Read an Excerpt
Yorkshire wants me
C h a p t e r 1
‘All we ever get is Lord fucking Lucan and wingless bloody crows,’ smiled Gilman, like this was the best day of our lives:
Friday 13 December 1974.
Waiting for my first Front Page, the Byline Boy at last: Edward Dunford, North of England Crime Correspondent; two days too fucking late.
I looked at my father’s watch.
9 a.m. and no bugger had been to bed; straight from the Press Club, still stinking of ale, into this hell:
The Conference Room, Millgarth Police Station, Leeds.
The whole bloody pack sat waiting for the main attraction, pens poised and tapes paused; hot TV lights and cigarette smoke lighting up the windowless room like a Town Hall boxing ring on a Late Night Fight Night; the paper boys taking it out on the TV set, the radios static and playing it deaf:
‘They got sweet FA.’
‘A quid says she’s dead if they got George on it.’
Khalid Aziz at the back, no sign of Jack.
I felt a nudge. It was Gilman again, Gilman from the Manchester Evening News and before.
‘Sorry to hear about your old man, Eddie.’
‘Yeah, thanks,’ I said, thinking news really did travel fucking fast.
‘When’s the funeral?’
I looked at my father’s watch again. ‘In about two hours.’
‘Jesus. Hadden still taking his pound of bloody flesh then.’
‘Yeah,’ I said, knowing, funeral or no funeral, no way I’m letting Jack fucking Whitehead back in on this one.
‘I’m sorry, like.’
‘Yeah,’ I said.
A side door opens, everything goes quiet, everything goes slow. First a detective and the father, then Detective Chief Superintendent George Oldman, last a policewoman with the mother.
I pressed record on the Philips Pocket Memo as they took their seats behind the plastic-topped tables at the front, shuffling papers, touching glasses of water, looking anywhere but up.
In the blue corner:
Detective Chief Superintendent George Oldman, a face from before, a big man amongst big men, thick black hair plastered back to look like less, a pale face streaked beneath the lights with a thousand burst blood vessels, the purple footprints of tiny spiders running across his bleached white cheeks to the slopes of his drunken nose.
Me thinking, his face, his people, his times.
And in the red corner:
The mother and the father in their crumpled clothes and greasy hair, him flicking at the dandruff on his collar, her fiddling with her wedding ring, both twitching at the bang and the wail of a microphone being switched on, looking for all the world more the sinners than the sinned against.
Me thinking, did you do your own daughter?
The policewoman put her hand upon the mother’s arm, the mother turned, staring at her until the policewoman looked away.
Oldman tapped on the microphone and coughed:
‘Thank you for coming gentlemen. It’s been a long night for everyone, especially Mr and Mrs Kemplay, and it’s going to be a long day. So we’ll keep this brief.’
Oldman took a sip from a glass of water.
‘At about 4 p.m. yesterday evening, 12 December, Clare Kemplay disappeared on her way home from Morley Grange Junior and Infants, Morley. Clare left school with two classmates at a quarter to four. At the junction of Rooms Lane and Victoria Road, Clare said goodbye to her friends and was last seen walking down Victoria Road towards her home at approximately four o’clock. This was the last time anyone saw Clare.’
The father was looking at Oldman.
‘When Clare failed to return home, a search was launched early yesterday evening by the Morley Police, along with the help of Mr and Mrs Kemplay’s friends and neighbours, however, as yet, no clue has been found as to the nature of Clare’s disappearance. Clare has never gone missing before and we are obviously very concerned as to her whereabouts and safety.’
Oldman touched the glass again but let it go.
‘Clare is ten years old. She is fair and has blue eyes and long straight hair. Last night Clare was wearing an orange waterproof kagool, a dark blue turtleneck sweater, pale blue denim trousers with a distinctive eagle motif on the back left pocket and red Wellington boots. When Clare left school, she was carrying a plastic Co-op carrier bag containing a pair of black gym shoes.’
