Caffeine Nights Publishing
Published by Caffeine Nights Publishing 2012
Copyright © RC Bridgestock 2012
RC Bridgestock has asserted their right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1998 to be identified as the author of this work
CONDITIONS OF SALE
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, scanning, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher
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
www. caffeine-nights com
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data.
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
Cover design by
Mark (Wills) Williams
Everything else by
Default, Luck and Accident
Thank you to Margaret Emsley, Gemma Beckwith and Ray Jordan for the reading of early drafts and subsequent support and contributions.
Also to our publisher Darren Laws for his continued hard work, dedication and belief in Jack Dylan's career.
For those who strive daily to bring to justice the lawbreakers.
The victims will always come first.
‘Enough,’ Detective Inspector Jack Dylan sighed as he slid his chair away from the desk. He had spent a good few hours with his nose to the grindstone but at last he had reached the base of the paper mountain that had greeted him at the start of his day.
He studied for a moment the last letter in his pile, yet another solicitor’s request for a hard copy of a police file. Why in the age of electronic messaging did they, along with the courts and Uncle Tom Cobley and all still demand them? It wasn’t as if they didn’t have computer terminals or a network set up; so it had to be down to people being afraid of change, or their lack of trust in today’s technology. The prosecution file against the child murderer of Daisy Charlotte Hind and Christopher Spencer he’d recently dealt with would fill two transit vans; yet another rain forest turned to dust. He’d already received copious letters from the defence solicitors Perfect & Best who had a reputation for being ruthless. Their business had recently moved to the larger premises of the old Co-Op buildings in Harrowfield as their popularity increased amongst the criminal fraternity. They condemned police action at every opportunity and ensured the press were there to report it. Nonetheless, their clients still got sent down, but not without a courtroom drama. Dylan knew they would have a team ready to spend hours, days, weeks scrutinizing the case, searching for that weak link, a break of continuity in the line of evidence or a failure to disclose something to the defence; anything to drive a stake right through the heart of the prosecution case. The defence had it easy in his eyes everything was delivered to their door on a platter. The main evidence was received by them a matter of days after an arrest and once they knew what the police evidence was they could then put forward a defence. Dylan smirked to himself as he packed documents into his briefcase, a case for the three monkeys perhaps for the defence could see everything, hear everything and say nowt. There were only four defences to murder: diminished responsibility, insanity, provocation or a suicide pact. Who knows, Perfect & Best might advise their client to plead guilty on this one - Nah, that wouldn’t be a money-maker for them now would it?
Dylan jumped as his leg cramped and he frantically rubbed it. It was time to go home. He was looking forward to a weekend away on the Isle of Wight with his partner Jen, far from the madding crowd.
‘On my way love, just crossing the yard to the car,’ Dylan spoke into his mobile.
‘Brilliant. We’re all ready and waiting...aren’t we?’ she said, as he heard Max their golden retriever start barking loudly in the background.
‘Let’s set straight off to miss the teatime traffic, eh? We can grab a sandwich on the way. I’ll drive.’ she shouted over the noise.
‘Sounds good to me,’ he said, smiling. ’I’ll see you in about fifteen minutes.’ He put his briefcase in the boot of the car. He knew a couple of hours start on the rush hour traffic would make such a difference to the lengthy journey. Throwing his suit jacket on the back seat of car he pulled off his tie and opened his shirt collar. Dropping his shoulders, he sighed dramatically and could instantly feel himself relaxing as he relished the thought of time off after the pressure he’d been under, recently. The radio bellowed out an Abba song and he found himself singing along, badly. He chuckled; thank goodness no one could hear. A mile from home he joined a queue of slow moving traffic. At the approach to Stan Bridge the traffic came to a standstill. Dylan drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. ‘Come on…places to go, people to see,’ he muttered. Winding down the window and leaning out as far as he could he saw a flashing blue beacon ahead. Was it police, ambulance? ‘Not an accident …please,’ he groaned. He turned up the radio. The local news was just about to start. In his experience local radio was always fantastic at keeping people up to date with traffic news. There was no alternative route though, whatever the problem, so he’d no choice but to wait. And he did; what could have been only minutes seemed like an eternity.
‘Bloody hell,’ said Dylan as he banged his hand hard on the steering wheel, accidentally causing his horn to blare out which triggered a chain reaction from the other drivers.
‘Damn.’ That wasn’t his intention. He knew only too well car horns did nothing to ease a situation such as this and he immediately felt embarrassed.
‘Police are advising motorists to avoid the Stan Bridge area of the A581 as they are dealing with an incident of a man threatening to jump off the bridge. There could be long delays.’ The words came from the rich, calm voice of the broadcaster who was obviously sat in his cosy office. The last thing Dylan wanted was to get involved, but what could he do? Sit tight and hope a police negotiator was on the way or the person jumped? He, like the rest in the queue, simply wanted to continue on his journey. He picked up his mobile. Their phone was engaged. If he knew her, Jen would be ringing her dad with an estimated time of arrival. This message from him he knew was going to go down like a lead balloon.
