‘Hang on, let me find a pen and paper . . .’
The iPad was set up with a page on which the list would be made. Gerry’s fingers moved quickly about the silent keyboard as he entered name, address, phone number. There was a space for any other essentials which he did not fill in though he let the man drone on with details about his skills, past employment and references. He needed none of them.
‘I’ve had a lot of people enquire.’
‘Already? Paper’s only just out.’
‘Right, only jobs like this are gold.’
‘Give us a chance, mate. Give us an interview.’
‘Go on then, I had someone just cancel in actual fact. If you can come in at, hang on, what’s the time now? Right . . .’ Gerry did some muttering along the lines of ‘half past, then there’s that Polish bloke, eleven, half past . . . OK, can you get in here for one?’
‘I mean what day?’
‘Oh, fantastic, that’s terrific, thanks, mate, I’ll be there, on the dot, you won’t regret it, you –’
‘Cheers,’ Gerry said, putting down the phone.
It went on like that for the next hour and a half, until he had people booked in for most of the day. At half eleven the answerphone was switched on.
‘Hendry’s Builders. There’s no one available to take your call. Leave us a message.’
Simon uncramped his limbs and went out of the cabin into the yard, where he did five minutes of exercises. His long back suffered from a couple of hours spent bent on a low chair in a confined space and his legs were numb.
It was cold but bright, and they sat about on old boxes and benches, eating packed lunches. Two went out on a tea run to the nearest cafe.
Simon had checked through the names on Gerry’s list. Nothing out of the way, nothing that rang any bells. Several were Eastern European, which ruled them out before they arrived but the men still had to be seen. P. O’Brien could also be ruled out. Keyes would have been advised not to take an Irish, Scots or foreign name. Anything very unusual or easily twisted into a joke would also be out. If Simon had been asked to guess from the names alone, he would have picked out an N. Taylor or M. Gardener.
The tea boys came back with their orders, plus a bag of jam doughnuts and three copies of that day’s red tops.
In the office, Simon phoned Rachel, who was not there, then sent her a text. She was still at the hospital then, still sitting by her husband’s bedside, caring for him, looking after him, holding his hand, sponging his forehead. Loving him? He wished he knew. In many ways, he hoped that she did, whatever the present nature of that love. He had never had any relationship with a woman about which he had felt guilty. Now, he did, the more so because of Kenneth’s tacit blessing. But he could not give her up.
Twenty minutes later everyone was back at their posts. At ten to one, the gate opened on L. Checkley, over six feet in height, burly, amiable-looking. And black.
Gerry went out, shook the man’s hand, brought him into the office and started going through the motions.
Simon felt guilty. How many blokes desperate for this job would come hopefully through that gate, honest, blameless, hard-working men who needed the work? All of them would be told they’d ‘hear in a couple of days’ and go off, crossing their fingers, touching wood, sending up prayers to the Virgin Mary and the saints that they’d be the one to get the job, never knowing there wasn’t one.
The procession of applicants went on through the afternoon. A photograph was taken as they came into the yard and again as they approached the office, and the image beamed through onto every screen. Photofit software worked on trying to find any sort of match with the original picture of Alan Keyes and would send a flashing alert when there was one. But the only two alerts were wide of the mark. Serrailler scrutinised each man’s face then checked it against the postage stamps but there were no links. He stretched as much as he could but as the afternoon went on his back ached more painfully.
Three more to go. Earlier, one had appeared without having phoned first. Word had got round about the job and he was in the area. Could they see him? They saw him. No one else had dropped in unexpectedly until ten to five when the gate opened on a bald and rather fat man.
‘Heads up,’ Simon said. ‘We know this guy.’
The overweight man in his early forties walking into the yard was Anthony Tredwell.
‘Pete, Lee, bar the gate once he’s in here. Man is Anthony Tredwell, grandson of the last victim, Olive Tredwell. I can’t move out of here unless we have a positive, he knows me. Anyone else thinks they could be recognised, keep out of sight.’
Gerry gave a discreet thumbs up towards the hidden screen.
Simon looked at the monitor. The software had Tredwell’s face up and was searching for any match. Nothing. No flashing red light, no arrows. The man had a rubbery, jowly face, with a double chin, stubble, small dark eyes, thick eyebrows. He had a tattoo on his chest, just visible among the hairs sprouting in the V of his T-shirt. Keyes had had no tattoos but could easily have acquired one.
