Free sample of 'Fair Means Or Foul' by Keith Wright.
Here is a free sample of the first two chapters my fourth book 'Fair Means Or Foul' with my compliments.
It was awarded 'Distinguished Favorite' in the New York City Bog Book Awards.
FAIR MEANS OR FOUL
A Novel from the Inspector Stark Series
Copyright @Keith Wright 2020
All rights reserved @Keith Wright 2020
All characters included in this book are fictitious
and are not intended to bear any resemblance to any
Individuals, alive or dead.
Contains realistic and graphic descriptions of death
and sexual assault. Includes issues which some readers
may find upsetting.
Some language, terminology and behaviours are a social commentary
of the period and is offensive.
It is intended for adults only.
If you are affected by an issue in the book contact:
ChildLine, Parentline, The Samaritans or check local charities.
Fair Means or Foul
The man sitting at the wheel of the car was 100 yards from his moment of destiny. He was oblivious to it, of course. Murderers don't necessarily realise they are killers until a few seconds before it happens. Murderers are sometimes just like you and me. He would never have dreamed that such a thing might happen. Ridiculous. If anyone had told him that today was the day he would turn into a killer, he would have looked at them quizzically; questioning their sanity; instead of questioning his own.
The murder investigation into the death of a young girl throws up several suspects, close to home and further away. The stream of inquiries spirals into a climax, and suddenly another young life hangs in the balance.
Detective Inspector Stark and his team prepare to do anything to stop further bloodshed. They are willing to use any means necessary, whether it be fair means or foul.
In his fourth crime thriller, critically acclaimed author Keith Wright once again regales the stark reality of murder, derived from his hands-on experience as a CID detective sergeant working in an inner-city area.
Also by Keith Wright:
One Oblique One
Trace and Eliminate
Addressed To Kill
Murder Me Tomorrow
For those children cruelly denied the love of a parent.
'Sometimes the questions are complicated
and the answers are simple.'
It is 1987. Pre-digital-age. The micro-chip was around but hadn't yet landed. People read the ingredients on cereal boxes at the breakfast table rather than peering into the hypnotic abyss of a mobile phone. Children dream of owning a multi-coloured – multi-nibbed pen – the height of wonderment, with no possible concept of owning a miraculous device that connects you to everything and everyone on the planet. They look forward to local events and activities, with family and friends, such as the cinema, the park, football matches, rock concerts, the travelling fair, circus and so on.
The iPhone is two decades away, and accessible technology has pretty much been the same for the last hundred years; some families have a cheap computer called a Spectrum with squishy keyboard keys. The landline telephone, however, is still the star of the show.
Nobody knows it is the calm before the storm.
Possessions change, but people don't. They mostly remain the same; driven by the same emotions and desires, lust and greed, they love, kiss, cry, fight, steal and kill, just as they have done on any other day in the last five thousand years of humanity.
Somebody suffers. Somebody seeks the truth. Somebody seeks justice.
In 1987 the truth-seeker was Detective Inspector David Stark.
The man sitting at the wheel of the car was 100 yards from his moment of destiny. He was oblivious to it, of course. Murderers often don't realise that becoming a killer is their fate until a few seconds before it happens. Murderers are sometimes just like you and me. We are not immune. There is no vaccine. He would never have dreamed that such a thing might happen. Ridiculous. If anyone had told him that today was the day he would turn into a killer, he would have looked at them quizzically; questioning their sanity; instead of questioning his own. His car was stuttering along in the grid-locked traffic. Stop. Start. 100 yards remained to the point of no return.
Nottingham's Goose Fair, held the first weekend of October every year, hadn't changed that much over the decades, it had just increased exponentially in size. Victorian children had slithered down the Helter-Skelter just the same as the squealing kids did now, in 1987, a hundred years later.
Thousands of people, young and old, streamed, from all directions, towards the beacon of bright lights and music. They appeared hypnotically drawn to a pulsating Godhead from a distance, like a zombie apocalypse of shuffling, disengaged humanity, with only a Gregorian chant missing from the seemingly dystopian scene.
One of Nottingham's oldest traditions, the Goose Fair, was more popular than ever, with a million visitors every year. A vast array of monstrous and exhilarating rides and 'prize every time' sideshows were the attractions nowadays, rather than a brace of geese and a cut of cheese, to temper Anglo Saxo hunger, such as it was when it first began. The living sea of humanity ebbed and flowed through the main thoroughfare, in a continuous wave, with tributaries of people filtering to various attractions while attempting to avoid elbows to the body, spilt drinks, and stepped-upon toes.
This year, however, there would be a sinister visitor, a spectre at the feast. Death would lay its grim, heavy shadow over the festivities, as random and indiscriminate as ever. This was not the first time that murder had swung by the fairground, nor would it be the last, but it would be the saddest of them all.
The younger children, wide-eyed and agog, were lifted on and off the merry-go-rounds. At the same time, the teenagers queued at death-defying rides with appropriate names such as 'The Paratrooper' and the spinning cages of 'Rock n Roll.' The more adventurous fairgoer might head for the 'Wall of Death' where motorbikes would swirl around a caged wall at breakneck speed and where occasionally people might indeed break their neck. Others would head towards 'Ron Taylor's Boxing Booth'. Boxing in various guises had been at the fair for two hundred years and had contributed to many fighters taking the sport up professionally. Here the local hard man could make the humbling discovery that he wasn't as hard as he thought, or a delusional drunkard could embarrass himself for the jeering crowd's entertainment.