‘Slight delay love...I’ve got a jumper. I’ll be with you as soon as I can.’ He switched his mobile off, threw it on the passenger seat, retrieved his jacket and eased himself out of the car. Dylan locked the car and set off to walk past the stationary vehicles and their frustrated occupants.
Jen picked up his message smiling and ended listening to it in tears of frustration, kicking the suitcases that stood like sentries on the doorstep.
‘Ouch,’ she screamed as she stubbed her toe. Max cowered. Jen hopped up and down the hallway, moaning.’ Flaming work, why do I bloody bother?’ She seethed, flopping dramatically down on the sofa in the lounge. She looked towards the ceiling pulling her hand through her hair in frustration. Max settled amongst the bags in the hall like a brindle suitcase – to be sure he wouldn’t be forgotten. She picked up the pamphlet of the beautiful, picture postcard thatched cottage in Luccombe she had rented. The pictures showed far-reaching sea views but it was nearly three hundred miles away and they were now not going to see them today, it would be dark by the time they arrived. Although the few days away was a chance to escape the rat race, it was also an opportunity to check up on her dad and see how he was coping since her mum had been tragically killed as a result of a road accident a few months earlier and she couldn’t wait to see him. His neighbours had been kind, keeping an eye on him and updating her, but she was desperate to see how he was for herself. Although her Dad had always seemed the stronger of the two, in fact it was her mum who had always been the housekeeper and his rock. Jen couldn’t believe he was cooking for himself these days, since he’d never so much as made a cup of tea when her mum was alive. She shook her head and sighed, poor dad. She felt so guilty leaving him after the funeral but he had insisted that his life was on the Isle of Wight and he had no intention of leaving. It had been her home too until a few years ago when she’d felt she had no alternative but to move away.
‘Please hurry Jack,’ she said, and Max barked as he rose and came to her side. She was never surer he understood everything she said as she stroked his strong, soft head.
DI Dylan’s pace quickened as he passed the toll booth. ‘Of all the bridges in all the world, why did it have to be this one, kid?’ The bridge he knew was no stranger to disasters. The present structure, built from Yorkshire stone, had two semi-elliptical arch ribs that were supported by stone piers. An earlier stone bridge on the site had collapsed on Rogation Day in the seventeen hundreds, during a beating of the bounds ceremony, causing many injuries. It had partly collapsed in a flash flood in recent years and was a place that Dylan had become a regular visitor to as a Negotiator where he attempted to talk people out of jumping to their deaths. Dylan reached the police car and beyond it at its highest point he could see the would-be flyer. The fragile figure of a young man stood like an Olympic diver, peering over the edge.
Dylan recognised the young policewoman heading towards him.
‘Do we know who he is, Tracy?’
‘No sir,’ she said, surprised he remembered her name. He looked upwards… ‘Why’s he up there?’
‘Er. . . he’s threatening to jump.’
Dylan raised his eyebrows.
‘Oh, sorry sir, that’s a bit obvious…’ she said, blushing so intensely that her cheeks, brow and neck were suffused in crimson.
‘Supervision is on its way and I’ve just been asked to stop traffic at this end. We’ve got another car at the Sibden end.’
Dylan nodded. ’Okay, let Control know there’s a negotiator here, that’s me. Now who’s stating the obvious?’ he said, as he smiled at her. ’Get them to divert traffic further back and make sure everything is stopped under the bridge. We could do with an ambulance down below, nearby. We’ll also need HQ to mobilise the Operational Support Unit in case he goes in the river.’
‘Yes, sir,’ Tracy looked relieved to be given a purposeful task.
‘I’m gonna try and talk some sense into him. When you’ve done, walk to within ten yards of me so I don’t ’ave to shout if we need to pass a message to Control. At the same time I don’t want him to be able to hear your radio transmitting.’
‘Of course sir,’ she said.
‘Right, better get to him. He might go over before I even get there at this rate.’ Dylan saw Tracy’s face blanch. In an instant it was as though she realised that the man threatening to jump might actually do it and she’d be a witness to the incident.
Dylan strode out with urgency in his pace. He could hear the taunts and jeers from the crowd that had gathered behind him.
‘Tell him to jump. Do us all a favour.’ called one. Dylan cringed.
Dylan knew a lot of people hadn’t time for suicides: their view being that some people frantically fought daily to save lives and people attempting suicide were throwing theirs away. Only one member of the public had stepped forward to help Dylan in a similar situation – the brother of a ‘jumper’. Against the manual’s advice Dylan had let him go forward. Within seconds the brothers were like bookends on the flyover both threatening to jump. Fortunately after a couple of hours of ‘double talk,’ they climbed down, but Dylan had learnt an invaluable lesson that day; to stick to the rules.
Thankfully, the further along the bridge Dylan walked the less coherent the voices of the frustrated motorists and on lookers were. He felt the wind in his face. St Peter’s Park and the Sibden Valley came into view and in the far distance the bleak Yorkshire moorland: a spectacular sight, and one he realised he never truly appreciated as he drove over the bridge. Stepping up onto the pavement, he noticed the Victorian iron palisades which had been fitted after a man had been pushed to his death by an unknown attacker. Dylan was pleased it was there, boy did he detest heights. He’d almost reached the ‘jumper’ when he was stopped by shouting.
