Authors: J J Salkeld
‘Not really. I’ve never even touched one. But the kids keep badgering me for one, and their mum too. She says it’s the future, like. I was going to buy them one after….well, you know. They’ll have to do without now though, won’t they?’
Hall was relieved to hear the sharp knock on the door. He suddenly felt very tired, the adrenaline rush from earlier in the day, when the call had first come in, entirely spent now. The door opened squeakily and DC Dixon came in. He smiled at Hall, sat down next to him, and briskly gave his name and the time for the recording. He passed a sheet of paper over to John’s solicitor, who looked at it and nodded back. Hall got up, stated that he was leaving, and turned to go. It was the best result of his career to date, the best by many a mile, but for some reason he didn’t want to hear the charges being laid out. Not out loud, anyway.
Tuesday, 22nd July 2014
‘You’re a good lad, Keith’ said DS Mann, picking up his cup. ‘And you make a bloody good brew and all.’
‘Is that it? Is that actually my appraisal?’ DC Keith Iredale didn’t look particularly disappointed.
‘It’s not really an appraisal, lad. More a check on how you think things are going. You’ll have the real thing with the DI in another three months. So you’d best be ready for her searching questions, like.’
‘So I’m supposed to tell you how I’m getting on now? Is that it?’
‘Aye, but I’ve just told you. Everything’s fine. You’ve fitted in very nicely here, and people like you, even if you have got a right funny accent.’
‘Thanks. And the DI will be doing your next appraisal when she does mine, will she, Ian?’
Mann paused, his cup half way between lips and desk, and frowned. ‘Aye, she will. I hope she goes easy on me, like.’
‘So you don’t mind that Jane got the DI’s job when Andy Hall was promoted? You’ve got years of seniority on her, haven’t you?’
‘Well, I didn’t actually apply, so no, I don’t mind. A boss is a boss, whether it’s Jane, Andy or even you, Keith. And I bet it will be you, in a few year’s time. Bosses just take a bit of managing, that’s all. You get to know what they want, and you give them that. Or something similar enough, anyhow.’
‘And what does Jane like?’
‘You know that as well as I do. Or at least you should do by now. She’s all right, is Jane. I know she’s a bit too keen on the form-filling and the bloody targets, but that’s modern policing, isn’t it? The main thing is that she’s still a copper first, and not a sodding politician. Not like most of them. She still comes to work to catch cons, first and foremost, and so long as that’s the case she’ll not have any trouble with me.’
‘So you don’t fancy the office and the company car?’
‘Of course I do. The extra money wouldn’t do any harm either. But there’s a price to be paid for being management, isn’t there? Meetings, every bloody day, and having to listen to what some superannuated Superintendent has to say, even though his arse has been polishing an office chair for twenty years. Christ, most of those bastards haven’t been out on the bloody streets since we had nowt but whistles and Ford Anglias.’
It was a familiar theme, but DC Iredale rarely tired of hearing Mann riff on it. But he decided to throw in a slight variation, just for the fun of it.
‘And what about the civilians that they’re bringing in now? I heard that there’s a new Inspector up at HQ who used to manage a supermarket. Never done a day’s policing in her life, apparently.’
‘Don’t get me started’ said Mann, leaving Keith in no doubt that he was most definitely getting started. ‘The job’s not really about bloody meetings and targets and PR, is it? It’s about catching cons, and the best people to do that are the ones who come from similar backgrounds. Blue-collar bobbies, that’s what I’m talking about.’
‘Like you and me, you mean?’
‘Aye, like us, lad. We might not have been to university, and our spelling and that might be a bit dodgy, but at least when we sit down with a suspect we speak the same bloody language. I’ve seen the way that some of our regulars look at the likes of Andy and Jane. It’s as if they’re from another planet, it really is.’
‘She’s from Derbyshire though, isn’t she?’ said Keith, helpfully. He didn’t have much on that morning, so it did no harm to get Ian going properly.
‘Exactly, lad, exactly. I bloody ask you. You want coppers from your own community. People who have grown up on the same streets. Not folk who get parachuted in from Christ knows where.’
‘But Andy’s a good copper though, isn’t he? Even though he’s an alien.’
‘He was, lad, he was. A bloody natural detective, and that’s a fact. I’ve never quite worked out how he did it, truth be told.’
‘Get inside the cons’ heads the way he always used to. And him as straight as a bloody dye too. He once told me that he never even pinched penny chews from the corner shop when he was a kid. Not natural, isn’t that behaviour in a young lad.’
‘I didn’t do it either.’
