Unsafe convictions, p.28

Unsafe Convictions, page 28


Unsafe Convictions

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  ‘My client expected the courtesy of a visit from you at the outset of your investigation. But you chose, most studiously, and for reasons of your own, to ignore him.’

  ‘If he has significant information, you had an obligation to inform me.’

  ‘The way Inspector Dugdale and his officers wilfully framed my client is very significant.’

  ‘Please don’t prejudge the outcome of my investigation.’

  ‘To my mind, the “outcome” is staring you in the face,’ Lyons said smugly.

  ‘And to my mind, Mr Lyons, you’re trying to create a diversion,’ McKenna told him. ‘If your client has genuine information about his first wife’s death or Dugdale’s investigation, you must approach me through the proper channels. I have no intention of interfering with the activities of Manchester police, as you seem to wish.’

  Lyons finally set out his own agenda. ‘This is nothing short of police persecution. My client has not committed any offence, and they have no right to detain him.’

  ‘In the circumstances, they had every right. He isn’t the only one in custody.’

  ‘They had him under surveillance,’ Lyons snapped. ‘In my view, the raid on the club was a mere ploy, part of a deliberate stratagem conceived to neutralise an innocent man who is, unfortunately for him, in a position to bring down a number of corrupt officers. I fully intend to raise a formal complaint,’ he went on, gathering momentum, ‘and that will include a complaint about your attitude, Superintendent. Harassment like this could drive my client to suicide, not to mention what the media will make of his detention.’

  ‘As your client deliberately put himself in the media spotlight, he’ll have to take the rough with the smooth,’ McKenna told him. ‘He should have kept his head down, instead of causing people a great deal of bother. His wife reported him missing, you know, and by all accounts, she was worried sick. She didn’t know he was cavorting around Manchester.’

  ‘You fail to appreciate my client’s fragility!’ Lyons was clearly seething. ‘He left the house in considerable distress because he was being terrorised by a reporter.’

  ‘The reporter tells a different version,’ McKenna pointed out. ‘She claims she challenged your client about being wilfully misled, and found herself on the receiving end of a violent tantrum. However,’ he added, ‘I see no point in further prolonging this conversation. I can offer no assistance.’

  ‘You could insist on my client’s being treated like a human being! The police have confiscated all his personal possessions.’

  ‘You know full well that’s normal procedure.’

  ‘But how often do such possessions include a solid gold Asprey lighter, a lizard-skin wallet, hundreds of pounds in cash, platinum credit cards, and a Rolex watch?’

  ‘As you know what was confiscated, you know what should be returned. I have nothing more to say, Mr Lyons.’

  Part Thirteen

  Friday, 5th February

  Early Morning

  Chapter One

  With gleefully salacious detail, every tabloid in the country reported on Smith’s arrest ‘when police raided a sleazy gay club in Manchester’s red light district’, and even the broadsheets thought it worthy of mention. It was only Gaynor’s paper that could not offer its readers more titillation: marooned in the snow-bound depths of Dark Moor, and let down by her scouts on the ground, she had been inactivated.

  Chapter Two

  Janet awoke to an eerie silence, the creaking inn sign stilled by a great swatch of snow draped across the bull’s face. Twinkling icicles hung from the eaves above her window, and every stark branch and twig of the churchyard trees was defined with a white flourish, while the white blanket about the steeple gleamed almost blue. Massed snow obliterated the contours of every object and building, creating an alternative architecture and topography, and she thought the smoke of newly lit fires rising from the cottage chimneys resembled the strokes of an artist’s pencil on colour-washed paper. Watching the verminous rooks fluttering about the roofs, slipping and sliding as they clawed for a toehold on the treacherous slopes, she suddenly pitied them.

  ‘I hope we won’t be stuck here all weekend,’ Ellen said over breakfast. ‘My kids are complaining about being abandoned.’ She smiled ruefully. ‘As usual!’

  ‘The Manchester road’s “passable with care”, according to the radio,’ Janet told her. ‘I was listening while I got dressed.’ She poured hot milk on her Readybrek. ‘The Sheffield and Buxton roads are blocked solid, though. If Mr McKenna wants to get to Ravensdale, he’ll have to go via Stockport, providing the roads in the south of the county aren’t impassable.’