‘Don’t come any fucking nearer or I’ll go over…I mean it.’ he threatened.
Dylan instantly complied with his demands. He wished he had a penny for every time he’d heard that line before. Since becoming a negotiator he’d heard some horrific stories and personal tragedies from people who were threatening to end their lives, but if they were still there when he arrived, in his experience there was a good chance it was a cry for help; if they were serious they didn’t hesitate. However, if the wind picked up it would take the ‘jumper’ over the edge whether it was intended or not.
This lad now had Dylan’s total attention.
‘I know you’re serious, but I’m here to help,’ said Dylan as clearly and as sensitively as he knew how. ’Will you let me? Whatever the problem is we can sort it out.’
‘Just fuck off,’ the ‘jumper’ insisted, stepping precariously from one foot to the other on the flagstone at the top of a pillar.
Dylan studied the lad, he’d have liked a closer look but he was sure he knew the face. He moved slightly forward hoping it would go unnoticed, and it did. Yes, it was Alan ‘Chubby’ Connor, local robber, burglar, and self-harmer, you name it, this lad had done it all before.
‘Poor sod,’ thought Dylan. He had spent his life in and out of institutions. Dylan pulled up the collar on his jacket. He could feel the cold seeping through his clothing; it was a hell of a lot cooler now. The northerly wind whistled by him sending a chill through his whole body. It might say March on the calendar but spring seemed a long way off to Dylan, from where he was standing.
Chubby’s thin frame was clothed in a short sleeved, grubby t-shirt and jeans.
‘You must be bloody perishing up there.’
There was no reply. However, he did adjust a baseball cap on his head.
‘Perhaps it was an essential accessory these days,’ Dylan thought, if you didn’t have a hoodie.
‘It’s Chubby Connor isn’t it?’ Dylan took two further steps forward without reprimand.
‘So there’s nothing wrong with your eyesight then copper? And no I haven’t done any jobs I want to admit to before I jump – so fuck off.’
Chubby splayed his left hand and Dylan caught sight of a small knife in his right.
‘Don’t do it Chubby, there’s no need, I’m not coming any nearer.’
‘Back off then.’ Chubby held the knife to his wrist. Dylan took a step backwards.
‘Okay, whatever you say.’ Dylan’s raised his palms to show him he was retreating.
A one man crime wave was standing right in front of him. A vote to save him or not, he knew, would definitely have got the thumbs down.
‘Think about performance figures,’ he heard his bosses say. ’What an opportunity you had.’
‘What the hell is all this about, Chubby?’ Dylan said. ’If you’ve done nothing wrong why are you doing this? You must be freezing your bollocks off up there for nowt.’ He shivered involuntarily. Chubby remained silent. Dylan could see him shaking but whether it was fear, cold or withdrawal from some substance he didn’t know. Dylan talked. Hands in his pockets he shuffled his feet in an attempt to keep warm. Chubby remained silent but studious, his pallor noticeably turning blue with cold. Detective Inspector Dylan couldn’t tell whether his words were getting through, he could only hope.
‘I’d rather go over than go back inside.’ Chubby said.
Dylan remained silent but had gained eye contact.
‘People think it’s easy in prison, but it ain’t,’ he continued.
‘Why should you go back inside, Chubby? What’s happened to make you think that? Come on...tell me.’
He didn’t reply but leaned forward to glance over the precipice.
Dylan took the step forward that he’d relinquished earlier and changed tactics.
‘You might die if you go over… but then again you might just be badly hurt and in a lot of pain you know and still end up going inside. Let’s try and sort it, eh?’ Dylan pleaded.
‘Life’s shit...my life’s shit...what’s the point?’ he whimpered.
‘Of course there’s a point...I bet you just haven’t thought it through, ’ave you?...You’re not ill are you?’
‘Why, what you after? A bloody donor card? Tell you what get me one and I’ll sign it for you before I go over.’
‘No...do I ’ell,’ Dylan back tracked quickly.
‘What the fuck is she doing?’ asked Chubby, nodding at something behind Dylan that had caught his attention. Dylan turned to see Tracy walking towards them and signalled her to stop.
‘I asked her to see if she could get some hot drinks for us. I know I need one, don’t you? She’s probably coming to see what we want. Come on mate, you must be cold; you’ve got a purple glow about you. What about a sandwich . . .’ave you eaten today? What’s the harm in having a drink and a sandwich, eh Chubby?’ Dylan asked.
There was no response, but Chubby appeared thoughtful. By the look of his gaunt face and the sight of his pronounced ribs he probably hadn’t eaten in days.
‘Well, what do you think Chubby? I’m going to ’ave a drink, so shall I get her to get you one too?’
‘Okay… just a drink...but I’m staying here...don’t think I’m coming down...don’t think I won’t do it,’ he said in a calmer less convincing voice.
Chubby Connor rubbed a grimy hand across his brow as he looked at Dylan and nodded. ‘Three sugars.’
