Authors: Jacqueline Ward
No. I can’t do it. I can’t. I pull out the money and push it back into my bag and hurry back to the house. What was I thinking? This isn’t me. The birds just sit there, their heads turning as they watch me rushing around. I try to shoo them away, because they are witnesses to my uncharacteristic misdemeanour, but they won’t go.
I move past Bessy, running now, and toward the narrow stairs, silently apologising for disturbing her secret.
But it’s too late. I see a blue flashing light against the darkness of the room and hear the back door open. Two uniformed police officers appear and someone is banging on the door.
Hugging my bag and shame to my chest, I fumble with the lock and open it. DS Jack Newsome, one of my opposite numbers in the regional police, pushes past me, followed by two uniformed officers.
‘Jesus Christ. That’s awful. How long’s it been here?’
I don’t like Jack. He hasn’t got a compassionate bone in his body. I find myself moving protectively between him and Bessy.
‘She, Jack, she. This is a person. A woman. She deserves a little respect.’
The word sticks on my tongue, heavy with mockery. Respectful, unlike me, who has just stolen her life savings. I’ve never felt guilt like this before, and I wonder how people can live with it. He smirks.
‘Right, Jan. She. How long has
I see Bessy with fresh eyes. As Jack does, as any policeman would. Her faded dress is sagging in odd shapes against the decomposition of her body, and brown lace-up shoes sit the wrong way round, her ankles ballooning awkwardly in the crossed position they must have rested in as she died.
‘I don’t know, Jack. But I arrived fifteen minutes ago. Had a tip off about a bad smell and was just passing.’
He’s nodding and grinning. Yet underneath I can see his annoyance as he sighs and wipes his hand through his dark hair, then wipes tiny beads of perspiration away from his forehead. And, of course, the giveaway twitch at the corner of his eye that always tells me when Jack thinks he’s onto something.
‘Just passing, were you? A little bit out of town, isn’t it? Away from your usual place of work? So who was the tip off from?’
I smile now and wonder if it covers up my devastation.
‘Member of the public. In a public place. Just on my way to Ashton Market buying some bacon for the weekend when I heard two women talking about this property and the smell. Simple as that.’
He’s shaking his head.
‘OK, Jan, if that’s how you want it. I suppose all’s well that ends well.’
We look at Bessy. She’s someone’s mother. Like me.
‘Not for her, though. Which is why we’re here, not to find out the ins and outs of my shopping habits. No?’
Jack turns away now. He’s looking toward the kitchen. As he approaches the door, I hear a flutter of wings and beaks tapping on glass.
‘What the bloody hell? Get those birds out of here. And search the house. Get forensics down here, and we need a coroner’s wagon for the old bird here. Cover her up, John. She’s giving me the creeps.’
So the police machine swings into action. I stand there for a moment, wondering if there is a way for me to put the money back, but the two uniformed officers are upstairs now, battling with angry starlings.
I don’t mention that they will need two coroner’s vehicles, one for poor Bessy and one for the tiny baby. God only knows why she’s got a dead baby in her wardrobe. That poor woman must have had a terrible life if the state of this place is anything to go by. Without a word I leave by the front door and walk around to the back alley.
The houses are well maintained and I feel a little easier now the neighbours are out and I have a reason for being here. I get in my car and, with the bag still over my shoulder, drive off. In my rearview mirror the birds still watch, their heads cocking.
Two streets away, I pull up outside an old peoples’ home. I know this is a safe spot away from CCTV. My phone hasn’t even got a signal here. I’m a surveillance expert, latterly of the Communications Department, more lately promoted to DS in Special Operations. It’s my job to know these things.
Even so, guilt overwhelms me, and I remember when I first became a police detective; so full of goodwill and always on the side of the person who had been harmed. I spent hours poring over mind maps and evidence boards, midnight sessions in the operation room and endless visits to witnesses.
Sometimes when I lie awake at night thinking about Aiden, I wonder if I would have shuffled events in a different way this wouldn’t have happened. That always leads to me swearing that from now on I’ll do the right thing, be good, anything, as long as I get him back. Holding myself bolt upright, smiling, being polite, saying thank you; are they all little combinations to finding out what has happened?
