Published by Caffeine Nights Publishing 2010
Copyright © Nick Quantrill 2010
Nick Quantrill has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1998 to be identified as the author of this work
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This book has been sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental
Published in Great Britain by Caffeine Nights Publishing
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data.
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
Cover design by
Mark (Will) Williams
Everything else by
Default, Luck and Accident
Broken Dreams Synopsis
Joe Geraghty, Private Investigator, is used to struggling from one case to the next, barely making the rent on his small office in the Old Town of Hull. Invited by a local businessman to investigate a member of his staff’s absenteeism, it’s the kind of surveillance work that Geraghty and his small team have performed countless times. When Jennifer Murdoch is found dead, Geraghty quickly finds himself trapped in the middle of a police investigation which stretches back to the days when the city had a thriving fishing industry. As the woman’s tangled private life begins to unravel, the trail leads Geraghty to local gangster-turned-respectable businessman, Frank Salford, a man with a significant stake in the city’s regeneration plans. Still haunted by the death of his wife in a house fire, it seems the people with the answers Geraghty wants are the police and Salford, both of whom want his co-operation for their own ends. With everything at stake, some would go to any length to get what they want, Geraghty included.
Table of Contents
For my Dad - Jeff Quantrill, 1948 – 2009.
Writing is often considered to be a solitary business but I’ve learnt nothing could be further from the truth. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the following for all their help and inspiration:
Cathy Quantrill, my wife, for everything. And for letting me off chores.
Paul Thompson for the amazing example set over the years. Keep on shining.
Darren Laws for the opportunity to work with Caffeine Nights and the unwavering belief in this book.
Roland Standaert and Beth McGann for the amazing photography work on my websites.
Jason Goodwin for sterling work in creating a website from the scraps of information he’s given to work with. www.hullcrimefiction.co.uk
Mac and Stephany NJC for gamely taking up proofreading duties without complaint.
Cilla Wykes and the team at www.thisisull.com for opening the door.
Tim Roux at www.a63revisited.com and all of Hull’s writers, poets and playwrights for their advice, enthusiasm and friendship.
Mum and Dad for their support and encouragement throughout.
Everyone who’s read one of my stories on the Internet over the last four years. It’s what keeps me going. You know who you are.
‘You didn’t hear or see anything?’
I shook my head. It’s not every day you’re accused of murdering a client. I checked myself in the mirror; the cuts on my face leaving a bloody mess and a bottom lip twice its normal size. It didn’t look clever. The phone call had woken me and after listening to the message, I washed down some painkillers, threw on an old tracksuit and stepped out into the night. The taxi arrived quickly and drove me through the deserted streets of Hull towards my office in the Old Town. Ten minutes later I was sat in my chair, waiting for Don to say something. He was my business partner, but more importantly, my mentor. I explained that I’d been jumped as I’d walked home.
‘Are you sure?’
‘Nothing.’ All I knew was my mobile had been taken. It sounded feeble, given the state of my face.
Don towers above me, so I always feel like a naughty child when he tells me off. Although I’m in my early forties and still in reasonable shape, I know when to keep my mouth shut.
I heard the toilet flush and looked at Don, who was refusing to meet my eye. I turned and watched Detective Sergeant Richard Coleman walk into the room.
‘Joe Geraghty, Private Investigator’ he said, still drying his hands on a paper towel.
I nodded a greeting. ‘Make yourself at home, why don’t you?’
He sat on the top of the table opposite me. ‘I’ll get to the point; Don said you were outside of Jennifer Murdoch’s house tonight?’
‘I didn’t make it.’
‘What did you do tonight?’
‘Went to the pub.’ I stared at him, assuming he might know why I’d felt the need to get drunk tonight.
‘With anyone in particular?’
I shook my head. He was oblivious. ‘Why do you ask?’
‘She’s dead’ Coleman said, staring straight at me, ‘She put up quite a fight, but I can’t go into the details.’ He paused to look at me before changing the subject. ‘Don tells me you were watching her on behalf of her employer.’
‘A false illness claim’ I said, before he had chance to go on. ‘She claims she was suffering from stress and was unable to work. Her employer disagrees. Perfectly normal.’