Oldman held up an enlarged photograph of a smiling girl, saying, ‘Copies of this recent school photograph will be distributed at the end.’
Oldman took another sip of water.
Chairs scraped, papers rustled, the mother sniffed, the father stared.
‘Mrs Kemplay would now like to read a short statement in the hope that any member of the public who may have seen Clare after four o’clock yesterday evening, or who may have any information regarding Clare’s whereabouts or her disappearance, will come forward to assist us in our investigation.
Detective Chief Superintendent Oldman gently turned the microphone towards Mrs Kemplay.
Camera flashes exploded across the Conference Room, startling the mother and leaving her blinking into our faces.
I looked down at my notebook and the wheels turning the tape inside the Philips Pocket Memo.
‘I would like to appeal to anybody who knows where my Clare is or who saw her after yesterday teatime to please telephone the police. Clare is a very happy girl and I know she would never just run off without telling me. Please, if you know where she is or if you’ve seen her, please telephone the police.’
A strangled cough, then silence.
I looked up.
Mrs Kemplay had her hands to her mouth, her eyes closed.
Mr Kemplay stood up and then sat back down, as Oldman said:
‘Gentlemen, I have given you all the information we have at the moment and I’m afraid we haven’t got time to take any questions right now. We’ve scheduled another press conference for five, unless there are any developments before then. Thank you gentlemen.’
Chairs scraped, papers rustled, murmurs became mutters, whispers words.
Any developments, fuck.
‘Thank you, gentlemen. That’ll be all for now.’
Detective Chief Superintendent Oldman stood up and turned to go but no-one else at the table moved. He turned back into the glare of the TV lights, nodding at journalists he couldn’t see.
‘Thank you, lads.’
I looked down at the notebook again, the wheels still turning the tape, seeing any developments face down in a ditch in an orange waterproof kagool.
I looked back up, the other detective was lifting Mr Kemplay up by his elbow and Oldman was holding open the side door for Mrs Kemplay, whispering something to her, making her blink.
‘Here you go.’ A heavy detective in a good suit was passing along copies of the school photograph.
I felt a nudge. It was Gilman again.
‘Doesn’t look so fucking good does it?’
‘No,’ I said, Clare Kemplay’s face smiling up at me.
‘Poor cow. What must she be going through, eh?’
‘Yeah,’ I said, looking at my father’s watch, my wrist cold.
‘Here, you’d better fuck off hadn’t you.’
The M1, Motorway One, South from Leeds to Ossett.
Pushing my father’s Viva a fast sixty in the rain, the radio rocking to the Rollers’ Shang-a-lang.
Seven odd miles, chanting the copy like a mantra:
A mother made an emotional plea.
The mother of missing ten-year-old Clare Kemplay made an emotional plea.
Mrs Sandra Kemplay made an emotional plea as fears grew.
Emotional pleas, growing fears.
I pulled up outside my mother’s house on Wesley Street, Ossett, at ten to ten, wondering why the Rollers hadn’t covered The Little Drummer Boy, thinking get it done and done right.
Into the phone:
‘OK, sorry. Do the lead paragraph again and then it’s done. Right then: Mrs Sandra Kemplay made an emotional plea this morning for the safe return of her daughter, Clare, as fears grew for the missing Morley ten-year-old.
‘New para: Clare went missing on her way home from school in Morley early yesterday evening and an intensive police search throughout the night has so far failed to yield any clue as to Clare’s whereabouts.
‘OK. Then it’s as it was before . . .
‘Thanks, love . . .
‘No, I’ll be through by then and it’ll take my mind off things . . .
‘See you Kath, bye.’
I replaced the receiver and checked my father’s watch:
Ten past ten.
I walked down the hall to the back room, thinking it’s done and done right.
