Read The Ties That Bind Online

Authors: Erin Kelly

Tags: #Crime, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Fiction

The Ties That Bind (10 page)

An uncredited but professional photograph from 1965 was clearly an attempt to recreate David Bailey’s infamous portrait of the Kray twins that had helped to catapult them from the criminal underworld into celebrity. Grand was slightly in front of Jacky, probably to allow perspective to redress the difference in their bulk. The men were almost comically different, like Jack Sprat and his wife; Grand, in the foreground, was all sinew and threat while Nye was a pudgy face over his shoulder.

There was a snap of them inside a nightclub, flanked by cocktail waitresses. Grand’s arms were folded; Nye’s sausage fingers groped the barely covered arse of a barely legal dollybird. The only hint of violence about his person were the knuckleduster rings he wore that gleamed gold even through the monochrome. A shot from 1968, the last year of Nye’s life, evidently showed a celebration; a spurting arc of champagne that shot from the shaken bottle in Jacky Nye’s hands carved the picture in two. Grand eyeballed the camera while Nye laughed, showing his fillings. There were no other pictures except a few from the nineties, showing an older, smaller Joss Grand shaking hands with various local charity workers and dignitaries.

The final website was one that Luke hesitated to visit, not because he was squeamish but because it looked as though it might contain the kinds of images you didn’t want lurking around in your hard drive. It was dedicated to torture methods used by enforcers from the military to the mob. From thumbscrews to waterboarding, it listed the various ways that men would hurt other men until they cried for their mothers. The piece that mentioned Grand was prefaced by a poor scan of newsprint that Luke had to squint to read.

 

Evening Argus
Saturday, 30 May, 1964
Third Victim of Rope Attacker?
By Keith Vellacott

 

An unidentified man is in a critical condition in the Royal Sussex Hospital after his body was found wrapped in a blanket and dumped on the hospital steps yesterday afternoon. He had been bound and gagged and his face burned with sulphuric acid. Doctors say his case is one of the worst they have ever seen, with the man continuing to scream even after being sedated to the point of unconsciousness.
He is the third man to present at hospital showing similar wounds this year. Welts on the wrists and ankles and tears in the quadriceps muscles are consistent with the method of restraint used by Joss Grand in his prolonged attack on Brighton proprietor Mario Zammit in 1957.

 

All the victims are local business owners, and all claimed not to know who their attackers were. Police have asked that anyone with information contact DC John Rochester at Brighton Police Station. All communications will be treated in strictest confidence.

 

The report was grim reading in itself, but more disturbing was the accompanying note from an eager contributor calling himself ‘Slicer’ who had provided detailed instructions on how to restrain a man in this way. The recipe began with a blow to the head to stun the victim and talked the aspiring torturer through the next stages, from the ideal thickness of rope used to the most secure knots, which were described with the dispassionate precision of a boy scout trying to secure a tent-peg. Luke shuddered. That was the problem with the internet: stuff like this was accessible not just to people like him, responsible people with an academic background and a professional interest in putting crime into context, but also the nutters who shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a broadband connection.

As Luke read about ropes at the wrist and the acid in the face, he recast the little old man he had just met. The bunch of violets in his trembling hand was now eclipsed by the aggression in his voice. It was impossible, however, to believe that a Catholic lady pensioner could somehow be part of this picture.

He began a new search, this time cross-referencing Grand’s name with Kathleen Duffy’s. Nothing. Combining her name with Jacky Nye’s generated the same negative result. Now he typed in ‘Kathleen Duffy,’ and ‘Brighton.’ An over-achieving schoolgirl popped up but there was no trace of Grand’s Kathleen, the woman whose holy ghosts shadowed his walls. Perhaps she had left a real paper trail somewhere, but as far as the internet was concerned, she had lived a life (and died a death) of no public consequence.

Joss Grand’s reaction left no doubt that she had been of immense importance to him. She must have been quite a woman for the loss of her to reduce a man like him to tears. What was it that he had said to his driver? ‘She was the only one who knew.’ So she alone had taken some secret to the grave? No, that couldn’t be right: by implication, the driver must know at least some of the story that Grand was referring to, as he had needed no explanation.

