Read Random Acts of Unkindness Online

Authors: Jacqueline Ward

Random Acts of Unkindness (8 page)

‘Yeah. Look. I need to say this before we embark on Prophesy.’

I snigger.

‘Embark? Christ. Bit formal.’

‘Yeah. Thing is, you’ve been acting a bit, erm, strange. I just want to know you’re up to it. You know I’ve got your back one hundred percent. Problem is, this could get heavy and I need you to be on the ball. Otherwise . . .’

‘What? Otherwise what? And I can’t see that I’ve been any stranger than anyone else who’s kid has gone missing. I’m fucking worried. Just think if it was one of yours.’

I see him flinch and I know this isn’t fair. He’s my best friend and I’ve hit below the belt.

‘It isn’t though, is it? D’you think you should have some time off? You know, to think and get over it.’

‘You’re acting like he’s dead.’

Silence. Then he shakes his head.

‘Truth is, I don’t know if he is or not. Neither do you. But try looking at it from the point of view of someone on the outside. Fifteen-year-old boy, hormones, broken home, mum at work, dad, well, you’d be the first one to admit Sal’s not the calmest person. Wouldn’t your first thought be that he’d ran? Honestly, wouldn’t it? I know it’s not easy, but all this stuff about Connelly, you’ve got no proof.’

I nod.

‘Yes. But two things. One, he wouldn’t run. He doesn’t know anyone. None of his friends are hiding him. He spends all his time with Sal when he’s not with me. Two. What about the threats from Connelly? If we’re looking at evidence . . .’

He shakes his head.

‘Yeah. But didn’t we all get them at some time? I got dog shit wiped across my windscreen. Jenny Smith got a voodoo doll. Load of others got other stuff. But only yours came true? Why you, Jan? Why you?’

I can feel the tears prick my eyes. He doesn’t believe me. Mike doesn’t believe me.

‘Why anyone? What makes someone a victim of crime? Isn’t it random and never their own fault?‘ I picture Bessy and Colin waiting for news on Thomas. ‘What about them kiddies killed in the Moors Murders? Why them? Why their parents? Do you know that there are missing teenagers from around that time whose cases have never been solved? Why them too?’

He starts the engine. Then he turns to look at me.

‘I don’t know. And for the record, I can totally see your side of it and why you think fucking Connelly might have done this. I’ve sent my kids to my mum’s on the strength of it, you know, just in case. It’s not that. I’ve got a family, and I need my job. I need to stay alive too. So this isn’t about believing you, it’s about you being able to do your job and keep my back. I’ve got yours. Get a grip back on mine.’ He takes my hand. ‘I’m doing this because I love you, you know, as a mate, like. But I do know this. One false move on this one and I’ll have to think about going to Stewart. I don’t want to, but I don’t want either of us coppin’ for it either. Sorry, but you need to be on the ball.’

I nod.

‘Fine. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure I keep it under. After all, it’s my problem, isn’t it? Why should anyone else give a shit?’

‘I’m not saying that. But there’s a time and a place. People are starting to talk. It’s like everything is centred on Aiden, like that’s the most important part of the case, when we don’t have any evidence at all that it’s anything to do with Connelly. We do know he’s importing and distributing drugs. We just don’t know where he keeps them. We do know he’s supplying prostitutes. We just don’t know how he’s doing it. We do know that he’s got a string of associated businesses involved probably through a protection racket. We just don’t know how. We have evidence for all those things. What we need to do now is find out more about them.’

We’re stopped at traffic lights and he looks at me. ‘Look. I’m not saying don’t talk about it. God knows, we’ve worked together long enough. Like I said, you’re my mate. But please drop this connection for now. Wait until we do catch whoever is running the crime on Northlands. Like Jim said, it might not be Connelly. It might be Brian Jameson from out of town. He’s been seen there a couple of times. You’ve no proof. All the checks were carried out, all the procedures followed. Banks checked, school and friends interviewed. Maybe you should do the TV appeal now?’

The TV appeal. We hadn’t done it at the beginning, as I’d point blank refused. Sal thought it would help. He wanted to get everything done as soon as possible. Even after three days, he was thinking Aiden had run away. Coming round to the idea.

I’d seen Sal’s statement, that Aiden had taken his passport and bank card, but left a rucksack with some clothes in it. Uniformed had been round and searched Sal’s flat half-heartedly. They had filed a report saying that he had ‘gone out prepared.’

