‘No death records.’
‘There won’t be. Alan Keyes dropped down said black hole. They drew a line under his name and rubbed out everything there ever was about him since birth. Including birth.’
‘What, new ID job?’
Simon nodded. ‘It’s crystal.’
He went to the front of the room, then paced back again, working it out as he spoke to the team.
‘This is a man who pretty certainly committed three murders. But he was acquitted. The jury found him not guilty and the judge had no option but to let him go. He was rearrested on a trumped-up charge – “assaulting a police officer”. Come on! He got into a very minor tussle with a PC who was trying to stop him leaving the court by the front entrance. For his own safety. It’s clear from the files that if Keyes had appeared in public that day, or any other, he’d have been torn limb from limb. So they gave him a new identity. He was spirited off somewhere – either another nick or a safe house. These are often army bases. And he was trained until his new ID was engraved on his mind and heart. He had no further contact with any family or friends or neighbours. Gone. Rent and mortgage records, bank accounts, NI . . . you name it, it no longer exists in his name. Every record has vanished from public access. It’s all in a file somewhere, locked onto some computer under a code name. Nobody has access except a couple of people, under high security.
‘Keyes is someone else now. He’s learned to be that someone. He’s been taught to forget his old self and everything about his former life and start again. By now, ask him where he went to school or the name of his mother’s sister and back the right answer will come, automatically. The new answer. Gradually, he’s merged into everyday life in a new place, a long way from the old one. His appearance has changed too – and of course he’s ten years older. If he had a beard, it’s gone; if he had perfect eyesight, now he wears specs with clear glass. Everything’s new. But deep down inside, he’s the same man he always was. Of course he is. They can’t transplant a personality – yet. And what defined Alan Keyes, in the end, was his desire to murder, and murder not just anyone, but old women. He likes to set them in front of a mirror. He likes to clip their toenails. These particular pieces of info were never made public. Everything else is on record, in the news reports and so on. So this isn’t a copycat – besides, ten years is stretching it a bit for a copycat. So we’re looking for Alan Keyes before he kills again, but as Alan Keyes no longer exists – he has changed into God knows who – therein lies our problem.’
‘His fingerprints won’t have changed. Or his DNA. Can’t do anything about those.’
‘That’s true, but his prints and dental records and notes on his blood group as Keyes – all those things will have vanished when he vanished.’
‘But they’re still on file – however well hidden in the bowels of somewhere or other, however protected. And given we’ve every reason to believe the two killers are one and the same person, presumably we can get access easily enough.’
‘Have you ever been involved with a new ID, guv?’
‘No, I haven’t. Unsurprisingly. They’re very rare. Has anyone here come up against one?’
Steph said, ‘I was on a case just after I joined CID – Liverpool. Woman murdered her two babies just after birth. She wasn’t judged to be insane and she served a prison sentence but not a long one because there were still doubts about her mental state even after the psych report. She was given a new ID. Rumour had it she went abroad – maybe Canada. No one knew of course and we got a lecture about gossip and rumour. But I wasn’t that close to it.’
No one else had personal knowledge.
‘Right,’ Simon said. ‘Get home. No point in doing a late night at this stage. I’m going to see the Chief – getting access to Alan Keyes’s secure file is a job for her. She’ll make the application, I’ll get the files. Thanks, guys. I know it’s been frustrating coming up against a blank wall with every direction you’ve turned this last couple of days. But in fact, taken as one, the blank walls have been very informative.’
‘GET IN!’ SERRAILLER shouted.
The ball sneaked fast and at an acute angle, so that the keeper barely had the chance to see that it was coming at all before it hit the back of the net. Two seconds after it did so the final whistle blew.
Sam’s teammates surrounded him, clapping him on the back and hi-fiving him.
Simon did a thumbs up as his nephew caught his eye.
‘What are you doing here?’
‘Your mum asked me to pick you up – she’s got an emergency. I was in time to see the last ten minutes or so. Glad I did. Fantastic goal, Sambo.’
‘Why aren’t you at work? I thought you were twenty-four-seven on the OBMs.’
