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Authors: Peter Robinson

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BOOK: Not Safe After Dark
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After phoning and getting no answer, Reed walked around town for a long time looking in shop windows and wondering about how to get out of the mess he was in. His holdall weighed heavy in his
hand. Finally, he got hungry and ducked out of the light rain into the Tandoori Palace. It was still early, just after six, and the place was empty apart from a young couple absorbed in one another
in a dim corner. Reed had the waiter’s undivided attention. He ordered pakoras, tandoori and dhal. The food was very good and Reed ate it too fast.

After the spiced tea, he took out his wallet to pay. He had some cash, but he had decided to have a pint or two, and he might have to take a taxi home from the station. Best hang on to the paper
money. The waiter didn’t seem to mind taking plastic, even for so small a sum, and Reed rewarded him with a generous tip.

Next he tried Francis again, but the phone just rang and rang. Why didn’t the bugger invest in an answering machine? Reed cursed. Then he realized he didn’t even have one himself,
hated the things. Francis no doubt felt the same way. If you were out, tough tittie; you were out and that was that.

Outside, the street lights reflected in oily puddles on the roads and pavements. After walking off his heartburn for half an hour, thoroughly soaked and out of breath, Reed ducked into the first
pub he saw. The locals eyed him suspiciously at first, then ignored him and went back to their drinks.

‘Pint of bitter, please,’ Reed said, rubbing his hands together. ‘In a sleeve glass, if you’ve got one.’

‘Sorry, sir,’ the landlord said, reaching for a mug. ‘The locals bring their own.’

‘Oh, very well.’

‘Nasty night.’

‘Yes,’ said Reed. ‘Very.’

‘From these parts?’

‘No. Just passing through.’

‘Ah.’ The landlord passed over a brimming pint mug, took Reed’s money and went back to the conversation he’d been having with a round-faced man in a pin-stripe suit. Reed
took his drink over to a table and sat down.

Over the next hour and a half he phoned Francis four more times, but still got no reply. He also changed pubs after each pint, but got very little in the way of a friendly greeting. Finally, at
about twenty to nine, knowing he couldn’t bear to wake up in such a miserable town even if he could afford a hotel, he went back to the station and took the train home.


Because of his intended visit to Francis, Reed hadn’t planned anything for the weekend at home. The weather was miserable, anyway, so he spent most of his time indoors
reading and watching television, or down at the local. He tried Francis’s number a few more times, but still got no reply. He also phoned Camille, hoping that her warm, lithe body and her
fondness for experiment might brighten up his Saturday night and Sunday morning, but all he got was her answering machine.

On Monday evening, just as he was about to go to bed after a long day catching up on boring paperwork, the phone rang. Grouchily, he picked up the receiver: ‘Yes?’

‘Terry?’

‘Yes.’

‘This is Francis.’

‘Where the hell—’

‘Did you come all the way down on Friday?’

‘Of course I bloody well did. I thought we had an—’

‘Oh God. Look, I’m sorry, mate, really I am. I tried to call. That woman at work – what’s her name?’

‘Elsie?’

‘That’s the one. She said she’d give you a message. I must admit she didn’t sound as if she quite had her wits about her, but I’d no choice.’

Reed softened a little. ‘What happened?’

‘My mother. You know she’s been ill for a long time?’

‘Yes.’

‘Well, she died last Wednesday. I had to rush off back to Manchester. Look, I really am sorry, but you can see I couldn’t do anything about it, can’t you?’

‘It’s me who should be sorry,’ Reed said. ‘To hear about your mother, I mean.’

‘Yes, well, at least there’ll be no more suffering for her. Maybe we could get together in a few weeks?’

‘Sure. Just let me know when.’

‘All right. I’ve still got stuff to do, you know, things to organize. How about if I call you back in a couple of weeks?’

‘Great, I’ll look forward to it. Bye.’

‘Bye. And I’m sorry, Terry, really.’ Reed put the phone down and went to bed. So that was it – the mystery solved.


The following evening, just after he’d arrived home from work, Reed heard a loud knock at his door. When he opened it, he saw two strangers standing there. At first he
thought they were Jehovah’s Witnesses – who else came to the door in pairs, wearing suits? – but these two didn’t quite look the part. True, one did look a bit like a bible
salesman – chubby, with a cheerful, earnest expression on a face fringed by a neatly trimmed dark beard – but the other, painfully thin, with a long, pock-marked face, looked more like
an undertaker, except for the way his sharp blue eyes glittered with intelligent suspicion.

