Authors: J J Salkeld
The Lakeland Murders: number seven.
By J J Salkeld
© copyright J J Salkeld, 2014
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Cover photograph by R F Simpson
Cover art by Michaela Waddell,
3rd January, 2000
‘Look, John’ said DI Andy Hall, ‘let me be clear about this. When I leave this room DC Dixon will come in, and then you’ll be charged. So this really is your last chance, I promise you that. And it’s a long list of charges that we’re looking at, with a tariff to match. Your solicitor will know more than me, but I think you’re looking at ten years, absolute minimum. There’s the attempted armed robbery, the conspiracy of course, and then there’s the discharge of an automatic assault rifle. And that’s the worst offence of the lot, and by a country mile at that. What the hell were you all thinking? I honestly don’t think that’s ever happened In Kendal before, judging by the way that PC Brooks spelled Kalashnikov, anyway. He had three attempts, and they’re all wrong. DC Dixon had to correct it for him, but his effort’s no better.’
The man smiled; friendly, but guarded. ‘I understand, I do. And I’ve got nothing more to say. You’re wasting your time, honest, so let’s get it over with, shall we? I’ll take my chances.’
Hall sat back, and looked across the table at the other man. It was as if the two were meeting in a chess club, in a spirit of friendly but immutable enmity. John seemed every bit calm as Hall, and he spoke just as quietly. Hall had been living in Cumbria long enough to be able to place the accent as being from the south east of the county, but not long enough to pin it down more precisely, even though he knew that there was a variation, almost from village to village. He glanced down at the file and saw that the man lived in Troutbeck, north of Windermere, and was a farmworker. He had no previous convictions, not even a teenage D&D.
‘Let’s just chat, then.’
‘I’m not going anywhere.’
This time it was Hall who smiled.
‘That’s true enough, John. I just wanted to give you a chance, that’s all, because as things stand three of you are going to face all the charges, whereas it stands to reason that two of you couldn’t have been holding that gun when it went off. So two of you are going to give up an additional three or four years of your lives for nothing, for something that you’re not remotely responsible for. And I don’t think that’s fair, I really don’t. Don’t get me wrong, I want people to face justice for the things that they’ve done, especially where firearms are involved, but I don’t like it when people do time for things that they didn’t do. That’s not justice, is it?’
‘What if I said it was me who fired the Kalashnikov?’
‘Why did you fire it? Did your finger slip, or something?’
‘Of course not. I can handle a gun.’
‘I know you can. Stands to reason, in your line of work. There’s always some killing you’ve got to do around the farm, as a wise man once said. So come on then, John, what made you spray the outside of a closed bank with,’ Hall paused and looked back down at the file, ‘nineteen rounds? The shooter narrowly missed a number of pedestrians, including one pushing a pram, and splinters of stone from the building cut the head of a seventy year-old male pedestrian.’
‘So why did you shoot then, John? Frustration that the bank was closed for lunch, was it?’
Hall nodded, but without looking in any way convinced.
‘I can understand that, I really can. Fifteen minutes earlier, and you would have scooped the pool. Has anyone already told you that? Ten minutes, even, before that security van turned up. Six hundred grand, in cash, from that morning’s livestock sale at the auction mart. All untraceable, too, it would have been. So your information was solid, I’ll say that for you. And I can see why you’d have been annoyed, bloody annoyed. Months of planning went into the job, I expect?’
‘Aye, I expect so.’
‘But it still wasn’t you who pulled that trigger, was it, John? It was one of the others, wasn’t it?’
‘I’m saying nowt. I was just asking, that’s all. Making conversation, like. You seem to like to talk, Inspector.’
‘I do. And you seem like an interesting bloke. Like I said, we’re just chatting now, while the charge sheet is being prepared. And I’ve still got twenty minutes ’til the end of my shift.’
‘Oh, aye?’ This time it was John who looked sceptical. ‘Just killing time then, are you?’