Dylan sighed; he knew he’d made progress. ‘Tracy, radio up for some hot coffee as a matter of urgency… I don’t care where it’s from. Just reinforce its urgent,’ Dylan said looking over his shoulder. He was feeling the cold; there was definitely no global warming in Yorkshire.
Tracy stared at him wide eyed and then screamed.
Dylan turned back. ’Shit.’ he shouted, running to the railings. Chubby Connor had gone over the edge.
Bartlett’s Academy for girls was the cream of the schools in West Yorkshire, and Liz and Malcolm Reynolds were delighted when their only daughter, Gemma Louise had been accepted. Dropping her off in her new school uniform had been a proud moment and Liz brushed away a tear, wishing that Malcolm could have been there too. She’d stopped off at Tesco on her way home to obtain the supplies of champagne and strawberries for the afternoon tea party she’d organised for Sunday. Singing softly, she pushed the car door shut with her knee and juggled with a heavy box, as she walked the few yards to her front door. Fumbling with the key in the lock she could hear the telephone ringing. She wasn’t expecting a call but the persistent jingle made her instinctively rush. Precariously, she rested the corner of the box on the telephone table and snatched the phone off its cradle.
‘Hello?’ she said. ‘Damn. Why does that always happen?’ she cried, and quickly rang 1471. Listening to the ringing tone, she smiled at her reflection in the mirror, running her fingers through her newly highlighted hair. She bent closer to the glass to look at her whitened teeth. Wearing the mouth tray of whitening gel had been a bit of a pain but the results were...wow. She giggled, inspecting them closely. Boy was she fortunate to have kept her looks from her photographic modelling days after all she’d been through.
‘The caller withheld their number. Thank you for using this service.’ Liz dropped the phone in its holder. She lifted the box and placed it on the worktop in the kitchen. The telephone rang again. Stopping in her tracks, she swivelled on one foot, glancing heavenward to the chandelier and totted back in her high-heeled boots to pick up the phone.
‘Hello?’ she said, resting the receiver between her jaw and her fur collar as she flicked through the post.
‘That’s better Lizzie…you’ve gotta be quick gal…you never know when it’s going to be important,’ said a man’s mellow voice.
‘Who is this?’ No one called her Lizzie but Malcolm.
The caller dismissed her question.
‘Gemma Lou looked very smart this morning in her smart new uniform, didn’t she? Mmm…just lovely.’
‘Pardon?’ she said, as her gut involuntarily clenched. A hot flush crept through her body and her hand tingled. The man’s voice was quiet, thick but crystal clear. She racked her brain to put a name to it or a place to the accent. He didn’t reply but she could hear his heavy breathing. Liz realised she was squeezing the phone tight and saw the reflection of her white knuckles in the mirror. Who was this creep, this loony? Some ‘paedo’ they warned people about? How did he know their number, her name and, more to the point, Gemma’s? In his silence questions ping-ponged around her head. The mirror in which she had just admired herself now showed her frightened expression. She turned her back on it.
‘What?’ she said, her mouth dry. ’W…what did you say?’
‘You.’ Liz jumped at the growl. ’You heard what I said. Listen, I’m not a crank. Gemma must get her looks from you coz it definitely ain’t from Mal.’ He sniggered. ‘At the moment, she’s at school. Do as I say and she’ll remain there.’ Goosebumps appeared on Liz’s arms.
‘What do you want?’ she asked, not recognising her own voice as it rose in pitch. ’Speak to me…or I’ll hang up,’ she demanded.
‘Don’t fuck with me….’ he snapped, ‘or, little lady, you might just live to regret it. I’m watching you.’ Liz’s eyes flew around the room. There were no windows in the hall, which was the centre of their opulent Georgian home. So where was he watching from? She ran to the door and turned the key with desperate, trembling fingers. Had she opened any windows in the house? Were the deadlocks on the back door? She couldn’t breathe.
‘Liz…Liz look, just be a good girl; take off that fur coat…it does nothing for your figure love. Go into the lounge and sit down on your nice new leather settee. You need to calm down.’ She stood rooted to the spot in disbelief. Where the hell was he?
‘Do it.’ he screeched. She jumped.
‘I’m sorry…please, please, just don’t hurt us.’ She keeled over as if she had been punched in the stomach, trying to disentangle her self from the coat’s sleeves. She was sobbing now, quietly. She staggered, dropped the fur coat to the floor in the sitting room wanting so much to just hang up the phone, but not daring to disobey.
Liz loved her lounge. An elegant Chinese rug sat in the middle of the solid oak wood floor, and upon it stood three huge beige Italian soft leather sofas. She’d chosen gilt Laura Ashley light fittings and lampshades with crystal droplets. The sun coming from behind a cloud suddenly burst through the full wall of windows that were framed with plush deep red velvet curtains making the room feel snug, until now. She stumbled like a zombie and sat on the edge of a cushion. Should she hang up? Drive to the school? Ring the police? Thoughts raced through her head, but she was under his control.
‘I’ve done what you’ve asked.’
‘I know…’ he whispered.
