Authors: Nick Quantrill
Tags: #Crime Fiction
‘Boring?’ I repeated.
‘She said they were stuck in a rut, always going to the same places, seeing the same people. Donna wanted a bit more from life than just getting married and becoming a housewife.’
Sarah said nothing and neither did I. Life had been disappointing for Maria Platt and she wanted better for her daughter.
‘How did your husband feel when she dumped Tim?’ I asked.
‘He wasn’t best pleased’ Maria Platt eventually said.
‘Did they argue about it?’ I asked.
She nodded. ‘All the time. They fought like cat and dog. He’d lose his temper and tell her she was stupid. He thought she should get a steady job. She’d tell him it was none of his business; it was her life and she’d please herself. I was stuck in the middle, trying to keep the peace.’
I sat forward. ‘Did he threaten her, Maria?’
Derek leant forwards. ‘I don’t like where you’re heading with this.’
I held my hands up. ‘I’m sorry. I don’t mean to imply anything. I’m trying to understand the state of her relationship with her father.’ I turned to Maria. ‘What did he think of her being in a group?’
‘He hated it. He didn’t understand it, I suppose. He didn’t like the thought of her being in nightclubs, having the men in the crowd leering after her. He hated it all, the whole thing, I suppose.’
‘Did they argue about it?’
She nodded. ‘All the time. He tried to ban her from being in the band. She just laughed at him.’
‘Did she ever mention Frank Salford?’
‘Why would she?’ asked Derek. Sarah stared at me. I got the message.
‘He used to manage the band’ I said.
Maria Platt looked at her brother before shaking her head. ‘She never mentioned him.’
I had to ask. ‘Do you think your husband knew the band had a manager?’
‘I doubt it. I’d have been the one to know, and if I’d known, I’d have told him.’ She searched for a new tissue. ‘Should we know this man?’
I shook my head. ‘No. Not at all.’
Maria Platt waited for me to sit back down and looked me in the eye. ‘I just wanted Donna to be happy.’
But your husband drove her away, I thought. ‘Why didn’t you report her as missing?’
She didn’t respond. Sarah moved over to comfort Maria Platt. I didn’t feel great about what I’d said, but we were getting somewhere. Donna had obviously been opposed to her father. Derek looked at his sister and Sarah huddled together, nodded to me and suggested we went for a walk.
Derek clearly intended our walk to take us no further than the nearest pub, which had just opened for the day. It was the kind of place where new faces weren’t very frequent, or particularly welcome. Derek nodded silent greetings to a few of the men stood around the bar, but no one acknowledged me. The walls were decorated with old black and white photographs of Hull FC from days gone by and photographs of old trawlers. One of the 1980 Challenge Cup Final team caught my eye. I recognised all the faces; even knew some of them back in the day. I’d learnt how to play the game alongside and against them as a boy. I wondered what they were all doing now. The rivalry between the two Hull clubs is still intense and as a former KR player, I was very much in enemy territory. I’d only ever played in one derby match, and that had been at Craven Park, our home ground. The noise had been incredible, the game so much more intense. I can still hear the individual voices calling out; encouragement from my fans, abuse from the opposition.
‘Cheers’ said Derek, taking hold of the pint I’d bought him. He steered us over to the far corner of the pub, away from the handful of other drinkers.
‘Cheers’ I replied. I waited for him to put his drink down and gather his thoughts.
‘I remember when you’d come back from sea and the pubs would have pints already pulled, ready on the bar for you. That was some sight, I can tell you. All the glasses lined up neatly, full to the brim.’
‘Must have been quite a sight.’
‘It was.’ He placed his glass down and looked at me. ‘Mr Geraghty’ he started.
‘It’s Joe’ I said.
‘Joe, then. I wanted to talk to you away from the house. Try to explain a little better that Ron wasn’t a bad man, but Maria doesn’t understand what it was really like for us at sea.’ He put his drink down and continued. ‘It was hard work on the trawlers; unbelievably hard work. We’d work eighteen hours a day and there was no time for niceties like washing or eating properly. Even sleeping was difficult on the boats. We’d often be six men to a small room and the bunks were so small, you just wedged yourself in, which was no bad thing, given the conditions. As for the noise, it was 24 hours a day because you were often next to the engine room, and that was before the weather conditions. You’d get thrown about the place and the noise and coldness as you sailed through ice was beyond belief.’ He looked at me. ‘It was beyond horrible.’
