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By Nick Quantrill
Caffeine Nights PublishingCopyright © 2010 Nick Quantrill
All rights reserved.
'You didn't hear or see anything?'
I shook my head. It's not every day you're accused of murdering a client. I checked myself in the mirror; the cuts on my face leaving a bloody mess and a bottom lip twice its normal size. It didn't look clever. The phone call had woken me and after listening to the message, I washed down some painkillers, threw on an old tracksuit and stepped out into the night. The taxi arrived quickly and drove me through the deserted streets of Hull towards my office in the Old Town. Ten minutes later I was sat in my chair, waiting for Don to say something. He was my business partner, but more importantly, my mentor. I explained that I'd been jumped as I'd walked home.
'Are you sure?'
'Nothing.' All I knew was my mobile had been taken. It sounded feeble, given the state of my face.
Don towers above me, so I always feel like a naughty child when he tells me off. Although I'm in my early forties and still in reasonable shape, I know when to keep my mouth shut.
I heard the toilet flush and looked at Don, who was refusing to meet my eye. I turned and watched Detective Sergeant Richard Coleman walk into the room.
'Joe Geraghty, Private Investigator' he said, still drying his hands on a paper towel.
I nodded a greeting. 'Make yourself at home, why don't you?'
He sat on the top of the table opposite me. 'I'll get to the point; Don said you were outside of Jennifer Murdoch's house tonight?'
'I didn't make it.'
'What did you do tonight?'
'Went to the pub.' I stared at him, assuming he might know why I'd felt the need to get drunk tonight.
'With anyone in particular?'
I shook my head. He was oblivious. 'Why do you ask?'
'She's dead' Coleman said, staring straight at me, 'She put up quite a fight, but I can't go into the details.' He paused to look at me before changing the subject. 'Don tells me you were watching her on behalf of her employer.'
'A false illness claim' I said, before he had chance to go on. 'She claims she was suffering from stress and was unable to work. Her employer disagrees. Perfectly normal.'
'Don tells me she's the company's accountant, right?'
'Any luck with it?'
'Not yet.' We'd only been on the case for a couple of days and didn't have the necessary proof.
'Notice any one else watching her?'
I shook my head. I asked if Terrence Briggs, her employer, had received the news.
Coleman confirmed he'd be speaking to him. Another fee gone, I thought but didn't dare say.
'Do you want to tell me what happened?' asked Coleman, pointing to my face.
'I was attacked on my way home. Lost my mobile and what money I had on me.'
Coleman sighed. 'Did you see the man?'
I thought about it. 'Sounded it.'
'Where did it happen?'
'The tenfoot near my flat.'
'I don't think so.'
Coleman looked from Don to myself. 'Upset anybody lately?'
Don stared at me, looking for confirmation. I shook my head. 'No.'
'Your story is you were attacked by an assailant, identity unknown, and you weren't anywhere near Jennifer Murdoch's house tonight?'
'Correct.' I sipped the coffee Don had made and tried to read Coleman's face.
'I'll need a statement from you tomorrow.' He pointed at my cuts and bruises. 'You might want to think about reporting the assault, too. 'Coleman stood up and told Don he'd be in touch. He looked at me again before leaving.
'What the fuck are you playing at?' Don asked me, once he'd shut the door on the policeman. He didn't swear very often.
'I was attacked.' It sounded weak.
'And you're telling the truth about not being near Murdoch's house?'
It was my turn to be indignant. 'Of course I am.'
'We're not pissing about here, Joe.'
I nodded. It doesn't come any more serious than murder, so I knew the police would be throwing some resources at it. I sat up, my head feeling clearer for the caffeine. 'Did you tell them?' He would often tell the police when and where we are performing surveillance as a professional courtesy. If the police knew we had a genuine and legitimate reason for following an individual, it was supposed to prevent future misunderstandings. As I was learning, the system wasn't perfect.
Don shook his head. 'I hadn't got round to telling them.'
I considered the situation. They'd obviously seen my car outside of Murdoch's house the previous day. 'They were watching her?'
'Or her husband' Don suggested. He took my empty mug off me and shook his head. 'You'd best report the assault.'
I said I would, but it would be pointless. The truth was I didn't know who had attacked me. Losing my mobile was a pain but I could get a new one easy enough. What was occupying my mind was the fact the police knew I had been carrying out surveillance outside Murdoch's house. I looked like I'd been involved in a fight and had no alibi to speak of. It was a chance I couldn't take; people have been arrested for much less. I knew I was going to have to find out why Jennifer Murdoch had been murdered.CHAPTER 2
A shower and strong coffee had me feeling almost human again by midmorning. I'd walked to the nearest supermarket, bought a cheap pay-as-you-go mobile and topped it up with credit before meeting Don to talk to Jennifer Murdoch's employer. Only he was in his boardroom talking to the police. The company was based on Sutton Fields, an industrial estate to the east of the city. The middle-aged woman stood behind the reception desk wanted us to come back some other time.
