Authors: Simon Hall
The TV Detective
Published by Accent Press Ltd â 2010
Copyright Â© Simon Hall 2010
First published asâA Popular Murder'
The right of Simon Hall to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
The story contained within this book is a work of fiction. Names and characters are the product of the author's imagination and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, electrostatic, magnetic tape, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the written permission of the publishers: Accent Press Ltd, The Old School, Upper High St, Bedlinog, Mid Glamorgan, CF46 6RY.
About the authorâ¦
Simon Hall is the BBC's Crime Correspondent in the south-west of England. He also regularly broadcasts on BBC Radio Devon and BBC Radio Cornwall.
Simon has also been nominated for the Crime Writers' Association
Dagger In The Library
For more information please visit Simon Hall's website
All my detective and medical friends, as ever, for their advice and patience, John Bainbridge, Rob Steemson, and Alec Collyer for helping me to finally, at last and eventually find the elusive Ted Hughes memorial (it really is there, and I'd thoroughly recommend the walk that Dan, Kerry and Rutherford follow), our wonderful libraries and their even finer staff and readers who have supported me so well, and the Isles of Scilly, that beautiful archipelago of pure inspiration where the idea for the TV Detective series first nudged me (and isn't a bad place for a wedding either). My thanks to you all!
Other titles in the series:
HE WOMAN WAS SHELTERINGIN
the long doorway of what must once have been a club, or dance hall, eyeing each car that passed. The rain was thundering into the road, pavement, windscreens and rooves, the kind of rain that hurls itself at the ground with all its mighty force, creating a misty spray of rebounding raindrops that adds to the dense fury of the downpour.
Sitting in the car felt like hiding inside the drum kit of a particularly energetic percussionist, the relentless beat of the storm filling the dry haven with a chaotic beat.
Another car drove slowly past, tyres slicing through the standing water. The woman took a step forwards, placed her hands on her hips and performed a perfunctory wiggle which looked about as alluring as a minefield. The car accelerated on.
âThe trouble is,' Dan said, projecting his voice above the pounding of the rain, âthat in this weather, everyone's kerb crawling. There's no choice but to drive slowly.'
âYeah,' Nigel replied. âAnd, anyway, are you sure she's a prostitute?'
It was a question Dan had already considered. Walking up to a woman and raising that very issue was unlikely to go down well if she wasn't. But he'd found reassurance in the incongruity of her attire. Everyone else who'd been forced to venture out on this miserable Monday evening was wearing a coat, collars turned up and pulled tight; sheltering under hats, umbrellas and briefcases too. The woman was wearing a tiny mini-skirt and a cropped top, her only concession to the bite of winter a fake and tatty fur coat resting open on her shoulders.
December 14th: the Millbay Docks area of Plymouth. The city's red light zone in the run up to Christmas, hardly abounding with festive spirit. The darkness suited the area, like one of the last drinkers in a seedy nightclub, it could only benefit from a lack of revealing light. At least a third of the buildings was vacant, some tumbledown and boarded up, decorated only with graffiti. Sodden strings of weeds wilted from walls and doorways. Soggy and forlorn litter lined the pavements and guttering.
The glowing clock in the car said a quarter to five.
was on air at half past six.
âWe're running out of time,' Nigel said helpfully.
âThanks. I had noticed that.'
âSo what are we going to do?'
âWe'll have to go and talk to her.'
âI was worried you were going to say that.'
They'd been waiting for a break in the weather, but the downpour must have been a trainee of its kind. It felt young and keen, eager to pass its exams and qualify to become a major storm, perhaps a hurricane or typhoon, and seemed delighted to keep beating away at this small portion of the planet with all the gusto it could muster.
Which was, to put it mildly, considerable.
âWhat are we doing here, anyway?' Nigel groaned, his breath fogging the windscreen.
They'd been through all that. The newsroom was caught in the pincers of an awayday team-building exercise and an epidemic of illness, conveniently timed for Christmas present shopping before the high streets suffered their final annual frenzy. Dan, the station's Environment Correspondent, had spent the day researching various different stories, happily avoiding being called on to cover any of them â until the news broke of another attack on a prostitute.
The woman had been repeatedly slashed around the face with a knife. She wasn't critically injured, but she would be scarred for life. It was the third such attack on a prostitute in the last fortnight; the police had reluctantly released a statement to the effect that “it must be considered, given all the material circumstances, a person, or persons unknown, is, or are, at large in the city, harbouring some form of grievance against female workers in the sex trade which has ultimately manifested itself in violence.”