‘Don tells me she’s the company’s accountant, right?’
‘Any luck with it?’
‘Not yet.’ We’d only been on the case for a couple of days and didn’t have the necessary proof.
‘Notice any one else watching her?’
I shook my head. I asked if Terrence Briggs, her employer, had received the news.
Coleman confirmed he’d be speaking to him. Another fee gone, I thought but didn’t dare say.
‘Do you want to tell me what happened?’ asked Coleman, pointing to my face.
‘I was attacked on my way home. Lost my mobile and what money I had on me.’
Coleman sighed. ‘Did you see the man?’
I thought about it. ‘Sounded it.’
‘Where did it happen?’
‘The tenfoot near my flat.’
‘I don’t think so.’
Coleman looked from Don to myself. ‘Upset anybody lately?’
Don stared at me, looking for confirmation. I shook my head. ‘No.’
‘Your story is you were attacked by an assailant, identity unknown, and you weren’t anywhere near Jennifer Murdoch’s house tonight?’
‘Correct.’ I sipped the coffee Don had made and tried to read Coleman’s face.
‘I’ll need a statement from you tomorrow.’ He pointed at my cuts and bruises. ‘You might want to think about reporting the assault, too.’Coleman stood up and told Don he’d be in touch. He looked at me again before leaving.
‘What the fuck are you playing at?’ Don asked me, once he’d shut the door on the policeman. He didn’t swear very often.
‘I was attacked.’ It sounded weak.
‘And you’re telling the truth about not being near Murdoch’s house?’
It was my turn to be indignant. ‘Of course I am.’
‘We’re not pissing about here, Joe.’
I nodded. It doesn’t come any more serious than murder, so I knew the police would be throwing some resources at it. I sat up, my head feeling clearer for the caffeine. ‘Did you tell them?’ He would often tell the police when and where we are performing surveillance as a professional courtesy. If the police knew we had a genuine and legitimate reason for following an individual, it was supposed to prevent future misunderstandings. As I was learning, the system wasn’t perfect.
Don shook his head. ‘I hadn’t got round to telling them.’
I considered the situation. They’d obviously seen my car outside of Murdoch’s house the previous day. ‘They were watching her?’
‘Or her husband’ Don suggested. He took my empty mug off me and shook his head. ‘You’d best report the assault.’
I said I would, but it would be pointless. The truth was I didn’t know who had attacked me. Losing my mobile was a pain but I could get a new one easy enough. What was occupying my mind was the fact the police knew I had been carrying out surveillance outside Murdoch’s house. I looked like I’d been involved in a fight and had no alibi to speak of. It was a chance I couldn’t take; people have been arrested for much less. I knew I was going to have to find out why Jennifer Murdoch had been murdered.
A shower and strong coffee had me feeling almost human again by mid-morning. I’d walked to the nearest supermarket, bought a cheap pay-as-you-go mobile and topped it up with credit before meeting Don to talk to Jennifer Murdoch’s employer. Only he was in his boardroom talking to the police. The company was based on Sutton Fields, an industrial estate to the east of the city. The middle-aged woman stood behind the reception desk wanted us to come back some other time.
‘Maybe you could help us’ said Don, explaining why we were there.
She’d thought we were salesmen before introducing herself as Sheila Chester, Briggs’s PA. She directed us to her office. I gave her what I hoped was my winning smile, but with the cuts and bruises, I wasn’t sure it was working.
‘Take your time.’ Don said, as she sat down.
Her hand was shaking slightly, the earlier confidence disappearing. She lifted her mug and slowly drank a mouthful of tea.
‘We understand this is difficult for you, Sheila.’
And given the visit from Coleman, I wanted some answers.
Don lent in close to her. ‘We’re here to help.’
She nodded. I’ll do my best.’
‘How long have you worked for the company, Sheila?’ Don asked.
‘Nearly twenty years.’
I could see the pride in her face, so I smiled. ‘You must have seen some changes, then?’
‘One or two, I suppose.’
‘How long had Jennifer been with you?’
‘It must be about ten years now. She used to work for our auditors, so Mr Briggs offered her the job when her predecessor retired.’
‘And before her illness, how was she was doing?’