  ‘I’m not sure he should go, anyway,’ Ellen commented. ‘He only wants to rattle Ryman’s cage again, and we’re not here to rattle cages.’

  ‘Ryman’s being extremely hostile,’ Janet pointed out. ‘There must be a reason. You think he was negligent, don’t you?’

  Ellen nodded. ‘But not necessarily deliberately. His track record here as inspector leaves a lot to be desired, and he might simply have been promoted beyond his capabilities. It happens a lot.’

  Chapter Three

  Grumbling and yawning, Jack staggered from the house at eight fifteen to collect Rene, and the tremor as he slammed the front door behind him loosened a huge raft of snow above the eaves. Huddled by the gas fire in the office, chilled to the marrow, McKenna heard the roar as it crashed to the pavement and tumbled into the road.

  Venables telephoned a few minutes later. ‘We’ve had trouble with Smith,’ he reported.

  ‘Who hasn’t?’ McKenna asked sourly.

  ‘We had to call out a doctor in the early hours. Lyons insisted.’

  ‘Lyons insisted I rush to Manchester to intervene over Smith’s arrest, but I declined.’

  ‘Yes, well that’s what caused the trouble,’ Venables said. ‘Smith went up the wall when he heard you wouldn’t be coming.’ He paused for some time. ‘Look sir, I’m not trying to elbow into your own investigation, but it does look as if what’s transpired between you and Smith might be important. We’ve been barred from questioning him until he’s talked to you.’

  ‘Nothing has transpired between Smith and myself,’ McKenna told him. ‘I’ve kept well away from him, much to his annoyance.’ He searched for his cigarettes and lighter. ‘Lyons tried to persuade me last night that Smith has crucial information, firstly about Trisha Smith’s murder, then about my current investigation. I said if that was the case, he must approach me through the proper channels, but I doubt if he will. Lyons seems to be the perfect foil for his client’s duplicity.’ Lighting his cigarette, he asked: ‘Who stopped you from questioning Smith?’

  ‘My superintendent, on the assumption we’d be trespassing into your territory. We’re not entirely sure where your remit begins and ends, and by the time Lyons was done with relating the reasons for Smith’s outburst, it seemed best to put things on hold until we knew the score. My superintendent was planning to call you as soon as he comes on duty.’

  ‘My remit is to find out if Haughton police deliberately suppressed evidence.’ McKenna coughed. ‘In that context, Smith is irrelevant to my activities.’

  ‘Well, sir, you’re clearly not irrelevant to him. I’ll read you what Lyons had to say.’ Papers rustled, then Venables added: ‘I’m quoting from the document he gave my superintendent last night. “Only Superintendent McKenna can put a stop to this widespread police conspiracy designed to persecute and neutralise my client. My client’s wife is waiting to see him, but my client is too distraught to face her. She will not understand why my client was in Manchester unless Superintendent McKenna explains it to her. She will have no choice but to believe the distortions presented by the police, and will therefore spurn my client. In such circumstances, he would undoubtedly kill himself. My client came close to suicide on innumerable occasions while in prison: it was only his wife’s loyalty which kept him alive. My client has recently disclosed that he was the victim of repeated
gang-rapes during that time. He was then singled out by one prisoner who offered protection in return for sex. Like many others in such horrific circumstances, my client found himself tricked into feeling secure by permitting what he abhorred. My client regards these unnatural feelings as an incurable illness, and thus yesterday yielded to the compulsion to seek security after being terrorised by a reporter named Gaynor Holbrook. Mrs Stanton Smith was unable to protect him: she is both sexually and emotionally inadequate. In view of his own marital difficulties, Superintendent McKenna will have every sympathy with the misery my client endured at the hands of his first wife, and is under an obligation to safeguard my client’s present marriage and emotional welfare. Superintendent McKenna also has an explicit responsibility to ensure that no further harm comes to my client as a result of this current investigation, and to ensure that my client does not give in to his negative desires to seek revenge for the many betrayals he has suffered.” And that’s it, sir, but you’ll appreciate how it presents Smith as an active element of your investigation. I’ll fax you a copy right away.’