Translated from the verbal morass of police speak, the cops appeared to be trying to say that there was a madman on the loose with a serious grudge against prostitutes.
Lizzie Riley, manic whirlwind of a News Editor, had demanded full coverage, but there was one problem. All the reporters were either unfit for duty, learning to become happy members of the great newsroom team, or out on other stories. The Crime Correspondent had taken voluntary redundancy six months ago, and the only journalist left in the newsroom was Dan.
The cross hairs of fate were settling on his chest.
His protests about the stories he needed to set up were ruthlessly overruled. A spate of otters being killed by cars in Cornwall was discarded. The plight of the Exmoor pony, an endangered breed, was ignored. Dan's search for the Ted Hughes memorial, Dartmoor's secret monument to the late Poet Laureate would have to wait for another day, as would the danger of erosion to the south-west coastal path, even the urgent need for more flood defences for towns and villages threatened by climate change. None registered even so much as a blip on Lizzie's interest-meter.
Her vision was more telescope than tunnel.
âI want a story about prostitutes being attacked, I want it good and I want it now. I want the cops, I want the girls themselves, and I want it all on tonight. Go!'
Dan went. He jogged down the stairs to find Nigel, his cameraman, in the canteen chatting to some engineers, and they drove down to Charles Cross police station, in the city centre, to interview a superintendent about the attacks. After ten minutes of patient questioning and bumbling answers, Dan had just about managed to coax a comprehensible response from the man. But that ordeal was the only easy part.
To make the report work, they needed to hear from the people who were most affected by the attacks. And as the latest victim was inaccessible in hospital, it meant speaking to some of her fellow prostitutes. So here they were, and the time was ticking mercilessly on.
âLet's get on with it then,' Dan muttered.
âHow?' asked Nigel, with his usual logical practicality. âI've never even spoken to a prostitute before, let alone tried to film one.'
From some men, you wouldn't believe such a claim. But not Nigel. A little older than Dan; although greatly experienced in the dark arts of news, he remained a gentle, kind and persistently optimistic man. A robust professional with a real zeal for the job, he was also a quietly moral Christian. The closest they came to arguing was when Dan pulled one of his little tricks to get a story.
Nigel also had a point. This wouldn't be an easy interview to secure. And time was ever more against them.
âPull up alongside and I'll try to talk to her,' Dan said.
Nigel put the car into gear. The woman eyed them warily, but took a couple of paces forwards. Dan hopped out, skirted the bigger pools and puddles of water, ran to the shelter of the doorway and wiped some of the rain from his face.
âErr, hello there,' he said, as cheerily as he could.
âWho's in the car?'
âErr â my friend.'
She started backing off, her high boots sliding on the wet steps. âYer touch me and I'll scream. I mean it. There's cops everywhere now, andÂ â¦'
Dan held up his hands. âI don't want to hurt you. I'm trying to help.' He fumbled in his wallet, found his press pass, held it up. âI'm a reporter. I want to talk to you about the attacks.'
She took a couple of steps forwardand squinted through the gloom. âYer a reporter?'
âThe telly? What yer want with me then?'
âI want to talk to you. About the attacks. About what's been happening. Did you know any of the other women who've been hurt?'
She pulled the coat around her body and shivered. Even behind the fur it was obvious that the woman was gaunt, almost emaciated. Her hair was a white blonde, but dark at the roots and she smelt of a potent mixture of strong drink and cheap perfume.
âI'm scared,' she said, and her voice was thin, tremulous. âWe're all scared. But we gotta keep working. We ain't got nothing else.'
She sat down heavily on a step, fumbled for a cigarette, cupped her hand against the wind and lit it. A swirl of rain invaded the doorway, but she didn't react.
âI want to help you,' Dan said again. âI'm going to report what happened on the news tonight, and ask if anyone might have seen the man, or if someone knows who he is to come forward and tell the police.'
She snorted. âYeah, right. Fat chance. The cops don't care about us. We're nothing to them.'
âWhat's your name?'
âDid you know any of the women who've been attacked?'
She nodded. âYeah. I knew Amanda, poor cow. The one who's just been done.'
âThe one today?'