'Maybe you could help us' said Don, explaining why we were there.
She'd thought we were salesmen before introducing herself as Sheila Chester, Briggs's PA. She directed us to her office. I gave her what I hoped was my winning smile, but with the cuts and bruises, I wasn't sure it was working.
'Take your time.' Don said, as she sat down.
Her hand was shaking slightly, the earlier confidence disappearing. She lifted her mug and slowly drank a mouthful of tea.
'We understand this is difficult for you, Sheila.'
And given the visit from Coleman, I wanted some answers.
Don leant in close to her. 'We're here to help.'
She nodded. 'I'll do my best.'
'How long have you worked for the company, Sheila?' Don asked.
'Nearly twenty years.'
I could see the pride in her face, so I smiled. 'You must have seen some changes, then?'
'One or two, I suppose.'
'How long had Jennifer been with you?'
'It must be about ten years now. She used to work for our auditors, so Mr Briggs offered her the job when her predecessor retired.'
'And before her illness, how was she was doing?'
She looked reluctant to answer the question. I tried to help her out. 'Whatever you say stays between us. It won't go any further.'
'Her alleged illness.'
'I know you shouldn't speak ill of the dead, but I didn't like her, to be totally honest with you.' Unburdening this seemed to enable her to relax. She looked me in the eye. 'Either as a colleague or as a person.'
'Was she difficult to get on with?'
'Very much so. We were very different people, you see. I've never married, never travelled very much or led what you might call an exciting life. I have what I have, and I'm very thankful for it. I'm not the type of person who always wants more. Jennifer, on the other hand, was very different. She wanted everything, and I suspect that was only to say she had it.'
I encouraged her to continue.
'If it wasn't a flash car, it was holidays abroad and designer clothes. It put a few backs up, that's for sure.'
'I assume she could afford these luxuries?'
Sheila nodded. 'She was well paid and her husband has a good job. He's some sort of business hotshot, but I don't really know the details. Besides, most people these days use credit cards to get what they want, don't they?'
I tried to hold a smile. 'It's often the way.'
'I remember when people used to save up for things they wanted.'
I half-heartedly agreed, anxious to keep her talking to us.
'How was Jennifer as an accountant?' asked Don, getting us back on track.
'Generally, I'd say she was fine; certainly to start with.'
'To start with?'
'I assume you were told about the incident with her assistant?'
Don and I shook our heads. 'No.'
Sheila didn't hold our stare. The nervous Sheila had returned.
'It won't go any further' said Don, encouraging her to continue.
She placed her hands on the table and took a deep breath. 'A couple of years ago there was a spell when money seemed to be going missing.'
'I don't think all the petty cash cheques made their way into the actual petty cash tin. The auditor brought it to Jennifer's attention and she sorted it out. Mr Briggs was on holiday at the time and she never told me about the problem.'
'What happened?' It was obvious she had felt put out by her lack of involvement.
'Her assistant, Sonia Bray, left, and Mr Briggs considered the matter closed. Jennifer had told me how difficult it would be to get the proof for a conviction, so there was no point involving the police. She also claimed she'd worked out how much Sonia had allegedly stolen and made sure Mr Briggs got the money back.'
I sat up. 'I assume you're not convinced Sonia was behind the theft?'
'No. Not at all.'
'Any idea where we could find Sonia?'
'I think so. I'll let you have the details.'
Don thanked her.
'How about Jennifer's supposed illness?' I said. 'Do you know anything about it? Mr Briggs said you'd seen her when she was meant to be at work?'
'My friend had seen her, shopping in Princes Quay when she was supposed to be here. Sheila laughed and shook her head. 'Her illness? Jennifer might be many things, but I doubt she had been stressed. As I said earlier, she had loved flaunting her money and telling everyone what a great life she had.'
Don nodded to me that we were done. Whether or not she was simply bitter at Jennifer Murdoch's lifestyle, I didn't know, but I was taken back at the spite of the woman. The suggestion Murdoch had stolen from the firm and that Terrence Briggs might have an ulterior motive for sacking her was interesting. Before we had chance to consider it further, Terrence Briggs walked into the room.
'Sheila was helping us out while we waited' I said to him.
Briggs nodded to his PA, who quickly left the room. 'What do you think you're doing?' he asked us.
'Our jobs' said Don.
'Under the circumstances, you don't have a job. I won't be needing you anymore.'
'The police have already spoken to us.'
Briggs walked across the room and opened the door in the far corner. 'We'll talk in here.'
The boardroom featured photographs of building developments the company had been involved with over the years. Briggs had been involved in the construction of several well-known buildings around the city. On the opposite wall were black and white photographs of Hull's fishing past.
'Fisherman in a former life?' I asked him.
I nodded and asked if he was keeping busy.
