Vengeance On Tyneside
Agnes Lockwood was in a good mood when she stepped off the train at Newcastle Central Station. She had spent the most delightful day at the coast, recalling the wonderful times she had spent there as a child, before her father had whisked his family abroad when he had been promoted to a new post. Now, all she wanted to do was get back to the hotel and relax in a warm bath and get dressed, before Alan – Detective Chief Inspector Alan Johnson, to give him his full title – picked her up for a dinner engagement.
Though her mind was still dwelling on the evening ahead, as she sauntered towards the station exit, she felt sure she heard a faint cry for help. She stopped and glanced around, but couldn’t see anyone in any sort of distress. On the contrary, everyone seemed in good spirits; intent on getting to wherever it was they were going. However, as she continued towards the exit, where she hoped she would find a taxi, she heard the cry again, though it sounded weaker this time.
Perhaps she was allowing her over-active mind to take control. She had done that twice before in recent months and both times it had almost taken her to the point of being murdered. Maybe this time she should walk away. But when she heard the cry again, she knew she couldn’t do that. Someone needed help. Looking around, she realised the sound had come from the row of rubbish bins lined up by a wall, not too far from where she was standing.
Agnes braced herself as she walked towards the bins. It could be that when she got there she would find nothing to worry about. Yet, at the same time, from past experience, she was well aware that she might find something horrifying.
Now, having reached the rubbish bins, she took a deep breath before peering behind them. For a moment, despite having prepared herself for the worst, Agnes was stunned at the sight of a young woman lying there. Her hands were clutched to her chest, desperately trying to stem the flow of blood streaming from her body and pooling on the concrete ground beneath her. Her blue eyes, wide open, were filled with terror. There were streaks of blood on her face and hair, probably from trying to brush her hair away from her eyes. One of her shoes was missing.
Lying to one side of her was a knife – but not the sort you might expect to find at the scene of a stabbing. This one looked like a penknife, though, admittedly, the blade was a little longer than any Agnes had ever seen before. Yet it still appeared to be a knife that could be folded and placed out of sight in someone’s pocket.
Agnes stared down at the woman, too shocked to move. Not only because of the sheer horror of the situation, but also for another reason. She recognized this woman. She had seen her earlier in the day.
This was the woman in the red dress.
* * *
With the weather being so hot in the city, Agnes had decided to take a trip to the coast. It was likely to be much cooler there due to the breeze rolling in from the tide. She had been planning to visit the coastal area for some time, but for some reason, she hadn’t yet got around to it.
Her first stopping off point had been Tynemouth. There, she had visited the remains of the Priory, which stood on the headland looking out over the North Sea. Then she had wandered along the coastline towards Cullercoats, a small village once known for its fishing community. How sad it was that the row of small white cottages facing the sea had disappeared.
Tracing her mind back down the years, she recalled the cottages had been occupied by local fishermen and their families. Usually, fish caught earlier in the day had been placed on tables set up outside the front doors of the cottages, waiting to be sold. Agnes reconciled herself with the knowledge that everything changed over the years. Nothing ever stayed the same.
Continuing on her walk, she finally reached Whitley Bay, another well-known holiday resort, only a mere ten miles from the city of Newcastle. She recalled how the beach used to be flooded with holidaymakers as far as the eye could see. Hired deck chairs and small tents, used for changing in and out of bathing costumes, had filled the scene.
Today, despite the glorious warm sunny weather, there was barely half that number of people sitting on the golden sands, which stretched from below where she was standing, right along the water’s edge to St. Mary’s Island in the distance. Some were playing around on the beach, while others were relaxing in the sun, topping up the tan they had probably picked up in another part of the world.
Her eyes misted, as she gazed at the long stretch of golden sands and thought back to the happy times she and her parents had spent there. If only Alan had been with her today. They could each have shared their own childhood memories of building sandcastles, darting in and out of the cold North Sea and enjoying the wonderful ice cream… and fluffy candy floss. Agnes was about to continue walking along the promenade, when two people suddenly popped into view. She recollected seeing them earlier, laughing and enjoying the day together. But they had disappeared when an overhanging rock had obstructed her view.