When I queried this, they queried why a fifteen-year-old would have taken his passport, if he had just nipped round the corner to a mate’s? It’s not a normal thing to do, they said. And it planted a seed of doubt in my mind.

Maybe they were right. Maybe I was a complete bitch of a bad mother and he had run away. I wondered if it was the biannual foreign holidays, or the expensive trainers that had done it? Or maybe the entertainment system he demanded for his room? Sal dutifully reminded me that ‘stuff’ couldn’t make up for a mother’s love, and wondered out loud if I had maybe loved my job a little too much.

But even then I knew that Aiden hadn’t run away. He’d never make himself suffer like that. He couldn’t live on the streets or in a squat. He couldn’t last five minutes. Also, he loved me. Underneath the bravado, the toughness, the black looks, and tantrums, he still loved his mum.

His goodnight hug was firm, and he sometimes slipped his arm around my shoulder. Taller than me at five-ten, he would tilt his head until his cheek rested on my hair. Only when no one was around, in the queue for the chip shop, or sometimes at the cinema. I could hear his heart beating. I knew that deep down he was a caring boy who wouldn’t hurt me. Or Sal. He wouldn’t.

A tear trickles down my cheek and I wipe it away before Mike can see it. Maybe the TV appeal would work. If he was out there, and he saw it, maybe it would melt his heart. I text Sal, who will be pleased that I’m giving in to his constant nagging.

Mike was driving toward Old Mill, where we would spend the morning on observations. Photographing people coming in and out, registrations of goods wagons, cars, that sort of thing. This afternoon we’d go back to the ops room and report the information and pull out the best leads for ourselves.

I had to do it. I still needed to survive. It’s a catch-22. You feel like you’re dying inside yet you have to appear normal outside. I thought it was bad when my mother died, shortly followed by my father. I felt like I was going mad and took two weeks off, which made it worse as I had to sit at home under Sal’s daytime television regime.

It was school holidays, and he insisted that Aiden shouldn’t go to the childminder because I was home. I explained that I was sick, needed time alone and he told me I was selfish. All three of us spent a full two weeks curled up on a sofa, watching
Midsummer Murders
Catch Phrase
, and a cacophony of children’s cartoons.

Sal and Aiden loved it, but I swung between worrying about work and wanting to scream and cry for my dead parents. When I returned to work, I was in worse shape than before my time off, but managed to hide it and gradually recover. Not this time.

My anger is seeping out of every pore, and as we park up at the end of Nelson Lane, where the Old Mill stands, I’m shaking.

Mike gets out the camera and the iPad. I usually take the notes, verify times and registrations. There’s an embarrassing silence between us and it makes things much harder than usual because I know Mike really does care about me. Sometimes I catch him looking sideways at me, making sure I am all right.

Container vehicles are queued up outside Connelly’s mill by eleven thirty, a backlog of unloading clearly holding them up. Several drivers have gotten out of their cabs and are drinking tea and coffee at a nearby portable food cabin.

With no words needed, we get out and sit on rickety white plastic chairs. We’re often undercover together and it just comes naturally now. Mike gets the drinks. I set up the conversation. I quickly get into role. I should have been an actress.

‘Is it that one over there, love?’

Mike nods and stirs his tea.

‘I think so.’ He turns to the driver nearest to him. ‘Is that the kitchen place, mate? We’re from Manchester. Don’t know the area.’

He turns around and smiles. His colleague also takes an interest.

‘Yep. That’s it. Connelly’s Kitchens. Good stuff too. But you usually order online. Not sure they have a shop here. Mainly supply trade, I think.’

I sigh.

‘Wasted journey then. Bloody hell. Might as well finish my tea.’

Mike goes in for the kill.

‘Where you from then? Local or . . .’

The driver nods.

‘Liverpool. Bringing this stuff straight from the dock. I’m freelance, pick up consignments that have been delivered. Easy money.’

His friend obliges.

‘Me too. Thing is, if you work for someone you have a wage. In this game, you can charge what you want as long as you get the stuff to them quick.’

Mike frowns.

‘Right. I might be interested in that myself. Need a license, do you, or what, a special driving permit?’

The second man leans forward.

‘What you doing now, mate?’

