Authors: Nick Quantrill
Tags: #Crime Fiction
‘They’ve got three off-licences around the city but he said he wanted to strike out on his own. To be honest, I think he was under his parents thumb in the shop and he wanted away.’
‘Did they approve of Donna?’
‘At first, but it became fraught. Tim was quite open about it. When they first started dating, everything was fine. Once the band started, her attention turned to trying to be famous. It turned his parents off. His father had worked on the docks as a bobber, unloading the fish off the trawlers when they came home. When the work dried up, he used the money he’d saved to put a deposit down on the first shop. I don’t think they had much time for Donna’s dreams. They were more traditional. Hard work got you what you wanted. You didn’t achieve it through pipe-dreams; that kind of thing.’
‘What did Tim think about it?’
‘They drifted apart. She wasn’t the girl he first started dating. She changed; she became high maintenance. She was loud and difficult for him to deal with. He didn’t like what she had changed into.’
‘Who dumped who?’
‘She dumped him. Said he was too boring for her.’
‘Did he get to meet her family?’
Sarah nodded. ‘He was a regular visitor to their house.’
‘How did he get on with them?’ I wanted to know more about Donna’s background.
‘He said it was difficult at first. Donna’s dad, Ron, was part of a crew that’d go out to sea for weeks and come back loaded up with fish. Because Tim’s dad worked on the docks, they vaguely knew each other.’
‘Did he approve of them being together?’
‘Tim said he was keen to see his daughter settled down; married with children. He was quite traditional in that way.’
‘Presumably her singing in a band didn’t sit well with him, then?’
‘No. He didn’t approve and apparently they often argued about it. He didn’t like the way she dressed, the places she went, or who she was hanging around with.’
‘Sounds like he pushed her away.’
‘Sounds like it.’
I was intrigued by Ron Platt and wondered what kind of role he had played in forcing his daughter’s disappearance. I wanted to know more about the man.
Sarah stood up and checked on Lauren. I heard them go upstairs and get ready for bed. I flicked through the newspaper which was on the table before Sarah came back into the room with a bottle of wine. ‘Shall we?’
I nodded and smiled.
‘Truth is Joe, I’m under pressure.’
I shrugged. Coleman’s problems weren’t my concern. I’d considered not answering his call earlier, never mind agreeing to meet in a near-by pub after I’d left Sarah’s house.
I wasn’t in a rush to go home, and although Don and Sarah had reassured me to a point about not being a potential suspect in Jennifer Murdoch’s death, I was intrigued to hear what he had to say.
‘We should be working together’ he said to me.
‘Why?’ I wasn’t in the mood to make it easy for him.
‘We both want the same thing here, don’t we? We both want the truth. We might be coming from different angles, but it’s the same bottom-line.
I sipped my drink and continued to stare around the bar
Coleman turned to face me, clearly angry. ‘For fuck’s sake, Joe. I’m not pissing around here. I know we’ve had some differences in the past but we’ve got to move forward. Some co-operation might go a long way. I’m sure there are things we can work on together.’
‘Work together? My wife is dead.’
Coleman put his drink down and lowered his voice. ‘We did our best, Joe. We really did. Nothing got overlooked; everything was given our full attention.’
It was my turn to sigh. I knew I was being unfair, but it was hard to admit it. I couldn’t bring Debbie back and though the cliché about time being a great healer contained some truth, I still harboured bitterness towards the police and in particular Coleman. I wasn’t surprised he was under pressure to make a breakthrough. On the face of it, Jennifer Murdoch was an upstanding member of the local business community. It was the kind of case which could quickly become the police’s worst nightmare. I sat there and said nothing, letting Coleman take the lead.
‘It’s a chance to start again’ he continued. ‘I’m sorry for what’s happened in the past, really I am.’
‘Sorry?’ I cut in. ‘I lost everything. You didn’t.’ My hands were ripping up the beer-mat they were holding. I needed to get a grip.
‘We can’t keep going over old ground, Joe. I know you’re still working the Jennifer Murdoch case and I might be in a position to help.’
‘How do you know what I’m doing?’
‘It’s my job to know.’
‘How’s the wife?’
