Authors: J J Salkeld
Death on Account
The Lakeland Murder
, number three.
By J J Salkeld
© copyright J J Salkeld, 2013
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Proof-read by Ross Baverstock.
Tuesday, 23rd April
It was an unseasonably warm spring morning in Kendal, with just a few cotton-wool clouds over a warm breeze. An absolutely perfect day to be out of the office, so DC Jane Dixon didn’t mind being out on ‘punishment patrol’ with the Specials. She knew that Superintendent Robinson would make sure that she would be doing plenty more jobs like this, probably until he either retired or was promoted to a nice policy job at HQ. Perhaps he’d forget about her then, but somehow she doubted it. He always looked like the kind of man who would bear a grudge. But today, thanks to the weather, Jane felt like she won a small victory.
The latest intake of Special Constables, all five of them, certainly seemed keen enough, but then they’d only been with Cumbria Constabulary for a few months, and for a handful of hours a week at that. They’d soon learn that a police station is very much like a school playground, and that looking too keen just isn’t cool. Jane herself just couldn’t help it, and she knew that she’d never be the most popular girl in the class. But she could live with that.
Jane had a list of their names, and what they did out here in the real world, but she could only remember one of their names unaided. That was Gill McGrath, who Jane had seen from the notes worked locally as a software developer. It wasn’t because Gill had said or done anything memorable in Jane’s presence that made her so recognisable, but because the word in the station was that for the last couple of weeks she’d been seeing Jane’s boss, DI Andy Hall. So Jane took a special interest in Gill McGrath. She’d already discovered that Gill looked older than her, even though the file said she was two years younger. It really was turning out to be an enjoyable morning all round.
They were walking through the town centre, all in plain clothes, like an especially eager walking-tour party with a special interest in early twenty-first century multiple retailers and traffic calming measures, and Jane was talking to them about what they were expected to achieve when they were out on foot patrol with a full-time PC. She asked for their thoughts, and there was a long silence.
‘PC Braithwaite says that my only function when we’re out on patrol is to get my face in the way if someone tries to punch him’ said one young lad, who looked as if he should still be at school.
‘Tony Braithwaite is a very wicked old policeman to tell you that’ said Jane, smiling. ‘That’s not what you’re there for at all. When you’re out on foot patrol you need to be looking all the time, and alerting your colleague. Now, what sort of things should you be looking out for?’
‘Expired tax discs on cars?’ said the other male Special, a slightly older man who looked like he probably could look after himself in a fight.
‘Possibly, but we tend to leave that to the Traffic Wardens, or whatever they’re called this week.’ Jane stopped, and the group formed a semi-circle around her. They looked nothing short of expectant.
‘So do you all know where the rogue’s gallery is in the station?’ All the heads nodded. ‘And has everyone had a good look at the faces, their form and their home addresses?’ The nodding was a bit less confident now. ‘OK, so that’s your first job when we get back. Go and have a look, and try to memorize just a couple of our regulars. Keep doing it every shift for a couple of weeks and you’ll know who most of them are.’
‘But what do we do if we see one of them when we’re out on patrol?’ asked Gill McGrath. Jane thought she spotted the slightest hint of Liverpudlian in her accent, and briefly wondered what else she had to hide.
‘Anyone like to answer that?’ said Jane.
‘I think it probably depends’ said one of the other female Specials, slightly hesitantly. Jane remembered that she was called Alison Thornton. She thought that Alison might come from the same part of the world as Gill did, but for some reason it didn’t bother Jane at all.
‘That’s right, Alison, it does’ she replied, smiling. ‘If they’re one of the scallywags with a current Warrant out on them then you just tell your partner quietly, and they’ll radio it in, and make an arrest if they think it’s safe. But if it’s just one of the usual suspects just mooching around like they usually do then just make your partner aware. They’ll know what to do next. At the least they’ll probably want a word.’
‘Isn’t it a bit unfair to keep on at the same people all the time?’ asked Gill McGrath. ‘Talk about giving a dog a bad name.’
Jane smiled again. She couldn’t help it. Because even Andy Hall, who was prone to some dangerously liberal tendencies, wouldn’t be that naive.
‘I know what you mean’ she replied, hoping that her grin had faded, ’but with our limited resources we adopt intelligence-led approaches whenever we can, and experience has taught us that a fair percentage of all our recorded crime, especially burglary and other thefts, are committed by the people in the rogues gallery. We’re not stereotyping them, they do that for themselves I’m afraid.’ Gill didn’t look convinced, but she didn’t have to. ‘OK’ Jane continued, ‘so when we say ‘walking with a purpose’, what do we mean by that?’
The young lad, who Jane thought was called Jonathon something, piped up. He looked like he’d been reading the manuals and procedures, which - unlike almost all of her colleagues - Jane regarded as an entirely good thing.
‘It means that we’re giving the public confidence, are ready to respond to their needs and concerns, and that we’re on the look out for persons of interest, like you just said.’
Jane decided to take a chance. ‘That’s great, Jonathon.’ His smile suggested that she’d remembered correctly. ‘Yes, engaging with the law-abiding public, the 95% of the population who we never have any dealings with, is a really central part of the job. You’re there to reassure the public that we’re visible, on hand and ready to respond if there’s a problem.’