‘Just been laid off.’ I follow their gaze to our VW Golf. ‘Proper in the shit, I am, debts everywhere. On top of that, our kitchen’s had it. Had to have a damp ceiling ripped out along with all the fittings and we’re managing with a camping stove. Using all our savings on the car and the kitchen.’

The driver taps his chin.

‘I might be able to help you out, pal. I might need some help unloading and loading at the dock. Can you get there early? Start in a couple of days? Temp, like, but it might help?’

Mike’s nodding enthusiastically. ‘That’d be great. How can I get in touch with you?’

They both produce business cards. Mike pockets them and we get up.

‘I’ll ring you then, tomorrow. That’d be brilliant, mate.’

I move closer to them.

‘I can’t thank you enough. He’s been out of his mind with worry. And boredom. There only so much Jeremy Kyle you can watch.’

We walk away and get back in the car. Mike’s happy again now.

‘Result. I’ll get clearance for that and you can carry on with this obs on your own. OK?’

I nod.

‘Good work. You should get something from that.’

He’s more serious now.

‘Although I don’t think you should do the TV thing now. They’ve just clocked you and they’d recognize you.’

I sigh.

‘Shit. I’ve texted Sal now and he’s probably arranged it. He’ll just have to do it on his own.’

He shrugs.

‘Or you could dye your hair and wear glasses or something. Might help with Hurricane, anyway. If you’re right about the threats, a change of appearance wouldn’t hurt would it, not with you on obs?’

He drops me off at my car and speeds off into the distance. He’s going back to the station to get the OK on taking the job. I can imagine him, all excited and enthusiastic. That’s what we live for in this job, a productive lead that can get you right into the centre of the action. In this case, not too close, because all Connelly’s cronies know us from last time.

I tap my fingers on the steering wheel. It would have been much better if Stewart had replaced us all. He’s brought in some new people, mostly the girls who would infiltrate the prostitute ring and some men who would go undercover on the drugs. But we were still here, the old faithful, on the observation jobs. It’s probably just as well really.

I wonder if Mike’s right and I should be off sick. But if I sign off I’m out of touch with Connelly and I’m still sure that it’s him who’s taken Aiden. I look at Old Mill, a dark monster in the distance, and wonder if Aiden’s in there somewhere, whether they’re keeping him tied up. Is he cold? Has he got enough to eat? Does he miss me?

It’s happening again. It’s like something is punching through everyday life to remind me that I have serious problems underneath. I wipe my eyes and look in my rearview mirror.

Just as I pull off I see it. A small bundle of fur, tied with blue garden string to my back bumper. I jump out and run around to the back of my car. I know before I get there that it’s Percy.

He’s mangled and his back legs are twisted, and covered in dust and blood. I pick him up hoping that he’s still alive, but, of course, he’s cold and dead. Oh my God. My poor cat. My little friend. All I really have left. I wrap him in an old fleece I have in the boot and lodge him behind the spare wheel. I get back in the car and turn the key, checking myself for the panic or fear that I felt at Bessy’s. There is none. Only a droning determination and a deep anger.

It’s happening again. Just like last time, and on the first day of the operation. Someone is out to get me. Us. Probably already got Aiden. Is that what this is about? Take Aiden to get at me? So it is my fault? I’m always like this when I feel guilty. Always working the blame round to myself. That way I can reconcile the hurt and the emptiness.

I turn right and see the black BMW pull up behind me, bumper to bumper. Probably one of Connelly’s men. I take the registration number and commit it to memory. Just in case. I drive back to the station, slowly, intentionally trying to catch the driver’s eye in my mirror. That’s the sort of woman I am. Straightforward. I don’t hold with secrecy or beating around the bush. When I’m pissed off everyone knows it.

As I cross the security gate and the BMW slopes slowly by, I stare at the man behind the wheel. Then I take Percy out of the boot of my car, cradling him gently, and carry him into the operations room. I march into Jim Stewart’s office.

‘Exhibit A in this operation’s payback. My dead cat. It was tied to the back bumper of my car when I was on obs with Mike.’

The operations room is perfectly quiet. Jim nods.

‘Sorry, Jan. That’s awful. Let’s log it.’ It wasn’t the response I was expecting. He fetches an incident report form from his filing cabinet and writes the detail at the top. ‘So the cat was alive and well when you left this morning?’ I get a mental picture of Aiden, age eight, opening the box containing baby Percy. The delight on his face.

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