Authors: Chris Collett
âIt's okay, Bob, I can lock up,' Mariner heard the barmaid call out and suddenly he realized that the towels were on the taps and he was the only remaining customer. She came round to his table to collect the empty glasses.
âSo what are you selling?' she asked.
âThe maps and the suit, I figure you must be in travelling sales. What is it, agricultural machinery or fertilizers?'
Mariner smiled indulgently. It wasn't the first time that the mistake had been made. âNeither,' he said. âI'm on holiday.'
âCrikey, you dress a bit formal for your holidays, don't you?'
Mariner shook his head. âI was at a funeral this afternoon.'
âOh God, sorry.' She made an apologetic face. âMe and my big mouth.'
Mariner eyed his scotch glass, still with an inch or so remaining. He was already feeling pretty light headed. If he drank that all at once he'd probably pass out. âSorry,' he said. âI'm keeping you up.'
âYou're fine.' Her smile seemed genuine. Her face was carefully made-up, her skin a smooth and creamy layer of foundation and lips flawlessly rendered in scarlet lipstick. Mariner was mesmerized by her voluminous breasts, and the faint definition of her nipples against the flimsy taut cotton. In contrast her nails were long and elaborately painted and Mariner was suddenly aroused by the thought of them digging into his flesh. A perfect hybrid of soft and hard, she wasn't at all the kind of woman Mariner was ordinarily attracted to, but at this moment, mellowed by alcohol, he was so turned on he was sure she must be able to tell.
âWas it someone close?' she asked.
âThe funeral? Someone you knew well?'
âGirlfriend. Ex-girlfriend,' he corrected himself as a pain needled him in the chest.
She was studying him and the row of empty glasses on the table. âNot that ex, by the look of you,' she said sitting down on the bench beside him. âI'm sorry. She must have been quite young. Was she ill?'
âShe was killed in a road-rage incident.'
âMy God, that's awful.'
Mariner's hand was resting on his thigh, and tentatively she reached out and laid hers over it, curling her fingers around and under the palm. Mariner wanted to press it against his stiffening cock, but instead they sat there unmoving for several minutes, until at last she reached out and picked up his glass, swallowing the last mouthfuls for him. âCome on,' she said. âLet's get you upstairs.'
Unsteady on his feet, Mariner ascended the stairs feeling the gentle pressure of her hands on his back, and when they got to the landing she took the key from him and unlocked the door, stepping back to allow him inside. As he passed, Mariner couldn't resist slipping an arm round her waist and leaning in for a kiss but, the smile unwavering, she carefully disentangled herself, placing a palm flat on his chest. âOh, I don't think so. You seem like a nice man, but I'm not that sort of girl.'
âI know,' Mariner said, piling on the pathos. âBut the sort of day I've had â¦'
She appraised him for a couple of seconds, her eyes lingering on the place where by now his erection was making a tent of his trousers. Sensing his chance Mariner cautiously reached out and cupped a hand under her weighty breast, smoothing his thumb over the nipple and feeling it rise beneath his touch.
She caught her breath. âHave you got condoms?'
âYes,' Mariner said quickly, idly wondering if condoms were governed by sell-by dates. He didn't have long to think about it. One minute she was gazing at him, prevaricating, and the next Mariner knew they were tumbling backwards into the room, and as he pushed the door shut with his foot, she was dragging off his jacket and pulling open his shirt.
âJust not too much noise,' she hissed into his ear. âI don't want to have to answer any awkward questions in the morning.'
In the event, noise was the last thing they had to worry about. Things were going fine until Mariner reached for the condom. In that instant of a pause he suddenly, for no reason, saw Anna's face looking straight at him, and immediately the key part of his anatomy changed its mind. For several moments he tried frantically to remedy the situation, but after a while it became obvious that it wasn't going to work, and the mood, if there was one, had gone. The room went horribly quiet. âSorry,' he said, breathlessly. He was about to add âthis has never happened before' but that wouldn't have been strictly accurate. It was just that it hadn't happened in a while. And what would she care about that anyway?