Coleman sighed. ‘We don’t need to do this.’
‘How’s your wife?’ I repeated.
‘She was pregnant when we met.’ I was going to add, when you were implying I had a hand in my wife’s death.
‘A girl. She’s nearly two now.’
‘Congratulations.’ I drained my glass and placed it on the bar. ‘Be seeing you, then.’ I got up and walked out of the pub. I didn’t care what he thought we were doing. To me, we were just two men talking, passing the time of day.
Coleman followed me out and shouted. ‘Come on, Joe. You know you need me if you want some answers.’
I ignored and him and continued walking, my night ruined.
The drink had made me hungry, so when I returned home, I made myself pasta surprise. The surprise part of the recipe was whatever vegetables were left available in the fridge. I’d stirred in a tin of chopped tomatoes and with the aid of some herbs and pepper, it had at least been edible. Actually making something had helped pass twenty minutes and I still had Sarah’s left over lasagne for tomorrow. I switched the stereo on and The Clash leapt out of the speakers. I pressed skip, as they tore into ‘I Fought The Law’; it wasn’t appropriate.
I thought about the hours spent in the station with Coleman and how I’d let Don down. I’d messed up by going direct to Frank Salford without knowing the full story. It contradicted everything Don had taught me. Not only had I compromised an investigation, I’d paid the physical penalty. I couldn’t prove it was Salford’s men who had attacked me, but I knew it had to be his doing. More than anything, letting Don down hurt more than the beating. When I had been drifting, it was Don who took a chance on me, who saw the potential in me. He’d treated me like a son, picking me up and putting me back together when I was in pieces.
Our partnership had started about three years ago. Don was a seasoned private investigator with over thirty years police service under his belt. By contrast, I’m still very much learning the ropes. After spending countless years in dead-end jobs, I’d sort of fallen into the profession. To my surprise, I was good at investigating. Although I could do the work, I had no idea how to run a business. And that was when I was introduced to Don. Don was looking towards retirement and wanted to hand his business on. He needed some fresh blood to help him with the work, and had even started to advertise himself as ‘Ridley and Son’, in an attempt to give the impression the business was more than just one ageing man. It’s an unusual profession, and one that Sarah hadn’t shown any interest in. With a never ending supply of the desperate, the needy and the downright nasty to deal with, it’s certainly not glamorous. Over the last year or so, she’d relented and started to work part-time for us, initially as administration help. When we had needed female help with a surveillance job, she’d proved herself to be a natural. As I fell asleep on the couch, I knew I owed them everything. I needed to get some answers.
battled through traffic and made good time for our appointment with Maria Platt. She’d agreed to meet us before she went to the doctors. Her illness meant we couldn’t be choosy when we spoke to her.
Don had rung me on my mobile as Sarah was driving, to tell me about his drink with Bill, a veteran detective still working the cases, despite being officially retired. Like all forces, Humberside was so short of experienced detectives, it was re-employing retired detectives on short-term contracts. Judging by the leaflet I had been given the previous day, they were desperate. I’d watched the highlights of the police’s press conference on the local news bulletin whilst I ate my breakfast. Jennifer Murdoch was found dead in her bed. She’d put up a fight but to no avail. The detective in charge of the investigation had been interviewed to camera, appealing for anyone who knew anything to come forward. It sounded like Don and Bill had cagily exchanged information last night. Bill told him Murdoch’s killer had seemingly gained access by breaking a window, but there was doubt as to how genuine this appeared to be. I assumed from that they meant they were looking at her husband. There were still no DNA results, but that wasn’t unusual. These things moved slowly, even in urgent situations. Don had told Bill what we knew about Jennifer Murdoch’s life, which admittedly still wasn’t a huge amount. The police hadn’t been aware of Sonia Bray and her link to Murdoch and I felt guilty thinking about the storm I could have brought down on her. She was fragile enough.