  When Jack inched his car along Church Street, with Rene in the passenger seat, he was amazed to see McKenna out on the pavement, ferociously shovelling away the snow which had avalanched off the roof. A tight-lipped McKenna merely told him to stay indoors, and read the fax from Manchester police that was on his desk. To a background of thudding and scraping, Jack obeyed.

  When McKenna eventually came inside, his face pink with exertion, Jack said: ‘We could probably get Lyons for attempting to pervert the course of justice, you know. I’ve never come across such twaddle. You’re not Smith’s social worker, you’re not his counsellor, and you’re not the “saviour” he talked about to Holbrook, and the only reason he wants you to sort Beryl is because you’ve got so much clout she’ll believe anything you say. I know Smith knows the world is full of gullible fools who are bound, by the law of averages, to fall in his path sooner or later, but he can’t be daft enough to think you’re one of them.’ He glanced again at the fax, then looked up at McKenna, who was standing by the fire, rubbing hands that were blue with cold. ‘And why is Lyons bringing your marriage into it? How is that relevant?’

  ‘It isn’t,’ McKenna said curtly. ‘It’s simply none-too-subtle emotional blackmail.’ He took his cigarettes from the mantelshelf. ‘Anyway, I’ve had more than enough of Smith for one day.’ As soon as he lit the cigarette, he had a coughing fit.

  ‘Your lungs don’t seem to like this climate,’ Jack commented. ‘The tar inside them probably froze solid while you were outside.’

  ‘Oh, be quiet! If you hadn’t slammed the door and brought down the snow I wouldn’t have needed to clear it up!’

  Chapter Four

  The snow which seethed across the Pennines from the North Sea had left only a dusting of powdery white in the Midlands, and when Colin Bowden looked from the bedroom window of his parents’ Warwick home he fancied the town was coated with sugar icing. Shadows were sharp on the ground, and between the gables and roofs in his line of sight, the cloudless sky promised a beautiful day. He could not remember when sunshine last broke through the sombre cloud over Haughton’s moors and, when Vicky had telephoned last night from Marbella, he had tried to explain why he needed to escape.

  Because he was not where she expected him to be, she was irritable and annoyed, called him a fool for letting himself be caught up in Dugdale’s mischief, and snappily said he should resign immediately from the force and sue for constructive dismissal. While she nagged into a telephone hundreds of miles away, he imagined the rest of his life at the mercy of that voice, and of the personality driving it like the engine of a car, and for the first time noticed the clanking and knocking. When it occurred to him that he could not simply take her to Craig Newton’s garage for retuning, he laughed.

  ‘Are you actually laughing, Colin?’ she demanded. ‘Well, really! That’s the last thing you should be doing!’

  ‘You laugh, or you cry,’ he replied, incapable of communicating with her.

  ‘You’re absolutely pathetic! They’re riding roughshod right over you, and you’re letting them.’

  ‘I can’t do anything until the investigation’s over.’

  ‘I’ve told you what to do.’

  ‘Being in the police isn’t the same as other jobs.’

  ‘We’ll see about that,’ she threatened. ‘I’m back on Wednesday, so you can tell that McKenna to expect me.’

  ‘That won’t work, Vicky.’

  She nagged on, but he could only concentrate on the cold lurch in his innards triggered by the prospect of her return. Cutting across her, he said: ‘I might not be in Haughton when you get back. Unless I’m told otherwise, I’m staying here until McKenna’s finished.’ He disconnected then, feeling as if he had sawn through a shackle, and when she called again almost immediately, his mother told her he had just gone out with his father.

  Chapter Five

  Like Haughton’s other children, apart from those marooned in isolated outlying farms, the Dugdale children went to school on Friday morning, baptising their new wellingtons in the snow. When she returned from the school run, Susan took off her own old wellingtons by the kitchen door, and padded through to the living-room in her socks.

  ‘I saw Craig at the school,’ she said, warming her legs against the radiator. ‘Fred’s coming out of hospital today. He’s staying with them, of course, for the time being. Could we call round later to see him?’

