty, a good ten years older than Nottingham, bigger and stronger, with thick arms that could effortlessly pick up and carry a bale of cloth. His coat was ragged, parting at some of the seams, his linen grimy. The ragged waistcoat had been sewn for a smaller man. It hung open, the tails flapping over his thighs. Walsh wore heavy boots and thick worsted hose, the breeches torn at the knee and covered in mud. ‘I wouldn’t, neither. I just wanted them to leave me be to come in here. That’s why I took hold of her. And then she went and did that.’ He seemed astonished by her behaviour.

The Constable strode forward until barely two yards separated the men. In the soft, flickering light he could see the girl’s chest rise and fall as she breathed, and her eyelids started to move. He crouched, reaching out to take her hand in his own.

‘You’re going to be fine, love.’ He kept his voice low and gentle, rubbing small circles on her skin and watching as she slowly came to, eyes blinking. Who could blame her for her fear? ‘I’m the Constable,’ he told her. ‘You don’t have to worry now. You’re safe now.’

Her eyes opened quickly, terrified, and she looked around in a panic. Seeing Walsh, she opened her mouth to scream and tried to push herself away.

‘He’s not going to do anything,’ Nottingham assured her. ‘I promise. I’m here.’ As she turned to stare at him, he smiled. ‘What’s your name?’ he asked.

‘Martha,’ she answered, her voice just a croak. She swallowed hard. ‘Martha, sir.’

‘Try not to worry, Martha. Mr. Walsh won’t hurt you. Can you stand?’

‘I think so.’

He helped her to her feet. For a moment she was unsteady, holding hard on to his arm, then she breathed in and nodded.

‘My men are waiting outside,’ he said. ‘Just go out and they’ll look after you.’

She glanced back at Walsh.

‘You’re safe. He’s not going to hurt you. I’ll make sure he doesn’t do anything.’ He waited until she gave another small nod. He heard her footsteps as she scurried away, the sound of the door closing booming in echoes around the church.

‘Right, it’s just you and me, then, Simon,’ the Constable said. He leaned against one of the box pews, the carefully polished wood gleaning in the light.

‘Did I kill him?’ Walsh’s eyes were empty, his mouth little more than a pinched line. He was a man who’d always worked with his body, not his mind; he acted first and thought after. ‘Last night. The man.’

‘You know full well you did. You knew it back then after you’d attacked him. Why else would you run?’

‘Aye.’ Walsh agreed, rubbing his hand across the back of his neck.

‘Why? Why did you do it, Simon?’ He’d caused trouble often enough, but in the past it had always been fists and feet, bloody but never deadly.

He glanced up, a regretful look on his face.

‘I don’t know, Mr. Nottingham. I swear I don’t. It were the ale. It were in me.’

‘Do you know who he was?’

Walsh shook his head, grimacing as if he didn’t want to hear the answer.

‘His name was Tom Dunn,’ the Constable said. ‘He’d not even been here a month. Came down from Malton with his wife and baby girl hoping to make a little money and a decent life. I had to go and tell them last night.’ He saw Simon look at the floor. ‘The little one’s not even two and the wife is carrying again.’

The words filled the church, falling slowly away to silence.

‘You’re going to hang for this, Simon.’

‘Nay, Mr. Nottingham.’ He could hear the pleading in the man’s voice, the sorrow and remorse. ‘You can’t do that. I didn’t mean to hurt him. It weren’t me. You know what I’m like.’

‘You killed him. Ten people saw you do it.’

‘There’s none of them tried to stop me!’

‘Look at yourself,’ the Constable said angrily. ‘Who could stop you when you’ve a fury on you? You’d have murdered them, too.’

‘Will you tell his wife I’m sorry? Tell her I didn’t mean to do it.’

‘Words aren’t going to help her, Simon.’

Walsh moved his hand and Nottingham stiffened, ready to draw his sword. Instead the man reached into the pocket of his breeches, pulling out as few coins and tossing them on the floor. ‘Give her that. It’s all as I’ve got.’

The Constable sighed.

‘Come on, Simon, it’s time to go. You’ve led us a pretty dance all day but it’s enough now.’

Walsh didn’t stir.

‘You know that’s not right, Mr. Nottingham.’

‘What isn’t?’ He didn’t understand.

‘I’m in a church. I’m by the altar.’ He gave a smile.

‘What are you trying to say?’

‘It’s the law, I’ve got sanctuary here.’ He pronounced the word slowly, unfamiliar and awkward, something heard years before and faintly recalled. ‘Why do you think I came here? It’s the law. Me granddad told me where I were a little ‘un.’

Nottingham sighed. Now it made sense.

‘No, Simon, it’s not the law. I don’t know what he said to you, but it was wrong.’

Walsh looked up, pain and fear filling his eyes.

‘He’d not have lied to me,’ he said sharply. ‘He were a good man.’

‘Long ago churches used to offer sanctuary,’ the Constable explained, watching as the man cocked his head. ‘That part’s right. But it’s all in the past. They changed that law more than a century ago.’

The candles lit a tear falling down the man’s cheek.

‘You’d not lie to me, Mr. Nottingham?’

‘No, Simon,’ he answered softly. ‘You know I wouldn’t.’

Walsh rose slowly, pushing himself off the floor with strong arms until he was upright, his shoulders slumped.

‘You know it has to be this way, don’t you?’ the Constable asked and waited as the man nodded his acceptance. ‘You can walk out next to me. Mr. Sedgwick’s out there. We’ll take you to the jail.’