‘Gerry, tell him his name rings a bell, see if he mentions his grandmother.’
Gerry gave no indication that he had heard and went on writing notes with a chipped biro taking down what Tredwell told him. ‘Right, that’s all, OK . . . thanks. You’ll guess we’ve seen quite a few but we’ll let you know either way in a day or two.’ He stood up and offered his hand. Then he said, ‘Tredwell. Your name rings a bell somehow – don’t think you’ve worked for me before, have you?’
‘Right. Oh well, it happens. Just not your everyday Smith or Jones, and as soon as you said it, I thought –’
‘My grandmother was ninety and she was murdered by the same sick bastard who’s been knocking off old ladies all over the fuckin’ place. Olive Tredwell. Never done any harm to a soul, kindest woman on earth. And why did it happen? Because the fuckin’ police are fuckin’ useless and he’s under their noses, been under their noses for weeks and they haven’t got him. If they’d been any use my gran would still be alive, but they do f*ck all, and they know it because I’ve told them. Idle stupid fuckers. I’d like to do to that fuckin’ Chief Constable bitch what that bastard did to my grandmother, so help me.’
He turned angrily and walked out, shoulders up, chin jutting. As he went towards the gate he shouted back across the yard, ‘So that’s where you heard my name, right?’
The gate slammed so hard behind him it jumped off the latch again and swung open.
‘Frustrating, I know, but thanks for the good work. Tomorrow’s another day and we’re here just before eight. Not so many slots filled, but not everybody will have gone through the small ads yet or seen the notices in the shop windows. I didn’t realise there were so many out-of-work plumbers – which is a bit baffling, when you can never get one in an emergency. However . . . tomorrow or the next day, he’s going to answer this ad and come through the gate; we’ll spot him and we’ll have him. See you all bright and early.’
These past few days I’ve been jumpy. And I’m never jumpy. I’m steady. No emotion, no fright, no panic, no being spooked. Save that for other bits of life. This bit, I’ve never been jumpy. But now I am. Ever since the one in Chalford Road. God knows why I went there. But it was building and building, I was shaking inside, I’ve never been desperate like that. I’ve read it’s like a junkie needing a fix. I can believe that, though drugs never interested me. Waste of life.
Then ten years went by. That’s a bloody long time. TEN YEARS, without wanting to, without needing to, without it even crossing my mind.
But then it did cross and once it had it wouldn’t go away of course, it stayed and it nagged and it woke me up and it probed into my head like a worm and then into my dreams and then I knew I needed to get back. Back to who I was. Who I had been. Whichever.
Who am I?
Who was I?
The only way I could find out was start again, and when I started, I found it. I found me. Everything clicked into place. I looked into my own eyes in Elinor Sanders’s mirror and I recognised myself for the first time in all those years.
I hadn’t meant it to go on but it had to. And then, I got the call out to 17 Chalford Road and saw her in the next-door garden. She watched me leave when I’d finished the job at 17, stood on her front step, pretending to put out milk bottles, but really, feeling lonely, wanting to watch something going on, see someone. On her own too many hours of the day, that was obvious. And the night.
If she hadn’t come out onto the step and watched me, maybe I wouldn’t have gone back. But I had to.
I had to. I did. And that was that.
And ever since, I’ve had this feeling in the pit of my belly. Restless. Worried. Bit panicky.
I give myself a bloody good pep talk while I’m driving about. Get yourself together, don’t be so stupid. Moment you start panicking you’ll make a wrong move. You’ll give yourself away. So pack it in.
For now, you pack it all in, d’you hear? Lie low. Keep your head down. There’s enough coppers all over town, enough stuff in the papers, enough jittery people about. You be yourself, don’t look back, don’t think about any of it.
Don’t have a moment to think. That’s it. Pile the work in. The longer the hours the less time you’ve got to think.
GERRY HAD HAD a long blank period and then a flurry of calls. There were five men coming to the yard between nine and twelve. Everyone was in place, everything the same as the night before.