‘Old biddy murders. Or have you arrested the wrong man again?’
Simon opened the boot and Sam slung his hockey gear inside.
‘I’ll be back at the station once I’ve taken you home, and I’m working late, so I‘m going to grab a meal now. Steeleye’s in the Lanes serves all day. You up for that?’
Sam sighed. ‘What’s all this about, as if I didn’t know? Hanny Fanny been telling tales?’
‘Do you want me to take you to eat or do you want to walk home, with your kit, from the crossroads? Your call.’
‘OK.’ Sam shrugged.
‘Thanks, or no thanks. That’s the least I’ll settle for.’
The brasserie was quiet and they got a table in the window. The shops in the Lanes had closed but the windows were lit, and plenty of people used this as a short cut to the car parks. The table had tea lights under small glass domes, and the food was decent. If he had not had a sulky and grunting nephew for a companion, Simon would have looked forward to enjoying his rib-eye steak, chips and salad.
Sam had the house speciality – called a stereo-burger, which came in two buns, laid side by side. He had eaten his way stolidly and silently through half of it, plus a lot of chips, before Simon said, ‘Right, Sam. Spill.’
Sam looked up blankly.
‘I thought I knew you pretty well. I had you down as bright and thoughtful. You work hard, you were fantastic to your mother when your dad died, you were the one person who helped get her through all that at the time. You’ve always had your quarrels with Hannah because that’s what happens between brothers and sisters. Your mother used to get up my nose, I can tell you. Still does occasionally.’
Sam set down his burger. ‘Look, cut to it. I know what you’re going to say, right?’
‘What am I going to say?’
‘My fault she ran away, my fault if she’d got herself abducted or raped or something, my fault she’s snivelling all day and night, my fault she didn’t get the part in her fu**ing film.’
‘You should be. Swear blue if you trap your finger in a door frame. That’s what it’s for, not for casually slagging off your sister. All right, you’ve acknowledged some of it. Yes, it was your fault Hannah ran away and you’re bloody lucky none of the rest happened.’
‘It is not your fault that she didn’t get the film part. Any more than you did something particularly wonderful to get yours. Happened. Didn’t. Luck and bad luck all round I’d say, wouldn’t you? Winding her up about it, crowing about your success – I suppose that’s normal and I’m not saying I wouldn’t have indulged in a bit of boasting myself. But this has gone way beyond winding her up, Sam.
‘You’ve been unkind and cruel and vicious, you’ve sneered and jeered and made her feel small. Rubbing it in doesn’t even begin to cover it. What’s that all about? Look at me. No, I said look. Now answer me. You can tell me anything. It won’t go any further. This conversation isn’t going back to your mother or anyone else. Anyone. You hear me? So what’s it about? Do you hate Hannah so much?’
Sam pushed a chip round his plate, head bent. He was going to be good-looking, Simon thought. His adult features were already beginning to take shape. He was also going to be tall. But on the cusp of growing up, something was churning him up inside that he wasn’t able to articulate or deal with other than by bullying his sister – and for all Simon knew, bullying other people too, smaller boys, younger boys, fat boys, boys with problems or glasses or acne.
‘When people start behaving like you’ve been behaving, Sam, there is always a reason. But a reason is not an excuse. You haven’t been brought up on some council estate where your dad beat your mum and it was everyone for themselves and nobody ever taught you right from wrong. You didn’t grow up learning to thieve and hit out and torment kittens. Those people have reasons why they behave as they do but reasons are still not excuses. You know what I do. I see people who beat up and knife and shoot and threaten and abuse others. I see them every day. And they all started somewhere – being vile to their siblings and younger kids at school, then joining street gangs and bigging themselves up by carrying knives and doing drugs and, eventually, landing up with us, then in court, then in a young offenders, then in prison. And once they’re started on that road they almost never get off it.’
‘You trying to scare me or what?’
