About the Author
Never realising he could be a writer, Nick spent most of his twenties shouting and bawling his way around the Sunday League football pitches of the city, learning the hard way and meeting an impressive array of characters. With a handful of trophies and permanently damaged ankles to show for his troubles, football was swapped for education, spending the next six years studying of a degree in Social Policy. Approaching now or never time, Nick started writing crime stories set in and around his home city. Instead of just throwing them in a drawer and not letting anyone read them, the stories were made available for free on the Internet, and after winning the HarperCollins ‘Crime Tour’ short story competition in 2006, he started to build a readership.
Fast forward a couple of years and after much hard work, a few false starts and countless short stories, Nick completed ‘Broken Dreams.’ Focusing on Hull’s past and future; the novel looks at the death of the city’s fishing industry and explores the problem of how the city can build a new future for itself. ‘Broken Dreams’ also introduces us to Nick’s lead character; rugby league player turned Private Investigator, Joe Geraghty, co-owner of a small detective agency. Nick’s stories are both entertaining and thought provoking, and although the settings may be local to him, the ideas and issues resonate on a much wider basis.
When not writing fiction, Nick contributes reviews and essays to a variety of football and music websites. He lives in Hull with his wife, cat and the constant fear Hull City AFC will let him down.
Read an Excerpt
Hull, December 1979
‘I’ll say it again, slowly this time, so you understand,’ Andrew Bancroft said. ‘I don’t want to talk to you, Don. I don’t like you. I think you’re a cunt.’
Ridley sat back in his chair. ‘It’s Detective Constable Ridley to you. Not Don.’ He paused for a moment. ‘And watch your mouth.’
‘I want to talk to Holborn.’
‘You’re talking to me. Detective Inspector Holborn isn’t available.’
‘Out doing proper work is he?’ Bancroft took a drag on his cigarette. ‘Not wasting his time talking to me in this shitty interview room of yours?’
‘I told you to watch your mouth.’
Bancroft repeated his request. ‘I want to speak to Holborn.’
‘Tell me about the money I found on you.’
Ridley waved the question away. ‘Won it on the horses, didn’t I?’
‘Right.’ Ridley placed the money he’d taken off Bancroft on the table. A mixture of notes - ones, fives and tens. ‘There’s about £200 here. Looks like the takings out of the pub’s till to me.’
Bancroft finished his cigarette, stubbed it out and stared at Ridley. ‘I like a bet, don’t I?’
‘You won it on a bet with the landlord? Is that what you’re telling me?’
‘When did it become illegal to have some money in your pocket?’
‘Depends how you got that money. Did the landlord just hand it over to you?’
‘Like I said, I like a bet.’
‘And you were collecting your winnings?’
Bancroft smiled and nodded.
‘We’ll see what the landlord has to say.’
Bancroft laughed. ‘You think he’ll speak to you?’
‘I saw you with my own eyes. You were taking protection money off the man.’
‘You saw fuck all, Don.’ Bancroft leaned back. ‘You can to do better than that, surely?’
Ridley rattled off a long list of convictions. ‘It doesn’t look good, does it?’
‘It doesn’t look good for me?’ Bancroft said. ‘What about you? You’re going nowhere, hanging around pubs, accusing innocent men like me. Anyone who knows what they’re doing is on Sagar’s team, trying to catch whoever set that house on fire. They’re not chained to the station making cups of tea for when they come back.’
Ridley lunged across the table at Bancroft and grabbed his coat. ‘Don’t forget who you’re speaking to.’
Bancroft smiled. ‘Be a good lad, Don, and take your hands off me.’
Ridley let go, sat back in his chair and took a deep breath.
‘What’s Sagar so wound up about, anyway?’ Bancroft said. ‘Everyone knows what that family are, bothering people all day and night, taking the piss.’
‘That’s not the point.’
‘The area will sort it out. That’s how it works. No one wants you lot poking their noses in where they’re not wanted.’ Bancroft stared at his fingernails. ‘They never bothered me, though.’ He smiled at Ridley. ‘But they wouldn’t, would they?’