Liz’s eyes scoured the room out through the windows to the garden beyond. Where was he?
‘What do you want? Why are you doing this?’ she asked.
‘Be quiet and listen.’
Liz held her hand to her forehead trying desperately to think what would be best to say. She daren’t move; like a rabbit in a car’s headlights, she was frozen.
‘Firstly,you tell nobody about my call, do you understand…no one at all, because I’ll know.’
‘Yes...yes,’ she said. She gulped. Tears threatened. Where was Liz, the strong, confident woman who had coped with so much, she asked herself.
‘Later this morning you’ll contact your bank manager at Lloyds.’
‘Yes...but...but how do you...which?’
‘Never you mind,’ he interrupted, ‘...you just tell him that you’re calling to warn him that you’ll be with drawing a substantial amount of cash...soon. The amount and the day you’ll confirm, when I’ve decided.’
‘But...I can’t. My husband deals with the money… you’ll have to speak to...’
‘You stupid, stupid bitch,’ he shouted so loud in her ear that she almost dropped the phone. ’Don’t try playing games with me. We both know that he won’t be home for a long time yet, now don’t we? Not even on day release.’ Liz gulped hard. Who the hell …? How did he know so much?
‘Do as you’re told, or next time it won’t just be the Koi. I’ll be in touch. And remember, I’m watching you.’ The phone went dead.
‘What do you mean? Wait.’ she shouted. The dialling tone burred in her ear. Liz raced along the hallway to the downstairs bathroom and bolted the door. She was safe. Her head was reeling. She leaned forward, grasping the basin and looked into the mirror. What on earth was she going to do? She felt nausea rise within her.
‘Gemma,’ she said as she lifted her head remembering what he’d said. She turned and threw up in the toilet bowl.
Wiping her mouth of vomit and still gasping for breath from the retching, she realised she had to pull herself together.
Liz unlocked the door, her stomach swirled, she felt dizzy and her heart pounded. Thoughts raced around her confused head. What if he’d already got to Gemma? Why the hell hadn’t she noticed someone watching her? There was no time to try to work it out, Gemma was her priority, and first and foremost Liz had to find out if she was okay and still at school. Her senses on high alert, her maternal instincts taking over, she headed for the knife block that sat on a worktop in the kitchen and snatching a stainless steel meat knife from the stand with one hand, she picked up the phone that was hung on the wall above.
Calm down, calm down, she told herself, as she stood in the corner that had full view of the doors and windows. Giving in to her shaking legs, she slid to the floor, her back resting against the kitchen units. She desperately needed to control her breathing or she knew she would faint. Was he still watching her? Her lips trembled, her eyes stung with hot tears that jumped afresh into her eyes and carried the remainder of her mascara down her face, and with them the make-up she had applied so perfectly, earlier that morning. Hanging her head, she could see her hair was tipped with vomit and her clothing was crumpled. She looked as she felt; no longer did the thirty-six year old look a million dollars in her expensive designer outfit, far from it. Hugging her knees to her chest she bent her head in between her legs and stared at the marble floor as if she had never seen it before.
‘Get a grip...come on, ring the school’. As she looked up, the brandy bottle opposite drew her like a magnet. She clambered to her feet. Leaving the phone on the work surface she fumbled with the screw cap of the bottle with shaking hands - Dutch courage.
‘Shit, come on.’ She struggled with the cap. Liz gulped the cognac, spilling more down her silk blouse than she managed to swallow. Coughing and spluttering, she slammed the bottle down and heaved a sigh. It seemed to bring her to her senses, or dull the pain, she was unaware which. She pressed number 5 on the phone, which she’d programmed, for Gemma’s school. ’Come on, come on,’ she tapped her foot impatiently, tightening her grip on the handle of the knife.
‘Good morning, Bartlett’s Academy for Girls’, said a high pitched, beautifully spoken lady.
‘It’s...its Mrs Reynolds from ‘The Grange.’ I’m ringing to see if my daughter’s...okay?’ Liz’s teeth were chattering. ’When I dropped her off she wasn’t feeling well...too well...you see. I can… do you want me to come for her?’
‘I’m sure if she was ill we would have contacted you Mrs Reynolds. It’s probably first day nerves...but wait, one moment. I’ll go and check to put your mind at rest.’
The line went dead for what seemed like forever. Liz could hear children’s faint, muffled laughs and squeals in the background.
‘Come on...come on...come on …’ she said, prodding the tip of the knife into her leg until she drew blood. ‘Ouch.’ She jumped and hit the button on the oven with her head. The timer beeped loudly. Her heart leapt.
‘Fucking hell.’ she screeched.
‘Pardon? Mrs Reynolds...are you there?’
‘Ouch, er...yes...sorry,’ Liz grimaced.
The Secretary continued nonplussed, ‘Gemma’s fine. Whatever it was that was troubling her this morning seems to have passed.’ Liz exhaled loudly. The words spun in her head ‘She’s fine… She’s fine.’ There was a buzzing in her ears.
‘She’s painting away at the moment, not a care in the world.’
Tears of relief streamed down Liz’s cheeks and she let out a cry.