Waving Goodbye – A New Story

It’s been quite a while since I wrote a new short piece of fiction. Especially one set in the present day. And this one…well, the streets that are named are in Leeds, but it’s not exactly a Leeds story; it could be anywhere. There’s a crime, but it’s old, and…well, see for yourself…

 

 

He was always ahead of her. It didn’t matter what time she left in the morning to go to school, he’d be there. Sometimes it was just twenty yards, so she could make out the shape of the blazer tight against his shoulder blades and the hands jammed in the pocket of his blazer, the headphones of his Walkman clamped over his curly hair. Other times he’d already be a hundred yards away, moving at his steady pace, hardly more than an idea in the distance.

She knew his name – Charlie Pearce. He lived two streets away in a semi-detached house with brown paint and a neat garden; Kate passed it every time she went to the shops and always glanced in, hoping for a quick glimpse of him at home. But all she ever saw through the windows was a front room with floral wallpaper, a curio cabinet and a polished walnut sideboard.

He was fourteen, a year older than her, another planet. She was skinny, blonde, almost hidden inside her uniform. Unnoticed. Just a girl with her satchel and her dreams.

And every morning he was there, in front of her.

Until one day he wasn’t.

 

How often had she walked along here in the last ten years? Fifty times? It had started when she became a detective constable and even with greater promotion, the compulsion remained. Detective Inspector and she still drove over, parked the car, and followed the route, imagining him there, walking while she trailed behind.

Some things she could never let go. Some strands of the past clung tight.

 

They found him within twelve hours, his body in the small tunnel that went under the road. Thirty years ago and they’d still never caught anyone for his murder. Never had a sniff of a suspect, by all accounts.

It had been all over the papers back then, on Look North, BBC News, everywhere, about the boy brutally killed in Gledhow Valley Woods. For the rest of the school year her father had driven her to school every morning. Teachers patrolled on the way home. And finally it had faded to nothing. People stopped caring. It became history and they forgot. Charlie Pearce was dead – who was he, anyway? His parents moved quietly away. Someone else bought the house and painted all the woodwork dark green.

Time passed.

Kate Thornton couldn’t forget. Every morning the boy walked ahead of her.

 

She’d warned her Chief Superintendent the operation didn’t have a chance of success. She had enough time in Major Crimes to have a feel for things. Longer than him. But time after time he refused to listen; all he saw was glory ahead, taking down a gang bringing in cheap cigs, booze, and sex workers from Eastern Europe.

‘Come on, guv. They’ve already changed their plan twice,’ she told him one morning. ‘They know something’s going on.’

‘Don’t worry. It’ll be fine,’ he said. That look of contempt. She was a woman, she couldn’t understand anything like this. ‘We’ll have them. Just you wait and see.’

Yeah, right.

She waited, forced to sit and watch as it all turn to shit. Exactly as she said. Once it was over the accusations and recriminations began. The Chief Super retired two days before the investigation began, pension intact, no charges, no questions to answer. She didn’t have that luxury. Only twenty-one years on the job. At least they didn’t bounce her off the force. Small mercies, Kaye thought angrily. Small bloody mercies. It might have been better if they had. Instead they sent her to the Grave.

The Cold Case Unit, the place where they’d bury her career.

Inspector Kate Thornton knew she’d arrived with an attitude, a chip the size of the world on her shoulder. But she’d still turned up in a smart business suit, hair and makeup just so and a smile on her lips, even if it couldn’t reach her eyes. The bastards wouldn’t grind her down.

After a day she was willing to concede she had a good crew. The DS, Tommy Hallam, was capable, happy working here, and pair of detective constables, Shaw and Wilcross, were more than time servers. Shaw was young, constantly trying to prove himself and be transferred to something with more action. Wilcross was a woman in her fifties, full of experience, although the fire had gone from her heart. But knowledge was sometimes better than passion.

‘Right,’ Kate said, after Hallam had shown her around the office. ‘Where do I begin? What are we working on?’

‘Couple of things on the go, guv,’ he told her. She could see the wariness in his eyes, not sure what to make of her yet. He’d have heard – God, everyone would have heard what happened – and he’d keep his distance for now, wondering just how toxic she might be. ‘I gave Shaw the one where there’s a good chance of a result.’ He gave a quick grin. ‘Give the lad some encouragement. Wilcross has the other, but it doesn’t look as if it’s panning out.’

‘Only two cases?’ she asked, hardly believing it. In Major Crimes they were always hard pressed to juggle everything.

‘The boss used to pick them and dole them out.’ Hallam shrugged. ‘But he’s been gone for a month now. That’s going to be your job.’

‘I see.’ DI Turnbull, the man who’d had this post before her, had suffered a stroke. Collapsed in the corridor on his way to a meeting. If he ever returned, it wouldn’t be for a long time. It looked as if it was all up to her. ‘What are the criteria?’

‘Sometimes other departments send us cases where new evidence has come up. Other than that, it’s pretty much your choice.’

‘Is that right?’ For the first time, the new post caught her interest.

 

‘Is that the complete file?’

Three arch folders, all of them full to overflowing with papers and reports.

‘Every scrap.’ Sheila Wilcross pushed the glasses back up her nose. ‘I remember when that happened.’

‘So do I,’ Kate said bleakly, staring at the pile in front on her. She put on her glasses. Right, Charlie Pearce, she thought, you and I are finally going to get acquainted.