Ridley banged on the table and raised his voice. ‘Children died in that fire. I gave up my Christmas for it, so don’t tell me what’s worth bothering with and what’s not. You’ve got no idea.’
Bancroft lit up another cigarette. ‘If you’re after a thank you from me you won’t be getting one.’
Ridley stood up and paced the small room. He stopped at the window and stared out. Relentless rain battered against it. A few miles west of Queens Gardens Police Station, the Humber Bridge was being constructed. It was a new beginning for the city in a new decade. He turned back to face Bancroft. ‘I didn’t even get to see my little girl open her presents this year because I was talking to people like you. People like you who don’t give a shit about doing the right thing. People like you who don’t care that kids died in that fire.’ He jabbed a finger at Bancroft. ‘Fucking scumbags, like you.’
Bancroft walked across the room to stand next to Ridley. ‘All that time away from home working, it sounds like your wife might be a bit lonely.’
Ridley slammed Bancroft into the wall. ‘If you so much as mention my family again, I’ll knock into next week. I don’t care how big you are or who you think you know.’
The men stared at each before Bancroft smiled. ‘You might need to watch that temper of yours.’
Ridley released his grip and walked back to the table.
Bancroft rearranged his jacket. ‘Like I said, Don, if you’re accusing me of something, I want to talk to Holborn, and I want to talk to him now. I think you’re a cunt.’
Niall only called me Joseph when he was in trouble. My brother didn’t need to ask me twice. I put my mobile in my pocket and picked up my car keys. I was still working out of the office space rented by Ridley & Son, Private Investigators in the Old Town of Hull. I wasn’t Don Ridley’s son, but it didn’t make the decision to close any easier. The lease still had a month to run, so it was a base for the time being. After that, I had no idea. I was now a former Private Investigator.
Niall rented a lock-up on a housing estate. It was out to the east of the city, but I made good time by weaving through the rat-runs I knew. I parked up outside and made my way in. The lock-up was basic with four concrete walls, a bare floor and a light bulb with no shade dangling from the ceiling. My brother was making furniture for friends and family. The lock-up was effectively a small workshop. After working in the caravan industry for so many years, he had the joinery skills. It had gone unspoken, but I knew it had kept him occupied during the long days before he’d decided to go into business with some of his mates. Starting again in his mid-forties was brave, but I wasn’t far behind that and had nothing. I took a step back and knocked on the door so he knew I was there.
He stopped work on the wardrobe he was putting together. ‘Thanks for coming so quickly.’
‘Not a problem.’ I looked at what he was working on. He was a craftsman, that much was clear. It was obvious to me that he took a lot of pleasure from his work.
‘Already got a buyer lined up for it,’ he said, following my gaze.
My brother only spoke in his own time. He had something to say, but I would have to wait for him to get to the point. He nodded at the framed rugby league shirts and photographs in the corner. I walked over and carefully flicked through them.
‘I thought we’d make a feature of Dad’s stuff in the bar.’
‘Good idea.’ Our dad, Jimmy Geraghty, had played for Hull Kingston Rovers before retiring to become a publican. He’d been one of the club’s finest ever fullbacks. It was a neat way of squaring the circle.
‘We can put some of your stuff in, too, if you like?’
‘I haven’t got much to give you.’ Injury had finished my rugby career early. Niall had always been content to watch. He never missed a game. He’d travelled all over with our dad to see them before continuing the tradition with his son, Connor, though Connor had stopped going once he’d hit his teenage years, preferring the football with his mates.
Niall threw the rag into the corner and cleared his throat. ‘I’ve done something stupid.’
‘It can’t be that bad.’
‘Want to bet?’
I stood alongside him. ‘Nothing we can’t sort out.’
‘Not this time.’
‘Why not?’ I passed him over one of the deckchairs he stored at the back of the lock-up. We both sat down.
‘Remember when I was doing the security work on the docks a couple of months ago?’