‘Mrs Reynolds, are you okay?’
Liz bit her lip. She placed the knife on the floor and put her hand over her mouth to smother the sobs. ‘Yes, yes thank you...thank you …Oh...it’ll be me who picks her up this afternoon...no one else.’
‘You have a nice day now.’
‘Wait...don’t...please don’t let her go with anyone . . .’ Liz sobbed into the mouthpiece but the phone had already been replaced at the other end.
The house was still; Liz could hear a train rattling in the distance, the burr of a motorbike, a siren; the normality of the outside world. Strangely, she was soothed by the familiar noises that usually annoyed her living on a main road. Above her the small window in the kitchen was open and she thought she heard the latch on the gate click. Liz held her breath and again sunk to the floor. The wind chime tinkled; usually a sign someone had nudged it as they passed on the block paved path to the back door, or was it just the breeze? Eyes staring and hand once more tight around the knife, she crawled on all fours across the kitchen floor. She cowered on her haunches for a moment slowly daring to raise her head above the worktop. She was sure she could hear footsteps outside. Her hand holding the knife shook uncontrollably and she grabbed her wrist with the other to steady it. A tingling sensation trickled through her upper limbs as her heart banged in her chest.
‘Who is it?’ she called. Straining, she could hear a dragging sound. ’What the hell...oh, my God, oh, my God,’ she whispered.
‘I’ve got a knife.’ she shouted. She stopped. She listened. ‘I’ve got a knife,’ she screamed.
Dylan’s stomach flipped as adrenalin rushed around his body. Before peering over the wall he prepared himself to see Chubby’s body splattered on the ground below or floating down the river.
‘Fucking hell’. Dylan’s heart pounded and his whole body trembled. Chubby Connor was squatted on a ledge on the other side, clinging to the railings.
‘Next time I won’t jump onto the ledge.’ Chubby said, seeing Dylan’s face. ’You care don’t you?’ he continued, surprised.
‘Care, I’ll bloody kill you myself when I get my hands on you. You...you bloody fool...course I care. You nearly gave me a frigging heart attack.’ he stammered.
Chubby sniggered. ‘We used to do it as kids, as a dare.’
‘Well you’re not a kid now, get back over here.’ Dylan said, leaning heavily on the wall.
‘You okay? You look terrible?’ Chubby said pulling himself back onto the bridge. Instinctively, Dylan reached over and grabbed him like a striking snake...breaking all the rules of negotiation, adrenalin undoubtedly giving him the strength to drag Chubby to the floor beside him, where he landed with one almighty thud.
‘Don’t you ever fucking do that to me again...do you hear, you stupid, fucking bastard?’ Dylan said, straddling Chubby, his clenched fist was centimetres from his nose.
‘Shall I handcuff him, sir?’ shouted Tracy. Dylan nodded, unable to speak momentarily as he took a deep breath. ‘Yeah,’ he said, eventually. ‘We don’t want him back up there do we? There’s a knife of his just over there too,’ he said pointing to the offending object lying yards away from them on the road.
Dylan rolled off Chubby and sat with his back to the pillar, his head in his hands between his knees trying to stop his body from shaking. Reality had hit home and Dylan knew only too well that Chubby’s body weight, light as he was, could easily have pulled him over too, if he’d decided to leap.
‘We’ll sort things out Chubby, there’s no need for all this,’ he said, lifting his head.
‘You think so? You wouldn’t say that if you’d found your girlfriend in bed with yer best mate.’ Chubby said solemnly as a tear rolled down his cheek.
‘So that’s what all this is about?’ Dylan stood. Emotionally charged, Chubby told Dylan how he’d gone to court to see about his suspended sentence and the community work he’d been expecting to get as punishment for his crime, maybe even an ASBO. The hearing had been cancelled so he’d returned to the flat, which he called home, when he wasn’t ‘inside’. When he walked in the bedroom he’d seen his best mate Billy in bed with his girlfriend, Carly. He’d lost it big time and given Billy a good hiding and Carly a slapping as she’d tried to intervene. The police had been called so the neighbours had screamed, as they banged on the flat’s door, so he’d legged it. Chubby knew he’d broken his conditions and he wasn’t prepared to go back inside, which is why he had ended up on the bridge. Dylan let him talk.
‘’Ave they complained about the assault?’
‘Police were called…so I ’aven’t a cat in hells chance ’ave I?’ he shrugged.
‘You sure they’ve complained? If they ’aven’t you’ve been up there for nowt.’ He could tell he was giving Chubby food for thought as all three walked slowly towards the police car.
‘Tracy, will you check with Control and see if Chubby is wanted for anything, or if any complaints ’ave bin made against him this morning? He’ll need a new place to stay, perhaps a probation hostel.’ Tracy turned and spoke into her radio. The men were silent. Beneath his calm exterior Dylan was still in shock at seeing Chubby ‘go over’. Minutes later Tracy confirmed.
‘He’s not wanted and there’s no complaints been made against him. When I get back to the nick I’ll make some phone calls to his probation officer and see what can be sorted out, sir.’
