A couple of hundred yards away, on the hard-standing area above the canal, the police van was steamy with half a dozen uniform, logging off and getting ready to hand over to the day shift.
In the printworks the others in the cleaning team walked and biked and drove in through the main gate.
At home, Geoff Wilson cleared the breakfast dishes from the table and went upstairs to try and persuade both boys to clean their teeth and wash their faces rather than jump from the top bunk bed onto the floor and climb up to do it again. Until he had been doing it every day, he had never realised how much went into turning two small children from animals into civilised human beings on a daily basis or wondered how Leah managed it in half the time he did and apparently with half the effort.
‘Show us dealing.’
‘Yesss! I’m going doolally hanging round here.’
The patrol car with the two PCs span showily round and headed towards the bypass, away from the street in which they had been parked up near the printworks, waiting for something to happen.
‘Hang about, what was it, a Code Red?’
‘Naw, but anything to get the adrenaline flowing.’
‘Better cool it though … I heard a rumour the DCS was on the block.’
‘Serrailler’s always on the bloody block. I thought a Super was supposed to be safely tucked up in the station out of harm’s way.’
‘Since when did Serrailler ever do what he was supposed to? He’s a maverick, he likes to get his hands dirty. I think it’s good – he knows where the real work gets done, unlike some. He’s never been a desk man.’
The bypass was busy with heavy goods vehicles, and the morning school and work rush, but Louis Wills overtook everything in the fast lane. He liked driving and he liked getting on with something.
‘You think he’s gay?’ Nick asked now.
‘What, the Super? No chance.’
‘Not married, pushing forty …’
‘Plenty of men aren’t married at forty – doesn’t make them shirtlifters. What does he have to be married for?’
‘Didn’t say that.’
‘Anyway, I heard he’d been pretty near getting hitched to that DS who was murdered.’
‘Never knew that.’
‘Here we go. It’ll be a false alarm.’
The supermarket was busy, but the sight of two uniformed policemen always made people glance around either curiously or with a flicker of anxiety, and the customer services desk had them escorted off the floor and up to the manager’s office in seconds.
‘Mr Meacher? I gather someone here reported a sighting of a missing person?’
The manager was young and wore a Bart Simpson tie the PC hoped his children had given him.
‘That’s it. Came in an hour ago, night-duty manager had left a note … One of the till staff thought they’d recognised this Mrs … Warren, is it? Or Wilson. The one who has something to do with the church.’
‘Webber. Yes? What time was this?’
‘She was on the tills at about two this morning – we’re open twenty-four hours as you probably know. Marlene DeAddio … till number 7. It was fairly quiet – always is at two o’clock, though we do get people stopping off from the bypass and so on – so she’d more chance than usual to think she recognised this woman – well, from the newspaper pictures and the television, I suppose.’
‘Why didn’t someone call us then?’
‘Marlene didn’t say anything till she was clocking off just after six. She’d been thinking about it and she went to the staff canteen and found a paper with the picture in it, and it made her decide yes. So she reported to the duty manager, who left me the note.’
‘Still, it would have helped if we’d been called as soon as. Right, is this lady still here?’
‘No, no, she’s gone, be in bed, I expect.’
‘Well, we’ll need her home address please. Do you have CCTV of the shop floor?’
The manager picked up a tape box from his desk. ‘This covers the floor from ten o’clock until six. I knew you’d ask for it – I don’t watch The Bill for nothing.’ He grinned, showing bad teeth.
‘We’ll also need a CCTV tape of the exit and the car parks.’
‘Whoops. Course you will. I’ll organise that. Can I get you a coffee? Bacon roll?’
‘No thanks, Mr Meacher. Just the lady’s address and the tapes. Did anyone else recognise the woman?’
‘Nobody else has said. But there wouldn’t be – except maybe a shelf stacker if she happened to pass by one. None of the other till operators reported seeing her.’
‘All the same, we’ll need a list with the full details of everyone who was at work here around two this morning please, doesn’t matter where they were.’