In the clarity of daylight it all seems different. No hippy thinking will get me through the day. Action is needed. And, after all, in this game it’s almost impossible to be good all the time. The deeper you get into something, the more complex the relationships, the situations. Everyone’s got something on someone, and they’re going to use it at some point. Until now I’d kept my fingers out of the till, been good as gold. But this is different. This is personal.
I count the money. There’s forty-four thousand pounds.
I automatically scan the horizon for the signs I know are there, at the root of my suspicions of where my son is. Connelly. I see the scarves and shoes hanging from the telephone wires, silent messages in an unspoken world and my heart turns back to stone.
I push the money under the seat, still distraught that I took it, more distraught that I couldn’t put it back, and seeing no way to return it now. I decide that, in return for it, I’ll do what I can to see Bessy Swain’s case resolved. I’ll do what I can to find out why she had to hide a baby. Someone owes her that, at least.
Back at the station I’m just in time for the briefing and Mike smiles widely when he sees me. I sit at the back and look at him. He’s been my sidekick for five years now, enough time for him to get to know me well. He cheers me up. Even now, with all this going on, I can’t help but smile back.
He’s a regular guy, married to a woman who hates me. And who can blame her? I’m out with her husband at all hours, in all kinds of dangerous situations. He’d do anything for me, I’m sure of it.
I know she calls me Barbie because Mike has his phone volume set too loud. When I was younger this would have made me smile and a little bit proud of my average good looks, but now it really is an insult. I can’t think that anyone is farther away from the image of Barbie than I am right now.
I stare down at my feet, slightly too big, made worse by flat pumps. Highly inappropriate for the late autumn weather, but I’m in such a rush every morning I never end up wearing what I have planned. Always the same black pumps, jeans, and T-shirt. My mind’s always on something else. My mind’s always on Aiden.
Jim Stewart steps up and begins to speak.
‘OK, people. Operation Prophesy. We need to nail this once and for all. Connelly’s slipped through the net too many times now. He might look like a saint on the outside but we’ve got hard evidence that he’s keeping explosives at his HQ. We’ve got reliable information that he’s storing drugs on the premises, but they’re like Fort Knox so we have to get the evidence first then do it the right way. With a warrant. Initially, I want Keith and Jason on a fact finder locally. I’ve brought in Sandra and Alison to do some undercover with his girls, and Jose and Julia will concentrate on the comms and the vehicle movements. I want proper logs kept of everything. I don’t want a repeat of Hurricane.’
I sigh under my breath. Operation Hurricane. Twenty-two months of work thrown out of court because of poor record keeping. Jim Stewart had tried to get Connelly on his own, but his solicitor was shit hot and got him bail. That was the first mistake. Then, it turned out, the comms team hadn’t been keeping records correctly and there was a huge gap, which meant that the rest of the evidence didn’t make sense.
This time, we’d all been on admin courses and the operation was bigger. Jim Stewart wasn’t a man to be beaten, and Operation Prophesy would be run with a hand of steel. Which would make it much more difficult for me to do what I have to do. To search for my son.
‘OK. So, Mike and Jan, I need you to be the general eyes and ears, feeding back. Bring in the usual informants, get them interviewed. We only have a small budget for this one after the big spend last time so don’t go mad.’
I raise my hand and everyone turns around.
‘Haven’t you forgotten something? Sir?’
Jim Stewart turns slowly. He’s seething and he knows exactly what’s coming.
‘No, DS Pearce. I don’t think I have.’
I stare at him for a second.
‘What about Aiden? What about the link between Connelly and Aiden? Aren’t you going to include that in Operation Prophesy?’
The room is heavy with silence. No one’s looking at me now. Alison, who’s been drafted in from the Met, looks a little bit embarrassed. Even she’s heard about me. Mike’s shaking his head. Jose is texting someone, giving them the Jan Pearce update, how mad she is today, how she should be signed off sick. Jim is sweating now. He walks toward me.
‘What do you think has happened to Aiden, Jan? Really? Let’s get this out once and for all, eh?’