She had no intention of telling the Specials this, but being visible to the public, and therefore duty bound to talk to them, was one of the main reasons that Jane had applied to CID as soon as she possibly could. Because she found the law-abiding public needy, sometimes borderline paranoid, and almost always annoying. But these keen young Specials, or youngish is she included Gill McGrath and that burly bloke at the back, would soon find all that out for themselves. And the way they managed to deal with the time-wasters and the nutters would go a long way to deciding which of them actually had potential in the job. The ones who could think about something else, while pretending to listen intently, would be the ones with potential.
Of course with the way the finances were the chances of any actually being taken on as sworn officers, or even PCSOs, looked pretty remote to Jane. But they didn’t need to know that either. ‘Anything else?’ she asked brightly. ‘What else should we be doing when we’re on foot patrol?’
‘We’re to look for anything that might suggest that a crime has been committed, or that there’s the risk of a crime occurring’ said Alison Thornton.
‘Exactly’ said Jane. ‘The idea is to stay one step ahead of the offender, not one behind. So let’s pair off, I’ll go with Gill. Then take a walk for half an hour, and see what we can see. Try to note down three things of interest. Then we’ll meet up, have a break, and then go back and look at what each pair has found. OK?’
She and Gill set off towards Kirkland, while the others headed off in other directions.
‘Shall we try Kirkbarrow?’ asked Gill as they walked.
‘Now who’s stereotyping?’ asked Jane.
‘Sorry, I haven’t been here long, so I don’t really know much about the town, but I’ve heard stories from some of the cops.’
‘I’m sure you have, but don’t believe a word most of the lads tell you, unless it’s in their notebook and they’re willing to swear to it in court. Coppers are gossips, and bullshitters, almost to a man. They’ll even lie about the length of their truncheon.’
Gill looked slightly uncomfortable, and Jane realised why. ‘Sorry, I didn’t mean...’ She tailed off. Was Gill’s relationship with Andy even common knowledge? Jane thought it must be, because she knew and she was usually the last to hear anything, and she changed the subject. ‘So what stories have you heard about Kirkbarrow then?’
‘Well, someone told me that back in the last recession, or maybe the one before, we raided a house on there and it was full of sheep that someone had nicked off the fells. They were crammed in to in the living room, the bedrooms, everywhere apparently. Dozens of them. It sounds mental.’
‘Yes’ said Jane, ‘I’ve heard that one as well. No idea if it’s true, so probably not. But with some of our regulars nothing would really surprise me. Low level offenders tend not to plan ahead all that effectively. So I take it you’re not local then, if stories like that one are new to you.’
‘No, I come from the Wirral. I moved up here with work last year, and I joined up as a Special to get out a bit more, meet new people, you know.’
Jane did know. It was a strategy that seemed to have worked better for Gill than it had for her.
‘So you’re not thinking about joining the job full-time then?’
‘Not really, but never say never. I’ve had a lot of changes in my life over the last couple of years, I’m not sure that I could take any more just at the moment.’
They walked on in silence, past the Parish Church and the entrance to Abbot Hall. Jane liked this part of the town, and often strolled along the river after work. She doubted that there’d be much to see in Kirkbarrow, but she’d let Gill find that out for herself.
Andy Hall was late. That was unusual, and he didn’t like it one little bit. But with his Sergeant, Ian Mann, still suspended and facing the prospect of imminent manslaughter charges Hall’s workload was excessive by any standards, so he was late for lots of things, both at work and outside. Promptness was a sign of respect and courtesy as far as Hall was concerned, and being busy was no excuse. His boss, Superintendent Robinson, was well aware of the situation, but Hall knew that he wouldn’t be getting another officer anytime soon. And he didn’t want a replacement for Ian anyway, because it would feel like an admission of defeat, so he was willing to shoulder the extra workload.
But he was still late, and this was one meeting that he didn’t want to turn up to even a single second after the appointed time. The call had come through only ten minutes before, and Ian Mann had been asked for by name. So when the switchboard put the call through to Hall instead he introduced himself, and explained that Ian Mann was unavailable. And no, he wouldn’t be available anytime soon. ‘I’m Ian’s boss, so I should be able to help.’
‘I’m Trevor Royal.’
It only took a fraction of a second for the name to register.
‘Yes, Mr. Royal, I’m fully aware of the details of your case. What can I do for you today?’
‘I need to see you. Now, today. I think someone knows...’
Hall cut him off. ‘I understand, Mr. Royal, where and when?’
‘The bench on Gooseholme, by the weir. You know where I mean?’
‘How soon can you be here?’
‘Give me thirty minutes.’
When he’d put the phone down Hall grabbed his mobile and his jacket, and ran to Superintendent Robinson’s office. Pat, the Super’s secretary, was on guard at her desk as usual.
‘Is the Super in?’
‘He’s at HQ, in a meeting with the Chief. Can’t be disturbed.’
‘I need a file from the safe.’
‘He’ll be back at four.’
‘I need it now.’
‘He’ll still be back at four.’
‘Can you open the safe please, Pat. On my authority.’
‘You don’t have the authority, Inspector.’
Hall didn’t wait any longer. He ran down the long corridor to the stairs, took them three at a time and nearly fell down the last half dozen. He buzzed his way out into reception, banged his shoulder on the door jamb, and reached for his mobile as soon as he was outside. Ian Mann picked up on the first ring.