Older visitors, stalwartly clutching their brandy snaps, were drawn nostalgically towards 'The Cakewalk' and would try to keep their feet as the wooden floor jerked back and forth. Others headed for the more sedate yet majestic galloping horses of the 'Carousel'.
The noises, sights and smells of the fair were so diverse and extreme that they threw the senses into a kaleidoscope whirl, reeling to the beat of different drums. The disorientating cacophony of pop music and chugging generators intertwined with screams and shouts from those 'enjoying' the rides.
Food of all descriptions, some indeed defying description, was available from numerous side stalls, pitched at a variety of angles on the uneven terrain. Smells of hot dogs, hamburgers, chips and candy floss teased the nostrils of the visitors who readily indulged, sometimes unwisely. The stomach can only take so much, and sixty-mile-an-hour rides are not conducive to a contented digestive system.
The site itself was surrounded by roads leading towards Nottingham city centre and into the town's Radford area. One of these roads was lined with small caravans, inhabited by fortune tellers, standing at the open doors, with yellow, toothy grins and weathered faces, beckoning in customers. Those seeking reassurance from these "mystics" would gain solace in the promise that all would be well. However, none of the fortune-tellers predicted the murder of a young girl within a stone's throw of their spiritual portal.
Goose Fair looked better from a distance. A bit like the ageing prostitutes that loitered around the perimeter of the site. Like the fair, once one was immersed in the experience, close-up, down, and dirty - the appeal can wane somewhat. The fair was in the heartland of the red-light area. Ladies of the night displayed their wares to any would-be punter who ventured inadvertently, or otherwise, into the nearby streets. It was their boom season.
Groups of criminals congregated within the fair site itself, with surreptitious drug-dealing going on among the bright flashing lights. It necessarily followed that so much light must also cast so much shadow.
Vagrants wandered around the periphery, picking up the occasional discarded food package, cigarette end, or perhaps visiting the slot machine arcades to check out the cash receptacles in case of a negligent winner.
Pickpockets came out of the closet for the easy pickings, living up to the "prize every time" claims of the stallholders, vying with each other for trade, spoilt for choice. Usually, it was a three-man team: the bumper to take the item, pass it quickly to a 'passer-by', and a third to act as a distraction in case of a challenge. In the meantime, the person with the item was long gone.
Paedophiles, indistinguishable from the rest of the crowd, lurked in the shadows, drawn, as always, by the places that attracted their prey, hoping to take advantage of an innocent child having a good time. They relied on the idle, irresponsible, or gullible parents, who allowed their children to visit the fair alone. It was almost always these kids who were pounced on by these bastards.
Nicholle Tanner had been to the fair before, but never on her own, so today was a first, and like any such first, it created excitement and wonder in a child of tender years. At first, it was great, all the lights and the buzz of the people. Music coming from all the rides, 'Reet Petite' by Jackie Wilson, 'Heaven Is A Place On Earth' by Belinda Carlisle, and 'Never Gonna Give You Up’ by the newcomer Rick Astley. It was terrific. Then, after a while, the excitement started to fade a little. She was knocked into repeatedly, her money was all but gone, and the cold was taking hold.
Nicholle was eleven years old, looked younger, but felt older. Her clothes were drab. She was not yet confident enough to wear the brighter colours that some of her contemporaries sported. It was colder than she had expected, and she regretted not putting on a jumper underneath her black zip-up top, as her mother had suggested. The zip of her flimsy jacket was fastened right to the top, the black of the garment contrasting with the chalky pallor of her face. Her long, black hair was tied up somewhat crudely at the back, with strands now falling over her neck and shoulders. Her ears were cold, and her teeth were chattering, so she decided to seek refuge in a warmer place.
Nicholle was a bit of a loner, mainly because she had recently started senior school. Still, she came from a different junior school than most of the other kids and was an outsider to all the cliques who clung together, and Nicholle was unable to find new friends. It was awful for her because she was a shy girl at the best of times, and so the social skills required to break through into a group of friends just wasn't there. She had tried smiling at people from a distance, but this just made them think she was weird, and she was in danger of not only being isolated but being actively bullied.
Desperate times call for drastic measures, and she had overheard her fellow pupils, Grace, and Jane, talking amongst themselves at lunchtime, arranging to come to the Fair. She had secretly hoped that she might "bump" into them if she walked around long enough. It wasn't the best of plans, the chances were remote, but she had remained hopeful for a time. However, the crowds were just too large; after an hour of looking, she had pretty much given up on the plan. If it happened, it happened.
Her head bowed, concentrating on where she was stepping, as the hard ground was uneven on the part of the fair that was not tarmacked. She also had to be careful of the giant rubber cables that festooned the floor, like a nest of snakes, twisting and stretching beneath people's feet. She had tripped once already, and if she wasn't so tightly packed among the crowd, she would have fallen over. Two one-pound coins were all that remained in her pocket, so rides were out of the question. She had asked her mother for more, but she was going out with friends, and her request refused. Her Dad, being unemployed, simply ignored her and continued staring at the telly in a semi-trance.
Poor old Dad had not been the same since he was made redundant over a year ago. He was a shadow of his former self, and the laughter that used to ring around the house was a thing of the past, a warm but now distant memory of cosier, happier times. Naturally, as a child, she thought these times would last forever; she was wrong. Now her father and mother were drifting further and further apart, and of course, there was her Mum's less than discreet ways with gentlemen friends, which she found both disgusting and immoral. Her trip to the fair was a bit like her life at the moment, drifting aimlessly, searching for something she probably wouldn't find, heading to a destination she was unsure of, but which frightened her a little.