‘Maybe not. But I promise I am here to help, if I can. I’m a new DI, I was only promoted a month ago actually, and I’ve lucked out with you and your little firm, to be honest. Less than six hours after the shots were fired, and you’re all safely in custody. The weapon has been recovered as well, I’m glad to say.’
‘Of course. I’m not a bloody animal. I know what that thing can do. In the wrong hands, like.’
‘But you’re still not going to tell me who was holding that weapon at 12.45pm today, are you, John? Even though we both know full well that it wasn’t you.’
‘I’ve told you, and all the rest of them. I’m saying nowt. So charge me, or let me go.’
‘Fair enough, but we’re charging you. There’s no question of letting you go, I’m afraid. And you already know why that is as well, don’t you? Because one of your mates grassed the rest of you up. He literally couldn’t wait to talk, actually. His lawyer virtually had to gag him until the deal was finalised with the CPS. But I’ve got his statement now, all signed and sealed, and we’ve recovered the vehicle you used, and various other items too. You are, as they may once have actually said down south somewhere, banged to rights.’
‘How does that make you feel?’
‘I’d be angry. At the prospect of going away for years, and all for nothing. Nothing at all.’ Hall looked back down at the file. ‘And you’ve got two kids too, haven’t you?’
‘You leave my kids out of this.’
‘I will, don’t worry. How old are they?’
‘Two boys. Nine and seven.’
‘I’ve got two girls, a bit younger than yours. I’ve often wondered what it would be like to have boys.’
‘Tiring. They never bloody stop.’
‘You’ve recently bought some land too, is that right?’
‘Aye, I did. My family have worked on farms round Troutbeck for bloody generations, and never owned so much as a single blade of grass. My old fella worked until he was no use to anybody, and all for absolutely bugger all. Not fair that, is it?’
‘No. It’s not. So what will happen to your land while you’re away?’
The man shrugged and looked away. Normally Hall had no problem in reminding offenders of the implications of their actions, although he only did it when he thought that there was something to be gained by it, but he could see that it was not the case this time. This man struck him as someone who was already fully aware of the consequences for others of his own choices and actions.
‘Sorry, forget I said that’ said Hall. ‘I expect it’s just about all you can think about at the moment. That and your wife and kids. You know that your wife, Emma isn’t it, has been asking to see you?’
‘Aye. Just tell her I’m all right.’
‘We’ve done that, don’t worry. I’ve spoken to her myself.’
‘Good.’ The man hesitated. ‘You’re not from round here, like, are you?’
‘No, I’m not. Does it matter?’
‘I was only asking. Because we’re chatting, like. I used to wonder what it would be like, to move away.’
‘But you don’t wonder about that now?’
‘No. When you own a bit of ground you stop wondering. At least I did. It was probably just day-dreaming anyway. The grass is always greener, all that.’
‘I can’t imagine anywhere in the world where the grass is actually any greener than here. Every time I come back from a holiday or something I notice it.’
‘That’s the muck we spread on the fields, that is. That’s what keeps the grass growing.’
Hall smiled. ‘That and the rain.’
‘Aye, there is that, like. But I don’t mind a bit of rain.’
‘Nor do I. I’m used to it now, anyway. And I envy you, in a way. Being sort of hefted to where you come from.’ The man was smiling again. ‘Sorry’, said Hall quickly, noticing his expression, ’did I just use the wrong word? Aren’t your Swaledales hefted to the fells?’
‘Aye, they are. It’s just making me sound like a sheep that’s all. Spend their whole lives just looking for somewhere to go and die. That’s the bloody sheep’s whole life story for you, like.’
Hall closed the file.
‘So what about your two lads? What would you like them to do when they grow up?’
The man shrugged. ‘They can please themselves, can’t they?’
‘Of course, but if you had your wish for them, what would it be?’
The man smiled. ‘You’ll think I’m daft, like.’
‘I’d like one of the lads to win the All Weights at the Ambleside Sports. When they’re older, like.’
‘Boxing, is it?’
