Authors: J J Salkeld
The Two Towns
The Lakeland Murders: 1
The introductory short story
By J J Salkeld
© copyright J J Salkeld, 2014
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.
Cover photograph by R F Simpson
Cover art by Michaela Waddell,
Saturday, 5th November
There was no way around it, Jane Francis was nervous. And as she drove north up the M6 in the early evening drizzle she considered whether or not that was a good thing. On balance, she decided, it was. She’d enjoyed her time as a PC in Manchester, most of it anyway, and the lads and lasses she’d worked with had been great, but she needed more in the way of intellectual challenge. She’d known that pretty much right from the start of her service, and so had her bosses. More to the point, the other bobbies on the relief had known it too.
To begin with the stories that she’d overheard about herself had amused her, and some even had a kernel of truth, hidden beneath a hard husk of copper’s bullshit and exaggeration. Occasionally, when she’d been out in a patrol car on a dead-quiet midweek back shift, the other bobby in the car would ask her about herself. And it was almost always a version of the self-same question. If it was one of the old lags doing the asking it would be, ‘what’s a nice girl like you doing in a shit-hole like this?’ But if it was one of the younger ones it would be, ‘so what made you leave a nice warm research lab behind for this job? Were you sampling too many of your own products, or what?’
And Jane didn’t mind either question, not really. Not the first, because she was much closer to forty than thirty, so being called a girl, nice or otherwise, was always welcome enough. And the second question was one that she still occasionally asked herself, even after four nearly years in the job.
But the fact that she’d come to policing at least a decade after most other probationers, and had a PhD rather than a couple of indifferent ‘A’ levels, made her look, sound and seem different from the others. She felt different too, especially when she was the first to leave the regular team nights out, knowing that she needed some sleep so much more than she wanted another drink.
So all in all she’d made the right decision in going for a DC’s job in another force, she was sure of it. But had Cumbria Constabulary been the right choice for her? Because she’d had options, after all. Manchester had wanted her to stay, and a secondment to SOCO certainly did make sense for someone with her combination of lab work and street-level policing experience. The bosses had been genuinely disappointed when she’d knocked them back, she was certain of that too.
As she drove Jane thought back on the interview that she’d attended at Kendal station the month before, just as the leaves were turning and the morning air was sharpening. She’d said ‘yes’ right away, almost before DI Andy Hall had finished making her the offer, and she knew that was out of character for her. But even now, after hours and days of reflection, she was still sure that her decision had been the right one. And it was Hall’s last set of questions that had convinced her, now that she came to think about it.
‘What’s the most effective way of categorising offences, adjusted for seriousness? As a means of assigning limited investigative resources, I mean?’
Jane thought about it.
‘You mean when we’ve normalised for the seriousness of the offence? And also for any particular objectives set by senior management?’
‘Yes, exactly. Let’s imagine we have four burglaries, in which goods of similar value were stolen. How would you assign resources?’
‘On the basis of what you’ve told me so far I’d assign the same resources to each case.’
‘And what if one victim was the station Superintendent’s old mum?’
‘Other than adjusting for the vulnerability of the victim I’d make no changes, sir.’
Hall smiled. Jane thought it was the first time that he had.
‘Call me Andy if you want, but forget the ‘sir’ please, Jane. I ask my team to only refer to me by rank when we’re with the public, or with senior officers. They both seem to expect it. I lead my team because some greater fool put me in charge, but we don’t need to remind each other of it all the time. Anyway, back to the question. So you’ve adjusted your effort based on the circumstances and needs of the victim. Anything else?’
‘Have any of them been burgled before?’
‘What if they have?’
‘Then I’d deploy additional resources towards those victims.’
‘What kind of resources?’
‘Preventative as well as investigative, sir. I mean Andy. I’d arrange for the CPO to go round, if he or she hasn’t already attended, and make recommendations as to possible additional domestic security arrangements.’
‘Would you, as the CID officer, routinely review the report of that visit?’
Jane hesitated, and looked across the table at DI Hall. His expression gave absolutely nothing away. His eyes were the blue of cold, deep water under a winter sky. She was pretty sure that the correct answer to the question was no. Her workload would be far too high to allow her to review a CPO’s home security report within normal working hours. But she decided to be truthful, because something about Hall suggested that he would understand.
‘Yes, I would’ she said.
‘Because if the resident already had good security arrangements in place, before the break-in, then I’d be more concerned about their future vulnerability.’
‘And it would tell me something useful about the perpetrators.’
‘What would it tell you, exactly?’
‘Depending on how they gained access to the premises, and also on what was taken, I would make a judgement about the level of expertise and professionalism of the offenders.’
Hall nodded, but not firmly enough for Jane to be absolutely sure whether or not he was agreeing with her. He sat back.
‘All right’ he said, after a moment. ‘we don’t need to talk about the investigative procedures you’d follow, because I’m certain that you know exactly what needs to be done in this sort of case. So let’s just fast forward a week or two. Two of the offences have been cleared up nice and quickly. There were prints at the scene, and they were from regular customers of ours. So that’s a 50% clear-up, straight away. Not a bad result, but I’d expect better. So we keep working. And, as it happens, the other two cases are different. In one case the offender was just a tiny bit brighter than our usual clowns, and he or she actually wore gloves. There’s no DNA, no physical evidence of any kind, and no witnesses. And the fourth case is very similar, except in one important regard. Because in this one the offender didn’t wear gloves, and his prints are everywhere. But they’re not on the database, meaning that an early arrest is out of the question. So what conclusions do we draw, and what further actions do we take on these two open cases?’