She looked reluctant to answer the question. I tried to help her out. ‘Whatever you say stays between us. It won’t go any further.’
‘Her alleged illness.’
‘I know you shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, but I didn’t like her, to be totally honest with you.’ Unburdening this seemed to enable her to relax. She looked me in the eye. ‘Either as a colleague or as a person.’
‘Was she difficult to get on with?’
‘Very much so. We were very different people, you see. I’ve never married, never travelled very much or led what you might call an exciting life. I have what I have, and I’m very thankful for it. I’m not the type of person who always wants more. Jennifer, on the other hand, was very different. She wanted everything, and I suspect that was only to say she had it.’
I encouraged her to continue.
‘If it wasn’t a flash car, it was holidays abroad and designer clothes. It put a few backs up, that’s for sure.’
‘I assume she could afford these luxuries?’
Sheila nodded. ‘She was well paid and her husband has a good job. He’s some sort of business hotshot, but I don’t really know the details. Besides, most people these days use credit cards to get what they want, don’t they?’
I tried to hold a smile. ‘It’s often the way.’
‘I remember when people used to save up for things they wanted.’
I half-heartedly agreed, anxious to keep her talking to us.
‘How was Jennifer as an accountant?’ asked Don, getting us back on track.
‘Generally, I’d say she was fine; certainly to start with.’
‘To start with?’
‘I assume you were told about the incident with her assistant?’
Don and I shook our heads. ‘No.’
Sheila didn’t hold our stare. The nervous Sheila had returned.
‘It won’t go any further’ said Don, encouraging her to continue.
She placed her hands on the table and took a deep breath. ‘A couple of years ago there was a spell when money seemed to be going missing.’
‘I don’t think all the petty cash cheques made their way into the actual petty cash tin. The auditor brought it to Jennifer’s attention and she sorted it out. Mr Briggs was on holiday at the time and she never told me about the problem.’
‘What happened?’ It was obvious she had felt put out by her lack of involvement.
‘Her assistant, Sonia Bray, left, and Mr Briggs considered the matter closed. Jennifer had told me how difficult it would be to get the proof for a conviction, so there was no point involving the police. She also claimed she’d worked out how much Sonia had allegedly stolen and made sure Mr Briggs got the money back.’
I sat up. ‘I assume you’re not convinced Sonia was behind the theft?’
‘No. Not at all.’
‘Any idea where we could find Sonia?’
‘I think so. I’ll let you have the details.’
Don thanked her.
‘How about Jennifer’s supposed illness?’ I said. ‘Do you know anything about it? Mr Briggs said you’d seen her when she was meant to be at work?’
‘My friend had seen her, shopping in Princes Quay when she was supposed to be here. Sheila laughed and shook her head. ‘Her illness? Jennifer might be many things, but I doubt she had been stressed. As I said earlier, she had loved flaunting her money and telling everyone what a great life she had.’
Don nodded to me that we were done. Whether or not she was simply bitter at Jennifer Murdoch’s lifestyle, I didn’t know, but I was taken back at the spite of the woman. The suggestion Murdoch had stolen from the firm and that Terrence Briggs might have an ulterior motive for sacking her was interesting. Before we had chance to consider it further, Terrence Briggs walked into the room.
‘Sheila was helping us out while we waited’ I said to him.
Briggs nodded to his PA, who quickly left the room. ‘What do you think you’re doing?’ he asked us.
‘Our jobs’ said Don.
‘Under the circumstances, you don’t have a job. I won’t be needing you anymore.’
‘The police have already spoken to us.’
Briggs walked across the room and opened the door in the far corner. ‘We’ll talk in here.’
The boardroom featured photographs of building developments the company had been involved with over the years. Briggs had been involved in the construction of several well-known buildings around the city. On the opposite wall were black and white photographs of Hull’s fishing past.
‘Fisherman in a former life?’ I asked him.
I nodded and asked if he was keeping busy.
‘Plenty on at the moment. I’ve got the bread and butter stuff around the estates, maintenance work for the council and there’s still the regeneration projects on the go.’ He opened his drawer and placed a manila file on the desk. ‘I suppose you can take it back.’ It was the initial report we’d prepared for him on Jennifer Murdoch. It contained all the background information we’d pulled together, including her educational details, family background and anything of interest we’d learnt. We left it sitting there.
