Unsafe Convictions, page 18
‘Like I know Linda. We all grew up in the same place, we all went to Haughton Comprehensive.’
‘What was Trisha like?’
‘Nice. Ordinary. She wanted peace and quiet.’
‘She was hoping for a job here, wasn’t she?’
‘She’d have done well.’
‘Does the management committee employ non-Catholics?’ McKenna asked.
‘Idiots come from both denominations, so staff persuasions have to show a balance.’
‘I thought terms like “idiot” were forbidden,’ he commented.
‘Which euphemism d’you prefer?’ Her eyes were challenging.
‘I’m not going to be side-tracked into a discussion on semantics,’ he said. ‘You’re evading the issue of your relationship with Dugdale.’
‘We spent one summer together. We had a lovely spring and summer that particular year. I thought it would never end. Afterwards, we’d get together now and then.’ She smiled, as if to herself. ‘We went for walks in the park, mostly. There’s a gorgeous rose garden, and a tiny pet cemetery.’
‘And your relationship was sexual.’
‘Among other things.’
‘When did you last speak to him?’
‘Apart from saying “hello” if we met in the street? A couple of weeks before he married Susan Harrop.’
‘Did you have any contact during the murder investigation?’
‘D’you know Smith?’ Ellen asked.
‘Enough to know he’s a shit. Why?’
‘Is that based on your own experience?’
‘He once told me I’d no right to sully the church with my disgusting presence.’
Ellen raised her eyebrows. ‘What did you say?’
‘Like any good Christian, I turned the other cheek. I’m very good at cheek-turning, as you might imagine.’
‘Did Trisha ever tell you he was assaulting her?’
‘She didn’t need to. It was written all over her face. You could tell by the way she looked at him, or rather, didn’t look at him. She was always afraid, always desperately trying to please, like a dog that knows another whipping’s just around the corner.’
‘And where were you on the afternoon of her death?’ McKenna asked quietly.
‘You’re supposed to be finding out what happened with Smith, not who killed Trisha,’ Julie replied. ‘So I don’t think you’ve got the right to ask me where I was that day.’
‘You told Sergeant Lewis you were here, asleep.’
‘You’ll have to make do with that, then. Won’t you?’
‘Can you tell us about your accident?’ Janet asked.
‘What about it?’ Julie’s voice was as raw as her skin must feel.
‘How did it happen?’
‘A chip pan fell on me.’
‘Chip pans don’t fall,’ Janet countered. ‘Not without help. Who knocked it over?’
Again, Julie shrugged. ‘It was an accident.’
‘It happened at primary school, didn’t it? Did you have counselling afterwards? And did you get compensation?’
‘The church looked after me.’
‘But did they pay damages?’ Janet persisted. ‘You were entitled, accident or not.’
‘That’s my business!’ snapped Julie. ‘And it’s nothing to do with Trisha.’
‘I think we’ve gone as far as we can for now,’ McKenna intervened.
‘Who told you?’ Julie demanded, glaring at Janet.
‘Father Barclay mentioned it to Superintendent McKenna,’ Janet replied. ‘Dugdale never said a word, although maybe he should have done.’
‘He obviously thought he should respect my privacy,’ Julie said. ‘Unlike Ryman.’
‘How has Superintendent Ryman compromised your privacy?’ asked McKenna.
‘Why don’t you ask him?’ Julie suggested, her mouth tight.
‘They certainly leave you with the donkey work, don’t they?’ Rene remarked, putting a mug of coffee and a plate of fresh cream cakes by Jack’s elbow. ‘Mind you, a married man’s better off having nothing to do with the likes of that Julie Broadbent.’ Smiling a little to herself when he said no more than ‘thank you’, she added: ‘By the way, Fred Jarvis is wondering when you’re going to see him. He’s well enough now.’
‘I’m not sure when we’ll have time,’ Jack said. ‘But tell him we’ll do our best to fit him in as soon as possible.’