I just nodded. I couldn’t begin to comprehend what it must have been like working under those conditions. ‘Did you work on the same trawlers as Ron?’ I asked.
‘We did for a while, but he left to join another company. We were both deckies. We’d haul the fish into the boats, gut them and pass them down to the storage area. The tough thing was, we’d only get paid if we got a decent catch, so it was a competitive carry-on. If the skipper found us a decent fishing spot, we’d milk it all we could. We’d work slightly longer and even in dangerous conditions. Anything to bring home a decent catch so we got paid. There was once when Ron and me came home with absolutely nothing after our food money and what not had been deducted by the bosses. It was a bit of a one-off as there were always alternatives available to you. We’d remove the livers and boil them to make cod liver oil to sell when we returned home. It was our bonus, if you like. Of course, if you were Ron, you’d try and make your bonus from playing cards. When you weren’t working that hard, like when you were sailing out to the fishing waters, the place to go was the canteen. We’d smoke our cigs, talk and listen to foreign radio which piped in new music we’d not yet heard. It was great, just spending time with your mates.’
‘Ron was a card player?’
‘There was always a card school on the go, but Ron wasn’t the best at it to be honest. He’d often leave a boat owing people money, which wasn’t the plan, or something our Maria was very happy about.’
Hardly surprising, I thought.
‘Ron could usually make it up a bit at Christmas when the Christmas Crackers would go out. You’d make excellent money if you had a decent catch, but it was a risky business, alright. Because most of the regulars wanted to spend Christmas at home, the crews would be padded out with anyone who wanted the work. Just chuck them onto the boat and get going.’
Derek glanced at his empty glass. It was my round again.
After his story, I needed the break. I knew you had to be tough to survive on the trawlers, but I never knew just how tough. I placed the fresh drinks on the table and asked him what it was like once the industry had disappeared.
‘Harsh. We got nothing at all. Not a thing.’ He held his left hand up. ‘Didn’t even escape with a full set of fingers.
‘The Cod Wars?’ I said, not wanting to look at the gap where his index finger once was.
‘Once Iceland said we couldn’t fish their waters, our government rolled over and threw the towel in without a thought to us workers. It was disgusting. We had our nets cut and Ron once told me a trawler he was on was rammed. Scary as hell that kind of thing. Our government sold us out. We were allowed to fish in their seas up to a certain amount, but it was a fraction of what we’d done in the past.’
‘What did you and Ron do after that for work?’
He laughed. ‘Work? What work? We weren’t trained to do anything else. Nobody wanted to know us. I was one of the lucky ones. My brother-in-law ran his own business, so I got some work on building sites, just labouring to start, but it worked out alright and I was a foreman until I retired.’
‘What about Ron?’
‘Hardly ever worked again. I got him a few days here and there but it wasn’t for him.’
‘What about redundancy money? What did he do with it?’
He laughed again. ‘There was no redundancy pay. I don’t know how it worked, but we never qualified for any. In legal terms, we were casual labour. We had no rights.’ He leant in towards me. ‘If you owned the trawlers, you were fine. You received compensation for your boats not earning and what have you. They didn’t suffer, believe me.’
‘You got nothing?’
‘We got something eventually. Ron worked for over twenty years on them trawlers, but because of the various legal loopholes, he only got a few hundred quid off the government.’ Derek shook his head. ‘A few hundred pounds, it’s insulting.’
‘Was he bitter?’
‘Wouldn’t you be?’
I nodded. Under those circumstances, I probably would be.
‘And that was before the pension carry-on. When you went to sea, you had to pay in to a pension scheme. There was no choice. Ron and me thought we had some decent money coming to us. I was lucky, my pension was waiting for me. It wasn’t much, but it helped. Ron wasn’t so lucky. Because the companies who owned the boats disappeared, nobody knew how to get their money. I was lucky because the company I worked for continued to trade, but the people Ron worked for shut down. He got nowhere trying to get what he was owed. The pension people reckon they paid the money out to the companies for them to give to us, but they say there’s no paperwork. I know most people have got their money now, but there’s still some who haven’t and the insurance companies have washed their hands of it all. Ron didn’t live to get his money and Maria’s in no state to fight these people.’