‘What did the police have to say?’ Don asked.
‘What’s it to you?’
‘You’d asked us to do a job and now she’s dead.’
‘We’re done then, aren’t we? How much do I owe you?’
He looked flustered. I assumed the police had rattled his cage.
‘You told us you wanted her out of your life.’ I reminded him. ‘Whatever it took, I think you told us.’
‘I didn’t mean I wanted her dead, for crying out loud.’ He pointed at me. ‘Look, I set this place up by myself over thirty years ago, built it up from nothing. I got nothing given to me on a plate. Several years later, here I am with one of the city’s largest building companies. I’m not having someone like her take the piss out of me. It’s not going to happen. All I said was that she was on long-term sick and I didn’t reckon it was genuine. Don’t be twisting my words.’
’The police will see you as having motive’ said Don.
‘I only wanted her out of this place.’
‘It’s still the beginnings of something. She was costing you a lot of wasted money, it makes you angry, you know where she lives, you want rid of her. It’s a thought process they’ll be following’ I said.
‘What’s your point?’ asked Briggs. He picked the file up.
‘You’ve still got a few hours left on the clock and we don’t like loose ends.’
Don was waiting for me in the reception of Queens Gardens police station, talking to the officer on front-desk duty. I’d taken his advice and called Coleman to arrange reporting the assault. He’d told me to come to the station and, though he’d led me to believe it would be over with quickly, it had taken a couple of hours. When Coleman eventually saw me, I’d kept my composure and answered the questions as honestly as I could. Even though I had nothing to hide, the situation felt like it had been made as uncomfortable and awkward for me as possible. For all that, I was left in no doubt should I learn anything about the murder of Jennifer Murdoch, I was to inform him immediately. Coleman had assured me I wasn’t being treated as a suspect, rather a witness with some useful background information, but I wasn’t so sure. Maybe I was being paranoid, but I didn’t like the situation I found myself in.
I was glad to be out of the building and getting some fresh air. We walked towards a pub close to our office. I needed a drink to calm my nerves. I showed Don the leaflets I’d been given whilst I waited for Coleman.
‘Investigative Officers,’ I explained, ‘cheap detectives, basically.’ The force was recruiting civilians to assist the detectives with interviewing suspects and gathering evidence. It was policing on the cheap.
Don laughed and passed me my drink. ‘Cheeky bastards. Did they tell you anything?’
‘Nothing. I don’t even know how she was killed.’ I’d asked but they’d refused to tell me. They would be releasing details later during a press conference.
‘What about the assault on you?’
‘They weren’t interested.’
Don said he wasn’t surprised and turned the conversation back to Jennifer Murdoch. ‘You’d have thought there would be some forensics, wouldn’t you?’
‘They didn’t tell me if there was.’ We both knew it was only any good if you had a match on the database. I also knew it could take days for the police to confirm a match. They hadn’t asked me for a sample, as they didn’t have the legal grounds to, but they could have asked me to volunteer if they had really wanted to.
Don asked me what I had made of Terrence Briggs.
‘I don’t like him.’
‘He’s still got a bit of credit left; we should see what turns up in that time.’
I agreed. Although we still had the regular bread and butter work of serving legal papers from solicitors, we weren’t that busy.
‘I don’t like him.’ I repeated.
‘Rude, unpleasant, take your pick.’ I’m usually a good judge of character and something about Briggs jarred with me.
I moved our glasses to one side to allow Don to open the file on Jennifer Murdoch. He started to read to me.
‘Okay, so she’s in her mid-thirties, married and lives in North Ferriby with her husband. Overall salary package is somewhere in the region of £40,000. She’s worked for Briggs for close to ten years.’ He passed the file over to me. There were details of her education and previous employment; father worked the docks, standard education in a local secondary school; nothing unusual.
‘Not such a great employee, though.’ I took a look at the doctor’s notes we’d previously copied from Briggs.
‘Any thoughts?’ Don asked me.
I leant back in the chair and swallowed a mouthful of lager. ‘She’s his accountant, right? She controls the purse-strings. Maybe there had been a falling out between them? Maybe over the money theft?’