It took three days to go through everything, reading at work, then taking more of it home to fill the evenings, sorting papers on the dining table while Martin complained about having to eat dinner on his lap.

‘Work,’ she said, standing in the doorway of the kitchen with her hands of her hips. Combative, defiant. ‘If bastards are going to shove me in Cold Cases, I’m going to make a bloody success of it.’ No mention of what made this case so special. He looked into her face for a moment, smiled and kissed her. Thank God for men like that. At least he was on her side.

Back when it all happened she’d tried to follow everything on television and in the papers. Quietly, secretly, so it wouldn’t disturb her parents. But the things that had been reported weren’t even been the tip of the iceberg. Now she understood. It had been a huge investigation, one that lasted the best part of a year before they admitted defeat. Hundreds of statements, most of them a waste of time and paper, not even a germ of relevance to the murder. Charlie’s teachers, his classmates, his friends. She read every single one of them.

By the time she finished he was less of a mystery. More than the figure always walking ahead of her. She knew he was good at geography and English, lazy at French and maths, hated PE and games. That he’d taken piano lessons for a couple of years when he was young, before the family had moved from Sheffield to Leeds, and he was saving up to buy a Casio synthesiser and start a band.

There were photos of him, dozens of them: alive, happy, relaxed, one blown up from the class picture, wearing his blazer and school tie, looking as if he’d vainly tried to tame the curly hair for the photographer. She took her time over each one, letting the knowledge and the images sink in. But she wasn’t thirteen any more. She looked at them with a copper’s eye.

There were even more photographs of the crime scene, the body in the tunnel under Gledhow Lane. Distance and close-ups, horrific and blinding. They needed to be stark. They had to show it all, the violence, the injuries. Then she looked at the pathologist’s report, all the details of the post-mortem. All the dreams and hopes Charlie had once cherished were stripped away by death, nothing left but facts. It had been brutal, far more than the press could ever report. She’d seen enough terrible deaths in her time on the force, from traffic accidents to murder, and this was up there with the worst. Jesus. If there’d been even a hint of all this when she was young, her nightmares would have never ended. She looked at the photographs again. Poor Charlie, poor sweet, silent Charlie.

 

The next morning she parked the car on the street where she’d been raised. Thirty years on, the population must have changed completely. The houses all had new windows, a few had added loft extensions, peeking out over the roofs like large eyes. So familiar but oh so different. As she walked past the place she’d once lived, Kate couldn’t resist a glance. Vases in the front window, deep red curtains pulled back, the room in shadow. But after a moment she wasn’t looking the present any longer;. Instead, she saw the past. The frosted glass door between the lounge and dining room that always crept open no matter how often it was pulled closed. The little ridge of carpet up on the landing her father promised to fix but never did. The view from her bedroom down into the neighbour’s back garden.

A second and they’d all vanished again. She was marching along, looking around. Even though every paving stone felt familiar under her feet, this time she was thinking hard as she moved.

Charlie would have come along here, the way he always did. His parents said he’d gone early that morning, rushing through breakfast and out of the house. He hadn’t given a reason and they hadn’t pushed it; there hadn’t seemed to be any need.

Kate pictured him ambling along, the fists in his pockets, headphones filling his head with sound, oblivious to the world. With music playing he’d never have heard someone coming up behind him.

For about a hundred yards the pavement was out of sight of any buildings. Simply woods, trees, hedges, the stream just down a steep bank. It was exactly the same as it had been then. No new blocks of flats, no houses. Once he was down in the stream he’d have been hidden from sight.

And on that morning she hadn’t been there, behind him. If she had, he might have been safe. He might still have been alive today.

They’d never found the Walkman or the headphones. There’d been a plastic cassette case in the breast pocket of his blazer. Def Leppard, Pyromania. They police has put notices all along the road, asking drivers if they’d seen anything that morning. They’d never had a single response that proved helpful.

So far she had nothing to add to the initial investigation. That was fine; early days yet, she’d barely begun. Kate hasn’t expected a sudden breakthrough. Anyway, as Tommy Hallam told her on that first day in the office, with cold cases there was never a rush.

 

The detective who led the investigation was long since dead. So was his deputy. Glenn Harris had been a DS then, one of the team that found Charlie’s corpse, and he was still alive, living quietly in a small bungalow close to Moor Allerton golf course. A bag of clubs, woollen covers over the heads of the drivers, sat in the hall. But he didn’t look like a man who could play much these days. His body seemed withered, as if it was slowly withdrawing into itself; few traces of the vibrant man he’d been in 1985 remained. Thin hair was combed hopefully across a pink scalp. Liver spots were splayed like large dots across the back of his hands. Yet his eyes were had a light in them and his memory was lively, sharp and full of detail.

‘Can’t forget it,’ he told her. ‘God knows there were times I wanted to, back when every day was full of it.’ He exhaled slowly, letting it all go again. ‘So what made them pull it out again after all this time?’

‘I was the one who did it,’ Kate answered. ‘My choice.’

That seemed to pique his curiosity. He stared at her, squinting his eyes as if he was trying to see something that was no longer there.

‘Why? You must have been, what, about the same age as him?’

‘A year younger. I used to take the same way to school. I never spoke to him. He’d always be in front of me. He probably didn’t even know I was there.’

Harris tilted his head a little.

‘So what is it? There but for the grace..?’

