Authors: Kerry Wilkinson
Tags: #Mystery, #Detective, #Woman Sleuth, #Police Procedural
Adam Compton undid his top button and tugged at the collar of his shirt.
The tut came almost instantly as Jessica Daniel nudged him in the ribs. ‘Stop fidgeting – we’re supposed to be incognito, not looking shiftier than a used-car salesman taking a lie-detector test.’
‘Stop moaning and keep walking with me.’
Jessica stretched out and took his hand in hers, giving him a squeeze and leading him around a set of benches.
‘I still don’t get why I had to dress up?’ Adam complained.
‘You’re only wearing black trousers and a shirt – it’s hardly a tux. Besides, it’s because you’re out with me – not slumming it around the house watching children’s cartoons in your underwear. I’ve even got heels on for the first time this year.’
Adam glanced down as if he didn’t believe her, even though he had driven because she didn’t fancy chancing her feet on the car’s pedals while wearing them. ‘We’re at a railway station – it’s hardly dinner at the Ritz,’ he said.
Before she could reply, a public address announcement boomed around Manchester’s Piccadilly Station reminding everyone to keep their bags with them. Jessica continued to scan the crowd as they ambled past the main departure board for the fourth time, before stopping close to the exit and turning to look at the times on display.
Small groups of people mooched past, clinging onto their bags and squinting at the digital display board before pointing and heading off to their platforms. Men and women in business suits, children climbing over large cases as their parents scanned for the next train to the airport, scallies with their caps pulled down and hands jammed in pockets, City fans, United fans, teenagers – Jessica searched them all but no one stood out. At least not in the way she wanted.
Adam was fidgeting again. She couldn’t remember the last time she had seen him in anything other than a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. Even when he went to his job at Manchester Metropolitan University, he got away with it by putting a jacket over the top.
The scruffy git.
He freed his hand from hers and tugged at his hair. She knew he was wishing it was long again, having caved in to her relentless nagging and had it sliced down to ear-length.
‘You’re not looking posh enough,’ Jessica said.
‘How do posh people look?’
‘They stand straighter and don’t pull at their hair.’
Adam pushed himself up onto the tips of his toes and cricked his back. ‘Do they stand near open doorways doing nothing as the wind howls through?’
‘We’re here for a reason.’
Jessica took his hand again and started to lead him across the concourse. Her heels clip-clopped awkwardly as she had to think her way through every step. This used to be easier when she was seventeen and sneaking off with her friend Caroline trying to get into pubs. Heel-toe, heel-toe, don’t step in the cracks between the tiles. Noise echoed around the enclosed area: footsteps, chatter, a child wailing, the whoosh of an espresso machine, ding-dong: ‘For security reasons, passengers are reminded to keep their bags with them at all times.’
All right, sod off, we get the message.
Jessica continued to peer at the crowd as she led Adam to an area close to the women’s toilets and turned to face a different departure board.
‘So . . . ?’ Adam said.
Jessica replied without facing him, still people-watching. ‘There are a few blank spots in the CCTV – where we were by the doors, here, over by the far tables at the coffee shop and a few other places.’
‘Are we trying to stay out of view?’
‘We’re trying to appear enticing. You’re failing.’
‘Enticing to who?’
Jessica spotted a teenage boy, fourteen or fifteen, squeezing between two people hauling suitcases behind them. He took a phone out of his pocket and stopped in front of a rotating advertising board to make a call. His slanted spiky hair pointed high to the heavens and he looked the type to have covered himself in half a can of deodorant that morning. Earring, arse hanging out of his trousers, shiny white trainers, fake gold bracelet, swagger: not who she was looking for.
As the board clicked over to 18.16, Jessica double-checked the catch on the small handbag hanging over her shoulder. That, the heels and the long dress weren’t just beginning to feel uncomfortable, they had been since the moment she’d tarted herself up. Not that she could tell Adam that after ticking him off for complaining. In many ways, it was a shame that the first time they’d got dressed up to go out in months involved them hanging around a train station. The fact it was for work purposes pretty much summed up their relationship.
‘There’ve been a series of pickpocketings here in the past month,’ Jessica said. ‘We’ve had people going over the CCTV but there’s never anything on there. The victims are always in the camera’s blind spots and dressed like we are: people who have come in to the city to go to a show, the Opera House, or for a swanky swingers’ party. Whoever our thief is knows the layout and how to get in and out without being seen. Every time we’ve had police down here, they make it so obvious they’re our lot that nothing ever happens. The security guards and transport police are as much use as sun cream in Manchester, so I told the guv I’d try something different.’
‘And that involves me?’
‘The victims are always part of a couple, so yes. Just stand there, gaze at the board and put on that innocent look you always have when I come downstairs late at night and you’re pretending you’ve not just wiped the laptop’s Internet history.’
Adam huffed in a way he probably thought was outrage but it only made him sound guiltier. Jessica nudged him gently and they started to loop around the station again, passing the escalator and the platform exits before heading towards the main doors. Jessica found a spot close to the hot-dog stall and tried not to wince as the scent of burnt onions wafted across. Even she was a better cook than that.
