Chloe - Never Forget
Jim the dogsbody. A man with a van. Cleaner of other people’s dirty work.
Main line of business? Men. Bad men. Men he couldn’t care less about. Men who deserved to die.
But a woman? And more to the point, a woman he’d respected. A brave woman who’d deserved better than to be fried like a kipper.
She peered down at a man in uniform, his face youthful and lean. The glossy black-and-white finish to the print dated it seventies or early eighties. She knew who the officer was – and why these men wanted him. His name was Tanner. Frank Tanner. At least, that was his name in 1984. A good cop. And what is more, a witness, like her, to wicked men like her captors.
He lifted the corpse into the back of his van, the smell of muck heavy in the air, sheep bleating in the fields beyond. He hated farms. The smells, the remoteness, the stinking countryside peopled by weirdos crying ‘tally-ho’ while brandishing horse whips. People like those two thugs who’d employed him on the job, sent him to this desolate shithole.
Jim was no sheepshagger. He was a city boy. Through and through. And he guessed she’d been a city girl.
Thoughts wormed through patches of fertile soil in the woman’s shattered mind before she cottoned on. Chloe had discovered the whereabouts of this ex-policeman, anticipating future events like the true genius she’d proven to be, and now these men were searching for him – and her – out of fear the twain should meet and conspire against them.
Never before had he felt sorry for a victim of his murky trade. Even when faced with certain doom, the way she’d acted so blasé struck Jim as superhuman. Could he have coped with such torture?
Of one thing Jim had no doubt – he still had the stomach for the job. Tough-guy John had offered his usual excuses. He had a bad back; besides, he was taking his lass out; besides, he had a debt to settle with a bookie. But Jim knew the real reason. One more look at death, one mere smell of it, was all his buddy needed to depart with the fish butty rumbling in his tummy.
The woman didn’t try to suppress the Cheshire-cat grin spreading across her bleeding face. Chloe had found her man, and protected him from certain recrimination at the hands of Ray-Bans and Baseball Cap.
He still had the heart for the job too, though recent events had forced him to question his customary hard-nosed attitude to the waste products of his profession.
Ironically, that same protection wasn’t afforded to herself. The torture she was suffering bore the prickly truth that her dear Chloe was prepared to put anyone at risk, including her closest guardian, family and friends, in the pursuit of justice. But there was no bad taste in the captive’s mouth. Chloe was a true heroine. She’d cared for nothing but the ultimate truth.
How could it be right for two grown men to slaughter a frail bird? His employers troubled Jim. He’d done jobs for them before – beatings, reprisals; his stock in trade – but this time they’d gone too far. They’d promised a clean outcome, but they’d lied. They’d made him and John look stupid. And now Jim couldn’t look the lassie in the face, even though she wasn’t staring back.
With a smooth motion the younger man grabbed her by the throat, lifting her chair over, and now standing astride her, his right foot firmly crushing her rib cage, he wedged the Taser between her thighs and pulled the trigger. Her lower half twisted and threshed helplessly as he gradually guided the stun gun upwards. Then he tilted it ninety degrees before shoving it up her, blood streaming in all directions like some macabre reconstruction of a baby being born.
She’d never stare again.
A true heroine.
And no bad-looking lassie either, considering her present state. Although Jim was the kind of guy who had sex on the brain every minute of the day, right now all he felt was a deep rush of admiration that made his hairs stand on end.
He shook his head and tried to blot out the memory of the horrors he’d just witnessed. The woman may’ve suffered an undignified death, but she’d damn well receive an honourable burial.
The baby cried, cried, cried some more, cried herself silly in her cradle of tangled wood and rope. At last, the crying stopped.
Jim hauled the inert bag into the van and held his breath. Slammed the back doors shut.
Back at Elland Road HQ, Sant went in search of Holdsworth and her new lead, but as soon as he’d negotiated the revolving doors he was confronted with the purple-veined, pudgy face of Assistant Chief Constable Bill Gilligan, aka the Old Man.