‘Okey-dokey. All this will take ten, fifteen minutes …’
‘We can wait.’
‘Sure about the refreshments?’
The PCs glanced at one another. ‘Thanks then, a tea would be good.’
‘And a coffee thanks. Both milk, both sugar.’
‘Muffin? Slice of toast?’
‘No thanks. Just the drinks would be good.’
‘We could have gone down to the café,’ Nick said when they were on their own in the small, windowless office.
‘He won’t want us visible down there, putting the wind up people.’
‘Can’t understand that. Sight of us ought to be reassuring.’
Louis gave him a look.
Geoff Wilson took the bus into town. He hadn’t used the bus for years, until he’d been made redundant, but now the car stayed parked up most of the time, the price of petrol being what it was. The bus was fine, the stop not far away, but the timetable was unreliable and he’d missed a couple of appointments as a result. When you were job-hunting, you had to be there, they didn’t give you a second chance if you weren’t on time. Now, he went half an hour before he needed to, just in case.
This morning, though, there was no delay so he got to Hunt Square and the jobcentre with so much time to spare that he wandered around for a bit and then went to get a cup of tea in the manky café on the corner. Why did jobcentres operate out of the cruddiest part of the town? Nobody came to Hunt Square for any other reason – even the charity shop was boarded up now. But the café was full and the sort of people in there were not the usual jobcentre dossers, they were ordinary blokes like him, including a couple he knew from the printworks, and even some smarter types in suits. The downturn had hit everywhere, there was nothing for skilled people unless they were in IT and even those jobs were getting thin on the ground. Geoff got his tea and looked around him, thinking of how much training and skills and education were probably packed into this café right now and all of it going to waste. How could you tell your kids to stay on at school, do their best, achieve, give up this and that so they could have a great future, when they’d got this place to point to and call you wrong?
He sat looking out of the window through the steam. Someone had decided in the seventies that Lafferton needed a cheaper shopping precinct and had built the place quickly out of concrete, with a multi-storey car park taking up one side. That was the only part still used, other than this café, a pound shop and the jobcentre. The square itself was weedy and the slabs broken where kids had taken over with skateboards. Lafferton had always been the wrong place for this sort of downmarket dump – but where was the right place? Ugly was ugly, wherever.
He was ten minutes early for his appointment, though why he didn’t know, given that he expected it to be the same as every other one – a pleasant chat with a young bloke with acne and a string tie, who then told him there was nothing for him and even the shelf-stacking vacancies were all filled. But today, the young bloke was replaced by a woman in a bright yellow jacket and too much lipstick whose badge read Yvonne Moon and she gave Geoff a broad smile as she looked down the paperwork in front of her.
‘Now, Mr Wilson, how are you?’
‘Keeping your spirits up, I hope? I know how depressing this job-hunting can be.’
He wondered if she did.
‘Still, it’s all just a question of time, you know.’
‘Time is what I’ve got plenty of, isn’t it?’
She grinned again. Then she said, ‘I think it’s just possible you won’t be having so much in future, Mr Wilson, because I may have something for you.’
Binman? Painting white lines on the road? Cleaning toilets? OK, OK, he’d do any of those.
‘You have a lot of experience in printing.’
‘Yes. Like a good few other people.’
‘Right. But you seem to have been the longest time in the business of any of our clients, as far as I can see. Surprisingly.’
‘Well, you’re not too old.’
‘I went there straight from school.’
‘Good.’ She turned a sheet of paper over and back, read the one underneath it, turned that over. Then looked up and grinned again.
‘Have you heard of Delf and Wimborne?’
‘Yes, they do the small stuff – we used to pass things on to them that weren’t enough for us – leaflets, parish mags, letterheads, all that sort of thing.’
‘Well, they have a vacancy. It came in just this morning and I matched it up with you straight away.’
Geoff sat up straight in his chair.
‘They want a general machine operator who can also double as a van driver if needed. Have you got a clean driving licence? Yes, it says here.’
‘As a whistle.’
‘Small vans. I don’t have an HGV.’