‘See...everything’s alright. Now go with Tracy back to the nick, and you behave for her,’ Dylan said, sitting beside him for a moment with the police cars door open wide. Tracy brought a blanket out of the boot and placed it round Chubby’s shoulders. The kid was shivering uncontrollably.
‘I don’t want to see or hear of you threatening suicide again. Do I make myself clear young man? Nothing or no one is worth it.’
‘I can’t face going back inside,’ Chubby said, shaking his head.
‘Well you don’t ’ave to worry about that today...so keep your nose clean from now on and it won’t be an issue will it? Look, I’ve got to go, so do as you’re told.’ Dylan put a reassuring hand on Chubby’s shoulder before Tracy gently closed the door.
‘I’m sorry I screamed sir...it wasn’t very professional but I thought he’d jumped,’ she said.
‘You and me both Tracy,’ Dylan said shaking his head. ‘Let Control know the outcome will you. I’ve got to get home,’ he said looking at his watch. ’We’re supposed to be setting off early for a weekend away.’
A few people stood out of their cars as Dylan walked back along the line of traffic. A stocky man in a leather ‘bomber’ style jacket leant heavily on his open door.
‘About bleedin time...you should’ve thrown the sad bastard off,’ he said, as Dylan came alongside. Dylan pushed the door closed, trapping the man against his car.
‘And you should learn to keep your thoughts to yourself if you want to finish your journey,’ he said, giving the door an extra shove. He would complain about Dylan – he was the type. Did he care? Right now...did ’e hell.
Sitting back in his car seat he checked his watch as he waited for the traffic to move. Dylan sighed and looked at his watch again; two hours had passed since he’d left work. Jen would be livid and the Divisional Commander wouldn’t be impressed either, but Dylan was satisfied. He was sure it was the right result. He acknowledged Tracy, who was talking into her radio as he passed the police car, before he put his foot down and headed home, better late than never, he thought.
Dylan pulled into the driveway. He walked past the toppled suitcases that lay on the hallway floor and into the lounge where Jen stood staring out of the window. Turning to him, the look on her face spoke a thousand words. He walked towards her and she turned away. He grabbed her to him from behind, circling her waist with his arms and nuzzled her neck. He was pleased she didn’t pull away.
‘Before you say a word, he was on Stan Bridge so I was stuck in the traffic. The only way to get home was to talk him down.’
She knew he was right, she’d heard the report on the radio that a diversion was in place. He kissed her shoulder.
‘Come on, let’s go...just you, Max, and me,’ he said softly. He could feel her soften, but she wasn’t ready to give in just yet.
‘You don’t know how lucky you are I’m still here,’ she said, her voice could have cut through steel but her expression portrayed the softness within her. He looked into her eyes. ‘Oh, yes I do,’ he said, slapping her bum playfully. ‘I’ll get changed.’
‘Do you want a quick coffee?’ she shouted after him. He smiled, knowing her anger had subsided.
‘No thanks,’ he called.
Max jumped up with excitement and Jen managed a half smile.
Minutes later he was locking the door behind them.
‘Switch that damn mobile off,’ she called as she walked to the car.
‘Yes boss.’ he said.
She sat in the car waiting for him to put the cases in the boot. It was a long journey south and it would take them at least six hours, but at last they were on their way. Max stretched out on the back seat, rolled around for a moment or two until he was comfy and moaned with pleasure as he settled. Dylan knew how lucky he was that Jen didn’t give him any hassle. He couldn’t decide which would be worse - the tongue-lashing or the silent treatment.
‘I bet you could have strangled him Jack.’ Jen said, when Dylan recalled the incident.
‘I’m not kidding I thought he’d gone...it really threw me...God, what a strange feeling it was,’ Dylan shivered. ‘In the past fifteen years I’ve had some close scrapes. I’ve been spat at, had bottles thrown at me, stitches to my face and fought for my life but none gave me the feeling I had when he went over the wall,’ Dylan said, as he replayed the scene over again in his mind. He felt his body drain and he closed his eyes.
‘Well, for the next few days you’re mine Jack...no bodies, well, only mine and believe you me, this one is very much alive,’ she chuckled, as she turned to him to see his reaction. He was fast asleep.
‘Please God for a few days of peace and quiet,’ she uttered into the darkness, not too sure if it was Jack or Max she could hear snoring. She was quiet and content as she negotiated the traffic to the Isle of Wight, her special place.
Liz Reynolds flirted on the telephone with Mr Beckwith, the bank manager, in a nervous way, informing him that she was considering purchasing a work of art. He caught her off guard, asking her questions she hadn’t considered. How did she want the money, cash, banker’s draft? She didn’t have a clue. As she waffled on the reality of being blackmailed suddenly hit her.
‘I’ll let you know if I decide to buy it,’ she said, as she put the phone down.
She worried, had she managed to comply with all the caller’s instructions?