Old Man Gilligan wasn’t especially old, but his penchant for antiquated clothing had earnt him the nickname. To prove a point, this afternoon he sported a baggy, double-breasted suit jacket that might have looked good on Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep.
‘This way, Inspector,’ he pointed, breath scented with a shot of Bell’s. ‘You should count yourself lucky. CC Lister has volunteered to give over a little of his precious time to you and your eccentric work practices.’
‘You’ll have to wait and see.’
Sant weighed up the odds of finding some worthy excuse to avoid the inevitable, but the scales were weighed against him. He’d just have to grin and bear it.
‘After you,’ Gilligan smirked as they arrived at Chief Constable Edward Lister’s frameless fibreglass doors, coats of arms boldly frosted over them.
Detective Inspector Carl Sant scanned his fingerprint and entered. It was the first time he’d seen the ultra-modern office occupied by the man at the helm. It certainly befitted authority. About the size of a squash court and encased in blue-tinted glass, it offered ample room for ‘Lanky Lister’ and his two secretaries. Young and blonde and feminine. Nothing but the best.
Sant breezed past the girls and their sharp looks before nodding once at the gangly figure of the chief constable. A giant, royal blue badge emblazoned on glass above him proudly stated: WEST YORKSHIRE POLICE * IN THE PUBLIC SERVICE. The new smell of the place irritated Sant. He pinched his nose, then realised the gesture might be misinterpreted as impertinence by his chief of command.
You don’t smell, sir, but everything about you stinks to high heaven.
Lister poked out his bony hand. Sant stared at it for a moment before shaking it. The man’s uniform was, as always, immaculate. Rumour had it his leather shoes were polished twice daily – and not by their owner. A team of community support officers took it in turns with the spit and elbow grease (more spit than grease).
Lister even had his nails manicured and his hair cut Action Man-style to the exact shape of his square skull every three weeks without fail. The imperceptible difference it made to his appearance would require biometric profiling of photo-fits before and after. And that’s how he liked others to see him.
Constant. Unchanging. Steadfast. Just like the character underneath.
‘We hear you’ve been withholding information,’ Lister spat. ‘No, let me rephrase. We know you’ve been withholding information.’
Sant shook his head. ‘Withholding is the wrong word. I was merely— ’
‘Superintendent Hardaker has told us the facts. The address on the Post-It found by Dr Wisdom’s forensic team in the grounds of Kirkstall Abbey just happens, by pure coincidence, to match the address of a woman linked to your missing person case.’ Lister stood erect, finger jabbing, eyes rolling. ‘Her name is Susan Smith and she’s a former neighbour of Chloe Lee, the missing girl. So unless you’re too stupid to join up the dots, I know no other word than withholding to describe your actions, or should I say, inactions, over the matter.’
Sant breathed deeply, searching for inner calm. ‘Me and DC Capstick inspected the premises the day before yesterday. Only then did we discover Chloe had visited the place in the summer, a few weeks before she disappeared. We found evidence that a small package had been removed from the loft. Chloe probably knew something was stored there and went to find it while the current resident was distracted. This resident, a Miss Rhodes, never uses the loft, which explains why whatever was removed may have belonged to the previous tenant, Susan Smith.’
Lister made a slow hand-clap. ‘Well done, Inspector. Forty-eight hours later, you’ve finally let us know the score. So does this mean that each and every time you find out something important, it will require me to arrange a personal hearing with you before I get to know what the fuck is going on?’
‘I was in the process—’
‘Bullshit! You had no intention of sharing your little secret. It was only thanks to the discovery by forensics that it came out in the wash.’
Sant was tempted to say that it was his own intuition that had tipped off forensic officers about possible locations where Sergeant Dryden could have met his informant before boarding that bus and meeting his doom – but he chose not to.
‘From now on I’m sticking to you like superglue, DI Sant. And as for Detective Constable Capstick, he will be redeployed if I don’t see a change in your style.’