Don shrugged. ‘Enough to kill over? I don’t see it.’
Sometimes I’m too inquisitive for my own good. Or rather, our good. Don was good at focusing in on the task at hand. All we’d been asked to do was look at her claim to illness; see if her absence from work was justifiable, and if we could, offer some evidence to her employer.
Don closed the file. ‘I’ll get on with checking her out tomorrow; see what else I can find.’ He looked at his watch and stood up. ‘We’d best hurry up. Sarah’s going to be waiting for us.’
As we walked into the office, Sarah was showing a woman out. The woman wore a head-scarf, partly obscuring her face and didn’t make eye contact as she left. Sarah walked back in and sat down without saying a word.
‘Who’s picking up Lauren?’ Don asked.
I’d not met her ex-husband, but his reputation preceded him. Sarah was in her mid-thirties and hadn’t had much luck with men since. Usually, Don collected his grand-daughter from the childminders if Sarah was held up, but we’d been too busy with Briggs and Coleman. I asked who wanted a drink and busied myself in the kitchen.
‘Potential client?’ I asked, my back turned to them.
‘I think so’ Sarah replied.
I walked across to them with three cups of tea balanced on a tray. ‘What’s her story?’
Sarah opened her notepad. ‘That was Maria Platt. She needs our help to find her daughter.’
Should be a straightforward task, I thought. ‘How long’s she been missing for?’
‘Nearly ten years.’
I sat back in the chair. It’d either be a simple job or a total nightmare.
‘Did you explain our fee structure to her?’ asked Don.
Sarah looked away and said nothing. I looked down at the floor, knowing what was coming.
‘You didn’t, did you?’ he said.
She shook her head. ‘Not really. Look, she’s desperate. I said we’d help her.’ She passed a cheque over to Don. ‘I’ve got this.’
Don looked at it and passed it to me. £200. It wouldn’t go very far in paying the bills.
‘I thought we could see how it goes’ said Sarah, smiling apologetically at us. ‘She’s really desperate.’
‘Why?’ I asked.
‘She’s dying of cancer.’
Once we’d played out the ritual of Don trying to feign anger with Sarah, we all sat back down together to discuss what we could do to help the woman. I smiled at Sarah. The job wouldn’t make us any money, but I admired her spirit. You could never say her heart wasn’t in the right place. Don also knew that, and being his daughter, he was probably all the more proud of her. Besides, it wasn’t like we were inundated with other jobs and it made life interesting.
‘What’s her daughter’s name?’ Don asked.
‘Donna Platt’ said Sarah. She’d photocopied her notes and passed them across to us. ‘29 years old.’
‘No contact at all?’ I asked.
‘None at all.’
‘Not even birthday or Christmas cards?’
Sarah shook her head. ‘Nothing.’
Don looked up from the notes. ‘How about family? Her father?’
‘Died three years ago. Cancer. There’s a brother who’s three years older, but apparently he’s had no contact with her either. I’ve got his details. He’ll talk to us, if need be.’
‘Why did she disappear?’ I asked. ‘What triggered it?’
‘The official line is she wanted to be a singer, so she was going to head off to find fame and fortune. She was in a band with her friend, regulars on the city’s club circuit. We’ve got the name of a friend she sang with, but she wanted bigger things. She’d spoken about moving to London, but we have no idea whether she made the move or not. Other than that, she had a part-time job in a local shop to help pay the bills.’
‘Didn’t her mother try to contact her to tell her about her father’s death?’
‘She put a notice in the paper asking her to get in touch.’
‘I assume she was reported to the police?’ I said.
‘Her husband wouldn’t allow it.’
‘Wouldn’t allow it?’ What kind of father wouldn’t do everything he could to find his daughter, I wondered?
‘I got the impression she was scared of him.’
‘It’s going to be a tough task’ said Don. He stood up and walked over to the window. ‘We’ve not got a lot to go on, have we? Or much time to do it, given the financial constraints.’
‘Maybe we should start with the brother and friend? See if we can shed some light on it?’ Sarah suggested.
I looked away. It was going to be a total nightmare. And that was assuming Donna Platt was still alive.