‘Wouldn’t be necessary. Now, there’s a list here of the sort of machinery they have … best if you just look down it yourself really.’
She pushed a sheet across and Geoff read slowly down it, checking off everything. There was nothing there he couldn’t handle in his sleep. He felt his throat tightening and his heart begin to thump. He was as qualified for this as anyone in the country, it was a few steps down and sideways from what he’d been doing, but it wasn’t toilet cleaning either.
‘And it’s still vacant?’
Her grin flashed on and off like a neon sign.
‘As I said, only just came in. I’d like to set up an interview today, if you can manage that?’
‘Oh, I can manage it all right.’
He waited for the grin to flash and grinned back.
Two hours later, he walked on air out of the industrial units belonging to Delf and Wimborne Printers. He had taken two buses out here, to the far side of Lafferton, and then walked for fifteen minutes – he would definitely have to drive to work – but it had been worth it, he’d have walked a hundred miles for the reception he had, Tony Delf saying they were lucky to get him, everyone looking pleased. The unit operated across the ground floor of two units, with the graphics people and office upstairs. The place had been humming, machines turning out thousands of brochures and theatre programmes, leaflets and orders of service for a wedding. The noise wasn’t anything like the racket inside the big printworks but it was a familiar noise and to Geoff it was music.
He did a little dance in the yard outside; then, as he was walking towards the main road, he rang Leah’s mobile. He had thought, for a nanosecond, of waiting till she got home to tell her, see her face, but he couldn’t wait, and her voice when she heard his news would be almost as good.
And when he’d told her, he’d be back to tell his mother, and then the boys – not that they’d understand much – and see what they could do for a celebration, get something in, or all go out to Pizza Hut maybe. The boys would enjoy that, and if they were happy, he and Leah were happy. One of the best things would be her giving up one of her jobs – he knew which it would be, the pub. She didn’t mind getting up early, she didn’t mind cleaning, the gang of them seemed to have a good laugh at his old works. The pub was just graft and having to be pleasant to unpleasant people. She could hand in her notice tonight.
Jonty Lewis leaned back in the metal chair and closed his eyes. His head hurt. They’d left him for what felt like a day and a night in front of a plastic cup of cold tea. The interview room had only one window – a narrow slit high up in the wall – and it smelled, though he couldn’t work out what the smell actually was, and anyway, he was past caring. He wished he’d stayed in the squat or else gone walkabout.
All the same, Marie being dead was a facer. He hadn’t believed it, even the newspaper report, hadn’t believed it till he’d come into the station and said who he was and they’d grabbed him like he was going to turn straight round and out again. Next thing, he was dumped in here, a couple of people had come in and gone and now he was waiting. Waiting. Waiting. It gave him time to think – too much time. Think about Marie. He panicked because he tried to recall her face and couldn’t, there was a line drawn round her but it was blank inside, like one of those weird cut-outs. Marie. The last time he’d seen Marie … But his head had stopped working. He took a swig of the tea. Cold tea.
Disinfectant. That was the smell. Disinfectant and ancient cigarettes. He’d give anything for a spliff.
Only here they were again, the Irish bloke and the CID woman with the fat face.
‘All right, Jonty, let’s wrap this up. You had a fight with your girlfriend, Marie O’Dowd. She went off to work – she was a regular prostitute, probably keeping you in drug money, isn’t that right? You kicked her caravan to bits because you were drunk or high or both, and then you hadn’t finished, you went and found her on her patch and you got her down to the canal towpath and you strangled her. Right?’
‘No. Not fu**ing right. I didn’t kill Marie, didn’t even know she was dead till this morning.’
‘What made you come in to the station now, Jonty? Bad conscience? You couldn’t live with what you’d done?’
‘No. I wouldn’t have if I’d done it, only I didn’t.’
‘Or just thought, if I give myself up it might get me a better deal, is that it? Lighter sentence? Well, maybe that sometimes works for petty theft but it doesn’t work for murder, Jonty.’
‘I told you. I didn’t murder Marie.’
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