‘No, wrestling. Cumberland and Westmorland, they call it. I’ve heard said that the Vikings brought it here, but that’s probably all bollocks, like. It’s been going for hundreds of years though, I do know that.’
‘And you played, did you?’
‘I wrestled, aye. When I was younger. Never won at Ambleside though. Nearly managed it a few times, but I always came up just short.’
‘And do your lads have the makings of wrestlers?’
The man laughed out loud.
‘Do they? I should bloody say so. Scrapping the whole time, they are. I’ve already taught them a few holds, hipes and trips. If they’re going to wrestle they might as well do it it proper, like. So what about your kids? What do you want for them?’
‘I don’t know, really. All the usual stuff, I suppose. To be happy, healthy, fulfilled. All that.’
‘Would you want them to follow you into this line of work, like?’
‘If they wanted to, yes. But I wouldn’t encourage it.’
‘Too dangerous? For lasses, like.’
‘Partly that, I suppose. But I don’t think you’re supposed to say that, not these days.’
The man nodded, and sat back. It seemed that the game was almost over.
‘Shouldn’t you be getting home to them now, like?’ he said.
‘Soon. Yes, soon. Can I just ask you one more thing though? You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to, but it’s something I often wonder about.’
‘Aye, I know I don’t have to answer. So you crack on.’
‘It’s just that whole honour amongst thieves thing. I just don’t get it I’m afraid. I thought the whole point about being a criminal was that dishonesty, disloyalty and all sorts of other disses are kind of written into the job description. I just don’t understand where the honour bit comes from, really.’
‘Aye, well. I’ve not really given it any thought.’
‘No? I appreciate that you weren’t actually a criminal until today, but even so I expect you’ve given it some consideration recently. In the last hour or two, anyway. The only idea I have, and this is on the basis of having dealt with offenders of one kind or another for over ten years now, is that it’s all based on fear. They’re just frightened to grass each other up. It’s just as simple as that. There’s no honour in it at all.’
‘I’m not frightened.’
‘You don’t look it, I must say. That’s why I mention it, really. To see if there’s some other reason.’
‘Aye, well. But like I say, I’m not frightened. Not of anyone. Not of you. Not of prison. And I’m still saying nowt.’
‘Well, it’s been nice talking to you, John. I hope everything goes well for the family while you’re away.’
The man paused for a long moment, and Hall waited. It seemed like he wanted to say something else.
‘I don’t suppose you’re going to tell me, are you?’ asked John, eventually.
‘Who it was who grassed on you?’
‘I can’t do that. But you already know, don’t you?’
‘Mebbe I do. It was Frankie. Has to be.’
Hall nodded slowly, almost regretfully. ‘And you wouldn’t take the same deal, if it was offered to you? He says he doesn’t know who fired that gun, see. And, as it stands, Frankie will probably be out of jail before you’re even used to prison food.’
‘Of course I wouldn’t take any deal.’
‘Not even for your kids?’
‘Especially not for them. I want them to grow up right. They’d never be able to hold their heads up around the village, knowing their dad was a grass. I’d not wish that on my worst enemy.’
‘Has Frankie got kids?’
For the first time since they’d started talking Hall saw, or thought he saw, a look in John’s eyes that hadn’t been there before. What was it? Pity, or contempt? Hall didn’t know, and he wasn’t sure that he wanted to, either.
‘Aye. He’s got two lads and all. Poor little bastards. They don’t deserve a dad like that.’
Hall closed his file. ‘It’s been nice talking to you, John.’
‘Aye, you too. Sorry it wasn’t under better circumstances, like. You off home now then, are you?’
‘Not quite yet.’
‘Waiting to see us charged, is that it?’
‘Among other things, yes. But I’ve got some paperwork to catch up on too. Everyone’s been so worried about the bloody Millennium Bug we were told not to use some of our systems over New Year, so I’m miles behind.’
‘But nowt happened? Everything kept working, did it?’
‘That’s right. It turned out to be a lot of fuss about nothing. But you know what computers are like.’