‘But your dad was a bobby, wasn’t he? Bound to teach you right from wrong, he was.’
‘Andy’s dad was a bank manager. Bloody robber in pin-stripes, he’ll have been then, won’t he? But Andy was all right, despite everything. Of course now he’ll just be biding his time and waiting for the pension, and good luck to him, I say. He’s done his bit, has Andy Hall. I’ll say that for him, anyway.’
‘So he took the promotion for the bump in money and pension?’
‘Aye, I expect so. What other reason could he have for getting involved with the gold-braid boys? All piss and wind, the lot of them. He’ll not be enjoying it though, you mark my words.’
They sat in silence for a moment, both contemplating the many aspects of being a Detective Superintendent that were almost certain to be miserable.
‘So you don’t blame Andy from taking that strategy job, or whatever they call it?’
‘Of course not. I’ve only got myself to look after, like, but Andy’s got his kids, an ex-wife, and now he’s got Jane as well. He wants to provide for the whole bloody lot of them. It’s only natural, is that. We’re all bloody hunter-gatherers, aren’t we?’
‘Actually, Ian, there was something I wanted to talk about. As part of my appraisal, or whatever it is you call it.’
‘Aye. So long as it’s in confidence, like.’
Mann looked round. The DI’s office was empty, and the lights were off. It was still early, but it seemed that she’d already taken to keeping management hours.
‘Step into my office, lad.’
Mann didn’t turn on the office lights, but he did close the door.
‘And you’ll keep this to yourself, Ian?’
‘I’ve been keeping bloody secrets since a week after me mam died, and people started asking if my old fella was OK. It’s one thing I’m good at, is the secrecy job.’
‘I’ve been offered a job. Outside the job, like.’
‘Fucking hell, lad. You’ve only been in the force five minutes.’
‘Over ten years, actually.’
‘Aye, but that’s still nowt. Get your head down and do your thirty, lad. If only for the bloody pension.’
‘It’s more money. Much more. Better pension too. And it’s back home too, like.’
‘Oh, aye? What’s this wonder job, then? Can’t be as a bloody gigolo, not with your looks, like.’
‘It’s with the atomic police, over at Sellafield.’
‘The CNC? A few of my old mates have joined that lot.’ Mann thought about it for a moment. ‘They do say it’s a bit of a doss, like.’ He sounded almost approving.
‘It’s important work though, mate. My whole family live out on the west coast, and if anything ever happened at Sellafield…. Christ, it doesn’t bear thinking about.’
‘Fair enough, but I can’t see you in polished boots, Keith.’
‘I wouldn’t be. It’s a more strategic role.’
‘Oh, is it now?’ Keith smiled. He knew exactly what to expect, and he wasn’t going to be disappointed. ‘So basically you’ll be sitting in an office all day polishing your spreadsheets, and you won’t nick so much as a teenage tearaway from one year’s end to the next. You’d go mad with boredom, mate.’
‘Maybe, but I’d be back home. The hours are regular too.’
‘I bet they are. And that’s how you know that the job will be dead boring.’
‘How do you work that out?’
‘Stands to reason. Any job where you know the hours you’ll be working, weeks and months in advance, it just has to be as dull as shit. Nothing unexpected ever happens, see.’
‘What about work-life balance, and all that?’
‘It’s bollocks, is all that. You’re only properly alive when you never know what’s coming next. Where the next challenge is coming from.’
‘Spoken like a former soldier.’
‘I’m still a soldier, Keith. And you are too. Anyway, don’t you want to follow in your old man’s footsteps?’
‘Not really, now you come to mention it.’
Mann looked keenly at Iredale. ‘Why’s that then?’
‘You know as well as I do, Ian.’
‘You know then? About your dad?’
‘Aye, he told me. I couldn’t believe that he was on the bloody take, the old bastard. All that stuff he told me growing up, about duty and right and wrong and all that shit, and he was at it the whole time.’
‘That’s not fair, Keith, and you know it. He was being blackmailed. That’s what it added up to. And he didn’t take money, did he? Why do you think he wasn’t charged when it all came out?’
‘Because the new Chief didn’t want any more dirty linen being washed in public, Ian. Dad was lucky. Those coppers who got nicked for fraud and bloody sex offences and Christ knows what, they saved his bacon, I reckon. He should have gone down for what he did.’
Mann sat back in Jane’s chair, and it creaked loudly. ’So is that what this is really about, Keith? Your old fella? If so you’re in the wrong fucking office, mate.’
‘I don’t think anyone would mistake you for a psychiatrist, Ian.’
‘They’d have to be fucking mad, like.’