Nicholle decided to have a toffee apple to cheer herself up, and she headed towards the top end of the fair, near the kiddie's rides, where most of the food stalls were situated. She eventually purchased her toffee apple, despite several queue-jumpers who pushed in front of her. Nicholle didn't have the confidence to challenge them. However, it was her turn soon enough and clutching the toffee apple; she trundled further towards the entrance to Forest Road, which was, unbeknownst to her, the outskirts of the red-light area. She was no longer interested in looking at the attractions, and she concentrated on digging her teeth into the hard, sweet shell without it cracking into bits and falling to the ground.
She sat on a wall near the entrance, close to the old pavilion- a large, grey walled building which had been initially white but whose façade had been discoloured by the ravages of time. The old tall doors which used to let the large tractors out to manage the Forest site now replaced with chipboard, which of course, became a target for the graffiti 'artists'. Almost all the sidewall was covered by the chipboard and the chaotic spray paint murals and abuse that adorned it.
Her vantage point enabled her to observe passers-by, most of whom were locked into their little worlds with staring eyes revealing their real mission to get to their chosen destinations. The laughing groups of children of a similar age made her feel a little melancholy.
Why did she have to go to Alderman Derbyshire school instead of Top Valley? All her friends went to 'Top Valley,' and now she was on her own, and her Mum and Dad couldn't care less. She had pleaded with her father, thrown tantrums and cried for days, but all she got was 'I went to Alderman Derbyshire, and it didn't do me any harm, and that's where you're going, young lady.' So now she was sitting on a wall on her own. 'Thanks.'
It was half-past five now, and she was getting cold and bored. She contemplated catching a bus home. She twiddled with a gold stud in her ear, which felt as if it was becoming infected. Her nose was beginning to run, and she sniffed. She glanced around at the bustling crowd. A group of Chinese people close by were chattering away in their native tongue. The timbre sounded harsh, but their happy expressions illustrated their apparent joy. Each member of the group had a camera swinging from their neck and intermittently clicked at anything and everything. One person in the group of Chinese tourists had a video camera and was filming her friend, who, in turn, was taking photographs of a friend who was photographing a ride.
Nicholle continued to pick at her toffee apple; it had turned into the highlight of the evening. She decided to go for the bus, she had enough to ride most of the way, and she might be able to make it home with a bit of luck. If the conductor came to her, she would get off wherever she was. There was little point hanging around much longer. She had one more glance around, jumped down from the wall, and began to cross the road.
'Just a minute – yes, it is, isn't it? What's he doing here?'
The car that interested Nicholle was stuck in traffic, stymied by vehicles and people spilling out onto the road encircling the site. Should she make herself known? She wondered. Her chattering teeth were a factor in her decision; any sort of warmth was preferable to her current wretched state. She waved to attract his attention. The driver of the car had surely seen her? He didn't look overly friendly, seemingly ignoring her. Perhaps he hadn't seen her?
'Sod it!' Nicholle ran into the road and stood in front of the car, forcing the driver to beckon her in. She opened the passenger door and flopped into the seat, bringing the cold air with her. Her bones were chilled. She wasn't to know that they would never be warm again.
Detective Inspector David Stark was not overly impressed. He was off duty and had eventually, and somewhat reluctantly, agreed to 'have a look around the fair' after his wife, Carol, had pleaded with him to do so. He wasn't usually resistant to family activities, but the fair no longer had the appeal for him that it had once held a couple of decades ago when he was a younger man. Perhaps it was the years of working the fair on duty that had tempered his enthusiasm. Unlike most fair-goers, Stark was all too aware of its less attractive aspects. He could never totally relax, as he was constantly distracted by the 'scrotes' angling to steal his wallet or cause some sort of trouble. They stood out so clearly to him, and reciprocally they sensed something in him that made them steer away.
Dave was a handsome man in a rugged sense. He had swarthy Italian features and a stubbled chin. He always thought he had something written across his forehead because people often looked at him, not least women. Dave was unaware of his 'presence' and aura of strength, which exuded naturally from him. He had a face that people were drawn to.
He shuffled his feet in an attempt to stave off the cold. He was becoming agitated. Carol had not returned for around fifteen minutes now. He had no idea where she'd gone, but she had been clear with her request: 'Wait here, I won't be a minute.' And she was gone into the crowd before Stark had the chance to quiz her. He stood alone at the bottom of the fair site, near Gregory Boulevard. Stark could see the continuous line of slow-moving cars on the road, beyond the crowd, some with balloons floating out of their windows; the strings trapped between window and door frame to keep them secure. He thrust his cold hands into the pockets of his green waxed jacket; the steam escaping from his mouth betrayed yet another sigh. Stark was quite a tall man and lean for his age. His black hair was just starting to sprout a few grey hairs at the temples; 'executive silver,' he called it. Now and then, someone else would barge into him, ratcheting his stress level another notch, closer to boiling point.