Inspiration flashed scarlet in his mind. Could Kathleen Duffy be the missing witness? He wanted to get hold of Michael Duffy and ask whether his grandmother had left behind a red coat, or a picture of her wearing one. Googling Michael Duffy produced the opposite problem: without a location to narrow it down, there were more responses than could be sifted in a lifetime. An image search didn’t pull up anything that resembled the man he’d met. He closed the laptop and wondered what the next step was.

He tore through the plastic folder that Duffy had left but there was no contact number, only the bare records of the rent she had paid. Was this significant in itself? What had she known, what had she seen that would cause a man as avaricious as Grand to let her live in one of his properties virtually for nothing?

To solve the private mystery of what Kathleen Duffy knew, and what her relationship to Joss Grand had been, must be to unlock the public one of who killed Jacky Nye. Whatever it was she had known, whatever it was she had seen, she had taken it with her to the grave. The thought of being the one to exhume it made Luke feel more alive than he had for months.

Chapter 14

Further investigations must wait until he knew what the repercussions of Joss Grand’s visit had been for Charlene. There was no way that she could work for a company like JGP without knowing the legend of her chairman. If she knew even half of what he had just read, that she had still taken a risk for Luke was a measure of her loyalty. What Luke saw as a touching favour to a friend, Grand would no doubt view as gross professional misconduct. She had bypassed the rigid company protocol and re-let a house without first putting it back on the books. She would be in trouble on two counts; firstly, of not making the company enough money and secondly, if her theory that it didn’t comply with housing regulations was true, of putting JGP at risk of prosecution. And that was before he even considered the cloudy complication of Grand’s obvious emotional link to this particular property.

He pulled out his phone, deleted the ten missed calls and twelve texts from various DON’T ANSWERs and sent a deliberately neutral message to Charlene.

 

You got time for a quick beer after work?

 

Her reply flashed back in seconds.

 

Good idea. We need to talk. Fortune of War at 6.

 

No Char, no kiss. It was only four o’clock but maybe, thought Luke, grabbing his keys and his wallet, he could do with a drink already.

 

The Fortune of War was tucked into the arches on the seafront. Its interior was tiny, dark and empty but at tables outside, drinkers drained plastic glasses, a determined, last-day-of-the-season feeling to everyone’s enjoyment. The sea was a vivid blue cloth trimmed with white lace. A trio of bearded musicians – drum, guitar, bass – were jamming, an endless noodling acid-jazz riff. A man with the tangled yellow curls of the year-round surfer caught Luke’s gaze, held it for a second too long, and winked. Luke stretched blushing cheeks into a reciprocal smile, but then Charlene was crunching across the pebbles in her work skirt, calling his name. The surfer, evidently taking her for a girlfriend, gave a can’t win ’em all shrug and turned back to his beer.

‘So,’ said Charlene, draining the first third of the pint Luke had waiting for her, ‘I take it you had a visit from our esteemed chairman.’ She gave him a hard flat stare.

Luke trod carefully. ‘Are you in trouble?’ No point in telling Charlene what he’d read today until he knew where she stood.

‘I was
shitting
myself,’ said Charlene. ‘I mean, how was I supposed to know he was going to turn up on your doorstep? As far as we knew he hadn’t set foot in one of his own properties for years. We thought he just looked at them through a car window. I was like, what the fuck was I
thinking
?’

‘But you’re OK? I mean, he’s not angry that you’re letting me stay on for the peppercorn rent? I’ll move out tomorrow if it’s going to be a problem.’

‘No, that’s the weird thing,’ said Charlene. ‘I told him that you were a mate and that we could turf you out if he wanted to get in there and do the place up so we can charge a decent rent on it. But he said . . .’ she wrinkled her nose in puzzlement, ‘He said it was too soon to touch the place, and if it was up to him he’d never tenant it again. It’s weird. It’s so out of character. Usually if a place is vacant for more than a month he’s all over it, wanting to know why we haven’t let it. It doesn’t fit.’