It had been the woman’s bright red dress which had first drawn Agnes’s attention to the couple, and now it had done so again. How could she miss it when it stood out so vividly against the golden sands? But what really concerned her was that the atmosphere between the couple seemed to have taken a change for the worse.
Agnes raised her binoculars to take a closer look. She had tucked them into her bag before setting out from the hotel, thinking they would be useful when looking at distant landmarks – not for invading someone’s privacy. But surely one tiny peek wouldn’t hurt.
No sooner had Agnes focused the lens on the couple than she saw the man grab the woman’s arm. For one moment, she thought he was going to drag her off somewhere. But then the woman appeared to say something to him. Agnes was certainly too far away to hear what was said. Nor was she near enough to read the woman’s lips. However, whatever she said seemed to calm him, as he released his grip and pulled his hand away.
What on earth could have happened in so short a time to cause such an upset in their relationship?
With the glasses still firmly fixed to her eyes, Agnes could tell that the woman looked younger than her male companion – maybe she was in her late teens or early twenties? It was hard to judge these days. But one thing was clear, she looked quite distressed. Maybe it was because of the way the man had grabbed at her.
But then, who wouldn’t be upset about something like that, Agnes thought, as she continued to watch the couple. As far as she was concerned striking out at anyone in any shape or form was against the law. Though, on reflection, there had been a few times, just a few months ago, when she would have happily given Richard Harrison a strong punch on the nose. But he was now in prison, together with his accomplice Joe Barnes, where they were destined to spend a great number of years.
Still watching the couple, Agnes couldn’t help wondering what could have happened to cause such an upset. They had looked so happy when she saw them earlier. She was still puzzling it over in her mind when the man suddenly reached out to take the woman’s hand. However, it appeared she wanted nothing more to do with him as she pulled her hand away and, throwing her navy blue jacket over her shoulder, she strode off, her long, blonde hair billowing gently in the sea breeze.
Focusing her attention on the man now, Agnes saw he was wearing a jacket or a jersey with the hood pulled up over his head, which meant she was unable to see his face. She was surprised that he didn’t follow his girlfriend and try to make it up with her. Instead, he stood watching her as she stomped off towards the promenade.
He waited until she was almost out of sight, before he decided to move away. Maybe he was hoping she would turn around and come back to him. If that was the case, then he must have been disappointed. Agnes was still watching him when he suddenly swung around and walked towards the steps leading to the promenade.
It was at that moment that she was able to see his face clearly for the first time. At a guess, she thought him to be in his late twenties – wasn’t that a little old to be wearing a hoodie? But then, what did she know? She was from a totally different generation.
Agnes felt thoughtful as she lowered her binoculars. Hopefully, all would be well with the couple. The man had certainly looked shocked about something. Perhaps he hadn’t expected her to storm off and leave him standing there. With a bit of luck, the argument would have been about something trivial and would be resolved over a coffee or a glass of wine. Though, she reminded herself, the man had grabbed the woman’s arm rather sharply.
Agnes recalled how, only a few short months ago, she and Alan had had a small disagreement – well, to her mind, it had been quite a large one. But at least he hadn’t struck out at her. Nevertheless, she had felt so hurt at his sudden outburst that she had almost packed her bags and left. But, for one reason or another, she had changed her mind.
Putting the whole incident from her mind, she continued to walk along the promenade. Now she could see the large white dome of the building once known as the Empress Ballroom. Even today, though it probably hadn’t been used as a ballroom for many years, the name sounded very impressive. When she had mentioned her plan to visit the coast to Alan, he had warned her that she would see many changes – especially in Whitley Bay.