His mind began to wonder about the forthcoming police promotion boards, contemplating whether he should apply again. He enjoyed being a Detective Inspector. Stark knew he could perform the next rank more than adequately, and he supposed he should consider his eventual pension, which would be significantly enhanced if he achieved the next rank. The snag was that the Head of CID Detective Chief Superintendent Davies had never really seen eye to eye with him, so his chances seemed doomed before he started. He needed to think about a charm offensive on Detective Chief Superintendent Davies; make him come around a little to demonstrate that he could hold the respect of anyone. He needed to find a way of showing to him that he had the air of authority and class, to work with the higher echelons and the bearing of a senior detective.
He stamped his feet again and craned his head above the crowd, scanning the surrounding area on the tips of his toes, looking for his absent wife. Suddenly he caught a glimpse of her approaching. She could still turn a few heads herself. She had the sort of face that always appeared excited and interested. Her short hair, with wisps cascading down her face, gave her an impish look. Carol, like her husband, also wore a waxed green jacket, which was now bulging slightly with something hidden underneath it. As she stood in front of him, eyes twinkling, Stark towered over her. She was only five foot three in her stockinged feet, whereas he stretched up to over six feet and didn't wear stockings as a rule.
Stark was relieved to see her. 'Where on earth have you been? I'm bloody freezing. Come on, let's go and get a bag of chips. I'll treat you.' He grinned.
He went to put an arm around her, but she stopped him.
'I've bought you a present.'
She reached into her coat and produced two large lollipops in the shape of a cockerel.
Stark was buffeted by someone who placed a hand on his shoulder, and he turned to see who it was.
Carol continued, 'I saw the sign on the stall. It made me laugh. I'd forgotten about the tradition of a 'cock-on-a stick'. I've bought you a cock-on-a-stick to get your teeth into.' She laughed.
'Thanks, Carol. Can I introduce you to the head of CID, Detective Chief Superintendent Davies, and his wife, Janice? They've had the same idea we had.'
Amazingly, Carol persisted unabashed. 'Cock on a stick, anyone?'
'Erm, no, thank you, I think I'll pass.' Mr Davies said politely, pulling his expensive camel coat around his front and dexterously fastening a button with one hand.
Carol pushed the giant lollipop towards him. 'Go on, loosen up, misery guts! Have a cock-on-a-stick. What's up with you? Get your mouth around this great big cock!'
'Carol. What the hell!' Stark's eyes were wide.
'Okay, please yourselves.'
Janice Davies began tugging at her husband's arm. Chief Superintendent Davies took the hint. 'Anyway, nice to meet you, Mrs Stark, enjoy the er…'
'Cock. It's a huge, great cock. Yummy.' She smiled, widening her eyes and running her tongue in front of her teeth. 'Mmm, yummy.'
Without another word, the Davies' were gone, swept away in the crowd.
Stark stood with his mouth wide open. He couldn't speak momentarily but eventually stammered out. 'Have you gone insane?'
Carol could see something was wrong. 'What just happened?'
'That was Chief Superintendent Davies and his wife. You know, my ultimate boss, the person with whom my destiny, and promotion, rest.'
'Oh, him.' She shrugged.
'Don't look at me like that. I couldn't hear you with the noise. I thought it was just one of the lads from your work. He called me Mrs Stark.'
'Wow.' Stark was shaking his head in disbelief.
'Sorry?' She said tentatively.
'Sorry?' A smile started to tickle his face, and they both broke out into uproarious laughter.
'Holy shit.' He said.
'Oh, well, he's a git anyway, isn't he?' She said.
'Yes, but…oh crap, that is hilarious. I think I'd better leave promotion for another year.'
'Probably for the best.' Carol said, now licking at the lollipop.
Nicholle sat quietly in the front passenger seat of the car. She could smell stale cigarette smoke, but it strangely comforted her as it was a familiar smell. Nicholle was not engaging with the driver. She had flagged him down instinctively when she saw the car. Nicholle never knew quite what to say to adults, even those close to her, and hardly ever instigated the conversation, usually ending up answering their questions. The art of conversation was something she had yet to master, but then she was only eleven years old. The radio was on low, but enough to mitigate the uneasy silences. It was the local channel, some music quiz with listeners ringing in, guessing the year that songs were released – The Golden Years.
'I thought it was you. Good job you ran in front of the car, or I would have driven straight past you. I was miles away.' The murderer said.
'Yeah,' was all she could manage. The car was warm, and she was beginning to thaw out. She hadn't fully appreciated how cold she was until she got inside it.
Silence returned to the car. The vehicle moved slowly at first, stuck in the gridlock of vehicles, but after three or four turns, the traffic freed up a bit.
'Have you had a nice time?'
'Couldn't find my friends.'
'Oh, dear. That's a shame.'
'Did you go on many rides?'
'No, couldn't afford it.'
Silence resumed. The ticking of the indicator seemed exaggerated to Nicholle every time they made a turn. She kept closing her eyes; the warmth of the car, the rhythmic vibration of the engine, and her tiredness were conspiring to send her to sleep.
The realisation was dawning on the driver that Nichole was in the car on her own, and nobody on planet earth knew that they were together. Random chance had contrived it. When might this ever happen again? This was an opportunity; no, it wasn't an opportunity; this was it; this was the moment.
'Where are we going?' Nicholle asked as she finally registered that they were driving along unfamiliar roads.
The driver didn't answer but turned into an industrial estate, speeding up over the gravel and down to the bottom before turning right.
'Where are we going?' Nicholle asked again, but a flicker of alarm was evident in her question on this occasion.
She rocked around on the seat as his driving became more erratic, and he hit a curb at the corner.