Don walked over to my desk and placed a pile of print-outs in front of me. ‘Jennifer Murdoch.’
I flicked through them. He’d been thorough, but that was his speciality.
‘There’s more to come, but that should keep you going for now.’
I grunted some form of reply. ‘What do we know?’ I asked him.
‘Not too much more than we already knew.’ He flicked through the paperwork he’d quickly put together and passed me what he was looking for. ‘Take a look at her husband.’
His face was familiar, but I had to scan the text to refresh my memory. ‘Christopher Murdoch.’ He was a local businessman involved in many of the large ongoing regeneration projects around the city. The article I was reading described him as a ‘consultant to the local council’, but as to what he actually did, I didn’t really know. The one thing I was certain about was that he was a major player on the local business scene. If he attached himself to your project, it was likely to be a success.
‘It’s background information’ said Don, reading my mind. From a financial point of view, it suggested Jennifer Murdoch didn’t need to work, but it didn’t explain anything else. I was sure the police would be taking a look at him, though.
‘I’m waiting to hear back from some people.’
It’s surprising how much information is a matter of public record, but we earn our money by uncovering the pieces of information which aren’t so readily available.’
‘Are you helping Sarah?’ he asked me.
I walked over to the kettle and poured myself a re-fill. ‘Meeting her there.’ It’d be a distraction from Jennifer Murdoch, if nothing else.
Don nodded his approval. ‘I’ve got a warrant to serve once we’re through. A rush job, as per usual.’
I watched him gather his papers together as we prepared to head out. I took it as my cue to put my mug down and collect my stuff together.
I sat down next to Sarah, huddled around a small table, legs touching. The pub was hidden away on Bankside, an industrial area situated on the outskirts of the city centre, dominated by the type of light engineering enterprise that employed Gary Platt. The place was almost empty, only a handful of lunchtime drinkers sat at the bar. I’d read the area had at one point been populated by Irish immigrants, though any houses were long gone. Chances were my family had lived in the area.
‘Did your mother explain to you about us?’ asked Sarah.
He stared at us. ‘How much are you charging her?’
‘I don’t like the thought of you taking advantage of her, not in her state. How much are you charging her?’
I took a deep breath and leaned forward. ‘Frankly, Gary, it’s not enough.’ I didn’t want to sound callous, but I wasn’t about to take a lecture from him. Sarah dug me in my ribs with her elbow.
‘What he means, Gary, is we’re working for very much less than our usual rate.’
‘£200, Gary. That’s all’ I said, interrupting. ‘And frankly, if it wasn’t for Sarah insisting we’d help, I would have said no. Now, if you think it’s too much money to maybe find your sister, then fine, we’ll walk away right now. We’ll use the money pursuing other avenues, and when it runs out, which will be very quickly, we’ll draw a line underneath it. Otherwise, you could show us some gratitude and try to help us.’ I was angry but maybe I’d gone too far. ‘Look’ I said, hoping to sound more conciliatory, ‘We want to see if we can find Donna, so your mother finds some peace.’
Gary nodded. ‘I’ll try to help you.’
Sarah took over the questioning. ‘Obviously we didn’t want to push your mother too hard, so we were hoping you could fill in some of the blanks.’ She opened her notepad.
She’d pre-prepared some questions. I only had one question for him at this stage - why had Donna suddenly disappeared?
Gary shrugged. ‘I don’t know.’
‘Was there an argument, or disagreement?’ Sarah suggested. ‘A falling out?’
Gary laughed. ‘There were always arguments. We were a family.’
‘Anything specific around the time she left?’
‘I don’t think so. It’s such a long time ago now.’
‘We appreciate that, Gary. What about her music?’
‘What about it?’
‘Did your dad approve? It must have been difficult for Donna. She wanted to be a singer, but I’m sure most parents would want their children to get a steady job, build a career.’
I wondered if Sarah was talking from personal experience. I can’t imagine Don’s burning ambition for her was to become a private investigator. I picked at my ham salad sandwich. It was disgusting. The lettuce looked days past its best, the bread bordering on being stale.
‘As I said, I don’t think our dad cared for it all that much, and what he said, went.’
‘What did he do for a living?’ I asked.