‘He’s not got anything new to say, you know. He just wants to let you know how he feels.’
‘That’s perfectly understandable,’ Jack agreed.
‘I mean,’ Rene went on, ‘there’s been so much rubbish in the paper these last few days, Fred thinks he’s a right to give his side of the story.’
Jack selected a luscious-looking chocolate eclair, oozing with cream. ‘He must feel very bitter.’
‘He’s angry,’ said Rene. ‘I know that. He’s livid, in fact, but I’m not sure he’s actually bitter. He’s not the sort to let a feeling like that get the better of him, because he knows he’d be the one to get eaten up by it.’
‘Bitterness is corrosive,’ Jack commented, swallowing the last airy mouthful of the eclair, and choosing a wedge of more substantial-looking jam-and-cream sponge to follow.
‘Now Susan Dugdale’s a different kettle of fish altogether,’ Rene asserted, folding her arms. ‘She’s coming back, I hear, but I wouldn’t give that marriage more than another couple of years. She’s the jealous type, and she’ll throw things in Barry’s face every time he so much as looks sideways at her, even though what he did and who he did it with before they met is spilled milk, isn’t it?’
‘How d’you know she’s coming back?’
‘Linda heard. She’s quite pally with her.’
Cream cake half-way to his mouth, Jack looked up at this latter-day Greek chorus-girl, once again onstage to prod the action. ‘When did you speak to Linda?’
‘When I went home at dinner-time.’
‘Did she discuss her interview with us?’
‘Of course she did!’ Rene’s eyes snapped. ‘You don’t think you can stop people talking, do you?’
‘You’re not supposed to talk, Rene. You know that.’
‘Don’t get uppity with me! I just listen.’ She was breathing heavily. ‘And for what it’s worth, I think Linda’s been very stupid about those letters, even though I didn’t say it to her.’ She scratched her cheek fretfully. ‘She’s worried sick. She thinks she could go to prison. And she doesn’t know how she’s going to tell her dad.’
‘I won’t discuss it,’ Jack insisted, returning to his cake and coffee.
‘I don’t expect you to!’ Her voice stung. ‘But you can do what I do, can’t you, and listen?’
The old woman’s jeering voice ringing in her ears, Gaynor ran down the squalid staircase from Primrose Walk, her fine leather boots slipping on the globs of spit and other vile stuff besmearing the concrete. Once at ground level, she stood under the defaced sign for Bluebell Way and used her mobile telephone to call up the number on the back of the taxi receipt, then hurried away from the tenement towards the shop on the street corner, where she waited, shivering, for the taxi to arrive. Half expecting to see Ida Sheridan panting along the road in pursuit, she wondered inconsequentially if Ida’s alliance with a Sheridan was accidental or deliberate, and if the evil old bitch realised that her name was so alliterative.
The argument was still unresolved when Janet, Ellen and McKenna returned to the Church Street house. The cawing churchyard rooks were, he thought, no more raucous than the women’s voices.
‘I’m not challenging your authority,’ Ellen said to him, ‘but you know perfectly well that we can’t request a comparison of Julie Broadbent’s voice with the tape of the 999 call about the fire. That could only be done if the murder investig
‘Precisely!’ McKenna snapped. ‘Nothing at all emerged from the interview.’
‘Maybe that’s because she’s not significant,’ Jack suggested.
‘Whether she is or not, she’s got evasiveness down to a fine art.’ McKenna lit a cigarette. ‘So, whatever else her failings, Lewis was spot on over that.’
‘Perhaps we could ask for a comparison of all the tapes so far,’ Janet said. ‘No one would be singled out that way, and it would just be part of the ongoing inquiry.’
‘That would let us off the hook up to a point,’ Ellen replied, ‘but what do we do if her voice matches?’
‘Notify the powers that be,’ Jack said, bored with the discussion. ‘Fred Jarvis wants to know when he’s having his fifteen minutes of fame, and Rene told me Dugdale’s getting his wife back, and that Linda’s scared of being sent down.’