'Hey, what's going on?' Her voice raised; the hint of tears evident.
The car bounced over uneven ground—unmade roads.
Nicholle began to quietly sob as fear rose in her chest and tied a knot at the back of her throat, which was becoming dry and felt constricted, her breathing heavier than it should be.
The man suddenly pulled into the side of the road; the place deserted; old factories, mostly derelict, surrounded them.
She was just about to speak again, as the driver punched her, stunning her. Her vision became distorted, and her ears were ringing. Twice more, the blows rained upon her. She didn't cry out; she was too stunned. She tried to field the strikes by covering her head with her arms. An awful feeling of terror and doom crashed into the pit of her stomach. The driver committed now. This was it. He took hold of her neck with both hands and began to squeeze. He clambered over the gear stick to get a greater purchase, and his firm grasp eased as he did so.
Nicholle cried out. 'Mum!'
The man adjusted himself, knees either side of hers, and regained the grip that made Nicholle gurgle and splutter, her face turning red and then purple. Her eyes began to bulge, her tongue forced outward, distending, as the lack of oxygen sent her body into crisis, and she twitched and fitted, with saliva foaming at her mouth. She was helpless against him. He squeezed with all his might and shook her neck as he did so. 'Die!' He grunted, spittle forming around his mouth. 'Die!'
Blissful unconsciousness shut her down, but the killer knew to continue. He was determined not to release her yet. Unconsciousness was not death. Within a couple of minutes or so, he achieved his objective, and eleven-year-old Nicholle Tanner's life ebbed away. She was gone. As simple as that. In a matter of a few minutes. The air in the car suddenly bore an uneasy vibration, a vacuum in the ambience, a hole where a soul had departed.
The child killer was sweating and panting with the exertion. He felt dizzy and nauseous. He clambered back to his seat and opened the driver's door, leaning out to vomit. The first killing was always the most traumatic.
He sat staring straight ahead, panting, afraid to look at her. His peripheral vision teased him into turning toward her. He grimaced at the strangeness of Nicholle's countenance, which had surprised him. He quickly looked away and then out of the car windows, frantically checking that no one had seen. There was no sign of anyone. The die was cast. It had been more straightforward than he had imagined. It was worse now that there was just a corpse slumped in his car. He couldn't look at her again.
Now, what to do? He remembered a place, back where they had come from, near the fairground. If he could figure out a way to dump her there, it was open season. It could be anyone who had killed her. The place was accessible by tens of thousands of people, for heaven's sake. It was the perfect place. He would just have to wait a little while and plan how he would do this undetected.
The car door slamming did not awaken Nicholle's father, Derek Tanner, as he lay sprawled out on the settee, his mouth open and his breathing slow but raspy. Despite it being late, the television was still on, volume down, casting a strobing, bright glare over the otherwise darkened room and highlighting this specimen of manhood in deep slumber. Derek was a good two stones overweight, and his fat belly was partially visible as it rose and sank with each breath: straining at the buttons of his brown shirt. He was no longer the man he once was. A few years ago, when he was in his late thirties, he was quite a good-looking man, but he had let himself go. His dignity was at an all-time low since the loss of his job. No longer did he bother shaving, apart from weekends, and his overall personal hygiene left something to be desired. The truth was, he was suffering from depression, he needed help, and his mind was a screaming nest of vipers, screeching: Help! Help! But there was no one to help. It was just him and his confused, vulnerable state. He needed his wife, and his wife needed her husband, but they could not reach each other, not since the redundancy. He was desperate, debilitated, and lonely.
Shirley stood at the living room door and observed her spouse with disgust. She shook her inebriated head and let out a sigh before purposely slamming the door, awakening Derek with a start. He physically jumped at the banging of the door. She let out a giggle.
'I suppose you think that's bloody funny.' Derek put his head in his hands as he perched on the edge of the sofa.
Shirley switched on the light, forcing Derek to squint. Her broad Geordie accent evident as she spoke. 'Why, of course, it's funny, pet.'
Derek kept his back to her and rubbed his eyes, primarily to shield them from the glare. He could smell the stench of stale alcohol coming from her.
'Have you had a good night out with the girls? Or is that another lie, and you've been out swanning around with your man friends again?'
'Oh, Derek, you are so bloody paranoid, and yes, I have had a good night for a change. Where's Nicholle, in bed?'
'I would have thought so. What time is it?'
'It's twenty past midnight.'
Shirley sat on the armchair and lit up a cigarette. She had a plain face, and her long brown hair showed signs of greying at the roots, but she had a very trim figure. Her legs were curvaceous and well defined. She enjoyed showing them off, which was well illustrated by her short skirt and the low-cut purple top, which emphasised her bosom. The outfit was her regular 'going-out’ gear. Derek looked across at her with disdain as she exaggeratedly blew out smoke and held the cigarette up by the tips of her fingers.
'You don't half look a tart, Shirley. For Christ's sake, you are forty-three, not twenty-th-'
'Here we bloody go again. Let me get in the door first before you start, won't you?'
Derek stood up, wearing his 'disappointed' face and began to clear his mugs and a crisp packet that had fallen onto the carpet. He took them into the kitchen.
'You didn't take the car, either, did you? More taxi's, I suppose.'
Shirley knew what was coming. She had heard it too many times before. 'Yes, I had a taxi, pet, so that I could have a drink without driving, and I know we can't afford it, and I know we can't afford me smoking, and I know we can't afford me drinking and I know who's bloody fault that is, like.'