‘Fuck all. He used to work the trawlers, but when it all went to shit, he couldn’t find another job.’
I knew what he was talking about. My uncle had worked in the fishing industry but that was probably thirty five years ago. Once the jobs disappeared and nobody wanted his skills, he’d worked in factories, making ends meet until he retired. I took the hint that Gary didn’t want to talk about his father, so I asked him if he had any idea where Donna had run to
‘No idea. She’d spoken to people about moving to London, to improve her singing, but I knew Donna, she wouldn’t have made it to London.’
‘For a start, she was always skint. She wouldn’t have been able to get to Leeds, never mind London.’
‘What about her other friends?’ I looked at the name his mother had given us. ‘How about Lisa Day, the girl she sang with? Did she know anything, or suggest where she might have gone?’
‘Nobody knew anything. We asked her. I’m telling you, she just disappeared.’
‘And the police were no help?’
‘Said she was an adult and could do what she liked. They fobbed us off with some of those lost-people charities, but they did nothing for us, either.’
‘What about boyfriends?’ asked Sarah.
Gary shook his head. ‘She didn’t have one.’
‘Only the one I knew about and she got rid of him. Dad didn’t want her bringing men home, so I can’t really help you there.’
‘Did Donna have a job, other than the band? Any workmates who would have missed her?’
‘She worked part-time in a shop, nothing serious.’ He looked at his watch. ‘I never heard anything from them. I guess they got someone in to replace her.’
I sighed and pushed my sandwich to one side. It sounded like nobody had really made the effort to find her.
Sometimes working as a mixed-sex team is useful. If I’d been alone when I’d knocked on Lisa Day’s door, I doubt I would have got my foot in the door, especially looking like I did. Sarah smoothes the rough edges off and her pleasant manner invariably gets us invited in. Like a lot of council properties, Lisa Day’s house had been neglected to the point of no return. It needed decorating from top to bottom and an overall maintenance upgrade; the gas fire looked like it had seen better days and the thin carpet was worn in patches. Lisa was juggling two children. The one on her lap slept while the other child ran freely around the room. Sarah, as ever, was great with them and helped Lisa keep the older one under control as she asked the questions.
‘It’s been years since I saw Donna’ she explained to us. ‘I’m not sure how I can help you.’ She looked at her watch. ‘I’ve got to pick the eldest kids up from school soon.’
Lisa was in her late-twenties, around the same age as Donna. I guessed life hadn’t been too kind to her, but I didn’t ask.
‘We know it’s been a long time’ said Sarah. ‘We appreciate your time. Donna’s mum really needs to contact her.’
Her suspicion was tangible. A mistake. She looked away from us.
I glanced at Sarah. ‘Mrs Platt has cancer’ I said.
I nodded. When was it ever not bad?
‘Poor woman. I really liked her.’
‘How well did you know Donna?’ Sarah asked.
Lisa composed herself. ‘We were best friends. We lived next door to each other, went to school together. All that kind of stuff.’
‘Mrs Platt mentioned you sung together?’
She looked embarrassed before answering. ‘Yeah, we had a band. Not a proper band, mind you. It was just us two using backing tapes. We played the local pubs and clubs. It was alright; we made some cash and we had some fun for a bit. We called ourselves 2’s Company.’
I thought I sensed something in her voice. ‘What happened?’ I asked.
‘Frank Salford happened.’
‘He was our manager.’ She looked at Sarah and then me. ‘I don’t want to talk about him.’
‘Why not?’ I asked.
She shrugged. ‘I don’t want to get involved with him again.’
Sarah nudged me. It meant shut up. We’d take a look at him in due course. ‘Did Donna have a boyfriend?’ she asked.
Lisa looked relieved at the change of subject. ‘Nobody she took seriously. There was always one or two on the scene but nothing that was going anywhere. It was difficult for her, living at home. She couldn’t take them home. Her parents didn’t approve.’
It might be something worth looking into. She clearly knew more than Donna’s brother. I leant forward. ‘Why did Donna leave, Lisa?’ There had to be more.
‘I don’t know.’
‘No idea at all?’ I asked.
‘Donna had big dreams.’ She shrugged. ‘She was always saying we should go to London because that’s where it all happened. She seemed to think Salford could help us.’