‘No,’ she told him. ‘Nothing like that.’ Even immediately after it happened, Kate had never felt she could have been the victim, that she might have been in danger. It didn’t come into her head, as if she needed to believe that Charlie had been the target. She still felt that. The death had been too violent to be random. ‘What were your impressions? The ones that didn’t make your report.’

He sighed.

‘It’s a long time ago. But it was the sense of excess that I never understood. The way he was murdered, it was overkill. Sudden, it seemed crazy.’ He paused. ‘Did anyone talk to you at the time?’

‘No one. I was late that morning. I didn’t see him.’

‘I’m still surprised we never questioned you.’

‘Maybe my parents wanted to shield me.’ She’d wondered about that. But she’d never told anyone about walking behind Charlie every morning. Maybe the explanation was completely innocent.

‘Do you remember anyone hanging round or following on other mornings?’ Harris asked.

‘You don’t know how often I’ve thought about that’ Kate said. ‘But no, I really don’t think there was ever anyone, just some kids on their way to school. You never found the Walkman or the headphones.’

‘For a while someone had the idea he might have been killed him for them,’ Harris said slowly. ‘I always thought it was stupid. That was the problem; we didn’t have any motive at all. It didn’t even look as if he’d struggled much, from what I recall.’

‘You didn’t make any headway at all? No suspects off the record?’ It happened; Kate knew that, how galling every officer found it. Especially in a case like this, a teenager with all those years ahead. Still a kid, really.

‘No. God knows, we tried everything we knew. The guv was desperate to have it solved.’ He gave an old man’s shrug, neat inside his sports jacket. ‘We even brought in a DCI from Derbyshire to go over everything. He couldn’t see that we’d done anything wrong. These are the ones that rankle, aren’t they?’

‘Yes,’ Kate agreed. She’d had one like that herself, when she was a DC. An old woman murdered in her home. Not even a trace of a suspect. Still unsolved. ‘It’s not that they got away, it’s that you can’t even find anywhere to look.’

‘You know the parents killed themselves?’

‘What?’ That took her by surprise; it hadn’t been in the file.

‘Must have been ten years later. Around there. They moved away, somewhere in Wales, I think. I got a phone call from the force over there. Seems it had all become too much and they just turned on the gas one light. Lucky there wasn’t an explosion. Anyway, some bright soul over there did a little digging and let me know.’

‘I had no idea. It wasn’t in the file.’ God, that was so sad, carrying the pain for so long until you just couldn’t bear it anymore.

‘Still, you’ve got all this DNA now,’ Harris said. ‘You can test for everything under the sun.’

‘You’ve been watching too much television,’ she told him with a quiet snort. ‘We’re not CSI Leeds. You have to fight for any tests you want. And the results take forever.’ Charlie’s clothes, the parings from under his nails, they’d been bagged and tucked away all this time. She’d written up a request to have everything tested. DNA, the full spectrum. Yes, she told the Chief Super when he rang with his questions, she knew exactly how expensive it was. And yes, she knew how the bloody Home Office was cutting the budgets like a pirate on a drunken rampage. Kate listened as he ranted, imagining the red face and the veins bulging in his neck. She let him wind down, and once he was deflated, pointed out that nothing else had worked and they’d never tried this. Grudgingly, he’d agreed. It had better bring results, he warned her.

 

It was the lowest priority at the lab. Four weeks, and that depended on nothing urgent coming in. But there was no rush, except in her mind. She should have had it printed and put up on the office wall: Hurry up and wait.

 

She started a pair of other investigations, keeping Charlie Pearce simmering along. She did manage to track down one more man from the force who’d been involved with the case. Jack Davis had been a PC then, just two years on the job then. He’d been on the scene fifteen minutes after the body was discovered.

These days he was retired; he’d finished his thirty years as an inspector down in Somerset, and now he had a shiny new business as a security consultant.

Davis remembered it all so clearly that he might have been looking in his notebook. But he’d given a complete statement then, and again later. No one had touched the body before the evidence people and pathologist arrived. He’d still swear to it. He’d stood in the water, freezing in his wellies, until they arrived and began taking pictures.

The stream flowed through a tunnel almost large enough to stand erect. Rocks and debris had accumulated along the bottom. He could remember Durex wrappers and sodden cigarette packets. The body was mostly in the water. He imagined it had washed most of the blood away. But what was left…

‘Christ, it was a mess,’ he said, and she could hear him choking down the sorrow. ‘Never saw another as bad as that. Not even with the RTAs we had down on the M5. I hope you have better luck finding the killer than we did back then.’

 

Kate had never known about Tom Pearce when she was a teenager. She hadn’t even imagined him that he existed. He was six years older than Charlie, already an adult, beyond reach. When his younger brother was murdered, Tom was crewing a yacht between Freeport and Antigua in the Caribbean.

He was been interviewed when he returned for the funeral. No suspicion, a matter of course, nothing more, ticking a box.

He’d lived back in England for more than twenty years now. An estate agent with his own company in the Home Counties. He was the only link left to the family. As close as she’d ever come to Charlie himself.

On the phone, Tom Pearce had a hale and hearty voice that grated immediately. That much bonhomie couldn’t be real, Kate thought.

‘We’ve re-opened the case,’ she told him.

‘Why? Is there something new?’ He sounded suspicious. ‘No one’s mentioned anything to me.’

‘We’re simply taking a look at it. Maybe there was something we missed at the time. That’s why I’m ringing, actually.’

‘I wasn’t even here when it happened.’