'Thank you. Very kind. Nothing like kicking a man when he's down, is there?'
'So, get the hell up. Get your sel' together, Derek.'
'Easier said than done.' He muttered.
'I know it is, man, but what other choice is there? When did you last apply for a job?'
'I haven't. What's the point?'
'What's happened to you? What's happened to the man I married? You used to be such a canny lad.'
Their eyes met, and he burst into tears. He walked towards Shirley, and she held him. She closed her eyes as he sobbed like a child. She was at a loss to know what to do with him. This crying business was a new thing. He had started it in the last couple of weeks. She knew he was suffering from a downturn in his mental health, but he wouldn't go for help. He thought it was too embarrassing. He gathered himself together. 'I'm pleased you had a good night. You know I'm feeling a bit low at the moment, but things will get better, won't they?'
She didn't reply but stared at the floor.
'I promise things will get better; just give me a bit of time.' He reached for her hand, but she pulled it away sharply.
'Don't bother, Derek, I've heard all this shite before, man. I'm going to bed, and I can only hope that you sleep down here, out of the way, so that I, just for once, can have a peaceful night without you burping and farting and stinking away next to me. Goodnight.'
Shirley headed off upstairs, and Derek closed his eyes as he heard the bedroom door slam upstairs. His mind drifted back to happier times. Part of him wanted to get back to those days, but it seemed that Shirley rejected any approach or any attempt to make up. He knew what it was. She had lost all respect for him. It was as if it was all too late; their relationship burned out and gone forever.
He caught sight of his face in the mirror above the hearth. Dark patches had formed underneath his reddened eyes. He looked bloody awful. He noticed the photograph stuck into the brass frame surrounding the glass and pulled it out. Taken at the coast, Skegness, a picture of happiness, all three of them, arms around each other, smiling into the lens. Tears filled his eyes again as he studied the moment captured in time. He could remember the sheer loveliness of that day, the feeling of joy and togetherness. Where had that gone? Now, look at them.
Tomorrow he would make a supreme effort. He would clean himself up, go to the local gym, and sort himself out once and for all. He would make them proud of him again. He would show them that there was more to him than the slob they saw rotting on the settee each evening. When he looked better, maybe he would feel better and more confident. Then he would have a higher chance of finding work again. Tomorrow would be the day he turned himself around.
He lay on the settee and closed his eyes. His thoughts of redemption continued. He had it all planned out. His thinking eventually lulled him into a fitful sleep. What he, nor Shirley, had forgotten to consider was where the hell their daughter, Nicholle, was? She certainly was not in the safety of her bedroom.
PC Gary Wood was a traffic officer. He had been driving the 'jam sandwich' police cars now for three and a half years. They got their nickname from the red stripe running along the sides, which cut through the white base colour of the cars.
Gary enjoyed the diversity of the job. One minute he would be breathalysing someone, the next, he would be in a car chase, or he might be running after burglars responding to an assistance call from a colleague. It was often quite a high tempo, high octane stuff.
Gary had a fresh face and unkempt blond hair; he was in his late twenties and as keen as mustard. That was why, when he saw the Ford Escort XR3i pull out of the junction, three cars in front, he decided to do a follow. He had an instinct for picking out TWOC'ers – a phrase derived from the police charge: Taking (a motor vehicle) Without (the) Owner's Consent. 'Joyriders' they were previously called, would refer to their charges as TWOC. 'I got done for TWOC.' Would be the proud boast.
It looked as though there were several occupants in the car, three youths, maybe four. They were worth a check. It was at this point that the Ford XR3i accelerated and sped off. Gary reacted quickly but cursed being on his own in the car. It was so much easier if you had a partner who could commentate on the chase over the police radio as it continues, leaving the driver to concentrate on driving at high speed. He flicked on his blue lights and siren, pressing the buttons on the dashboard. It was nowadays politically correct to call a car chase a 'follow,' as if everyone pretended that it was a stroll in the park, which, of course, it most certainly was not. During a chase, the adrenalin flows so fast, and the concentration is so focused that it is easy for a police driver to ignore the danger to his safety while caught up in the heat of the moment. To his credit, Gary usually managed to remain calm. Professional. Inevitably, if you want to catch somebody who is recklessly driving a high-powered motor vehicle at excessive speeds, you must do some pretty hair-raising driving yourself. It was this sort of driving that Gary was engaged in as he hared along Hucknall's new bypass at ninety-seven miles an hour, heading towards the notorious town of Bulwell. He clutched his radio handset as he fought with the steering wheel. He was intermittently speaking into it so that the operator at Headquarters could repeat the locations to other mobiles, which might assist with the chase, and perhaps contrive a 'rolling block' to bring it to an end.
Gary sounded breathless as he spoke into the black radio handset, caused by the adrenalin surge; as they hurtled towards the traffic island, he began to brake.
'Right, right on to Hucknall Lane, speed five-seven.'
The tyres of his Granada squealed as he held the turn of the island, slowing further, to make it around, as had the TWOC'er. Rubber fused to the road. He could see two figures in the back seat, smiling and wide-eyed. One of them gave him a middle-fingered salute. Cars were stopping and pulling over, adding to the precarious nature of the pursuit.
'Left, left onto Hucknall Road, Jesus Chri-'
Gary followed him closely until the car in front again veered left, on to Bestwood Road and into open country and winding roads.