‘You didn’t want to go to London?’ asked Sarah.
Lisa shook her head. ‘We were too young for all of that. I’ve got family here, so I couldn’t swan off to London, even if I wanted to.’
‘Is there anywhere else Donna might have gone? Anybody else who might be able to help us?’
Lisa shook her head. ‘Singing was her life. It was all she wanted to do.’
‘Do you think she went to London?’
‘Doubt it. Donna talked a lot, but I don’t think she had it in her to leave Hull, to leave her mam.’
‘Did you ever try to contact her?’
‘I couldn’t. It was down to her to ring me because she knew where I was. I had no way of finding her.’
‘What did her parents think about the singing?’ I asked, changing the subject.
She shrugged. ‘Don’t really know. Her mam always supported us and offered to help with costumes and stuff.’
‘What about her father?’
‘What about him?’
‘Did he take an interest in the band?’
‘No.’ She laughed and looked up. ‘He never took much interest in anything other than his drink and horses. He didn’t approve of us singing.’
‘Was it a problem for Donna?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘If her mother was interested in helping her, and her father wasn’t, did it become a problem? Did they fall out over it?’
Lisa shrugged her shoulders. ‘It was none on my business.’
Sarah nodded to me that we were about finished. She was probably right but I wasn’t happy with her response about Donna’s father. Maybe it was something for another day. I opened my notebook and made a note of their manager’s name. ‘Any idea where we might find Frank Salford?’
I wanted to speak to Salford. We stood up to leave.
‘Will you let me know if you hear anything?’ she asked us.
‘Sure’ I said. I turned back to her. ‘Do you still sing?’
She looked at me properly for the first time. ‘Only to my children.’
I leant down and placed the flowers I’d bought earlier on the grave. It was late afternoon and the light was starting to fade. It was my favourite part of the day and the time I liked to visit. Set back from the main road, it felt peaceful. Even though I knew it word for word, I read the headstone, as if on automatic pilot. It had been two years, but it felt much, much longer. My mobile vibrated in my pocket. I looked at the screen and disconnected the call. It was Don calling. I’d left him a message earlier to check out 2’s Company’s manager, Frank Salford, but it could wait. He told me to speak to him before I did anything further.I sensed somebody stood close to me and turned around.
‘Alright, lad.’ The man was old, I guessed in his seventies.
‘It doesn’t get any easier, does it? It never goes away.’
We stood there for a moment in silence, looking at the headstone, detailing dates of birth and death. I could tell he was doing the maths.
‘I think I’ve seen you here before’ I said to him.
‘I visit every week.’ I followed his finger to where he was pointing to. ‘My wife’s over there. Nearly ten years now but I still miss her every single day.’
There wasn’t much I could say. We stood there silently, bound together by our respective losses.
‘38 is no age.’ He was pointing at my wife’s grave. ‘No age at all.’
I didn’t make a habit of daytime drinking, but it had been that kind of day. The Queens Hotel on Princes Avenue was my local and close to my flat. Princes Avenue was the place to be seen in the city. Everywhere you turned, there were bars and restaurants, all trying to sell the illusion of continental relaxation. Hull was a tough town but however well you covered over the bruises, the true nature of the place was never far from the surface. Queens is situated well away from the rest of the bars and I like to think it has a well-kept secret feel about it. It certainly doesn’t appeal to the kind of people who mistake the trendier bars for catwalks, so I was happy enough. I paid for my lager and headed over to an empty table to read the evening paper. I was about finished with the sports section when I noticed I had company. A man of similar age to myself was stood over me.
‘It’s Joe, isn’t it?’ he asked.
I nodded but had no idea who he was.
‘I thought so. Joe Geraghty.’
The man sat down and extended his hand to me. ‘Dave Carter.’
I shook it, still none the wiser.
‘You used to play rugby with my brother, John.’
I wasn’t in the mood for taking a trip down memory lane.
‘I saw your debut for Rovers, when was it...1986?’
I nodded. ‘Castleford.’ I scored a try as well.
‘That’s right. I remember. You were the best teenage scrum-half I ever saw. It’s a shame injury did for you, otherwise I reckon you’d have gone on to play internationally.’
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