âIt's all right,' she sighed, making it sound anything but. âYou don't have to explain. It happens, I know.'
To old codgers like you. â
Too much booze I expect.'
Being patronized didn't make it any better. âIs there anything I can â¦?'
âNo, it's fine.' Somehow she wriggled out from beneath him. They hadn't turned on the light and now, frozen with shame, Mariner lay on the bed listening while she pulled her clothes back on, and without another word, let herself out of the room. Then he muttered one single, bitter expletive.
For the rest of the night, Mariner slept fitfully in the bed that was too soft and giving, reliving his humiliation. The rich food lay heavy in his stomach and his dreams were vivid and bizarre. At one point he watched while Anna, sitting up in her coffin, led the congregation in a chorus of âAlways look on the bright side of life'
as a rampant gunman (who rather bizarrely assumed the physical appearance of a desk sergeant at Granville Lane police station) approached her, grinning maniacally, a twelve-bore shotgun poised.
cGinley had spent a restless night on a bed swaddled by cold and very possibly damp linen, with the all too familiar nagging pain in his side. Even fully clothed and with all the blankets he could find piled on top of him he'd shivered throughout the night, and for the first time he allowed himself the thought that the game might be up already and that he would fail to complete. Ironic that after all the effort he'd put into creating an elaborate decoy, his plans might be thwarted, not by the police, but by his own physical shortcomings. As he came round he found the place smelled weirdly of his dad â old cigarette smoke and cheap aftershave â and McGinley was disturbed by the strength of the recollections that came on him with force; each stage of his life worse than before, until events had finally spiralled out of control.
Taking his medication, the milk he washed it down with was out of his dad's old Everton mug. If the old man had lived longer perhaps eventually McGinley would have been old enough to go to matches with him and get to know him. As it was he had very few memories of his dad, and over the years they had been distorted by time and interpretation. William McGinley hadn't been much of a family man. Even when they'd come here on holiday he'd spent most of his time fishing alone on the beach or down at the pub, coming back late at night and roaring drunk and sometimes abusive. He hadn't deserved to die the way he had, but there was a certain irony that his twin passions of football and booze had been what combined to finish him off. He followed Everton everywhere, although Ma always reckoned the football was only an excuse for the drink. It was after a scuffle in a pub, following an away match against Aston Villa and whilst resisting arrest, that he'd had his âaccident'. The police officers involved were subsequently cleared by an internal enquiry, but McGinley knew enough about the police by now to understand how far they would go to protect their own and he was far from convinced. He hated the filth with a vengeance. Ma chose to blame the drink instead, and when they made their fresh start in Kirkby, that was when she had found God â and not any old God, but one who was a firm believer in abstinence. Since then she'd managed to keep the alcohol away from their family but not the hatred, not the prejudice and not death.
Along with the milk McGinley wolfed down one of the buns he'd bought and felt a little better. There was an ancient FM radio in the caravan and after some minutes of frustration attempting to tune it, he finally managed to get a local station. He then had to wait some time until the hourly news bulletin, but when it came it was strangely gratifying. Both sets of bodies had been discovered the previous day, the first by a carer and the second by the domestic help. Already the police had identified McGinley as a chief suspect for the first, though they weren't committing themselves yet to the second, despite the similarities. They were looking for the vehicle in which he was thought to have escaped.
âOh, well done, lads.' McGinley smiled quietly to himself, picturing some poor bugger hunched over hours and hours of CCTV footage.
Overnight, Tony Knox's cold had well and truly taken root. Having run out of tissues he was resorting to wiping his nose on toilet paper now. In other circumstances he might have taken the day off, but with Mariner away they were already short, and it was Friday, so all he had to do was get through the next few hours, though it didn't help that it was raining again when he left the house. He was in his car, blowing his nose yet again, when he heard a door slam and in the rear-view mirror he saw Michael emerge from his front door across the road. Wearing only a blazer, the boy's head was bowed against the weather and Knox watched him pause at the end of his drive to light up a furtive cigarette, before hoisting his school bag over his shoulder and slouching off down the road, shoulders hunched in an effort to minimize his presence. Knox gave him time to reach the corner, then he moved off and caught up with Michael as he was about to cross the main road. Knox signalled and drew up alongside him. âWant a lift to the Cartland?' he asked, identifying a landmark close to the school. Checking first that there was no-one around to observe, Michael shrugged in that nothing-to-lose way that teenagers have, and mumbled, âYeah, all right.'