Susan, my sister, was standing by the window with a cup of tea, looking out on the back garden and the drizzle. My Aunty Margaret was sat at the table, a cup of tea in front of her. Aunty Madge was in the rocking chair, balancing a cup of tea in her lap. No-one sat in my father’s chair by the cupboard.
‘You all done then?’ said Susan, not turning round.
‘Yeah. Where’s Mum?’
‘She’s upstairs, love, getting ready,’ said Aunty Margaret standing up, picking up her cup and saucer. ‘Can I get you a fresh cup?’
‘No, I’m OK thanks.’
‘The cars’ll be here soon,’ said Aunty Madge to no-one. I said, ‘I best go and get ready.’
‘All right, love. You go on then. I’ll have a nice cup of tea for you when you come down.’ Aunty Margaret went through into the kitchen.
‘Do you think Mum’s finished in the bathroom?’
‘Why don’t you ask her,’ said my sister to the garden and the rain.
Up the stairs, two at a time like before; a shit, a shave, and a shower and I’d be set, thinking a quick wank and a wash’d be better, suddenly wondering if my father could read my thoughts now.
The bathroom door was open, my mother’s door closed. In my room a clean white shirt lay freshly ironed on the bed, my father’s black tie next to it. I switched on the radio in the shape of a ship, David Essex promising to make me a star. I looked at my face in the wardrobe mirror and saw my mother standing in the doorway in a pink slip.
‘I put a clean shirt and a tie on the bed for you.’
‘Yeah, thanks Mum.’
‘How’d it go this morning?’
‘All right, you know.’
‘It was on the radio first thing.’
‘Yeah?’ I said, fighting back the questions.
‘Doesn’t sound so good does it?’
‘No,’ I said, wanting to lie.
‘Did you see the mother?’
‘Poor thing,’ said my mother, closing the door behind her.
I sat down on the bed and the shirt, staring at the poster of Peter Lorimer on the back of the door.
Me thinking, ninety miles an hour.
The three car procession crawled down the Dewsbury Cutting, through the unlit Christmas lights in the centre of the town, and slowly back up the other side of the valley.
My father took the first car. My mother, my sister, and me were in the next, the last car jammed full of aunties, blood and fake. No-one was saying much in the first two cars.
The rain had eased by the time we reached the crematorium, though the wind still whipped me raw as I stood at the door, juggling handshakes and a cigarette that had been a fucker to light.
Inside, a stand-in delivered the eulogy, the family vicar too busy fighting his own battle with cancer on the very ward my father had vacated early Wednesday morning. So Super Sub gave us a eulogy to a man neither he nor we ever knew, mistaking my father for a joiner, not a tailor. And I sat there, outraged by the journalistic licence of it all, thinking these people had carpenters on the bloody brain.
Eyes front, I stared at the box just three steps from me, imagining a smaller white box and the Kemplays in black, wondering if the vicar would fuck that up too when they finally found her.
I looked down at my knuckles turning from red to white as they gripped the cold wooden pew, catching a glimpse of my father’s watch beneath my cuff, and felt a hand on my sleeve.
In the silence of the crematorium my mother’s eyes asked for some calm, saying at least that man is trying, that the details aren’t always so important. Next to her my sister, her make-up smudged and almost gone.
And then he was gone too.
I bent down to put the prayer book on the ground, thinking of Kathryn and that maybe I’d suggest a drink after I’d written up the afternoon press conference. Maybe we’d go back to hers again. Anyway, there was no way we could back to mine, not tonight at any rate. Then thinking, there’s no fucking way the dead can read your thoughts.
Outside, I stood about juggling another set of handshakes and a cigarette, making sure the cars all knew the way back to my mother’s.
I got in the very last car and sat in more silence, unable to place any of the faces, or name any of the names. There was a moment’s panic as the driver took a different route back to Ossett, convincing me I’d joined the wrong fucking party. But then we were heading back up the Dewsbury Cutting, all the other passengers suddenly smiling at me like they’d all thought the exact same thing.