I nodded. He’d got the work through an agency.
‘One of the lads there needed some storage space and I helped him out.’
‘Ted’s still got the lock-up next door, but he hasn’t been using it, so I borrowed it off him and gave him a few quid.’
I didn’t like where this was heading. ‘What did you need to store?’
‘I was looking after them for someone.’
‘Fuck’s sake.’ I understood what he was saying. Smuggled cigarettes. ‘How many?’
‘A thousand cartons.’
‘How much money are we talking about?’
Niall shrugged. ‘Thousands, I suppose.’
I didn’t know what to say. However much we were talking about, it was serious.
‘I need to put food on the table,’ he said.
‘I know.’ I wasn’t judging my brother. I took a breath, the decision made. ‘We’ll tell your mate that the space is no longer available. No harm done. We’ll go and see him together if that makes it easier.’
Niall shook his head. ‘I can’t back out of it now.’
‘Someone’s stolen them.’
I made it clear to Niall that if I was to help him, I had to know everything. We walked across to Ted’s lock-up. I stopped for a moment and glanced up at the four tower blocks which surrounded us. Maybe someone had seen what had happened, but there was no way of knowing. There were too many doors to knock on and it wouldn’t change anything. Ted’s lock-up was exactly the same as Niall’s.
‘I’ve replaced the lock,’ Niall said. ‘Same model. I don’t want Ted to know what’s happened. No point worrying him. He won’t even notice.’
I’d met Ted. He was an old man looking to make a bit of money. He didn’t need to be involved. The lock was heavy duty. I knew they weren’t always effective and appearances were deceptive, but weighing it in my hand, it would have been more than enough to put off an opportunistic thief.
‘Who did the cigarettes belong to?’ I asked.
‘I don’t know.’ He paused. ‘My contact is Terry Gillespie, a mate from security on the docks.’
‘Where does he live?’
Niall only knew the street, so we returned to his garage. He had a stack of old telephone directories. I made a note of the address we needed.
We joined the early evening traffic on the ring road heading for King George Dock. Lorry after lorry lined up to board the commercial ferries which taxied between Hull and continental Europe. To me, it was still the heartbeat of the city, our reason for existing.
I parked up outside Gillespie’s house. Niall said he hadn’t visited it before. It was the same as any other on the street. I knocked on the door. Gillespie wasn’t thrilled to see us. I put my foot in the doorframe to stop him shutting us out. He relented and we followed him into his living room.
‘Lucky to catch me,’ he said. ‘I’m on my days off now.’
I looked around the room. The place was a shit-hole. Aside from the dated and tatty decor, takeaway cartons and dirty plates littered the settee and chairs.
‘The fuck you staring at?’ Gillespie asked me.
‘You might want to think about washing up once in a while.’
Gillespie spoke to Niall. ‘Who is this wanker?’
‘My brother,’ he said. ‘A Private Investigator.’
Gillespie laughed. ‘Seriously?’
I told Gillespie to sit down. ‘I want to know about the cigarettes.’
‘It’s none of your business.’
I walked over to the window and took a deep breath. I’d taken an instant dislike to the man. ‘You’ve involved my brother in your shitty world, so it is my problem.’
‘You come into my house, turn your nose up at it, and expect me to help you?’
I shrugged. ‘Like I give a shit what you think.’ I walked across the room to him. ‘But you need to understand I’m the only person who’s going to help you at the moment.’
Gillespie spoke. ‘The cigs were in your lock-up, Niall. You’re the one who fucked up.’
‘Your problem, too,’ I said. ‘Do you think this is going to go away? You know how many cigarettes were in the lock-up, so you can do the sums.’ I didn’t want to say it in front of Niall, but Gillespie wasn’t giving me a choice. ‘You’re not walking away from this.’ The room went quiet. I couldn’t look at Niall. Gillespie understood what I was saying, though. ‘Tell me what happened. From the start.’
Gillespie knew what was good for him and started to speak. ‘I’ve worked on the docks for years. These things go on.’