He looks around the room for nods of support, but everyone is suddenly busy. I nod though. We’ve been through all this before, but not publicly. Although I know he’s setting me up, gathering witnesses to my mental state so he can have me suspended, I carry on.
‘I think he’s got Aiden, sir. I think he’s kidnapped him. As a kind of revenge for Operation Hurricane.’
‘OK. Look, Jan. I see what you’re saying, but we’ve got no evidence. If we had some evidence, then we could investigate, but as it is, we don’t have any. No evidence at all linking Aiden to Sean Connelly. In fact, we’ve got nothing on Connelly at all, not actually on him. Some of his cronies, but not a single shred of evidence on Sean Connelly. We might think things, but we have to actually prove it. And that’s why we’re gathered here today. So, again, there’s no evidence to link Aiden and Connelly.’
I nod. On the surface he’s right. But I know there’s something going on. I’ve pieced it together. I’ve met Connelly twice, and he’s the opposite of what you would expect someone into extortion to be. Blond and hefty, he’s polite and humble. But his eyes give him away, mocking and cruel. Of course, there’s no direct evidence. That’s the problem. He uses other people to do his dirty work, and we’re so near to finding out just what he’s up to. The problem is, proving it. Until then, it’s hearsay.
But I know what he’s up to. When I was in surveillance I had to do the legwork. Sitting around on the sink estates, watching what happens and feeding it back. Endless days in grubby cafés and half-stocked mini-markets mean you get to know the people, what goes on, and who’s behind it.
You become ingrained in it, and it in you. I heard stories about Connelly and his boys, stories about if you crossed him, he’d hit you where it hurt. Stories about abductions and violence, so terrible that it was hardly believable. But the trouble was, and still is, that it’s all contained. All kept on Northlands.
No evidence, and therefore, as far as the police is concerned, all unproven. Rumours and speculation. But I’ve seen and heard things about Connelly that make me sure that he’s got Aiden. Things that the officers here in special operations haven’t seen or heard first hand.
‘I understand that, but you won’t get evidence unless you investigate it. So it’s a bit chicken and egg, isn’t it?’ I realise that I’m doing an egg shape with my hands, which makes me look more mentally disjointed. ‘And now we’re investigating Connelly as a whole, shouldn’t we include this?’
He’s shaking his head.
‘No. And that’s the end of it. We need all hands on deck with this. We need to get something solid, something to smash that saintly image Connelly seems to have built up for himself on Northlands. And I don’t want to find out you’ve been wasting time with this while you’re supposed to be doing your job. Understood?’
I stand up. Even though my head’s telling me to sit down. It’s my heart doing this.
Most of my colleagues are looking at the floor. I sink back down and he smiles a corporate smile.
‘Sorry, Jan. Wrong words. But Aiden’s a separate issue. Come and have a chat with me later and we’ll see what we can do. But for now, it’s Operation Prophesy. And I don’t want any mistakes on this one. No petty crime, no small time scams. I want to go right to the top on this one.’
Mike goes to stand up to defend me, but Jose pulls him back into his seat. There’s a bustle toward the door, leaving me sitting alone in the room. I think about the money under the seat of my car, and why I took it. Because I feel so alone. I feel I have to do this on my own and I’m desperate.
I watch through the glass plates that separate the rooms as Jim Stewart goes back to his office. He’s laughing now with his PA, and he’s shaking hands with one of the local councillors who’s come to be briefed on the battle against crime.
I wonder if I should sign off sick for a while? I’ve considered it before, but I’d just be sitting at home all the time then, unable to do anything. At least this way I’m hearing the latest on Connelly, on any leads that might be worth following up. Like the one this morning on Ney Street.
I’d heard about that one by sitting in the Tameside area with a police radio tuned in. Person not seen for days and bad smell coming from house. This would normally go onto the investigation log and be attended that day, but I was only around the corner and recognised it as one of the houses Connelly rents out.
I go to my desk now and start to type up the report, sticking to the story that I overheard two women talking about it. I’m not supposed to have the radio; I took it out of the operations room in case I was ever in danger in an area where there’s no mobile signal. And, of course, to find Aiden. I only use it outside our area, so I won’t be tracked.