‘So Ron had to bring up his kids on benefits?’
‘Maria brought them up on benefits. Ron more or less gave up.’
‘I assume it affected his relationship with them?’
I watched Derek finish his drink. ‘Whatever happened, he loved his kids. They were his world. But I have to admit he was harsh to them at times. He sometimes took his frustrations out on them but I know he only wanted the best for them.’
‘Like with Donna and her band? What was his problem? Surely it was a good thing? Showed she was determined and had a bit of ambition?’
He shrugged. ‘I don’t think he could relate to it all. He wanted Donna to be secure and that meant settling down and getting married. He didn’t think she’d find that security by becoming a singer.’
‘Were their arguments ever violent?’
He shook his head. ‘Never. Ron was a decent man. He wouldn’t do that.’
On balance, I believed him. ‘How did his death affect the family?’
‘As you’d expect. Maria and Gary were devastated. The doctors didn’t catch the cancer early enough, so there was little they could do. If the stupid bugger had been a bit more willing to see them when he was ill, it might have been different. Maria nursed him at home, all the way to the end. It was tough on her, but it was the way she wanted things. Have you ever experienced it first-hand, Joe?’
I shook my head. ‘No.’
‘Try and keep it that way.’
We sat there in silence for a few moments until Derek told me he knew Frank Salford. ‘I know what he is, too.’
‘So do I. Don’t worry about that. Just leave him be for now whilst we get what we need on him.’
I watched Derek take a mouthful of lager. ‘Alright?’ I said.
‘Why didn’t Ron report Donna missing to the police?’ I asked, changing the subject.
It took Derek a few moments to answer. ‘Ron was a proud man, Mr Geraghty. I don’t think he wanted to admit it was his fault, that his attitude drove her away. He always told me she was old enough to make up her own mind. If she wanted to come back, she knew where to find us.’
I thanked him for his time. Although I still didn’t know why Donna had left, I knew more about her upbringing. Undoubtedly, it had been tough for her; her family had little money, and her father for all his faults, had endured a tough life at sea followed by disappointment when the industry died. What puzzled me was if she left the city to further her music career, why didn’t any of her band mates know more? It didn’t ring true.
‘Did she tell you anything more?’ I asked Sarah. I hoped getting Derek out of the house would make her more talkative. We were back in the car and heading towards Lauren’s school where Sarah needed to be for a merit assembly. I was going to walk to the office from there and catch up on some paperwork.
‘Not directly’ she explained, ‘but I’m convinced she was scared of her husband. He certainly ran the family. His word was always final.’
‘Did she say anything more about not reporting Donna to the police?’
Sarah nodded before hitting the brakes to avoid a car pulling out of a side street.
‘Wanker...sorry, what did you say?’
‘About reporting Donna missing.’
She shook her head. ‘Her husband’s word was final. He insisted she’d come back when she ran out of money. Her opinion wasn’t needed, or wanted.’
My mobile rang but I didn’t recognise the number. I answered and listened to the caller, saying little in response. ‘Can you drop me at the office, please, Sarah?’
She turned to look at me. ‘Who was it?’
I said I’d be there inside of fifteen minutes before terminating the call. ‘That was Christopher Murdoch. He wants to talk to me.’
Murdoch was waiting for me on the doorstep of our office. He stood staring at his mobile, clearly agitated. Don must have been called out. I introduced myself, shook his hand and took a moment to have a good look at him. From the information I’d pulled on him from Companies House, I knew he’d just turned forty. Even though he hadn’t shaved for a few days or washed his hair, it was clear he was in good shape and looked like he took good care of himself. The passing of time had been kind to him so far. I invited him in and sat down behind my desk.
‘What can I do for you, Mr Murdoch?’ I asked.
He was looking at the floor as he replied. ‘I need your help.’
I waited for him to lift his head. ‘Why?’
‘The police think I killed my wife.’