‘With luck,’ McKenna commented, ‘fear might improve Linda’s memory a bit more. She was extraordinarily stupid.’
‘So Rene said,’ Jack added. ‘And the letter writers have already been detained, so we’d better sort out the interviews.’
‘I want to see Ryman again,’ McKenna said. ‘His name keeps cropping up in the most unexpected places.’
‘Don’t forget we’ve arranged to meet Fauvel this evening,’ Ellen reminded him.
‘I won’t.’ Glancing through the notes Jack had made in the report book, he asked: ‘Where’s the fax from the National Insurance Register?’
‘Here.’ Jack extracted a sheet of paper from the stack on his desk. ‘The city of Sheffield and its environs have no less than seventeen pensioners by the name of Hilda Smith, and without a maiden name or date of birth, we can’t narrow them down. However, Sheffield police are willing to go door-knocking on our behalf.’
‘Get them to do it, then. Has the Federation sorted itself out?’
‘Singh’s to continue representing Colin Bowden, much to his disgust, but they couldn’t contact Lewis, so she stays out on a limb. Pawsley’s apparently keeping her head down, but Hinchcliffe’s been on to them, pressing for movement with Dugdale.’
‘As things stand at the moment,’ Ellen said, ‘it’s still Dugdale’s word against Fauvel’s.’
‘It has been all along,’ Janet commented rather waspishly.
Wednesday, 3rd February
‘How did you get on with Smith’s mother?’ Davidson asked his star reporter. ‘Is there much more mileage in this story? Maybe Smith’s had his day. Readers like novelty, you know.’
‘Come on!’ Gaynor coaxed. ‘I’m supposed to be finding out who stitched him up, and I can’t do that if you pull me off the job. It’s big,’ she reminded him, ‘and it can only get bigger.’
‘Only if you can outmanoeuvre the police investigation. How d’you plan to do that?’
‘There are always ways and means, and sources of information.’ She fiddled with her pen. ‘I think McKenna and his crew are simply looking for a scapegoat. When did you last hear of coppers shafting one of their own?’
‘So, what’s your angle?’
‘I go after the priest.’
‘No way!’ Davidson was horrified by her suggestion. ‘Exposing a queer-boy wife-basher is one thing. Putting a highly respected Roman Catholic priest in the spotlight is in a different league entirely.’
‘I was very kind to Smith,’ she protested.
‘Only if you don’t read between the lines,’ Davidson commented. ‘And when his wife’s reread today’s offering a few more times, she’ll get a different message.’
‘Nobody twisted their arms!’ Gaynor snapped. ‘They were begging for it.’
‘Maybe they were, but this priest isn’t. Have you got a death-wish, or something? What d’you think the police’ll do to you if they find out?’
‘They can’t do anything,’ Gaynor said. ‘It’s all public-interest and right-to-know stuff.’
‘What exactly is “public interest and right-to-know”?’
‘Which one of them’s lying. Dugdale, or Fauvel. Because,’ she added, with uncharacteristic patience, ‘one of them succeeded in causing a miscarriage of justice, which is going to cost Joe Public a bloody fortune in compensation. Not to mention the lawyers’ fees, and what McKenna’s investigation will cost this police force. It all comes out of the taxpayers’ pockets.’
Davidson was silent, mulling over her proposal, then he said: ‘But Fauvel swore on oath that he handed the letter to Dugdale.’
‘He may well have done,’ she conceded, ‘but d’you really think we’ll be told if that’s true? Then again, he might be lying.’
‘Why should a priest lie?’
‘Because he’s a man!’ she said, increasingly exasperated. ‘And he’s not exactly whiter than white. There was a lot of gossip a few years ago about him and a couple of teenage girls.’
‘What sort of gossip?’
‘What sort d’you think?’
‘That still doesn’t make him a liar,’ Davidson said. ‘I’ll sleep on it, and I’ll have to talk to our legal people in any case, so keep your head down till you hear from me. How did you get on with Smith’s mother, by the way? I was expecting copy for tomorrow’s paper.’
