Unsafe convictions, p.9

Unsafe Convictions, page 9

 

Unsafe Convictions
 



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  ‘I see,’ McKenna said.

  ‘So, the hospital could prove what that woman wrote is a lie, couldn’t they?’ Rene asked.

  He nodded. ‘Unfortunately, because Trisha’s dead, the matter can’t be pursued. I’m afraid people can say what they like about the dead, true or not.’

  ‘What about Linda?’ she demanded. ‘She’s not dead, and that woman’s saying she was molested.’

  ‘It’s libel,’ Jack commented, pushing aside his empty plate and reaching for the toast. ‘It’s defamatory to say a woman’s been raped or sexually abused when she hasn’t. It damages her reputation.’

  ‘Does it really?’ Rene’s eyes gleamed in the kitchen light. ‘Can Linda go to a solicitor?’

  ‘She can indeed.’ Jack nodded. ‘But we’re not supposed to comment or offer any advice, so do me a favour, and forget you heard it from me.’ After a moment’s thought, he added: ‘And, given the implications about the identity of this alleged abuser, Linda’s father should see a solicitor as well.’

  Rene began to stack used crockery, then stood up and made for the sink. ‘What would you like for your meal tonight?’ she asked. ‘I could get a nice cut of meat from the butcher, because it comes in fresh today. Do the ladies eat meat?’

  ‘Ellen will eat anything,’ Jack said. ‘She’s like me.’

  ‘The other lass doesn’t look as if she eats at all. She’s very smart, but I swear, if she stood side on against those railings, she’d disappear before your very eyes.’

  Chapter Three

  Like Rene, Craig Newton liked his life tidy. Reared on Haughton’s oldest council estate, he had seen too many other lives go out of control for want of a little forethought ever to risk the same. To that end, he surprised parents, teachers, neighbours, and peers by making decisions for the future long before the need arose, and by never deviating. Working with wheels was the first major plan, because he fell in love with them even before he fully understood their function, and he trained as a motor mechanic as soon as he left school.

  At twenty-two, he fell in love for the second time, at a friend’s wedding, when twenty-year-old Linda Jarvis smiled shyly at him from under the brim of a pretty hat, and a year later he walked down the aisle of All Saints church with his virginal bride. His wise moves on the chessboard of life matured him, although he never forgot that pride usually comes to grief. Their first son was born six years ago, and their second eighteen months later, exactly ten months after Craig’s promotion to chief mechanic.

  This morning, knowing it would be wrong to disrupt the boys’ routines, Craig called his boss to say he would be late, then made up lunch boxes, zipped the boys into their padded jackets, and put them in the car for the ten-minute drive to school. Linda would usually do all those things, but since the newspaper had been stuffed through the letter-box over an hour before, she had slumped at the kitchen table, surrounded by breakfast debris. She was still there when he returned.

  Rolling up the sleeves of his quilted plaid work shirt, he began clearing up. ‘As soon as I’ve done here,’ he said decisively, ‘I’m ringing our solicitor.’

  ‘But he’s coming tomorrow,’ Linda pointed out. ‘When those coppers interview me.’

  ‘I hope you’re not fretting about that,’ Craig said. ‘It stands to reason they might think Barry fitted up that bastard, for old times’ sake, if nothing else, but we know he didn’t. Mind you,’ he added, trying to persuade Linda’s pink rubber gloves on to his huge hands, ‘nobody round here’d lose any sleep if he had.’ Unyielding gloves put aside, he plunged his naked flesh into almost scalding dishwater, cringing as the heat bit. ‘What’s more important, Lin, is what that bastard’s saying about you and Trisha in the paper.’ He wrung out the dishcloth, as he might wring Smith’s neck, given the opportunity. ‘We’ll sue him,’ he added. ‘As well as that bloody paper.’

  Behind him, he heard the scrape of chair legs on the floor, then Linda’s arms crept around his waist, and she leaned her head against his back. ‘I’ll finish the dishes,’ she said. ‘You make another pot of tea.’

  He turned, soap suds up to his elbows, and kissed her forehead. ‘We’re not letting scum like him mess up our lives again. He’s done enough damage already.’