  ‘I don’t know.’ Dugdale frowned. ‘I’ll have to ask McKenna, but don’t be surprised if he says not.’

  Perversely, Susan kept her buttocks pressed against the radiator, even though the heat was smarting through jeans and longjohns. ‘Why must all normal human contact be suspended?’ she asked. ‘Especially with people we’ve known for ever.’

  ‘You know why.’

  ‘I could go, surely?’ she insisted. ‘Without getting permission first.’

  ‘Not really.’ His voice was quite dull, she thought. ‘Linda might say something to you, then you’d repeat it to me.’

  ‘What could Linda say that I haven’t already heard?’

  ‘You know what I mean.’

  ‘I don’t, as a matter of fact.’ Susan moved at last, and sat at the table opposite her husband.

  He sighed. ‘McKenna still doesn’t know if Linda and I fitted up Smith.’ He rose, as if unable to be close to her. ‘D’you want a coffee?’ he asked, making for the kitchen.

  While he filled the kettle, and clinked spoons and mugs, she asked herself when, and how, the tiny rift between them had opened into this terrifying chasm. And all of them were teetering on the edge, she thought, including the children.

  Tongue between his teeth to keep his hands steady, he returned with two brimming mugs and a tin of shortbread stuck under his arm. Despite her misery, Susan smiled. ‘How does sticking your tongue between your teeth stop you spilling things?’

  ‘I’ve no idea,’ he said, setting the mugs on small coasters, ‘but it works. Try it yourself.’

  ‘Perhaps I will.’ His invitation, and her response, seemed to linger between them, perhaps the first small signs of rescue. ‘Tell me,’ she went on, opening the tin and selecting a crumbly wedge, ‘d’you still think Smith killed Trisha?’

  ‘Much as I’d like to,’ he replied, almost brushing her fingers with his as he chose his own biscuit, ‘I can’t ignore the facts, and Father Barclay’s alibi is one almighty fact.’

  ‘OK.’ Susan bit into the shortbread, catching the crumbs in her hand. ‘So, if he didn’t, who did?’

  ‘I wish I knew!’

  ‘Well, if the lonely hearts guys are non-starters, who else could it be?’ As he shook his head, she prodded his arm. ‘Think! Who might want her dead?’

  He let his arm stay in reach of her fingers, and said: ‘I keep coming back to Smith and Beryl. Trisha hadn’t offended anyone else. She hadn’t actually offended them, but, twisted buggers that they are, th
ey don’t see it like that. From Smith’s point of view, the whole world offends him, and Beryl’s too stupid, or too besotted, or both, not to go along with every crazy idea that comes into his ugly head.’

  ‘You hate the pair of them, and it’s blinding you. You want it to be them, and you can’t get past it.’ Instead of moving her hand, she put the biscuit on the table, making a spatter of crumbs over which she would usually rush for the mini vacuum cleaner, then picked up the coffee. ‘But suppose she knew something about someone else which was so awful they killed her to keep it a secret.’

  ‘But what? And who?’ He swallowed the last of his own biscuit. ‘There wasn’t even a whisper about anything like that.’

  ‘There wouldn’t be if it was such a secret. In any case, Trisha was awfully good at keeping her mouth shut. She kept quiet about that bastard Smith for long enough.’ She put down her coffee, and reached into the biscuit tin just as he did the same. This time, their fingers touched, and scrabbled together among the wedges and squares and rounds. ‘What could someone be desperate to hide? Who might have horrible skeletons in the cupboard? You should do a “what could ruin who” exercise.’

  ‘ “Whom”,’ he corrected her. ‘Not “who”.’

  ‘Are you sure?’ She grinned. ‘Who cares?’ She extracted a round biscuit dusted with caster sugar. ‘Get back to the point. Who did Trisha know, even slightly, who could be harbouring dangerous secrets? Who was in her circle of acquaintances, however remotely?’

  He stared at her, a curious light in his eyes. ‘Julie.’

  Her hand jerked away from his arm as if stung, and she flushed.

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