The first appointment didn’t turn up. The second, who had sent a text to the mobile asking to be seen, arrived ten minutes early. C. Gardener was a young woman, fully qualified, obviously keen, obviously certain that, if she had phoned in, the builder would hear a female voice and not give her an interview.
‘I’d have offered her the bloody job,’ Gerry said. ‘She wouldn’t turn up late, she wouldn’t let you down, she’d do the job well and she’d tidy up after herself. I feel a right bastard.’
‘Take her number, did you? Never know when you’ll need a plumber. Best have one handy.’
Various remarks were bandied about the intercom, but Gerry looked sombre. ‘Interviewing’ perfectly good candidates who needed work, for a job that didn’t exist, went against the grain.
Another man came through the gate having seen the sign outside. Gerry brought him into the office.
‘Stand down,’ Simon said into the intercom, seeing that Jason Hopwood was no more than eighteen and looked even younger.
As Gerry was going through the motions, another man came into the yard.
He was around five seven, his light gingery-brown hair was cropped very short, he had a thin moustache, and as he looked round to find the entrance to the office, and the camera closed in on his face, Simon saw his eyes. Remarkably dark eyes.
‘Heads up,’ he said tautly. ‘We know this one too. Pete and Lee, wander down to that gate.’
Gerry carried on with his interview, aware of the newcomer about to walk into the outer office. When he did, Gerry was there.
‘Morning,’ he said, ‘er – Smith, right? Robert Smith.’
‘Ah . . . thought you were the next on my list.’
‘Came in on the off chance. I suppose you’re going to say thanks but no thanks.’
‘Keep him talking,’ Serrailler was saying into Gerry’s ear. ‘Get the other guy out without looking obvious, get this one into the office.’
‘We’ve seen a few but there’s quite a bit of work on. I’m just finishing off with this lad. I’ll see you when he’s gone. No one else for twenty minutes. Take a seat.’
Gerry went back into the inner office, not quite closing the door. Everyone on the site was now on full alert. Pete was by the gate, Lee was slowly backing the truck towards it.
Simon studied the identikit. Then he switched the image with the cropped hair and a moustache onto the photo of Alan Keyes. His heart lurched. But Keyes’s eyes were blue. He fiddled with the image, slotting in dark brown eyes.
‘Got you,’ he said softly.
One of the two others in the cabin nodded. ‘That’s him, same mouth, same nose, same funny cheekbones, sort of flat . . .’
‘Get rid of the moustache . . .’
‘Right. You know the drill. Gerry makes a start. He’ll leave the door ajar. No one move until my shout, we don’t do anything to alert him. Gerry’s got to take a bit longer with mi-laddo, not make it look as if he’s cutting him short. Now we wait.’
Gerry chatted on. Gave the young plumbing apprentice fatherly advice. ‘Stick to your course, don’t skive, get your qualifications, come back here when you have, and I could have a job for you, but don’t waste my time and yours by claiming to be what you’re obviously not. Right? Seventeen and a qualified plumber with a gas-fitting certification? Get out.’ He stood up, clapped the boy on the shoulder, shook his hand warmly.
Gerry’s ear was full of Serrailler, he could see that the lads were about to block up the gate.
He’d have to escort Jason Hopwood out, shout at Lee for taking the pickup so near the exit, fire regs, how many times have you been told . . .
In the cabin the stuffy air seemed to crackle.
How did I know? I’d been twitchy. I’d been panicky. I had that feeling something was wrong. And what had I done? Given myself a bloody good bollocking, told myself to get it together, straighten up, forget it. You’re not him, you’re you, so leave it.
Me? I’m me. Yeah. Not him. No.
The work’s been falling off a bit. There’s always the odd little job in plumbing, blocked sinks, blocked loos, that malarkey. I’m never idle, can’t afford to be, can I? But the contract jobs, the big building projects, they’re drying up. Those sheltered bungalows, I could have done with a job there.
Then I saw this ad. First off in the newsagent’s, then in the paper, then in a different newsagent’s. Nearly rang up. But I didn’t. And then I was taking a short cut down Nelson Street, and there’s this builders’ yard. Never seen it before. But then, never come down Nelson Street much. Funny old bit of town.
I stopped because the notice on the gate was big. PLUMBER WANTED. Could see it from the end of the street, near enough.