  Sighing, she moved away. ‘I’d better call Dad. Somebody’s bound to say something to him.’ She bit her lip. ‘God knows how he’ll feel.’

  ‘He’ll be bloody seething, like us, but he knows there isn’t a word of truth in it.’

  ‘We might know,’ she said impatiently, ‘but what about the rest of the town? How could he!’ Her face flushed with rage. ‘The shit! The sodding, bloody shit! Why did he have to say something so awful?’

  ‘Because he’s a bloody shit, like you said, and he wants a good horse-whipping,’ Craig replied. ‘But we can’t give him what he deserves, so we’ll have to make sure he gets his come-uppance some other way.’ He picked up the tea towel. ‘When I’ve had a word with the solicitor, we’ll go to your dad’s.’

  But for once, decisions were taken out of his hands. He and Linda were chatting over mugs of fresh, strong tea when the telephone chirruped in the hall. Both leaped from their chairs, but long-legged Craig reached it first, Linda hanging on to his arm as he listened.

  Like Rene, like Linda and Craig, and so many others in the town or with an interest in the matter, Fred Jarvis had ordered Tuesday’s edition of Gaynor Holbrook’s newspaper. As he read the article beside the photograph of his erstwhile son-in-law, he thought what a pity it was that Trisha had never stuck a bread knife in the bastard’s guts. But then a sudden pain jabbed him in the chest, then in the shoulders, then in the back, then all the way down his left arm. Breath trapped in his chest, he began to gasp, doubled up with pain and fear. His right arm was like lead as he reached out for the telephone and knocked over his third cup of tea since waking, watching it topple almost in slow motion. The liquid was soaking into the carpet when at last he managed to pull the receiver from its hook, and slowly punch the number nine button three times.

  He was still alive when the ambulance arrived, still alive when the next-door neighbour, roused by the siren’s banshee wail, rushed into his house, and still alive when he was stretchered through the hospital doors. But Linda knew only what the panicky neighbour had gabbled into the telephone and, not knowing if her father were alive or dead, she sat mutely beside Craig as their car raced through Haughton’s busy streets, horn honking.

  Chapter Four

  The sky above Haughton and the moors was a dense, grey pall, still resisting the gusting north-easterly, which cut like glass splinters when it hit bare flesh. On his way out of town, McKenna stopped at the large garage at the lower end of High Street, where Craig should have been at work. He wasted ten minutes searching the racks which covered a whole wall, without finding what Rene had impressed upon him as a necessity, then he went to the counter, to be told that in view of the weather forecast everyone had already sold out of snow chains.

  Traffic hedged him in back and front as he retraced yesterday’s journey under Dent Viaduct, over which a toy-like train rumbled towards Dentfield and the station buildings crammed into one of Dark Moor’s deep gullies. Rene had told him the moor was so named because even the brilliance of a summer’s dawn was extinguished as soon as the light touched the earth. Glancing upwards as he reached the junction by the abandoned dye and print mill, McKenna saw for the first time how the enormous shadows thrown by the moor and the viaduct seemed to come together above the shattered roof of Trisha’s house.

  Today, he turned left instead of right, passing drab terraced houses, small shops, hairdressing salons, ramshackle garages, and two more mills, now producing compressed-air tools and recycled paper, before joining a new four-lane carriageway. Breasting a long, very steep hill, where ancient stone buildings stood cheek by jowl with the twentieth century, he accelerated as the road ran seamlessly into the motorway. The horizon to his left was broken by Hattersley’s multi-storey apartm
ent blocks, built in the 1960s to house Manchester’s slum population before the city’s old heart was ripped out. Somewhere beyond the brow of the hill, he realised, was the terrace of four brick houses called Wardle Brook Avenue, where, in September 1964, Myra Hindley’s grandmother carried in horror, along with her pets and chattels and granddaughter, when she moved into number sixteen. In the dangerous imagination of the young woman with bleached hair and cruel eyes, Hattersley’s tower blocks looked like Manhattan, as she no doubt said to the thin young man with empty eyes and his own imagination, who slept, as protocol dictated, on the put-u-up in the lounge, although rarely alone. As the horizon changed once more, the tower blocks falling behind, McKenna wondered if number sixteen were still standing, and who might live there now, for Granny Hindley must be long dead.