Walking down Hessle Road, I could see the decay of the area. When Hull had been a thriving port, with plentiful employment, this area was the city’s heartbeat. Now, it was run-down and being slowly abandoned. Many of the residents had left and those who remained suffered from anti-social behaviour, with some parts of the area all but out of bounds to non-residents. Shop units which hadn’t been left to stand empty were generally run down and shabby. A few major chains still remained in the area, some I knew had been there since its heyday, but it was mainly local traders scratching out a living. It was the kind of area which seemed to lack hope and had been allowed to just wither away. It made me angry.
Maria Platt’s house was as I expected; old-fashioned but neat and tidy. It was situated on one of the many rows of terraces, which ran like spiders legs off the main drag of shops. The furnishings and electrical goods were out of date, but that was the least of her problems. We sat down on the settee and she introduced us to Derek, her brother.
‘Have you got some news?’ she asked us. ‘I want her back here with me. I know I’ve not got long left and I can’t begin to tell you how that makes me feel.’ She looks terrible; underweight and gaunt. Her voice raspy and thin.
Her eyes still have a sparkle of hope but I shake my head. ‘I’m sorry. Not yet.’
Sarah took over. ‘We’ve been speaking to some of Donna’s friends; the girls she was in the band with. They suggested Donna didn’t get on too well with her father.’
Derek cut in. ‘Ron loved his kids. Donna was always the apple of his eye.’
‘I’m sure he had their best interests at heart’ I said, hoping to sound diplomatic, ‘but we need to at least discuss it. If we can understand how Donna was thinking and acting, then it might help us find her. It’s surprising how the smallest detail can help.’
The room was silent. Maria Platt looked at her brother and nodded before turning back to us. ‘Ron loved our kids. It was like Derek said.’
Sarah and I sat quietly, allowing her the time to tell her story.
‘It was difficult raising the kids. It was difficult for me with Ron working away for weeks on end. I was at home trying to bring them up right; keep them on the straight and narrow. Because Ron got paid depending how much fish they caught, I never knew how much money he would bring home. Sometimes it was next to none. It was tough to run a house under those conditions.’
‘A three day millionaire?’ I said.
Derek smiled. ‘Those were the days, alright.’
I’d read that when the trawlermen returned to Hull, they’d often pick up substantial pay packets. The men worked hard and played hard, taxiing around the city and spending their money in the pubs of Hessle Road, before heading back to the docks for another trip.
‘Ron had a family to look after’ Maria said.
‘But he was a drinker’ said Derek.
Maria tutted and looked away.
‘They need to know how things were’ he said to her. ‘If it helps to find our Donna, you’ve got to tell them how it was.’
Maria nodded. ‘He liked a drink. He didn’t always arrive home with the money.’
‘And I was as bad as anyone’ Derek said. ‘We’d go drinking, and once we’d started, we wouldn’t stop.’
‘Did you have a family to support?’ Sarah asked.
He shook his head. ‘Not at the time, no.’
Maria had turned away. It was obvious she hadn’t approved of their behaviour. I asked her what her husband had done once the trawler industry disappeared.
‘He never worked again.’
‘Just the odd days here and there; working on a building site, you know, that kind of thing.’
‘I suppose it was difficult, given the skills he had’ said Sarah.
‘There was nothing for most of the men around here once the fishing went. I learnt to get by on his dole money.’ She shrugged and looked at her brother. ‘It’s what we had to do.’
I knew it wasn’t true because Donna’s boyfriend’s parents had opened an off-licence and made a decent living. I mentioned his name to her.
‘Tim was a nice boy’ she said. ‘I liked him.’
‘Did your husband approve of them?’
‘Oh yes. He thought Donna should go steady with him and settle down; buy a house and start a family, like we did.’
‘And Tim was a good bet?’
‘His mam and dad have done well for themselves. He saved his money and they eventually opened themselves a shop. They’ve done well.’ Sarah had told me about the shop. I assumed Maria Platt was ignoring the gangs of youths who congregated outside of it and the necessity of Perspex glass within the shop. It didn’t seem like paradise to me. Her voice contained a trace of bitterness. Reading between the lines, it sounded like her husband had wallowed in self-pity whilst others used their money more wisely. I wondered how bitter that had left him, what kind of man he became.
‘What happened with Tim?’ asked Sarah.
‘Our Donna chucked him; said he was boring. A mistake, if you ask me.’