‘We focus on the second one, because the only sensible conclusion we can draw is that we’ve got a new offender.’
This time Hall smiled. There could be absolutely no doubt about it.
‘Exactly, Jane, exactly. And that’s always worth some additional effort. So, in practical terms, what would you do next?’
‘Well, I certainly wouldn’t expend further immediate investigative effort on either offence. That wouldn’t be cost-effective, given the lack of any worthwhile evidence. But I would ask uniform to concentrate patrols in the area of the fourth offence especially, since we know that low-levels cons like this invariably only ever shit on their own doorsteps, and I’d also ask tech support to look for any of the stolen items turning up in online auction sites and the like. I’d ask them to focus on any unusual items.’
‘Excellent. For what it’s worth, that’s pretty much exactly what I’d suggest as well. I sometimes think that simply dividing our division’s offender base into the 90% that’s already been caught, and the 10% that hasn’t, is just about the most powerful single discriminator that we have. Because that 10% is the interesting group, isn’t it? Either they’ve just started out, and we simply haven’t caught them yet because they’ve been lucky, or they’re that rare and truly wonderful thing: an interesting, able criminal. Either way, that’s where I’d want us to be focussing our effort.’
Half an hour later the interview was over, and Jane was sure that she’d acquitted herself pretty well. There were one or two answers that she’d tweak, if she had the time again, but nothing that she felt made her look daft or ill-informed.
‘Thanks, Andy’ she said, when he told her that he’d run out of questions.
‘Not at all. When I read your CV I knew that you’d have all the intellectual power that this job could ever require, and more I dare say, but I like your practical, common-sense approach too. My DS, Ian Mann, is always telling me that I could do with a bit more of it myself, and I have to agree with him. Or at least I do when he gets back from the dozen shifts of crossing patrol duty that I always give him, anyway.’
It took a second for Jane to realise that he was joking, because Hall’s face stayed as straight as a judge’s back. Then she laughed, and Hall smiled back.
‘Look’ he went on, ‘here’s what I’d like to suggest. I know that you’ll have other offers, and some of them will be much better than this one I’m sure, but I’d be delighted if you decided to come and join our merry little band. You could make a difference here, I’m certain of it.’
‘Yes, Andy, I think so too. So that’s an offer I’d be delighted to accept.’
Jane was pulling off the by-pass now, on to the slip-road into Kendal, and she could feel the nerves fading, rather than building. That seemed counter-intuitive, so she thought about why it might be. No one could ever accuse Jane Francis of leading an unexamined life. And so what if she’d made a snap decision? She was beginning to believe that she should trust her instincts a bit more, and her intellect a little less. And not just with career decisions either. She slowed to 29MPH just before the 30MPH zone began, and glanced down at her sat-nav. Not far to go now. And then she saw the fireworks, rockets bursting high over the castle, and she smiled. It might not be an omen, because she certainly didn’t believe in those, but it was still one hell of a welcome.
Sunday, 6th November
DC Ray Dixon always complained to anyone who would listen whenever he saw his name on the Sunday duty roster, but everyone had stopped actually listening to his complaints years, and even decades, before. And secretly he’d actually grown to quite like Sunday duty anyway, and these days he only really complained because he thought it was probably expected. But this way he avoided DIY duties at home, and had a Sunday roast to look forward to at the end of the day. Plus the phone wouldn’t ring very often, and that was a good thing too. Not because Dixon was a skiver, but because it would let him clear one or two items from his to-do list. And DI Hall did like it when files were closed, or cases progressed.
He walked into the station two minutes before the start of his shift, just as he always did, and chatted to the desk sergeant for almost a minute. As a result he strolled into the open CID office at Kendal nick less than ten seconds early. He didn’t mind grafting, but he’d be buggered if he was going to give the bosses anything for free. He liked Andy Hall, and freely conceded that he was the best detective that he’d ever worked with. But Hall was still one of the bosses, when it was all said and done.
Dixon logged on to the system, went and made himself a brew, and completed his usual early morning calculations. So as he walked slowly back to his desk he knew, to the shift, how many more days days he’d have to do until he reached retirement. When he sat down he looked at the list of jobs on his pad, and tried to decide which to tackle first. It wasn’t an easy choice, partly because none of them were crime of the century contenders, but mainly because the names associated with every single offence were already well known to him.
Dixon decided to be systematic as he established his priorities for the day. But he didn’t use any system that Hall would have recognised. Because first he eliminated the names of the people who he knew were beyond help, and therefore almost beyond punishment too. None of their offences were serious, and Dixon knew that the criminal justice system would grind slowly through each case, whether he got up off his arse or not. So he decided on not, at least until or unless the DS or the DI said otherwise.
That left him with a domestic and a MISPER, both involving what he liked to call the nick’s ‘frequent flyers.’ The domestic would be depressing, he knew that. Both parties, a long-established couple who were much fonder of booze than their kids, had injuries ranging from imagined to the extremely minor, and both were accusing the other of inflicting them. It was a familiar story, and Dixon knew how it would play out. Some poor plod would have to sit and listen to them swearing, reading out offensive texts, and naming any number of utterly unreliable witnesses of their acquaintance. By the end of the day the unfortunate bobby would have a headache and a sore arse, and that would be all. But, he had to admit, it would still be quite enjoyable to be the one to knock on their door and bring them in for interview. Because it was still well before nine in the morning, and Dixon knew, with absolute certainty, that this was a couple who kept strictly rock-star hours.