Sant gulped hard. He didn’t want to lose his partner. Capstick wasn’t the bravest right-hand man he’d known, but he was a learner, a trier, a loyal companion. And besides, Sant was weaning the university graduate off his beloved textbooks by throwing him into the deep end of real-world CID work.
‘The platform is yours.’ Lister fiddled with his Longines watch. Sant kept hands in pockets, the fake Rolex attached to his left wrist out of sight. ‘You’ve got ten minutes to reveal everything, and I mean everything, you know.’
‘Your missing person case. And the bearing it has on the murder of Sergeant Dryden.’
Sant stepped forward and took the chair Lister had offered him. He perched on it grudgingly before telling all.
Well… almost all.
The whole lot was common knowledge among the investigatory team. Everyone knew that two of the murdered bus passengers – Kate Andrews and Callum Willis – were friends of Chloe Lee. They’d been sat on the top deck behind Dryden, which suggested they were tailing the sergeant for some reason. Gilligan knew these facts intimately. The Old Man had personally interviewed Kate’s grieving parents at their home, beating Sant to the punch.
Sadly, a fourth person had been sat on the top deck, too. The killer. After shooting dead Dryden, Kate and Callum, the gunman had slaughtered four others on the bottom deck.
Sant reeled off a few more known truths, including the murdered bus driver’s previous for armed robbery in the 1980s, though how this past crime could spark off a motive for mass murder on a moving bus was beyond the powers of imagination.
Lister fixed eye contact with Sant until he’d finished speaking, then turned to the Old Man for ratification. Gilligan nodded once, glumly, before pinching the dimple in his passé plaid tie.
‘What about the numbers?’ Lister probed.
Sant took a moment to register the question. Lister meant the numbers Dryden had hastily marked on the misty bus window seconds before dying of two bullets shot from close range.
3-1-5 was the verdict by consensus. Though 3-1-S had not been ruled out.
The inspector chose his words carefully. ‘Possibly a phone number or some other number linked to Sergeant Dryden’s informant. We’ve done a BT directory search. Nothing’s come up.’
There was plenty that Sant had left out, not least his gut instincts on Dryden’s etchings. The 3 and 1, he believed, meant a date: the 31st of a particular month. Which month was unclear. The other marking – a 5 or an S – was possibly neither, but actually a half-complete figure 8. If so, Dryden was part way through marking a year in the 1980s. Maybe.
Sant had acted on impulse by taking a trip to the newspaper microfilm archive at the university library. And with a little help from a PhD student called Mia he’d identified a likely candidate for the date theory.
The 31st of October 1984. The day two police officers were shot in Leeds. Sergeant George Gray murdered. PC Frank Tanner wounded. The two wanted men in the shootings somehow got away.
Two and a half years later, after an error-ridden investigation, a local criminal called Martin Humphreys was posthumously identified as the gunman who’d pulled the trigger on that dreadful day. He was never brought to trial because he accidentally, and fatally, shot himself whilst evading police following an armed raid on a supermarket.
His accomplice in the Halloween 1984 shootings, Alfred Shaw, was then acquitted of murdering Sergeant Gray, but found guilty of conspiring to rob and failing to disclose information. Soon after being imprisoned, however, Shaw was released on a legal technicality. He’d been denied proper access to a solicitor while in custody.
Lister and Gilligan were oblivious to Sant’s archive digging. The inspector would reveal all when the time was right. For now he needed more meat on bones connecting the bus murders and Chloe Lee’s disappearance with the killing of Gray.
‘You’re sure you’re not holding anything back?’ Lister’s protruding eyeballs stared deep into Sant’s retinas.
‘Certain,’ Sant lied.
Lister turned to his trusty comrade. ‘I’ll leave him under your wing, ACC Gilligan. Keep him in check. Any more nonsense, report him to me immediately. I’ve got more important things to deal with, but I won’t hesitate to take remedial action if necessary. On your way.’