'Plenty on at the moment. I've got the bread and butter stuff around the estates, maintenance work for the council and there's still the regeneration projects on the go.' He opened his drawer and placed a manila file on the desk. 'I suppose you can take it back.' It was the initial report we'd prepared for him on Jennifer Murdoch. It contained all the background information we'd pulled together, including her educational details, family background and anything of interest we'd learnt. We left it sitting there.
'What did the police have to say?' Don asked.
'What's it to you?'
'You'd asked us to do a job and now she's dead.'
'We're done then, aren't we? How much do I owe you?'
He looked flustered. I assumed the police had rattled his cage.
'You told us you wanted her out of your life.' I reminded him. 'Whatever it took, I think you told us.'
'I didn't mean I wanted her dead, for crying out loud.' He pointed at me. 'Look, I set this place up by myself over thirty years ago, built it up from nothing. I got nothing given to me on a plate. Several years later, here I am with one of the city's largest building companies. I'm not having someone like her take the piss out of me. It's not going to happen. All I said was that she was on long-term sick and I didn't reckon it was genuine. Don't be twisting my words.'
'The police will see you as having motive' said Don.
'I only wanted her out of this place.'
'It's still the beginnings of something. She was costing you a lot of wasted money, it makes you angry, you know where she lives, you want rid of her. It's a thought process they'll be following' I said.
'What's your point?' asked Briggs. He picked the file up.
'You've still got a few hours left on the clock and we don't like loose ends.'
Don was waiting for me in the reception of Queens Gardens police station, talking to the officer on front-desk duty. I'd taken his advice and called Coleman to arrange reporting the assault. He'd told me to come to the station and, though he'd led me to believe it would be over with quickly, it had taken a couple of hours. When Coleman eventually saw me, I'd kept my composure and answered the questions as honestly as I could. Even though I had nothing to hide, the situation felt like it had been made as uncomfortable and awkward for me as possible. For all that, I was left in no doubt should I learn anything about the murder of Jennifer Murdoch, I was to inform him immediately. Coleman had assured me I wasn't being treated as a suspect, rather a witness with some useful background information, but I wasn't so sure. Maybe I was being paranoid, but I didn't like the situation I found myself in.
I was glad to be out of the building and getting some fresh air. We walked towards a pub close to our office. I needed a drink to calm my nerves. I showed Don the leaflets I'd been given whilst I waited for Coleman.
'Investigative Officers,' I explained, 'cheap detectives, basically.' The force was recruiting civilians to assist the detectives with interviewing suspects and gathering evidence. It was policing on the cheap.
Don laughed and passed me my drink. 'Cheeky bastards. Did they tell you anything?'
'Nothing. I don't even know how she was killed.' I'd asked but they'd refused to tell me. They would be releasing details later during a press conference.
'What about the assault on you?'
'They weren't interested.'
Don said he wasn't surprised and turned the conversation back to Jennifer Murdoch. 'You'd have thought there would be some forensics, wouldn't you?'
'They didn't tell me if there was.' We both knew it was only any good if you had a match on the database. I also knew it could take days for the police to confirm a match. They hadn't asked me for a sample, as they didn't have the legal grounds to, but they could have asked me to volunteer if they had really wanted to.
Don asked me what I had made of Terrence Briggs.
'I don't like him.'
'He's still got a bit of credit left; we should see what turns up in that time.'
I agreed. Although we still had the regular bread and butter work of serving legal papers from solicitors, we weren't that busy.
'I don't like him.' I repeated.
'Rude, unpleasant, take your pick.' I'm usually a good judge of character and something about Briggs jarred with me. I moved our glasses to one side to allow Don to open the file on Jennifer Murdoch. He started to read to me.
'Okay, so she's in her mid-thirties, married and lives in North Ferriby with her husband. Overall salary package is somewhere in the region of £40,000. She's worked for Briggs for close to ten years.' He passed the file over to me. There were details of her education and previous employment; father worked the docks, standard education in a local secondary school; nothing unusual.
'Not such a great employee, though.' I took a look at the doctor's notes we'd previously copied from Briggs.
'Any thoughts?' Don asked me.
I leant back in the chair and swallowed a mouthful of lager. 'She's his accountant, right? She controls the purse-strings. Maybe there had been a falling out between them? Maybe over the money theft?'
Don shrugged. 'Enough to kill over? I don't see it.'
Sometimes I'm too inquisitive for my own good. Or rather, our good. Don was good at focusing in on the task at hand. All we'd been asked to do was look at her claim to illness; see if her absence from work was justifiable, and if we could, offer some evidence to her employer.
Don closed the file. 'I'll get on with checking her out tomorrow; see what else I can find.' He looked at his watch and stood up. 'We'd best hurry up. Sarah's going to be waiting for us.'
Excerpted from Broken Dreams by Nick Quantrill. Copyright © 2010 Nick Quantrill. Excerpted by permission of Caffeine Nights Publishing.
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