'Speed eight-zero, still Bestwood Road towards Bestwood Village. Any units nearby?'
The operator sounded very calm and reserved as she spoke with other mobiles, which were not yet close enough to assist.
In the pitch-black surroundings, Paul's mind raced as the beams of his headlights danced and weaved when his tyres thudded into the humps and hollows of the country lane, throwing him around.
'Wrong side of the road, eight zero…mounting the curb, Jesus, he nearly wiped out a parked car!'
Gary inwardly chastised himself as he knew that his commentary would put the chase in jeopardy if he weren't careful. It was a catch-twenty-two; the tape recording of the chase commentary recorded at Headquarters would be good evidence to show the recklessness of the driving to any subsequent court. However, describing too much jeopardy could mean the Control Room Inspector would call a halt to the pursuit for public safety reasons, and so there would never be a court hearing in any case.
'To tango four-nine from control room Inspector. Abort the pursuit. Repeat. Abort the pursuit immediately, over.'
'Shit!' Gary's self-fulfilling prophesy had come to pass. He pressed his brakes and turned off his 'blues and two's.' He could only stare at the shadowy figures glaring out the back window at him, their two-fingered signs, and masturbatory mimes accompanying their smiling features.
'Control to tango four-nine acknowledge, over.'
Gary spoke disconsolately into the radio as his vehicle slowed to acceptable speeds.
'Yes, ten-four, pursuit aborted, tango four-nine, over.'
The occupants were three boys and a girl. It had initially appeared to be only three in the car as the girl was giving oral sex to a youth on the back seat when they were first 'clocked' by PC Wood and so was not visible. The driver of the car was a youth called Darren Soames. Martin Peakes was in the front passenger seat. Sarah Mitchell and Jason Bowring were in the back seat. As soon as the chase began, Jason pulled Sarah off him by her hair. It was too risky for him, potentially being thrown around the back seat of a car with a set of gnashers wrapped around his manhood.
They were all whooping and shouting as they saw the traffic car brake, the blue lights turn off, and its headlights diminish behind them. They had won. They knew that it would be cancelled as soon as they started swinging around corners at seventy. It hadn't even been necessary to clip any wing mirrors to prompt the halting of the chase. It was so easy.
'Let's go up to Skeggy. We're on a roll.' Martin suggested.
'No, fuck that, it's boring. Anyway, I'm knackered. What about the fair? See what's in the pavilion?' Darren said as he turned the steering wheel and headed towards the Forest site, the fair venue.
'Muggy, is your Sarah going to suck me off, then, on the way? She's not done it for ages.' Martin asked.
Jason responded to his nickname, 'Muggy'. 'No, not tonight, Martin.'
'I'll give you a couple of cigs each.'
This offer changed the proposition. Jason looked at Sarah. She shrugged. 'I don't mind if you don't.'
'Mmm. I could kill for a fag, and I am pretty skint.'
'Let's do it, then.'
'Hold on, is his dick bigger than mine?' Muggy asked, a hint of concern appearing on his face as the sudden insecurity landed.
Sarah raised her eyebrows; she knew all the gang intimately. 'God, yes, a lot bigger, Muggy. I still love you, though. You know that.' She kissed him with a half-smile on her face.
Martin and Darren were giggling in the front.
Muggy looked deflated.
She continued. 'Darren's is even bigger than Martin's; it's a huge great thing, I can hardly…'
'Alright, alright. Spare me the fucking details. Suck Martin off if you want. But it's three fags each, Martin, alright?'
'Deal. Cheers, mate,' Martin said, giving his friend the thumbs up.
'You'll have to wait 'til we get to the pavilion; I'm not stopping again. It's too risky with the filth looking for us.' Darren told them.
'Okay.' Sarah said. 'Do you want one, Darren? Or we can have a shag in the Pavilion?'
'No, he does not! Come on, Sarah, don't take the piss.' Muggy said. Irritation in his voice. Darren and Martin were laughing again.
It didn't take them long to reach the Fair's surrounding streets, abandon the stolen vehicle, and head off together towards the Victorian building, which had fallen into disrepair. It was their little haven. Martin had a spring in his step. Their trainers made little noise as they slowly walked on the wooden floor in the darkness of the pavilion. Darren felt along the wall in the dark until he found the ledge with the candles on it. He lit them and passed them around to each of the gang.
Darren had a chiselled but dirty face with a wispy goatee beard, just sprouting, heightening his shabby appearance. The most noticeable aspect of his appearance was, of course, his 'BOLLOCKS' tattoo at the side of his neck.
His friend, Martin, stood out. He was trendy but smart and clean-cut, just trying to be 'one of the boys.' Not realising that there were many boys he could be 'one of', other than this shower of shit. He didn't know what he wanted. When he went to the local comprehensive school, having been bullied at junior school, he quickly ingratiated himself with the bullies before he became the bullied. Although he was an intelligent young man, he now found himself increasingly skipping school and running around with the local idiots.
Jason was a small youth with acne and always sported a red baseball cap. Nicknamed 'Muggy' because his mates said, rather unkindly, that he had an ugly 'mug.' Despite this potential handicap of ugliness, Sarah adored him. He was the only lad who had ever French-kissed her and told her he loved her. She was so bereft of morals, so in need of any type of affection, that she would suck anyone's dick to curry favour. Or indeed merely for a smoke. Sarah was an overweight post-pubescent girl with greasy black hair that fell in strands down her back. She was hurt when her peers rather cruelly voted her 'The Fattest Backside' in the school, but with Muggy being the reigning ugly champ, he said it was kind of like being voted the prom King and Queen. Him, being the King of Ugliness, and she being the Queen of Fat Arses. Maybe she loved him for his optimistic outlook?