‘Mr Reed? Mr Terence J. Reed?’ the cadaverous one said, in a deep, quiet voice, just like the way Reed imagined a real undertaker would speak. And wasn’t there a hint of the
Midlands nasal quality in the way he slurred the vowels?

‘Yes, I’m Terry Reed. What is it? What do you want?’ Reed could already see, over their shoulders, his neighbours spying from their windows: little corners of white net-curtain
twitched aside to give a clear view.

‘We’re police officers, sir. Mind if we come in for a moment?’ They flashed their identity cards, but put them away before Reed had time to see what was written there. He
backed into the hallway and they took their opportunity to enter. As soon as they had closed the door behind them, Reed noticed the one with the beard start glancing around him, taking everything
in, while the other continued to hold Reed’s gaze. Finally, Reed turned and led them into the living room. He felt some kind of signal pass between them behind his back.

‘Nice place you’ve got,’ the thin one said, while the other prowled the room, picking up vases and looking inside, opening drawers an inch or two, then closing them again.

‘Look, what is this?’ Reed said. ‘Is he supposed to be poking through my things? I mean, do you have a search warrant or something?’

‘Oh, don’t mind him,’ the tall one said. ‘He’s just like that. Insatiable curiosity. By the way, my name’s Bentley, Detective Superintendent Bentley. My
colleague over there goes by the name of Inspector Rodmoor. We’re from the Midlands Regional Crime Squad.’ He looked to see Reed’s reactions as he said this, but Reed tried to
show no emotion at all.

‘I still don’t see what you want with me,’ he said.

‘Just routine,’ said Bentley. ‘Mind if I sit down?’

‘Be my guest.’

Bentley sat in the rocker by the fireplace and Reed sat opposite on the sofa. A mug of half-finished coffee stood between them on the glass-topped table, beside a couple of unpaid bills and the
latest
Radio Times
.

‘Would you like something to drink?’ Reed offered.

Bentley shook his head.

‘What about him?’ Reed glanced over nervously towards Inspector Rodmoor, who was looking through his bookcase, pulling out volumes that caught his fancy and flipping through
them.

Bentley folded his hands on his lap: ‘Just try to forget he’s here.’

But Reed couldn’t. He kept flicking his eyes edgily from one to the other, always anxious about what Rod-moor was getting into next.

‘Mr Reed,’ Bentley went on, ‘were you in Redditch on the evening of 9 November? Last Friday, that was.’

Reed put his hand to his brow, which was damp with sweat. ‘Let me think now . . . Yes, yes, I believe I was.’

‘Why?’

‘What? Sorry . . . ?’

‘I asked why. Why were you in Redditch? What was the purpose of your visit?’

He sounded like an immigration control officer at the airport, Reed thought. ‘I was there to meet an old university friend,’ he answered. ‘I’ve been going down for a
weekend once a year or so ever since he moved there.’

‘And did you meet him?’

‘As a matter of fact, no, I didn’t.’ Reed explained the communications breakdown with Francis.

Bentley raised an eyebrow. Rodmoor rifled through the magazine rack by the fireplace.

‘But you still went there?’ Bentley persisted.

‘Yes. I told you, I didn’t know he’d be away. Look, do you mind telling me what this is about? I think I have a right to know.’

Rodmoor fished a copy of
Mayfair
out of the magazine rack and held it up for Bentley to see. Bentley frowned and reached over for it. The cover showed a shapely blonde in skimpy pink lace
panties and camisole, stockings and a suspender belt. She was on her knees on a sofa, and her round behind faced the viewer. Her face was also turned towards the camera, and she looked as if
she’d just been licking her glossy red lips. The thin strap of the camisole had slipped over her upper arm.

‘Nice,’ Bentley said. ‘Looks a bit young, though, don’t you think?’

Reed shrugged. He felt embarrassed and didn’t know what to say.

Bentley flipped through the rest of the magazine, pausing over the colour spreads of naked women in fetching poses.

‘It’s not illegal you know,’ Reed burst out. ‘You can buy it in any newsagent’s. It’s not pornography.’

‘That’s a matter of opinion, isn’t it, sir?’ said Inspector Rodmoor, taking the magazine back from his boss and replacing it.

Bentley smiled. ‘Don’t mind him, lad,’ he said. ‘He’s a Methodist. Now where were we?’