  The twenty-odd-mile journey to Manchester’s outskirts took no longer than the two-mile stop-start to the city centre, where he followed traffic around Piccadilly Gardens before finding the street where Frances Pawsley plied her trade. Her offices were on the tenth floor of a tall, glass-faced 1970s structure, commanding a wonderful view of the city’s skyline, but the original interior decor now had the slightly seedy air of something past its prime.

  Corseted still in tweeds, she sat behind her large desk, at an angle to the floor-length window. McKenna sat opposite, looking down on the area where an IRA bomb had created as much devastation as the city planners, only in a much shorter time.

  She followed his gaze, her own eyes bright with malice. ‘That’s what your ancestor died for,’ she commented. ‘Are you proud of what he spawned? What’s the tally of death in Ireland’s so-called fight for independence, I wonder?’

  ‘I’ve no idea, Miss Pawsley.’ McKenna’s face was stiff, his voice curt.

  ‘Really?’ Ostentatiously, she arched her thick, greying eyebrows. ‘Well, there are certainly more innocent citizens lying dead and maimed than there are terrorists. We should take a leaf out of the American book, and bomb the Irish Republic.’

  ‘That’s an appalling suggestion!’

  ‘Why? You fight fire with fire. Jumping into political bed with terrorists might be fashionable at the moment, but believe me, it’ll end in rivers of grief and blood. Your sort of terrorism’s bred in the bone through generations.’

  ‘Miss Pawsley, I’m here to discuss your conduct. You must save your thoughts on Ireland for more sympathetic ears.’

  ‘Oh, come now, Superintendent!’ Frances needled. ‘You can’t pretend your past’s irrelevant.’ She leaned her elbows on the desk, jacket straining at the seams. ‘That journalist dragged your integrity right through the dirt, not to mention how her articles will affect your investigation.’

  ‘Unlike you, Holbrook is not in a position to have an effect. I want to know how you found out what passed between Dugdale and myself, without any prevarication about lawyer’s privilege.’

  ‘But it is privileged.’

  ‘As Dugdale is not your client, rules of privilege do not apply, but in any case, I do not believe he spoke to you or to Sergeant Lewis. I think Hinchcliffe discussed the interview with you, without Dugdale’s knowledge, and you saw an opportunity to compromise my investigation.’ He paused, watching her florid face and narrowed eyes. ‘The legal profession is notorious for gossiping like housewives over the garden fence, and there would normally he nothing unusual or necessarily problematic in Hinchcliffe’s tale-bearing, but your disclosing that information in front of Wendy Lewis is a different issue altogether. It amounts to an attempt to pervert the course of justice, which, as you know, is a criminal offence attracting a custodial sentence.’

  ‘Hinchcliffe’s entitled to talk to me, and I to him,’ she said imperiously. ‘You’d have to prove intent.’

  ‘Oh, come now, Miss Pawsley. Have you forgotten your law? That responsibility lies with the Crown. I’m obliged only to arrest and charge you.’

  ‘You wouldn’t dare!’ Her face darkened to a beetroot purple. When there was no response, save for a slight shrug, she snarled: ‘People say you’re a ruthless bastard. Did you know that?’

  He nodded. ‘And at times, people like me are necessary to any organisation.’

  ‘Don’t you care?’ A wheedling note crept into her voice. ‘I can’t believe you don’t have feelings.’

  ‘I don’t harbour the sort of feelings you’re suggesting, Miss Pawsley. They would interfere with the proper discharge of my responsibilities, moral and otherwise.’ He rose, and picked up his briefcase. ‘As a matter of urgency, you must ensure that Sergeant Lewis has alternative representation, and for the duration of my inquiries further contact between you is forbidden. I’m sure you’ll agree that you’ve placed her in a thoroughly invidious position.’ Looking down at her, and feeling not one iota of compassion, he added: ‘And I suggest you arrange your own legal representation with similar urgency. I shall make a decision about your future by the end of the week.’