As they got into the pavilion, Martin quickly undid his trousers, and Sarah sat on the low windowsill. She began to massage his penis. Muggy was trying to get a view of it for comparison, but Sarah was on him too quickly. Martin threw his head back as she worked away at him with a little too much fervour.
Darren dug deep into his jeans pocket and produced a grubby-looking nub end, which he insisted was cannabis. He began to smoke it, passing it around the group, in a fashion hackneyed by the hippies in the 1960s. Sarah raised her head from Martin's dick to get her draw and passed it on to Muggy.
'Ew, shit. Couldn't I have gone before you? You've got his dick in your mouth.'
'Sorry, Muggy, I never thought.' she said.
Muggy shook his head before drawing on the 'spliff', regardless.
When the 'spliff' came around to Darren again, he inhaled deeply. The cupboard suddenly attracted his attention. He blew out the smoke and spoke into the cloud, scattering it, as he did so—his breath causing the thick smoke to dance off into the dusty room.
'Who the hell has done that?'
Muggy turned to follow Darren's gaze. 'Shit. What's going off?'
Darren approached the cupboard and noticed that it had been forced open and was ajar by a couple of inches.
'Someone's been in our cupboard.' He eyed it suspiciously. 'The padlock's been broke, the door ain't closed properly look.'
Sarah broke off as she and Martin also looked over toward the cupboard; she continued to masturbate him as they pondered the revelation casually.
The gang occasionally used the cupboard to store odd bits of stolen property, such as car radio cassettes or CD players. Even the padlock had been nicked from the local hardware store during a ram-raid. A ram-raid was using a stolen car to drive through the front window of a store and then to raid it, grabbing everything you could, as quickly as possible.
The discovery that the cupboard door had been breached was bad news; they didn't want anybody stealing their stolen property that was bang out of order. What was the world coming to when you couldn't store your nicked gear in a cupboard without somebody nicking it, for Christ's sake?
Martin, nervous, as ever, took a pace backwards, as if some hidden monster was about to jump out at them. Sarah's arm extended as he moved away. She was still tugging at his penis, but her heart wasn't in it anymore. Anyway, it was starting to go soft.
Martin spoke. 'I don't like it. I reckon it's a police trap. We've kept tons of nicked gear in there in the past. Just leave it, man, come on, let's go. Torch the car, and we can nick another one over at Bulwell Hall Estate.' He felt his ardour cool, and he put his penis back in his jeans.
'I still want my fags, Martin.' Sarah said.
'Get fucked. You can have one, that's all.'
Darren's heart was beating a pace or two quicker as he slowly moved towards the cupboard.
'Shut the hell up, will you? Pass me the screwdriver.'
'It's already been forced open.' Sarah said.
'No, you idiot, as a weapon, Give it here.'
Darren held out a hand towards Sarah, who passed a yellow-handled screwdriver to him. She always kept the tools and contraband because the police were reluctant to mess around searching girls, it's too risky, and almost all of 'the pigs' were men, so it made perfect sense. Darren wrapped his fist around what was now a weapon. He was both agitated and excited all at once. Somebody had been in their special place for some reason, and he needed to know why. There was something inside; he could see something but couldn't quite make out what it was. The light from the fair strobed only parts of the room, and it was filtered by the floating dust in the chilly air. There were some holes in the rotting chipboard 'gates' behind them, which allowed a little light. His hand went around the handle gently, and then suddenly, he pulled the door open in one movement, raising the screwdriver at the same time.
Sarah let out a scream on sight, followed by Muggy, whose screech was higher pitched than hers. There was a spider on the dead girl's cheek. It was apparent immediately that she was dead; her face set in a terrible grimace, with one side of her mouth turned upwards. Her eyes were half-open. A dank and fusty smell permeated the gang's nostrils as the horror was exposed, and they gasped as one. As light and air invaded the cupboard, the spider scurried over the hill of the girl's nose and into her hair. Her face was relaxed; her jaw had dropped, her mouth agape, exposing her tongue which had been bitten into, presumably during the death struggle. She was on her back, cramped up; her knees drawn towards her chest; the cupboard could scarcely accommodate her. She looked stiff, rigid, as if she may make a noise if you knocked on her skin, akin to the tapping of a porcelain doll. The initial hardening of muscle, due to rigour Mortis, had occurred. It would loosen up again before the more permanent rigour set in later that day.
Sarah screamed again.
'Shut the fuck up!' Muggy instructed.
Darren panicked and weirdly began clawing hesitantly at the body, at arms- length. As if it might somehow harm him. He pulled at the masking tape that bound the dead girl's wrists in front of her. In a split second, the four kids then did what came naturally to them. They turned and ran at full pelt, their action mirrored by a flock of birds that took flight from nearby bushes as they burst out of the exterior door of the pavilion. The surrounding shrubbery and flashing lights conspired to disorientate them as they ran and ran, wild-eyed and alarmed. They dove into the stolen car on the side street, and Darren used the screwdriver, still in his hand, to turn the wrecked ignition. The powerful engine boomed into life, disturbing the still of the night as they fled, at speed, away from the Goose Fair site.
'He who allows himself to be insulted,
deserves to be.'