‘I’m sure they do.’
‘I was asked if I could help store these cigarettes which were coming in. That was all. The problem was that they were coming in the following day and I didn’t have anywhere to store them myself.’
‘So you thought you’d drag Niall into it?’
‘He didn’t need dragging into anything.’
‘How were they were smuggled into the country?’
I let it go. I wasn’t too bothered about the mechanics of the situation. What was done was done. ‘Who else knows?’ I asked him.
He knew what I was working up to. 'Someone turned a blind eye at the docks? Who was it?’
‘I can’t tell you that.’
‘You don’t have a choice. If anyone comes looking for Niall, I won’t hesitate to point them in your direction. And I promise whatever happens to him will be twice as bad for you.’
Gillespie took my point. ‘The only one I knew about was Peter Hill.’
‘Where will I find him?’
‘He lives somewhere off Sutton Road.’
I made a note of the address. That was all he had for me. I nodded to Niall that we were done here for now. I picked up a beer-mat, scribbled my mobile number down and threw it at Gillespie. ‘We’ll be speaking again soon.’ I certainly wasn’t finished with him.
We didn’t speak as we drove west towards the bar. Niall wanted to put a couple of hours' work in. The opening night was only three days away. I also knew it was his way of zoning the problem out. The visit to Gillespie had left me thinking and acting like a PI again. That had been the way Niall had introduced me. I was worried I quite liked it. We drove past the new Craven Park. Building work was ongoing as the ground expanded. The club had played there for over twenty years now, but it wasn’t the same to me. The old Craven Park was the place I’d made my memories, both as a player and as a supporter. Now the site housed a supermarket. Seemingly, it was progress.
‘I’m not cut out for this kind of thing,’ my brother eventually said. ‘I’m a family man.’
I wondered if that meant I wasn’t a family man? That I’d never be a family man? Was I the opposite of Niall? Were the two things mutually exclusive? All I knew was that you play the hand you’re dealt. You either deal with it or you fall to pieces.
I turned onto Hedon Road. We both stared at the docks as we sped past. The last few lorries boarded the ferries with their cargo. Hull Prison stood on the other side of the road. I knew he was making the connection to the situation he was in. I got down to business. ‘What do you know about Gillespie?’
‘Not a lot.’
It was going to be hard work. I started with the easy question. ‘Does he live alone?’
‘His wife died a couple of years ago.’
‘Doesn’t see much of them.’
‘Has he always worked on the docks?’
‘He used to have a proper job on them, but it went years ago.’
It sounded about right. ‘Got a lot of mates on there, then?’
‘He knows everyone.’
We pulled up at the traffic lights on Myton Bridge. ‘Do you think he’s capable of taking the cigarettes and ripping you off?’
I didn’t need to spell it out. Someone had stolen them. ‘He’s top of my list.’
Niall stared out of the window. ‘He took me under his wing and showed me the ropes.’ He turned back to me. ‘He was a mate.’
I put the car in gear and drove. We passed the marina and its moored yachts. The stupidity of one the city centre’s jewels being separated from the rest of the city centre by Castle Street, a fast moving dual carriageway, never failed to amaze me. A handful of people were out walking, admiring the boats. ‘People aren’t always what they seem,’ I said.
‘We’re skint,’ he said. ‘The redundancy is all but gone on the bar and Ruth is out working all hours.’
‘How’s she’s doing?’ I asked.
‘She’s solid. ’ He paused for a moment. ‘She’s carrying us along.’
‘How about Connor?’
‘He’s at that funny age, isn’t he? Thinks he’s a man, but he’s really still a boy. She tells me it’ll pass.’
‘I thought he was helping to get the bar sorted?’
‘Not really. Reckons he’s out working already. All I know is that he’s out all hours but I still can’t actually tell you what he does.’ He shrugged. ‘What does a nightclub promoter do? You tell me.’
I didn’t have an answer. The world had changed. Niall knew that more than most.