‘I know, sir. But you were brothers. Brothers talk sometimes. And you must have spent time with your parents before they…’ She didn’t want to mention the suicide. ‘…died. Maybe there was something they’d never said.’

Pearce took his time answering, choosing his words very carefully.

‘You have to understand, Inspector, I was very much the black sheep of the family. I argued non-stop with my parents, left school at sixteen, and I was gone from home as soon as I could. I hadn’t been in touch with any of them for well over a year when Dad sent the telegram about Charlie. I hadn’t exchanged any letters with him. We were six years apart, we’d never really known each other.’

‘What about after you came back to live? Did you talk to your parents then?’ You must have, Kate thought. People mellowed as they aged; old arguments meant nothing, forgotten.

‘The only time I saw them was at their funeral.’ His voice was cold. ‘And if there’d been a way out of that I’d have taken it.’

There had to be some sort of dark story behind all that. But she wasn’t go to ask, it didn’t matter to her case.

‘I see.’

‘I’m sorry, Inspector, but I really can’t help you at all. Is there anything else?’

Of course there wasn’t, and he knew it. Just a way of ending the conversation. Nothing there. One more avenue closed.

 

‘We never crack them from old interviews, boss,’ Hallam told her. They were in the canteen at the new headquarters on Elland Road, a warm fug of steam filling the room and causing condensation on the windows. ‘The memories are too fixed.’

She’d come to appreciate the man. He was a good, solid DS, organised and bright. She might not want to be in Cold Cases but without him it would have been much worse.

‘What, then?’ Kate asked. She’d munched through a Kit Kat, the wrapped crumpled on the table. There were a couple of sips left in the coffee cup, then she’d go back to work.

‘New evidence, really.’ He rubbed his chin. ‘A witness comes forward who hadn’t said anything before. DNA, fibres on the clothes, although God knows how you persuaded them to spring for it, the way they’re cutting funding.’

‘I know where some of the bodies are buried,’ Kate told him with a grin. Just not enough of them, she thought, or ones that were important enough.

‘It might turn up something you can use. I’ve got to be honest, guv, thirty years is a real stretch, especially for a first case.’

‘I’m discovering that,’ she admitted. ‘How long have you been working these, anyway?’

‘Bit over five years now.’ He shook his head, a rueful expression on his lips. ‘I asked for it, believe it or not. All the stress in CID was killing me. Headaches, depression. I like being on the force, but I needed something different. It was my wife who suggested it. I had to get out of child crimes. I applied and they near enough bit my hand off to say yes. It suits me.’

‘Good success rate?’

‘That’s the knack.’ He winked. ‘You go through and pick the ones that seems like good possibilities. You get a nose for it after a while.’

‘I daresay I’ll have the time to learn.’

Hallam gave a small cough.

‘I heard about that.’

‘You and all of West Yorkshire Police.’

‘It was bad luck,’ he said. ‘I’m sure they know that. You were the scapegoat.’

‘Thanks,’ Kate told him. ‘I appreciate that.’ She looked at her watch. ‘Come on. The others will think we’ve eloped.’

 

It left her hopeful. She could crack this. But another three hours of trying to track down old witnesses and finding nothing but blank responses or death notices left a sour, sad taste in her mouth. Dead end. Dead end. Dead end. By the time she arrived home she felt bleak. The hollow feeling in the pit of her stomach.

Martin spotted the mood as soon as she walked into the house. She tossed her keys on to the table. They skittered across and fell the floor. He looked up, pen poised above the essay he was marking..

‘I’ve seen people look happier at funerals.’

‘Don’t.’ Kate glared. ‘Just don’t.’

‘OK.’ He gave her another glance then his eyes moved back to the printout.

‘This case,’ she said, ‘it’s fucked.’

He sat back, folding his arms, mouth pursed. He was lean, hair just starting to recede, with a kind face, laughter lines radiating from his eyes. Those were what had attracted her in the first place and made her believe that he was someone who could make her happy. Ten years together and she hadn’t been wrong.

She watched Martin walk to the sideboard and poured a shot of Jack Daniels into a glass. Into the kitchen for a healthy dash of coke to go with it. Her drink. It made her feel cool, like a rock chick, as if she could reach out and clutch the last shreds of her twenties, even if that ship had sailed a long, long time ago. Nowadays if she three of them, she spent the next two days paying the price. The forties were a bastard. God knew what her fifties would be like.

‘Right,’ he said as he handed it to her. ‘Tell me about it. You know you want to. You’re pissed off.’

She took a swig, swallowed, and exhaled slowly. It glowed in her throat and warmed her stomach.

‘So what is it about this case in particular?’ Martin asked.

‘It’s the first one I picked in charge of the unit. I want to solve it.’

He stared at her.

‘I get that, but why did you pick it? What is there about this one?’

Perhaps it was time to tell him. He’d always been open with her, more than she could ever manage. He must have known she still kept little pockets of her past hidden away. But he never pushed or probed, willing to let them come when she was ready. Over the years she’d revealed a few – the abortion at uni, the year she shoplifted just to see what it was like, never caught, never even suspected. All before she joined the force, of course.

She’d always kept Charlie Pearce to herself, though. Maybe now she needed to give him up, to bring her out of her memory.

But not here; not at home. Somewhere less personal, where she could try to leave the words behind when she’d finished.

‘Come on,’ she said. ‘Let’s go for a pizza and I’ll tell you all about it.’

 

‘So that’s it?’ he asked when she finished. He’d been toying with the wine glass, the plate pushed to one side. They finished eating before she told her story. Halting at first, then a flow as he listened intently, his eyes on her face.