Dan took out his notebook and she flashed him a frightened look. âIt's OK,' he said soothingly. âI just need to write this down. It's important we get your side of the story. If I can't speak to Amanda, then talking to people who knew her is the next best thing. What's she like?'
âYoung. Only about twenty.' A lungful of smoke was whisked away on the wind. âNot like me.'
It was impossible to tell how old Rose was through the mask of make-up. She reached in another pocket, brought out a quarter bottle of cheap whisky and sipped at it, her hand shaking.
âShe said she was only doing it fer a couple of months, to make some money. She just needed a few quid to get out. To go abroad somewhere, she said. She was popular with the punters. Fresh, she was.' Rose laughed unpleasantly. âFresh meat, yer see. They love that.'
âAnd what was she like?'
âShe was kind. Always talked to the rest of us. Shared her fags, and her booze too if she had any.'
A distant clock struck five. It was ten minutes back to the studio, and the report would take an hour to cut. They were running out of time. This interview would make the story, a woman who knew the latest victim, who could talk about her and the fear amongst the prostitutes about the attacks. Ideally, Dan would spend longer talking to her, try to get her to relax, persuade her to speak out, but he didn't have the time. News could be a ruthless industry.
Behind his back, he beckoned. The car door opened and Nigel got out, walked around to the boot, took out the camera.
âWhat's he doing?' Rose asked sharply.
âDon't worry, he's only going to do a few pictures of the area,' Dan said loudly, so Nigel would hear. âWe need the shots to show the viewers where the attacks happened. He'll shelter under here to keep out of the rain.' To distract her, he added, âTell me about yourself. Are you a local girl?'
She wasn't, she'd come down to Devon from London almost ten years ago, after the break-up of a relationship. It was a familiar story. The image of the sunshine county as a promised land still endured. She'd struggled to find somewhere to live, met a man who'd bought her a drink and something to eat, been kind, suggested there was easy money to be made working in a sauna and massage parlour he knew. Nothing dodgy, he'd reassured her, just rubbing some oil into old men's backs.
It hadn't worked out that way.
Nigel filmed while they spoke, shots of the boarded up buildings, the road, the sweeping headlights of the cars and the cascading raindrops. After a few minutes he gave a subtle nod, took the camera off its tripod and came to sit down beside them.
âWell, we'd better be going,' Dan said, holding out his hand to shake Rose's. Her skin was tough, heavily lined, ingrained with dirt and the yellow tinge of nicotine. âThere is just one more thing, though. How do you fancy saying a few words? About Amanda, and what it's like for you all, knowing this attacker is out there somewhere?'
She flinched. âI ain't going on the TV.'
âIt might help to catch him.'
âCome on. It'd make people understand what it's really like for you. It might make them care.'
âOr paint a frickin target on me for him, more like. I ain't going on no TV.'
âIt'd really help, honestly. It'd make the story much stronger. Make more people take notice.'
âNo bleeding way. No chance.'
She was adamant. Some people, when asked for a television interview, would say no, but start glancing at themselves in a mirror, begin adjusting their clothes, hair or make up. Not Rose. This was a no which meant no, a rare phenomenon in a vain world.
âYou sure?' Dan tried again. âIt really might make a difference.'
âNot a prayer. Now go on, clear off. I've got a living to earn and yer putting the punters off.'
Dan got to his feet, Nigel too. They had enough for a story, could use some of the pictures of the area and the interview with the Superintendent, but it would be bland, lacking the main ingredient: a dish with no flavour. And they had no time to try to find another prostitute to speak to them. Rose was their only chance.
Dan took a step towards the car, stopped. âDo you mind if I ask, Rose â just for my curiousity. How much does it cost? Sex, with you?'
She took a long draw on the whisky. âInterested, are yer?'
âJust for the story,' Dan replied hurriedly.
âDepends, don't it? About a hundred.'
âAnd you, errÂ â¦' he struggled to phrase the question. âYou do other things too? For the right price.'
âJust about anything?'
âYeah.' Another snort, a noise which in a single second communicated the ancient collapse of self-respect and hope. âYeah, just about fricking anything.'
âSo â how about an interview? For the right price?'
Beside him, Dan heard Nigel draw in a breath. A taxi rumbled past, slewing waves of water towards them. Rose stubbed out her cigarette, lit another, then said, âWhat kind of price?'
Across the road, an engine started and a car drew off, the driver watching Dan carefully as she slipped away into the obscurity of the evening.