“The Empress Ballroom has gone,” he had said. “Or, at least, that’s what I heard. I gather a new restaurant and also a rather nice teashop have been installed.” Though he had admitted he hadn’t been there to see it for himself. She decided to take a quick peek inside and was fascinated at how, standing on the ground floor, she was able to look right up to the dome.
Back outside, she turned up Marine Avenue and onto Park Road. The smell of freshly brewed coffee wafting from a nearby café reminded her that she hadn’t stopped for any refreshment since arriving on the coast. Perhaps it would be a good idea to have a coffee and something to eat, before making her way up to the Metro station, where she could catch a train back to Newcastle.
It was while Agnes was in the café, gazing through the large windows that she saw the young woman again. She was alone. It would appear the couple hadn’t made it up – not yet, anyway. Perhaps the man hadn’t been able to catch up with her.
Agnes was about to look away when she saw the woman glance towards the café. A moment later, she was outside the door. But, just as she was about to enter the café, the woman looked back down the road and changed her mind. In what seemed like a flash, she was gone.
Agnes scratched her head as she thought it through. Why hadn’t the woman entered the café? What had she seen to put her off? However, a couple of seconds later, she knew the answer. The man she had seen arguing with the woman earlier in the day, wandered along the path outside the café.
Oh dear, she thought. It seems the argument was pretty serious after all.
Agnes had thought they had simply had a lover’s tiff and would make it up very soon. However, that didn’t appear to be the case. Nevertheless, the day was still young. Perhaps the young woman would allow him to catch up with her after she had left him to stew for a little while longer.
Finishing her coffee, Agnes left the café and headed up the road to the Metro station. By now, she had put the young couple out of her mind. Instead, she was focusing on what to wear that evening. Alan was taking her to a dinner dance at a rather fine hotel. The event was to celebrate the long service of a senior officer at the police station.
The officer, Chief Superintendent Lowes, had already been to London to receive a commendation from the powers-that-be, but the Newcastle and Northumberland Police felt they should also put on a show of their own. After all, the man was from the Northumberland area and had spent forty years in the police force.
Agnes spent the thirty minute journey to Newcastle reflecting on her day at the coast. She had enjoyed seeing everything again, even though so much had changed. At first, she had been upset at the changes, but now she had got over it. For goodness’ sake, even the City of Newcastle had changed over the years and she had managed to accept it.
As the train pulled into Newcastle, Agnes turned her attention to the evening ahead.
The morning had run quite smoothly for DCI Alan Johnson, allowing him and his sergeant to catch up with some paperwork. Superintendent Blake was a stickler for having all paperwork up-to-date and filed away. The superintendent had only been at the Newcastle Police Station for a few months, but already he had upset several officers due to his fixed ideas on how things ought to be done.
“Okay, that’s sorted,” Alan said, throwing a bunch of papers in the out-tray. “Shall we pop out for a bite to eat? It’s on me.”
“Aren’t we supposed to file everything?” Sergeant Andrews asked.
“I just did.” Alan nodded towards the tray on his desk. “It’s all on the computer, anyway. If the superintendent wants it placed somewhere else, then he can pick it up and do it himself.”
The sergeant looked back down at the papers on his desk and hid a broad smile.
Andrews was well aware that the DCI and Superintendent Blake didn’t get on well together. Well, to be accurate, they didn’t get on at all. If it had been down to Blake, Alan would have been out on his ear a couple of months ago, when they’d had words in the incident room. However, on that occasion, Chief Superintendent Lowes had sided with the DCI. Therefore there was nothing Blake could do about it. Nevertheless, they continued to look daggers at each other whenever they met.
“Well, are you coming, or are you happy to sit there and fill in more forms?” By now, Alan was pulling on his jacket.
“Yes, of course I’m coming,” Andrews replied, jumping to his feet. “I’m almost done, anyway. So, boss, where are you taking me?”
He smiled as he began to list the names of a few high class restaurants in the area. However, he was sharply interrupted by the DCI.
“The pub, Andrews! Don’t push your luck.”