‘I know. Stupid, isn’t it?’

‘No,’ Martin said. ‘It’s natural. It was a mystery back then and you want to explain it. That’s a basic human instinct. We don’t like mysteries, the unexplained, especially in our own lives. We need to know.’

Kate took a sip of red, running it round her mouth.

‘The problem is that I’m not getting anywhere.’

‘So you feel like a failure.’

She nodded sadly.

‘Yeah. That’s pretty much it.’

Martin pinched his lips together, concentrating.

‘Do you think you can find out who did it?’ he asked after a moment. ‘Really?’

‘Honestly?’ She weighed it up. ‘I don’t know. I want to…’

‘This new job, everything that happened in the last case. You want to show everyone how well you can handle things.’

True, Kate thought. She was aching to impress, to remind everyone just how good she was at her work. Something to prove. Something big.

‘I suppose.’ That was as much as she’d say, even to him. Suddenly she’d had enough. She didn’t want to discuss it any more. Martin knew; that was enough for now.

 

Every morning she checked the post, hoping the results would arrive. Every morning she was disappointed. Four weeks dragged out to five, then six.

Kate had her first cold case success. It was pure luck, but just as sweet for that. An anonymous letter grassing up a man who’d killed another in a brawl in a city centre bar eight years before. Caught him with a broken glass, opening the carotid artery; he’d bled to death before the ambulance arrived.

It only took five minutes of questioning before the man admitted everything. Didn’t even want a brief. It all tumbled out, words upon words, as if she’d cracked the dam and now the flow wouldn’t stop. He looked a hard case, with his shaved head, a web tattooed on his neck and gym biceps bulging under a knock-off Manchester United top. Crack the shell and he was soft inside. The guilt must have been crushing him all this time, Kate decided as he was led away to be charged.

She didn’t feel any pity, though. He killed and tried to hide it. He had it coming.

 

Until she ripped open the envelope she didn’t realise how much she’d been hoping these results would bring her the answers. With no luck anywhere else, she was depending on them. Kate held her breath as she pulled out the sheaf of papers and placed them on her desk.

The summary first, then the details. Her mouth was dry and she tried to swallow.

Good news: they’d been able to extract some DNA from Charlie’s blazer. It matched a sliver of skin under his fingernails. So he’d managed to fight a little, Kate thought. He’d tried, at least.

But what they had didn’t match anything in the national database.

She read through sheet after sheet, hoping something else in there might give her the smallest glimmer of hope. There was evidence. Minute traces of fabric that probably came from a jumper. They hadn’t possessed the technology to discover all this at the time. Yet without a match it was as useless as no result at all.

Kate sat back in her chair, eyeing it all. Trying to think. She knew right down to the penny how much this had all cost; the Chief Superintendent made quite certain of that. When he rang and asked for progress she was going to have to tell him something. Put a spin on it and make it seem they’d got their money’s worth.

When she’d first asked for Charlie Pearce’s file, she’d envisioned herself as his avenger, someone who could bring him some justice after all this time. A woman with the ability solve a 30-year-old crime.

Now that all looked like dust.

She knew that somewhere in that morass there was young Kate, too, thirteen and wanting answers to questions she didn’t even understand yet. She couldn’t even offer any comfort to that girl from the past.

 

Kate had been lucky. When she started in plain clothes, Carol Walton had decided to take her under her wing. Taught her, rubbed off some of the green. She’d done a good job, too. Toughened her up, made her harder, but without losing any of the compassion that kept you human in the job. She’d taken time to show her the way things really happened on the force, not what they taught on the courses.

What would Carol do now?

It was easy enough to find open. She swiped the mobile screen, found the name and pressed the button. Thirty seconds later the familiar voice was on the other end of the line, sounding as if she was standing in the middle of a gale.

‘Took you long enough to ring.’ There was a mix of resentment and good humour in the voice. ‘I heard what they did. Hung you out to dry by all accounts.’

‘I’m sorry. I should have called.’ After the investigation, its findings and the new assignment, she hadn’t wanted to talk to anyone. ‘Where the hell are you?’

‘Near the cob at Lyme Regis. We’ve had an incident, you might say.’ She was a DCI in Dorset now, just handling important crimes herself and leaving the day-to-day to those under her. ‘I’m sorry, kiddo. You know that.’

‘Thanks.’ It was done. No going back and no point in talking about it. Even so, the words made her feel good. ‘Listen, I’ve got a bit of a problem.’

‘Wouldn’t be coppering if you didn’t. Come on, tell Aunt Carol all about it.’

 

Sound advice. But that was the way Carol’s mind worked. Practical but always sizing up the angles. It was why she was so good at her job. She’d never have let her boss proceed with a dodgy case. And if she couldn’t stop him, she’d have been talking to people, making allies for when the inevitable collapse happened. Covering her arse. Kate had never been that…political, she supposed it was. She was a police officer; she solved crimes, she didn’t play headquarters games.

‘So the results don’t do a damn thing to help you,’ Carol said.

‘The whole thing’s right back where it was thirty years ago.’

‘Then you’re no worse off than when you began, are you? Come on, Kate, you know how it goes. Sometimes you try everything and get nowhere. Can you imagine what our resolution rate would be like if criminals weren’t stupid and we didn’t have luck?’

She smiled. It was true. There were pieces of good detective work, but fewer than they ever let on.

‘You went through channels for the tests?’ Carol asked.