‘I don’t want him to end up like me. I’ve tried to speak to him, but there’s no way of getting through to him. His mate, Milo, has been filling his head with all these daft ideas. He needs to think properly about his future.’
‘He’s still a kid.’
‘He’s twenty, Joe.’
We both laughed.
‘It reminds me of you and dad,’ Niall said. ‘You drove him crazy.’
‘I had no idea what I wanted to do at twenty, that’s for sure.’
‘Dad wanted you out there, working.’
‘I did work.’
‘Not a proper job, though. Not the kind of job he wanted you to have.’
Our dad hadn’t foreseen the industry being slowly ripped out of the city. I drove down North Road, past what remained of Boothferry Park, the former home of Hull City. The land had been bulldozed and new houses were being built. Even the six magnificent floodlights had now gone. I turned on to Spring Bank West, heading towards Chanterlands Avenue and the bar. ‘Why didn’t you tell me what was going on?’ We’d pulled up at the level crossing as it went down.
‘You’ve got enough on your plate.’ He looked away again, staring out of the window. ‘Besides, it’s not something to brag about, is it?’
‘I could have helped.’
‘I thought I could handle it.’
‘I assume Ruth doesn’t know?’
The train passed and the level crossing went back up. I took a left onto Chanterlands Avenue and thought again about Gillespie. I didn’t like the man, but more than that, he struck me as exactly the kind of person who would see my brother as an easy target. I pulled up outside the bar. Niall got out of the car and turned back to me before he closed the door. ‘I’m really not cut out for this kind of thing, Joe.’
I’d taken a telephone call the previous day from Roger Millfield, a local accountant, asking for a meeting. He’d asked if I could spare him half an hour. It was the least I could do. When Don and I had the partnership, we’d done a lot of bread and butter work for professional firms. It had often been tedious, but it had kept us ticking over. It was also a chance to put the thought of Niall’s problem to one side for a short while. His office was on High Street. The area had changed over time. Where once the city’s wealth was built on the goods housed in the warehouses which lined the area, they now housed the innovative design companies, government funded projects and one-man start-ups which would hopefully propel the city forward. His receptionist told me to take a seat. I flicked through the local newspaper as I waited. Millfield was a self-made man who had started at the bottom of his profession and worked his way up. I respected that. He was pushing sixty and probably not too far off retirement.
He appeared and held his hand out to me. ‘Nice to see you, Joe.’
I shook it before following him through to his office. He had a photograph of his daughter, Rebecca, taking pride of place on his desk. I asked after her.
‘She’s just finished her exams and qualified, so I want to bring her on here. One day, she’ll take over. I’ve never known someone pass all their exams at such a young age.’
I knew she was in her mid-twenties. I was impressed. ‘Can you pass on my congratulations?’
He said he would. ‘I hear you and Don aren’t working together now.’
‘Are you freelancing?’
To my mind, I was now a former Private Investigator. One chapter of my life had closed and another one was about to open. What that would be, I had no idea. But for all of my desire to start again, I had my brother’s problem to think about. If I put aside the fact it was personal, it wasn’t so far removed from my previous life. Millfield must have sensed my reluctance to answer.
‘I’ve got a job I need doing,’ he said.
I didn’t dismiss it out of hand. I needed to earn some money, too.
‘Could be matrimony.’
I’d done this kind of work for him before. He made no apologies for the fact he took care of his clients. If an important client was thinking about selling their business, they’d often want to make sure things were solid at home, that there were no surprises waiting. It was a shitty line of work, but you couldn’t always pick and choose. As a consequence, he’d used his contacts with solicitors to get us work delivering warrants and court orders. I knew I owed the man. ‘Which client?’
He shook his head and pointed to the photograph on his desk. His wife, Kath.
‘Are you sure?’ I said.
He nodded. ‘I’ve answered several dead telephone calls now. I know something’s not right.’
‘What do you want me to do?’
‘I was assuming you would tell me that, Joe.’
I stood up. ‘I’ll be in touch.’ I was back in work.