The comfort, serenity and security she’d always felt in her home had disappeared. Liz ambled into her bedroom and perched on the suede window seat, looking out over the beautifully striped lawn. For an instant the slight glimmer of sun through the window felt unwillingly soothing. She looked up at the clouds racing across the sky. Liz placed the knife and phone next to her, finally feeling able to release them from her grasp. She looked down at the fishpond and beaming up at her were the floating koi carp, their scales catching a glimpse of sun that momentarily burst through a cloud. She drew her hand to her mouth and gasped.
‘Oh, my God.’ she squealed, jumping up. Her movement in the wardrobe mirror caught her eye and she went towards it to take a closer look, she didn’t recognise the image she saw before her.
Liz switched the shower onto full power and turned the heat up to as hot as she could bear. Scrubbing feverishly, she desperately tried to clear her confused mind as if cleansing her skin would somehow clear the fog in her head. Changed and focused, she set out to dispose of the dead fish so that Gemma wouldn’t see them on her return from school. The fish had grown to a good size over the years under Malcolm’s tender care, and as she knelt on the flagstones at the edge of the pond and netted their lifeless bodies into the bin her sporadic tears dripped into the water and her feelings turned to that of helplessness.
Later, sitting in the kitchen with a hot, strong, cup of tea she tried to make sense of what had taken place, wondering what on earth she was going to do next. She needed help but who could she turn to if the caller was really watching her? She analysed what he had said, he knew what they were wearing, where Gemma went to school. He had killed their fish so he had been in the garden. He knew the bank they used; would he know if she rang someone? And who the hell did she know who might be able to help her...‘Larry,’ she said, out loud. ’Larry Banks, he’ll know what to do.’ It must have been two years since she had seen him, how time flew.
For the few days Dylan was away Detective Sergeant Larry Banks was Acting Detective Inspector. Dylan wouldn’t have chosen Larry as his deputy but it was part of his personal development plan. Dylan’s hands were inexplicably tied. He had raised his concerns to the Chief Inspector Personnel but they were ignored.
‘It will make him or break him,’ he had said. ‘We’ll review his performance. He must be given the opportunity like anyone else. We cannot be seen to show favouritism. We have a force policy of equal opportunities.’
Larry strutted about Harrowfield nick ‘like a dog with two dicks’, in his Adonis-like way. The egotistical Chief Superintendent, Walter Hugo-Watkins, would have been proud to wear the same, new, designer suit Larry had bought for the occasion. The CID staff loved to mimic Larry’s performance. Dylan hoped the responsibility would temporarily curtail his alcohol consumption, which on occasions was Larry’s Achilles heel. One of the team’s more experienced DC’s Vicky Hardacre had pointed out to the others that he was wearing socks...he really was taking the role seriously.
Liz had met Larry through happier times with her husband Malcolm. Where had it all gone wrong? She’d been married to Malcolm for six years. Inheriting the well-known local scrap yard from his dad had meant they had no money worries. Malcolm was a popular guy, in fact it was often said he was the life and soul of a party. He knew a lot of people and was ruggedly handsome, although she hated his hands being ingrained with dirt and the stink of Swarfega he always used. She screwed up her nose at the memory of the smell. His arrest and prison sentence had rocked her world. Why had he got involved with a wrong crowd? Or had he always been involved and she just hadn’t been aware? Maybe she had been naïve. For two years of Gemma’s short life he had been locked away at Her Majesty’s pleasure and little Gemma hardly knew her daddy. Looking back, there had been signs. He had begun to drink heavily, stayed away from home, and on more than one occasion had hit her, as he became controlling in his behaviour, which escalated. If she didn’t write to him weekly or was late for a visit, he’d be livid with her. She tutted. Rumours had begun to fly that he’d had other women, and one even came to the door heavily pregnant, professing it was his child but Malcolm had dismissed her as a crank and she had heard nothing more. At the time Liz had been daft enough to believe him.
Malcolm had brought Larry home one night. She’d thought he was nice; he’d had a sparkle in his eye which ignited an instant connection between them. Malcolm told her later that Larry was a copper and he’d got him out of a tight spot. She didn’t pry, as ignorance was bliss by this time. Malcolm had started spending more and more time away, and she and Larry had got quite close...well, they’d had moments of pure lust. Larry never wanted more, and she liked that. When they’d talked, they’d talked mostly about Malcolm, she conceded it was the only thing they had in common. When Malcolm got locked up Larry stopped coming round...she wondered why? His number was still in her phone and she toyed with the idea of sending the text she’d typed out, as she read it over and over again. Liz closed her eyes and said a prayer as she pressed SEND: what had she got to lose? She needed help and she needed it quickly.
Larry was busy fiddling with his new mobile as he sat with his feet up on the desk in the general CID office. ‘Urgent. A blackmailer who says he is watching me is threatening my life and Gemma’s. I need your help. Please. Liz.’ To onlookers as he walked to Dylan’s office his stride changed from a strut to a scuttle, and he slammed the door behind him. He needed to think. He needed a drink. He thought Liz was history. She was attractive though, he sneered. They’d had great sex but he didn’t want commitment and he thought she knew that. The text sounded like a problem, not fun...but he was intrigued. He wondered if he should ignore it. Then again, perhaps she was feeling needy and bored with hubby away.
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