‘The Chief Super signed off for them. Gave me the usual “Don’t go asking for more.” I was just packing up this afternoon when he rang to give me a rocket over how many I’d ordered.’

‘But he approved them in writing?’

‘Uh-huh,’ she said. ‘Every single one. I emailed him the authorisation so he could see for himself. Then he had the nerve to ask what I was going to want next.’

‘That something. At least you didn’t lose.’

‘Maybe not. I don’t feel like I won, though.’

‘You can’t, it’s impossible,’ Carol told her briskly. ‘No such thing as a win against the brass. Lose or draw, those are the options. You came away a score draw. Take that and be happy with it. You didn’t tell him the results were useless, did you?’

‘Of course not. I’m not an idiot. I glided around it.’

‘That’s better. For a minute there I thought you’d forgotten everything I taught you.’

‘What about the case, though?’ Kate asked. She could hear a gust of wind and the crash of waves.

‘How much do you have invested in it?’

‘Manpower, you mean? Or time.’

‘That. And emotion.’ She was shrewd. Always cut through to the bone.

‘Quite a bit of that.’

‘The longer you stick with it, the harder it will be to walk away. You have to know when to cut your losses.’

A little dose of Carol Walton was always good for the soul. Even if there was nothing good in the words, Kate was still smiling when she slipped the phone back into her jacket.

 

 

A week. Two. Three and more. The days seemed to tick by, to bleed into one another, only the Saturdays and Sundays to distinguish them. Kate had other cases, requests from departments around West Yorkshire. Demands on her time. Charlie Pearce stayed on the back burner, given a stir and a shake when she had a minute. But as the unit became busier again, time grew precious.

He never left her mind, though.

She felt like she knew him now. The boy who’d been such a mystery back then, always walking away from her thirty years before, had become a person. She could almost hear his voice as she looked at the photographs of him alive. And when she saw the pictures of the crime scene she could imagine the silence broken only by the trickle of water along the tunnel.

Finally, one Friday afternoon, Kate left the office early and parked once more by the house where she’d grown up. It was warm enough to leave her coat on the back seat, the air gentle and mild. She began to walk to the corner where the roads all met, then down the hill towards the woods.

She could keep the file open, hold the case as active. That was easily enough done. A poke around every now and again to look at the DNA database. After all, it was growing every single day.

Yes, she could do that. But the chances of every finding the murderer were slim and growing weaker with every year that passed. He might be as dead as Charlie Pearce by now, a skeleton in a grave or ashes tossed into the wind, the secret vanished.

Who was she doing it for, anyway? She thought she’d had an answer to that when she began. Now, though…

The soles of her shoes slapped down on the paving stones, a slow, restful rhythm. She crossed Gledhow Valley Road, the woods and the stream off to the side. It was still too early for the schoolchildren to be out, but a hundred yards or so in front she saw one.

A boy. Curly, untidy hair, hands jammed into his blazer pockets. Kate speeded up. Longer strides, moving faster. The young man was in no hurry, ambling along, but he seemed to be farther ahead now.

She almost called out a name. Almost. Then she stopped, looked away and back again. He’d become just a speck in the distance.

Tales Within A Tale 7 – A Teaser

Now it’s just four weeks until Skin Like Silver is published in the UK. That’s still plenty of time to introduce you to some of the characters. Not Tom Harper or Annabelle, not Billy Reed or Superintendent Kendall. Not even Ash. But some of the others who populate this book – there are over 60; I counted.

They’re relatively minor characters, but they all have their stories to tell. About once a fortnight until publication you’ll get to meet some of them. One of them could well be a killer. Or perhaps not. But when you read the book and come across them, you can smile and say ‘I know you.’

Read the first Tale within a Tale, about Patrick Martin, here, the second with Robert Carr here, the third with Miss Worthy here, the fourth with Barbabas Tooms here, the fifth with John Laycock here, and the six with Samuel Sugden here.

This time it’s a little different, a short teaser that tells you how the books gets its name.

And, of course, you can read more about Skin Like Silver here.

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Harper stood in the superintendent’s office the next morning. His palms were bandaged and tender but they’d mend in a few days. Annabelle has fussed around him, putting on a lotion that burned before it soothed. He ached all over.

‘I need you down to have a look at that fire,’ Kendall told him. ‘Take Ash with you.’

‘I thought they’d put it out.’

‘They have. I want to make sure it wasn’t anarchists who caused it.’

The man was as immaculately turned-out as ever, suit pressed, moustache and side whiskers trimmed, the crease in his trousers as sharp as a blade. But his face was lined with worry.

‘I thought they were all talk,’ Harper said.

‘They are,’ the superintendent replied. ‘But you know how it happens. All it needs is one hothead taking that “assault on the system” line of theirs to heart.’ He shook his head. ‘Stupid. Work with Dick Hill until he’s established a cause. Just in case.’

‘Yes, sir. I have that dead baby, too.’

‘I know. What have you found?’

‘Nothing.’ He paused, thinking of the tiny corpse on the table. ‘Honestly, I’m not sure if we ever will.’

‘Keep trying, anyway. Your hands, Tom…’

‘From the pumps yesterday.’ He held them up. ‘Blisters. They’ll heal soon enough.’

‘You’d think the criminals would have been running free, what with every officer down there,’ Kendall said. He took his pipe from his waistcoat pocket and lit it with a match. ‘But there was nothing reported.’ He arched his eyebrows. ‘Think about that. Not a single crime anywhere in Leeds.’