âYou'll have to put that out.' Knox indicated the roll-up gripped between his fingers. For a moment the lad weighed the pleasure of his fag against the discomfort of the rain, before tossing the former down into the gutter and climbing into the car. Amid the smell of tobacco, Knox was instantly aware of the more subtle herbal undertone that he'd noticed before. âI wanted to talk to you about Nelson,' he said casually, pulling away from the kerb. âYou haven't been in for him much lately.'
From the corner of his eye Knox saw the indifferent lift of the shoulders. âBeen busy.'
âNo problem,' Knox said, easily. âI can't pay you though.' The shrug was becoming a tic. âLet me know if you're up for it again,' Knox said. âIs everything else all right?'
âGot your birthday to look forward to,' Knox pointed out. âI hear you're having a party tonight.'
A huge sigh and a screwed-up face this time. âWhat did she have to tell you for? God, she's blurting it to everyone.'
âHey, stop giving your mum such a hard time and show her some respect,' Knox said, starting to lose patience. âIt's called being considerate to your neighbours. I'd do exactly the same in her position. Be grateful she's letting you have a party at all; plenty of parents don't.'
âYeah, it'll be crap now though, with all the neighbours watching out for us.'
Knox slowed as they reached the drop-off point. âYou don't know how lucky you are,' he said, mildly. âHave a good one.'
Finally the lad mustered the effort to make eye contact. âCheers for the lift,' he said in an attempt to redeem himself.
Knox was sneezing so loudly and with such force that he didn't hear DCI Sharp come up behind him on the stairs at Granville Lane.
âThat sounds like a potent dose of something nasty,' she said, making a show of holding back slightly from him as they fell into step. âKeep it to yourself.' A little taller than Knox, she looked as elegant as ever, dressed in one of her trademark trouser suits that even Knox could appreciate made the most of her slender frame and complemented her dark olive skin. âHow did it go yesterday?' she asked.
âPretty grim,' Knox confessed. âAnd, as you can see, I've caught my death.'
âIt was a funeral,' she said. âSomeone always does. How was Tom holding up?'
âNot too bad, but he couldn't wait to get away. He kept that bit quiet. You both did.' Knox shot her a look.
âI know,' she said apologetically. âBut he thought that if you got wind of it you'd insist on going with him, and the whole point is that he wants some time on his own; really on his own. Hopefully it'll do him good. He might even stop beating himself up about what happened.'
âWith all due respect, Boss, I don't think there's much chance of that any time soon.'
âYeah, maybe that's a bit much to expect,' she conceded. âMeanwhile, if there's anything you need additional support with, let me know.'
Knox had barely sat down and switched on his PC when he glanced up to see Millie come in. She came straight over to him. âHave you heard the latest on that news story?' she said. âThe gunman on the rampage in Liverpool?'
âI don't think he's on the rampage exactly,' Knox answered, momentarily distracted by the daily bulletin that had appeared on the screen in front of him. âIt looks like he might have killed a couple of people and then made himself scarce, for obvious reasons. What about it?'
âThey're saying this morning that he could have escaped into Wales.'
Knox looked expectantly up at her, waiting for the punch line.
âIt's where the boss has gone,' Millie said, as if that proved something.
âWales is a whole country,' Knox reminded her. âThe boss is heading to the middle, and this McGinley is most likely in the north. There's no reason to think they'll be anywhere near each other. And anyway, the Merseyside plods will pick McGinley up soon enough, especially somewhere as remote as north Wales. If that's where he's gone.'