‘Not very well, because Ida fucking Sheridan was directing the traffic.’
‘Yes, but what does she want? And what’s she got to say?’
‘I don’t know! As I said, Sheridan was sticking in her oar all the time.’
‘Stop playing games, Gaynor,’ Davidson instructed her. ‘You’re squirming like a fish on a hook. We let Smith bad-mouth his mother from here to hell. She must have something to say.’
‘Sheridan says it’ll cost us fifty grand for Bunty even to open her mouth, and at least twice as much for her to keep it shut.’ The sounds of Davidson’s mirth were like a red rag to a bull. ‘It’s not funny! You weren’t there! And Sheridan’s out of a fucking nightmare.’
‘Met your match, have you? And don’t start swearing at me. That kid in the newsroom complained to the union about your language. They told him it amounts to sexual harassment.’ He continued chuckling. ‘What did you offer?’
‘Sheridan told me to sod off, so I did.’
‘Then I’ll expect her to call again when she realises you’re not waiting on her doorstep with another offer.’
‘She can take a running jump for all I care,’ Gaynor told him. ‘And Bunty looks like she’s got cancer, so I don’t see her as a long-term problem. Not fifty grand’s worth of a problem, anyway.’
Jack went first to Manchester, negotiating a road made treacherous by large tracts of black ice, to see the seventy-year-old widower who had responded to Trisha’s advertisement. Then he returned to Haughton, and the second respondent.
The widower had, he disclosed to the police officers, hoped to find a kind, decent woman to share his modest wealth and comfortable home, and to care for him in his last years. Trisha’s advertisement, a little dog-eared, was tucked in his wallet and, as he showed it to Jack, he said she sounded a really ‘nice lady’, and he was sorry she never replied.
‘I expect she found somebody younger,’ he added wistfully. ‘I do so hope she’s happy. I’m still looking, but what d’you expect, at my age?’
The second respondent was very much younger, and considerably wealthier, with kind eyes and a gentle manner. ‘I’d never before replied to such an advert,’ he admitted, ‘because they seem to represent an admission of failure, but I used to read them every week. Indeed, to be honest, I looked forward to them. Hope springing eternal, as they say.’
‘Why did you respond to this one?’ asked
‘In what way?’
‘After a while, you learn to read between the lines. You realise there’s a sort of hidden code in certain words or phrases.’ He smiled. ‘And usually to do with sex or money. But this one was open, and honest and, I felt, completely genuine.’ He paused. ‘To be frank, when there was no reply after three weeks, I wrote again.’
‘The newspaper box number, of course.’
‘Did you get a response?’
‘No. Why am I being interviewed, anyway? It was a long time ago. Has something happened to her?’
At eight minutes past seven, Wendy returned to some level of consciousness, roused by the bitter cold of her room, the near numbness in her legs, and the seeping wetness under her body. She struggled into a sitting position, tapping her fingers on the bed covers in search of the source of dampness, then the smell of urine reached her nostrils and she fell off the bed in horror, to crawl to the bathroom, sodden skirt slapping icily against her legs.
At the bathroom door, she began to vomit. Heaving and retching, she dragged herself through a trail of bile and slime to the lavatory pan, just in time to spew up what felt like her whole stomach. The pain was terrible, burning from her lips to the deepest reaches of her insides, and she cried and howled like a dying animal.
It was a long time before she could summon the strength to crawl to the telephone on the hall table, and dialling Frances’s home number seemed to take an eternity. But there was no reply, and no message on the answering machine, so she called Father Brett’s personal number, to be told by an automated female voice that the number was not responding but that a message could be left. Despairing, betrayed in her hour of greatest need by those closest, Wendy dialled the emergency services, and slumped against the wall, great splashes of vomit on her urine-sodden clothes, while she waited for the ambulance to wail to a halt outside the door.
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