There was just enough of a breeze to bring a sense of freshness, the hint that autumn might arrive soon. Harper walked side by side with Ash, the constable quiet as they passed the Corn Exchange. Carts clattered quickly along Duncan Street. Piles of horse dung were flattened on the road. Men ran, pushing barrows piled with goods to deliver. A tram rolled by with the grinding sound of wheels in the iron tracks. The air smelt burnt and dead as they neared the station.

‘How did you like the inspection?’ Harper asked.

‘It was right enough, sir.’ He gave a small grin. ‘My missus thought I looked that smart all dressed up.’

‘Mine made me have a photograph taken wearing it.’

‘They must love the top hats, those women.’ He shook his head and tapped his old bowler. ‘Me, I’m more comfortable in this.’ He paused. ‘I heard one of the firemen died yesterday.’

The inspector nodded. ‘When the platforms collapsed. Nothing anyone could do. They couldn’t even get in to bring the body out.’

‘Sad business, sir.’

They’d become used to working as a team since Reed had left. They functioned well together, although there’d been little to tax them too hard. All the crimes they’d investigated in the last few months had been straightforward. Profit or passion, and a simple matter to find the culprit.

Harper doubted there’d be much for them here, either. He didn’t believe any anarchists were involved. The only problem would come if Hill said the fire was arson.

New Station was filled with rubble and wreckage. Thick dust clung to piles of bricks, and charred wood still smoked lightly. But passengers were already crowding the three undamaged platforms, craning their necks to see all the ruin, and most of the trains were still running. Harper shook his head in amazement; after all the destruction, he wouldn’t have believed it possible. Or safe.

They found Hill down among the arches that had once supported everything. All the surfaces were black with soot, the smell of fire and destruction heavy and cloying, and he started to cough. A yard or two below them, the River Aire rushed by.

‘Hello, Dick,’ Harper said. ‘We’ve been sent down to help.’

Inspector Hill looked haunted. He was still wearing the uniform he’d had on when the blaze began. There were rents along the seams, the blue so covered with dirt that it seemed to have no colour at all. Dark rings lined his eyes.

‘Tom,’ he answered and let out a sigh. ‘We just brought out that man who died. Schofield.’

‘One of yours?’

Hill shook his head. ‘He worked on the one the insurance company engines. The floor just gave way underneath him.’ He stared up at the sky. ‘Ten years and I’ve never seen anything like it. As best as we can guess, he must have crawled forty feet after he fell. Almost made it out, too, poor bugger. It’s a miracle there was only one, really.’

‘Any idea where it started yet, sir?’ Ash broke the silence that grew around them.

‘Oh, we know that.’ Hill pointed to an empty space, nothing left at all. ‘You see that? It used to be Soapy Joe’s warehouse. Packed full of tallow and resin. Tons of the bloody stuff. That’s where it began. And that’s why it burned so hard and long. Once that went up there wasn’t a chance.’

‘What caused it?’ Harper asked.

Hill shrugged. ‘A spark? An accident? Deliberate? There’s not enough left to tell. I wouldn’t even like to guess. The best I’m ever going to be able to say is that it happened. It’s nothing to worry CID, anyway.’

‘The superintendent wondered about anarchists.’

‘I don’t see it.’ He shook his head wearily. ‘Honestly, Tom, I don’t. I’m going to dig around but I don’t think I’ll find any evidence of anything.’

‘You should get some sleep, Dick.’

‘Later.’ Hill brushed the idea away. ‘I need to take care of a few things first. We’ve never had anything as bad as this before in Leeds.’ He waved at hand at the damage. ‘Look at it. It’s going to cost a fortune to rebuild. But the railway’s already had engineers out this morning. Can you believe that?’

‘They want to be making money again,’ Harper said.

‘Sir! Sir!’ The shout echoed off the stone, making them all turn. A fireman was picking his way through the mounds of stone and brick. ‘There’s another body down here. It looks like a woman.’

They ran, scraping their way over the debris. Dust rose around them as they scrambled.

‘Over here,’ the man called. He was standing by a pile of rubble. ‘You can just see her foot over there.’

They gazed. Half a button boot, the leather torn clean away to show bloody flesh. The rest of her was buried under chunks of concrete.

‘Must have collapsed right on top of her,’ Hill said grimly, taking off his uniform jacket. ‘Let’s get this shifted.’

Ash glanced at Harper’s bandaged hands.

‘Will you be all right, sir?’

‘I’ll manage,’ the inspector told him as he stared at the foot.

It took them a quarter of an hour to move everything, sweating and grunting. Blood seeped through Harper’s bandages. He grimaced and worked on.

‘Christ,’ Hill said quietly.

Most of her clothes had burned away. Her hair was gone. She was part-flesh, burned and black. But it was the rest of her that made them draw in their breath. Patches of metal across her body that glinted in the light. Skin like silver: the thought came into his head.

‘What..?’ At first he didn’t even realize he’d spoken.

‘Must have been the girders,’ Hill said. He couldn’t take his eyes off the body. ‘They melted in the heat and the metal dripped down on her.’ He wiped a hand across his mouth. ‘I just hope to God she was already dead.’

Harper took a deep breath and squatted, moving this way and that around the corpse. Only the shape and size of the body and the torn button boot showed she’d once been female. Now… he could scarcely believe what he saw. It was grotesque. A statue of death. He shuddered as he stood again.

‘What the hell was she doing down here?’ he wondered.