Reed shook his head.

‘Do you own a car?’ Bentley asked.

‘No.’

‘Do you live here by yourself?’

‘Yes.’

‘Ever been married?’

‘No.’

‘Girlfriends?’

‘Some.’

‘But not to live with?’

‘No.’

‘Magazines enough for you, eh?’

‘Now just a minute—’

‘Sorry,’ Bentley said, holding up his skeletal hand. ‘Pretty tasteless of me, that was. Out of line.’

Why couldn’t Reed quite believe the apology? He sensed very strongly that Bentley had made the remark on purpose to see how he would react. He hoped he’d passed the test. ‘You
were going to tell me what all this was about . . .’

‘Was I? Why don’t you tell me about what you did in Redditch last Friday evening first? Inspector Rodmoor will join us here by the table and take notes. No hurry. Take your
time.’

And slowly, trying to remember all the details of that miserable, washed-out evening five days ago, Reed told them. At one point, Bentley asked him what he’d been wearing, and Inspector
Rodmoor asked if they might have a look at his raincoat and holdall. When Reed finished, the heavy silence stretched on for seconds. What were they thinking about? he wondered. Were they trying to
make up their minds about him? What was he supposed to have done?

Finally, after they had asked him to go over one or two random points, Rodmoor closed his notebook and Bentley got to his feet. ‘That’ll be all for now, sir.’

‘For now?’

‘We might want to talk to you again. Don’t know. Have to check up on a few points first. We’ll just take the coat and the holdall with us, if you don’t mind, sir.
Inspector Rodmoor will give you a receipt. Be available, will you?’

In his confusion, Reed accepted the slip of paper from Rodmoor and did nothing to stop them taking his things. ‘I’m not planning on going anywhere, if that’s what you
mean.’

Bentley smiled. He looked like an undertaker consoling the bereaved. ‘Good. Well, we’ll be off then.’ And they walked towards the door.

‘Aren’t you going to tell me what it’s all about?’ Reed asked again as he opened the door for them. They walked out onto the path, and it was Inspector Rodmoor who turned
and frowned. ‘That’s the funny thing about it, sir,’ he said, ‘that you don’t seem to know.’

‘Believe me, I don’t.’

Rodmoor shook his head slowly. ‘Anybody would think you don’t read your papers.’ And they walked down the path to their Rover.

Reed stood for a few moments watching the curtains opposite twitch and wondering what on earth Rodmoor meant. Then he realized that the newspapers had been delivered as usual the past few days,
so they must have been in with magazines in the rack, but he had been too disinterested, too tired, or too busy to read any of them. He often felt like that. News was, more often than not,
depressing, the last thing one needed on a wet weekend in Carlisle. Quickly, he shut the door on the gawping neighbours and hurried towards the magazine rack.

He didn’t have far to look. The item was on the front page of yesterday’s paper, under the headline, M
IDLANDS
M
URDER
S
HOCK
. It read,

The quiet Midlands town of Redditch is still in shock today over the brutal slaying of schoolgirl Debbie Harrison. Debbie, 15, failed to arrive home after a late hockey
practice on Friday evening. Police found her partially clad body in an abandoned warehouse close to the town centre early Saturday morning. Detective Superintendent Bentley, in charge of the
investigation, told our reporter that police are pursuing some positive leads. They would particularly like to talk to anyone who was in the area of the bus station and noticed a strange man
hanging around the vicinity late that afternoon. Descriptions are vague so far, but the man was wearing a light tan raincoat and carrying a blue holdall.

He read and reread the article in horror, but what was even worse than the words was the photograph that accompanied it. He couldn’t be certain because it was a poor shot, but he thought
it was the schoolgirl with the long wavy hair and the socks around her ankles, the one who had walked in front of him with her dumpy friend.

The most acceptable explanation of the police visit would be that they needed him as a possible witness, but the truth was that the ‘strange man hanging around the vicinity’ wearing
‘a light tan raincoat’ and carrying a ‘blue holdall’ was none other than himself, Terence J. Reed. But how did they know he’d been there?


The second time the police called Reed was at work. They marched right into the office, brazen as brass, and asked him if he could spare some time to talk to them down at the
station. Bill only looked on curiously, but Frank, the boss, was hardly able to hide his irritation. Reed wasn’t his favourite employee anyway; he hadn’t been turning enough profit
lately.

BOOK: Not Safe After Dark
6.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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