They both laughed.
‘Have you decided then? For definite, I mean?’
‘No, not for definite. I’ve got until the end of the month.’
‘All right. So do me a favour, will you? Don’t let them know your answer until you have to. Don’t even make a decision yet. Let’s talk about it some more, OK?’
Iredale nodded. ‘OK. Like I say, I haven’t decided anyway. Not for certain, like.’
‘Good. So are we done?’
‘Aye. We’re done. Are you still on for a bike ride after work?’
‘You bet. Just don’t leave me behind when we’re going up Longsleddale.’
‘I’ll try not to, mate. But the last time I saw someone going that slow on a bike they were in a circus, and the bike only had one wheel. If I stay in this job you’re going to have to get properly fit.’
‘If you stay I’ll bloody race you to the top of the Kirkstone Pass and back.’
‘Is that a promise?’
‘Aye, lad, it is.’
Not one single car. Not the whole way here. It wouldn’t have been a problem if there had been, mind. Who notices an old pick-up round here anyway? It’s the same colour as the rest too: shit, mud and rust. And I’ve got a good reason for driving down here at this time today. I’ve done it a hundred times before, this last couple of years. But it’s still a bonus that I wasn’t seen, that’s for sure. I’m just lucky, I suppose. Aye, that’s it. Born lucky, I was.
I’ll be suspected, of course I will. I’ll probably be accused too, straight out, to my face. But that means nothing. Knowing and proving are two totally different things. They can threaten and shout all they bloody like. But I know what real fear feels like, what it tastes like, and the cops can’t cause it. Not any more.
None of the neighbours’ vehicles are about, just as I expected. So it’s a go then, isn’t it? I’ll do what I said. Park up, and sit and give it a minute, just to be sure that this is the right thing to do. The only thing that I can do now, as things stand. The way that the cards have fallen, like.
So that’s it then. It’s getting hot in here. Engine off, just the sound of the birdsong and the breeze in the trees. It’ll be the last thing he hears, except for the blast of course. But it’ll be quick, anyway. And that’s better than it is for most of us. No hanging about, trying to think of something to say to the kids.
It’s time to go. Let’s keep the chat to a minimum, but let’s do it inside. So we’ll have to talk, for a minute at least. And I want him to know that it’s me, anyway. If he’s got half a brain he’ll have been half expecting this, all these years. Half a brain? That’s a laugh. The choke’s set wide. And I’ll give him the first one to the chest. Get it over with quick, like. But I should make sure, like I would with a beast. So the second one to the head, whatever happens, and then away. But make sure I look at what I did before I go, though. Aye, take a good long look.
What will he say? Beg, I don’t doubt. Who wouldn’t? Even if you only had an hour to live anyway. By rights he should have another twenty, thirty years ahead of him. But he hasn’t. Not any more. He’s only got as long as it takes a kettle to boil. So long as it’s not too full, like. And it’s all because of me. But what does it matter, really? One body more or less. That’s all. Nothing to see here. Keep back, behind the yellow tape. The coppers will make a bloody big fuss about it all, but I remember what they were like last time. Couldn’t believe their luck, could they? If it hadn’t been for Frankie grassing us up they’d never have nabbed us, the wankers. Even after an almighty fuck-up like that. He’d be late for his own fucking funeral, would Frankie.
Right, it’s time. Check the gun. Put the face mask on first, then open the plastic bag. It’s still cold to the touch, and heavier than I remembered. That’s all fine, though. Good to go. Nice and quick to the door, don’t look round, then straight in. There’s still no-one about, not a soul. If he tries anything, even if he looks as if he might, then pull the trigger, even if the barrel is digging into his guts. It makes no difference really. Nothing does, not when you get right down to it. When you finally see the big picture, as they say.
‘John. Shit, mate, what’s that? Why are you wearing that get-up?’
‘Let’s go into the living room. The carpet’s not new in there, is it?’
Frankie didn’t turn, but moved slowly backwards into the living room, glancing down at the two black tunnels pointing at him. John closed the front door quietly behind him.
‘Listen, I know why you’re angry, mate. Even after all these years. But I never grassed. They already knew, see. They knew all of it.’
John’s finger tightened on the trigger. He’d had this conversation in his head many times. Thousands, probably. But it always ended the same way. He eased off on the trigger, just for a moment, and said what he usually did.
‘I knew you’d say that, and it’s bollocks. A pathetic excuse. They were just trying it on. Of course they bloody knew it was us, but they couldn’t have proved anything. Without you giving evidence we’d never even have stood trial, and you know it as well as I do.’