‘No. I don’t think I need to. I’m trying to make you see things as they really are, though. And where they can lead. I’m trying to get you to look at yourself. Then pack it in. Now. Pack in hurting Hannah, pack in treating her so horribly that she actually ran away from home rather than stay there with you around. She’s twelve years old, Sam. And she walked out into the freezing cold night, caught a bus into town and hung about with some half-baked plan – or maybe without any plan. I happened to see her. I don’t need to go into what might have been the outcome if someone else had got there first. Do I?’
Sam’s head was still bent.
‘Look at me.’
Eventually, Sam did. His eyes were brimming, his face contorted in the effort to stop himself from crying at all costs. Simon understood completely.
‘Fine,’ he said. ‘I’m having a coffee. They do great hot chocolate brownies with ice cream. Do you want one? Yes, I have an amazing ability to tell when people do.’
He turned to look for their waitress and give his nephew a chance to wipe his eyes and take hold of himself.
‘Last word on this, Sambo, and then I’m done. Please say you’re sorry. To your mum, to Hannah. I don’t know how you’ll choose to do that – leave it to you. But do it. And mean it.’
The brownie and his own espresso came.
‘Right. I’m always here. I’m always available to you, to listen, to talk, to help out if I can. We get along, we had that great week in Norfolk. I want us to go climbing next time. I’d like to take you up to the island too. You’re good company and you don’t rabbit on.’
Sam smiled slightly.
‘But wherever, whenever, I’m here. Got that?’
After a moment, Sam nodded. ‘Got it.’
THE THAW HAD set in the previous day and the canal towpath was thick with mud, in which pools of dark water were concealed as a trap for the unwary. The unwary included Gus Norwald, who had not thought to put on boots or even heavy shoes and whose feet were now soaking. But if he got what he was determined to get it would be worth it. Anything would be worth it.
Local papers were dying, one of the old guard on the Gazette had said to him gloomily the previous day, just as he had said it on the day before that, and the previous week and at any time he could get someone to be bored to death by his sermon on the end of everything, in the Royal Ensign on the corner by the paper’s offices. Soon, the BG would go weekly. After that, it would go online only, and who wanted to bother with a local paper like the Bevham Gazette online? Not even the classified would survive.
Which was why Gus Norwald, looking to number one, was constantly in search of the story he could pitch to one of the nationals. He had had two good ones already this year, picked up by the Mail and The Times. With luck, this might be his third. He’d had a tip from a mate in the police. He knew what he could make of this one.
The towpath got muddier, and the canal was high. All around Lafferton streams and brooks were filling and cascading down into the canal and the river from the hills. If it started to rain as well, as they had forecast, Lafferton would be in for another flood.
By the time he saw Nobby Parks’s shack, Gus was chilled and wet and the black smoke coming from the tin chimney was actually a cheering sight.
It took several attempts at knocking and banging before there was any response from inside, and when Nobby did come to the door, he was in two thick sweaters, his cap and a pair of greying long johns.
The two knew one another. Nobby had given Gus a tip-off here and there, though only one had ever amounted to anything. He’d also given him a racing tip or two, both of which had come in. Gus wondered if Nobby had a sack of gold hidden underneath his frowsty mattress.
‘Not sorry to see you. Feel like company. You want a roll-up?’
‘No thanks. I’d like a cuppa though.’
Nobby shifted a stack of old telephone directories from the only chair other than his own, sacred wicker one. Gus flipped through them.
‘These are from the 1960s and 70s.’
‘I know that. I can read, don’t think I can’t.’
‘What do you do with them?’
‘Might come in useful.’
‘That’s right.’ Nobby dropped two tea bags into mugs, one of which was from the coronation of 1953, the other commemorating Lafferton 4th Cub Pack Jubilee, 1988.
‘You ever buy anything, Nobby?’
‘Not if I can help it. No shortage of free mugs if you know where to look. Builders’ yards, construction sites . . . they move on, dump their mugs and their tea-bag tins. Shocking waste.’
‘Not while you’re around to field them.’
Nobby laughed. ‘Glad it’s you,’ he said. ‘Could tell you a thing or two about these murders.’
Gus put his mug down. ‘Now listen . . . if you’ve seen or heard anything on your night prowling, you have to go to the cops, Nobby. Cops first. You know that.’