A Goth couple; a lone woman in higher heels than Jessica’s running as if the laws of gravity and physics didn’t apply; an old man with a walking stick and tattered brown coat; a student type in shorts and a T-shirt even though it was dark and November; a blonde girl no older than sixteen on her mobile phone: ‘No, I only snogged him, like . . . Get lost, you cheeky bitch, I don’t care what he says, I didn’t shag him.’ A pause to tug at an oversized hoop earring. ‘Oh,
time. Well, yeah, but it was only the once and I didn’t know he was going out with her. It didn’t last long anyway.’
Jessica zoned out of the conversation, continuing to watch the crowd. She didn’t fancy coming back here every night until something happened. Six separate pickpocket cases in five weeks. It wasn’t the crime of the century but Jessica liked being out and doing something, instead of cooped up in her office at the station, filling in paperwork, signing things off and generally boring herself. DCI Jack Cole had given her the same shrug she’d seen a lot recently when she had suggested going to the train station with Adam. If she wanted to do something pro-active in her spare time then so be it.
‘Can you see the board from here?’ Adam asked.
‘Why wouldn’t I be able to?’
‘Because it was only a couple of months ago some bloke was lasering your eyes. I didn’t know if it had any other effects.’
Adam mumbled something under his breath but he must really be bored if he was back to talking about her eyes again. Jessica had eventually gone for laser eye treatment, having spent months constantly losing her glasses. At the time, he’d gone on about how it would give her superpowers – some sort of laser projectile out of
or some other geeky thing she couldn’t care less about. He really was a nerd sometimes. If someone had told her sixteen-year-old self she was going to end up engaged to a person who, in most circumstances, would’ve been suitable for an intimate relationship only with his own hand then she would’ve told them to sod off. She tried to remember the name of the boy she lusted after in college; the one whose name she wrote in love hearts and blathered on to Caroline about over cheap cider. Was it Jez? Jeremy? Had there ever been anyone fanciable called Jeremy? She couldn’t remember. Maybe it was Jeff? No, that was worse than Jeremy. Definitely a J in there somewhere.
Ding-dong: ‘For security reasons, passengers are reminded to keep their bags with them at all times.’
The voice reverberated around the station again, as Jessica wondered if anyone had ever kept hold of a bag because of it.
Her mind was wandering annoyingly from the crowd she was meant to be watching back towards work, as ever. Adam took her by surprise as he leant in and spoke softly: ‘What are we going to do later?’
‘I’m not keeping the heels on just for you, if that’s what you’re asking.’
He stifled a smile, mind firmly read.
‘We need to get some milk,’ Jessica added. ‘There’s that twenty-four-hour place on the way home. Hopefully we’ll hit that sweet spot where all the sandwiches and meat have been reduced but before everyone else piles in and only leaves the egg ones.’
Adam sniggered. ‘What rock-and-roll lifestyles we live: a night out at the train station and reduced-price sandwiches on the way home.’
‘You won’t be moaning if we get a reduced pack of cookies or muffins.’
Adam started to reply but his words dissolved into a saliva-filled ‘Mmmm’.
So easy to please.
A man in a suit hurried past, phone clamped to his ear, other hand readjusting his crotch. ‘Who authorised twenty per cent?’ he said too loudly. ‘I’m not going out to Stockholm to sort it again.’ He glanced up to see Jessica watching him, finishing playing with himself and scowling at the same time: a piece of multitasking she wouldn’t have thought him capable of. He told whoever he was moaning to that he’d call them back and then stomped into the nearby coffee shop.
Jessica was just thinking about how unsociable mobile phones made everyone when she felt hers begin to vibrate in her bag. With Adam standing next to her, it meant there were only two candidates – either her mother or someone from the station. If not them, then someone trying to sell her any number of financial products she definitely didn’t want.
She fumbled in the bag, tugging the phone out before realising that the contents were a lot less compacted than when she’d left the house.
‘Something wrong?’ Adam asked, as Jessica emptied her bag onto the top of a newspaper dispenser.
‘Someone’s nicked my purse.’
She may have lost her wallet but Jessica eventually answered her phone on the third ring. There must have been a quiz show on television distracting her mother because it wasn’t her. Jessica had left a pair of jeans, warm top and sensible shoes on the back seat of the car and got changed in the shadows of the multi-storey car park. Poor old Adam had been ditched for work again, left to catch the bus or tram home. One day she would make it all up to him. Or, at the very least, she would keep telling herself that.
With the rush-hour traffic long gone, Jessica headed along Oxford Street, over the river and into Salford. As she passed the university buildings and made the turn into Peel Park, the familiar blue haze lit up the car park, spinning blue bulbs on top of police cars eating into the darkness and signalling some poor sod hadn’t had a good day. Aside from a breeze whipping off the water and through the park, the evening was surprisingly mild. Jessica headed towards the group of silhouettes massing close to one of the bridges which crossed the River Irwell. Cigarette smoke and northern accents drifted into the air, joined by the sound of activity somewhere close to the river.