  Chapter Five

  Four years earlier, Colin Bowden had uprooted himself from his Warwickshire home ground to resettle, with little success to date, in the foreign soil of his fiancée’s territory. He met Vicky Lane, who was a courier for a Manchester travel agency, on a package holiday to Greece. She noticed him at the airport as she welcomed aboard the passengers, and rarely let him out of her sight for the next two weeks. He drank little, his manners were impeccable, and he treated her like a lady, much to her chagrin as the heat of a Grecian summer and the urgency of the holiday wore on. Their relationship progressed in fits and starts, punctuated by long separations when his time off clashed with her latest trip abroad. Eventually, she issued an ultimatum and, ignoring his own vague disquiet as well as his mother’s meaningful silence, he applied for a transfer from Warwick Police and presented Vicky with an engagement ring.

  His first two years in Haughton were spent miserably in a grim boarding-house, then he moved to a furnished flat in a converted chapel behind the High Street. Waiting for his interrogators to arrive, he realised how claustrophobic was the enforced idleness of his suspension, as if the walls of the flat were closing about him. He roamed back and forth to the window, glancing once or twice at Vicky’s postcard from Marbella, which was propped on the wooden shelf above the electric fire, and starting to curl with the heat.

  ‘Oh, do sit down!’ Anna Singh snapped. ‘You’re getting on my nerves! You’re so tense you’ll drop yourself in it as soon as you open your mouth.’

  ‘There’s nothing to drop myself in,’ Colin told her, but sat down obediently.

  Irritably, she flicked through the documents spread out on the glass-topped coffee table, her coal-black hair swinging forward to hide her dusky cheeks. She was quite exotic, he thought, even dressed in lawyer’s grey, with big, dark, black-lashed eyes to match the hair, and pouting, thickish lips glistening with ruby lipstick. Heavy gold rings stretched the lobes of her ears, and a bracelet of thick gold links clinked repeatedly on the edge of the table. Occasionally, she looked at him, pursing those ruby lips, and he decided that she was really very beautiful. The fact that he instinctively, and thoroughly, disliked and distrusted her had nothing to do with race.

  ‘You’ve got to be careful,’ she said. ‘Do you understand? McKenna’s in a different league from the officers you’ve come across before. He’s quite ruthless, and doesn’t in the least mind making very big waves, or care who gets swamped by them.’ She paused, frowning at him. ‘I shouldn’t really tell you this, but he’s threatened one of my colleagues.’

  ‘With what?’ Colin asked. ‘What for?’

  ‘Even though you’ve all got separate representation, it’s vital that we solicitors keep abreast of developments. What affects one of you affects all of you.’ She shuffled the papers together. ‘McKenna found out Dugdale’s solicitor had talked to Sergeant Lewis’s solicitor, and started throwing his weight around, although why he should be bothered about what we say to each other is beyond me.’

  ‘I imagine that depends on wha
t’s been said,’ Colin commented. ‘And when, and to whom.’

  She turned her head quickly. ‘You’re not going to be difficult, are you? You must let me guide you in the right direction.’

  ‘I’m not an imbecile.’

  ‘You’re out of your depth,’ Anna said sharply. ‘This was the first big case you worked with Dugdale, and you’ve no idea what sort of stunts he might have pulled in the past to get results. Being a detective inspector at his age is quite unusual.’

  ‘No, it isn’t,’ Colin contradicted. ‘He’s thirty-five. Warwick had several younger than him.’

  ‘This isn’t Warwick,’ she said impatiently. ‘This force is bigger, more diverse, and has entirely different concerns and policing requirements. What bothers me about Dugdale is his local connections.’

  ‘Why? They’re more use than hindrance.’

  ‘Provided they’re not exploited or abused.’

  ‘In other words, you believe Dugdale fitted up Smith, don’t you?’ Colin demanded. ‘Well, he didn’t, and I’m not going to say he did, to please you or anyone else.’

  Chapter Six

  News of Fred Jarvis’s heart attack, and its cause, swept through Haughton the way fire ravaged the moorlands during a hot dry spell, when sunlight, catching a splinter of glass, could set the land alight. Rene heard a whisper in the butcher’s, as she was buying meat for dinner, then fretted her way in and out of the bakery and the greengrocery in search of greater detail. When none was forthcoming, laden with shopping she panted back up the hill to Church Street, dumped the bags on the kitchen counter, and telephoned one of her cronies who worked at the hospital.

 

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