Death On Tyneside
Agnes trembled with shock as she stared down at the gruesome corpse hidden behind a large bush. The face of the man had been lacerated mercilessly and was covered in dried blood. One glazed eye, hanging from its socket, lay over his cheek and appeared to be staring up at her. The hands, like the face, were also badly slashed. She wanted to turn and run away from the grisly scene, but at that moment, her legs wouldn't even begin to move. But her mind was working overtime. What on earth was DCI Alan Johnson going to say when he discovered that she become accidentally involved in yet another murder?
* * *
It was around ten o'clock on a rather chilly morning in March when Agnes Lockwood stepped out of the taxi. She looked across the road towards the River Tyne. Beyond, on the other side of the river, were the Sage building and the Baltic Art Gallery. Her gaze drifted a little further upstream, to where the Tyne Bridge towered above them all. She had been so looking forward to coming back to Tyneside and she certainly wasn't disappointed.
A movement close by caught her eye. The Millennium Bridge had begun to tilt upwards to allow a vessel to float beneath the massive structure. Some people waited for hours to see this spectacle, yet it was happening in front of her eyes right now. It was almost as though the bridge was raising a salute to her return.
Agnes smiled to herself as she took in the scene. How good it was to be back.
Her thoughts were interrupted when the taxi driver asked whether she would like him to take her suitcases into the hotel.
“You seem to have brought a great deal of luggage,” he added, eyeing the three large suitcases. “It looks like you're planning a long stay here on Tyneside.”
“Thank you, Ben. That is most kind.” She smiled at the driver. “I'm not sure how long I'll be here, so I packed for all eventualities.” She looked down at the suitcases. “Though I think I went a little over the top.” She paused. “Would you leave them at the reception desk and tell the staff I'll be there in a few minutes?”
Agnes had met Ben, a young Asian man, on her last visit to Tyneside. She had hailed a cab one day and asked him to take her on a tour around the city. Since then, whenever she'd required a taxi, she had given him a call.
Glancing back across towards the river, she thought back over the years. She recalled how her mother had spoken fondly of her roots on Tyneside. Yet, to the best of her knowledge, her mother had never returned. Not even for a short visit.
But since visiting the area a few months ago, Agnes now understood her mother's dilemma. Perhaps she believed that, once back, she would have been reluctant to leave.
Agnes had found it difficult to pack her bags and return to Essex when she was last here, even in the knowledge she would be able to come back a few months later and stay as long as she wanted. The idea had been good; visit the area, before returning home to prepare for her flight to Australia where she was meeting up with her sons. But it hadn't been that simple. Once here, she had been loath to leave. Even while she was away on the other side of the world, her thoughts had kept drifting back to Tyneside… and to Alan.
Alan was an old school friend, now a Detective Chief Inspector with the Newcastle Police. They had met quite by chance on her last visit and it had been fun to catch up after all these years. They enjoyed each other's company and they'd had dinner together several times. She had even assisted him in a murder inquiry. Though she knew he hadn't really wanted her to get involved. She had missed him while she was away and had thought about him often.
“The receptionist is having your luggage sent up to your room. So there's no need to rush inside the hotel.” Ben's voice broke into her thoughts.
“Thank you, Ben.” Agnes reached into her handbag and pulled out her wallet. “Now, how much do I owe you?”
He grinned. “This one is on the house.” He gestured towards the taxi. “I didn't turn on the meter.”
“Ben, you can't give free…”
But she got no further as Ben held up his hands. “I insist. Anyway, as the meter was off, I have no idea what to charge. It's just good to see you back here on Tyneside… and before you say another word, you'll recall that on your last visit, you insisted on paying me for a ride, which never actually took place.”
Nevertheless, Agnes opened her wallet and pushed a twenty-pound note into his hand. “Okay, agreed. The ride was free today. That,” she added, pointing towards the note, “is merely a tip.”
Ben smiled and shook his head as he climbed into his taxi. “I should know by now. I can't win where you are concerned. But,” he added, waving the money in the air, “thank you very much.”
Agnes watched as the taxi pulled away. Ben was a good man and she knew the money would be used wisely. During her last visit, she had learned that Ben and his wife had a son with health issues and most of their money went on trying to make his life more comfortable. But they were proud people and wouldn't accept charity. A large tip now and again was the least she could do.
Once the taxi had rounded the corner, Agnes decided to take advantage of having a few minutes to spare before checking into the hotel. She crossed the road and stood by the river, just as she had done on the first day of her last visit.
Back then, while she had been gazing down at the water, it had crossed her mind how clean it looked, compared to the way she remembered it. Heavy industry had dominated the quayside all those years ago, causing the river water to be murky. She had even wondered how many people may have died by simply falling in the river during those years. Or whether murderers might have dumped bodies here, in the hope they would never be seen again.
She closed her eyes and heaved a sigh. That day, when all these thoughts had fluttered through her head, it had never occurred to her things like that still happened. Yet, not long afterwards, she had discovered the body of a man floating around the Swing Bridge, only a short distance from where she was standing right now.
Pushing the thought from her mind, she swung around to face the tall, graceful building in front of her. It was time to check into The Millennium Hotel.