Only something as irrational as love would make a grasping landlord preserve the beloved’s house in poor condition, making no profit. Luke understood that impulse: the homes of the dead remained emotive long after their residents had moved on. He remembered his own grandmother’s death and how painful they had all found it when a new family had moved into the council house that had only ever housed Considines. He remembered the way Grand had traced shaking fingers over the walls, a touch as gentle as a lover’s.

‘I think your boss and my dead old lady were an item. What do you reckon?’

Charlene shrugged her shoulders in distaste or disinterest. ‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘I told you he was quirky. God knows how his mind works. Ours is not to reason why . . . Anyway, looks like we’ve got away with it.’

‘Well, thank fuck for that,’ said Luke. His pendulum of concern swung immediately back to himself and his story.

‘I don’t suppose you’ve got a contact for that bloke who came round? The son?’

‘Why would you want one?’ she said, looking at him strangely and he knew she was onto him. Time for a pre-emptive confession.

‘I know about Grand’s history. I looked him up.’

Charlene rolled her eyes.

‘You’ve been holding out on me. Why didn’t you tell me who he was? What his background was? I mean, an unsolved gangland murder from the sixties? It’s my dream book, just waiting to be written.’

She held up her palm. ‘Stop right there. You don’t get to work for JGP for the best part of a year without hearing the rumours. And yes, I’ve had a look around the net myself. I tell you why I didn’t tell you anything. Because I knew you’d get like
this
. Getting a nose for a story, wanting to write a book. That’s what you’re thinking, isn’t it? Look. Some cases stay unsolved. I don’t know what you think
you’re
going to find out that the detectives couldn’t, especially not now.’

The word ‘but’ died on his lips as Charlene’s hand, which had been slowly lowering, raised again. ‘Look, you’re already the bloke who I snuck into the cottage behind Mr Grand’s back. How do you think it’ll reflect on me if you turn out to be the bloke who goes digging around in his past, too? I’ve already taken one risk for you with that house, because you’re my friend and because you’re in trouble. I
need
this job, Luke. Have you got any idea what the employment market’s like at the moment? Mr Grand could sack me tomorrow morning and he’d have three hundred people applying for my post by the end of the day. I’ve got to cover rent on my dad’s flat, and if these cuts get any worse I’m going to have to find the money to pay for a carer, too . . .’ She slapped the tears away from her cheeks and tried to glare at Luke, who knew better than to acknowledge them. The only thing Charlene hated more than self-pity was other people’s pity. ‘And what if you did find out something dodgy? You get your story but if my boss goes down, what happens to my job then? Either way, I’m fucked. I’m warning you, Luke. If you rock the boat and I lose my job because of it, I’ll never forgive you.’

‘OK, OK,’ said Luke, desperate to spare her the indignity of further tears. ‘No problem, I’ll leave it. I’ll write about something else.’

The band cranked up the volume and conversation became impossible for a while. Luke and Charlene sat before the sinking sun. At seven, she left for home. He bought himself another drink, rolled a cigarette and scanned the crowd for a mess of blond hair, but his surfer had gone.

Luke did not usually believe in destiny – any fatalistic notions he might have had were crushed by Jem’s conviction that their love was written in the stars – but as he rolled things around in his mind it was impossible not to believe that this story had somehow been delivered to him. It was the period that most interested him in all history and the subject that made his heart beat faster than any other. And here he was, a writer living in Joss Grand’s property with the ghost of someone who had known something significant, who had
been
someone significant. Lover or witness or both, he had to know. Unlike Earnshaw’s story, this book was chasing him.

The starlings on the West Pier suddenly burst into life and swooped overhead in their evening murmuration. In a series of stunning formations they moved as one organism, contracting and expanding, curling and flattening, blocking the sun then peeling back to reveal it again. His empty stomach growled. He thought of Charlene, cooking her dad’s dinner in Whitehawk, and winced. He didn’t see how he could break his promise to her to stay away. He didn’t see how he could keep it.

Chapter 15

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