A CITY CAN’T KEEP ITS SECRETS FOREVER.
How far will Anna Stone, a disillusioned police officer on the brink of leaving her job, go to uncover the truth about her sister’s disappearance? Approached by Luke Carver, an ex-Army drifter she’s previously sent to prison, he claims to have information which will help her. As the trail leads from Hull and the Humber’s desperate and downtrodden to its great and good, an unsolved murder twenty-five years ago places their lives in danger, leaving Stone to decide if she can really trust a man who has his own reasons for helping.
An excerpt from THE DEAD CAN'T TALK
The hammering on Luke Carver’s door was followed by a scream. He moved aside as Gemma Wharton fell into his bedsit. She shouted out as a man he didn’t recognise stumbled in after her. Carver didn’t wait to ask any questions, just lunged forward and landed a punch, a glancing blow which sent the man falling against a small wooden table in the corner.
His opponent was quickly up and on the attack, grabbing at him. Carver managed to get some traction, his right arm landing a succession of punches to the stomach, the combination starting to work. One more and the man loosened his grip. With his free leg, Carver crashed his knee into the man’s balls, watching as he groaned and fell off him before rolling away in agony.
He turned to look at his neighbour, piecing together what had just happened. She was huddled in the corner of his bedsit, head buried in her arms, crying. The man on the floor was in his mid-forties and dressed in black, ten or so years older than him. ‘Who is he?’
‘He told me he was passing on a message.’
‘What was the message?’
‘That I should mind my own business.’
Carver moved across and slapped the man across the face, forcing him to focus. ‘Is that right?’ There was no reply. He dragged the man out of the bedsit to the stairs, pushing him down them before following him out into the street.
Boulevard had once been home to industrialists and businessmen with money and stature. Now its large houses were divided into numerous flats and bedsits, the area populated by the city’s dispossessed and transient. It was late, the street empty.
The man’s pockets were empty except for his car keys. Carver pressed the fob, waiting for the telltale sign of a flashing light, before dragging the man to his vehicle and throwing him against the passenger door. The inside of the car was a mess, junk food wrappers littering the floor. He emptied the contents of the glove compartment, finding more rubbish. There was no ID.
Carver pulled out his mobile and took a photograph of the man’s face. Someone would know him. He knelt, grabbed the man’s hand and pulled it towards the door. The man struggled, knowing what was coming. Carver forced the hand inside the door and slammed it shut, ignoring the scream of pain that followed. He threw the car keys onto the ground and started to walk away, telling the man not to bother coming back. He was poised for another attack, but it didn’t come. The injured man slowly hauled himself up, offering one last volley of abuse, promising retribution.
When the vehicle had disappeared from sight, and he was sure it wasn’t coming back, Carver returned to his bedsit. Gemma Wharton was tidying up the mess. The damage caused by the fight made little difference – the place was barely habitable. His bedsit suffered from damp, the wallpaper peeling off in the corners. The front window rattled and was in need of repair. The carpet was dirty and threadbare. His possessions amounted to little more than an old portable television, a couple of bin liners full of clothes and a collection of dog-eared paperbacks. The place was a shithole. It was noisy, cold and each floor shared a bathroom.
Carver bent down to help, collecting together the broken legs of a coffee table. ‘It’s not even mine. Came with the place.’ Wharton was silent. ‘Are you ok?’
‘I shouldn’t have dragged you into this.’
They’d lived next door to each other for a couple of months, striking up a friendship. She was in her early-thirties, but her lifestyle was taking its toll. She looked older, her skin pale with heavy bags under her eyes. She worked in a nearby massage parlour, but he’d never asked what the job involved. It was none of his business. He was collecting debts and driving an unregistered taxi when he could to make ends meet, another ex-Army and ex-prison statistic. ‘Got anything to drink in your place?’ he asked.
‘I could use something.’
He told her not to worry about it and sat down on the floor, the adrenalin leaving his body. ‘Want to talk about it?’ It was time to focus, work things out.
She sat down next to him. ‘He was waiting outside for me.’
‘Who is he?’
‘Have you seen him before?’
‘No, but he knew me. He shouted my name as I walked down the path to the door. He caught up with me as I tried to get the key in the door. He forced me to the floor and told me I needed to mind my own business.’ She blew her nose and composed herself again. ‘I was scared, so I went for his face. I managed to get my nails down one of his cheeks so he had to let go.’
‘And that’s when you came here?’
She nodded. ‘I wasn’t thinking. He managed to get a foot in the door as I tried to close it. He chased me up the stairs.’ Her voice trailed off. ‘I could see your light was on.’
In hindsight, breaking the man’s fingers in his car door didn’t feel all that excessive. It was the least he deserved. But there was going to be more to the story.
Wharton stood up and walked over to the window, lighting up a cigarette. ‘This isn’t your problem.’
‘You did the right thing,’ he told her.
He joined her at the window. They watched a lone man walking his dog. A car drove past at speed, the scraping noise of metal on concrete as it hit a speed bump audible from the first floor. He opened the window and heard an argument in a language he didn’t recognise. Glancing at Wharton, he didn’t need to say it. The situation could have ended in a far worse fashion.
Wharton dotted the cigarette out and placed it back in the box, saving the rest for later. She offered him a weak smile. ‘You don’t want to be getting involved.’
‘I’m involved now.’
He shrugged. ‘Looks like it.’
She closed his window and led him through to her bedsit on the other side of the landing. It was the mirror image of his place, only tidier. She’d made the effort to turn it into a home. He watched as she took out an old VHS videotape and pushed it into the ancient recorder placed underneath the television set. She rubbed the batteries in the remote control back into life before pressing play, stopping him from asking any further questions.
The footage started, filmed in black and white. The camera flitted around a building too quickly for him to make sense of it before it settled. The top right hand corner of the screen contained a date-stamp, 4th July, 1990. It had been filmed in what appeared to be a disused warehouse. The walls were bare except for the graffiti covering one. JOHN 4 CLAIRE was unevenly written in whitewash, surrounded by a crudely drawn heart. The camera moved again before settling above a mattress in the middle of the concrete floor.
Carver watched as a woman led a man into shot. She was young, in her mid-twenties. The camera angle didn’t change. She glanced up briefly before speaking to people off camera and holding out her hand. He leaned in to get a better view as she took hold of what he was assumed was money. The woman removed her clothes and settled on the mattress. The camera was set up above the scene, so he could only see the back of the man, trousers around his ankles, as he pushed into the woman. It was difficult to watch, the sex robotic and mechanical. The woman glanced up occasionally, suggesting she knew the camera was there. A moment later, the film abruptly cut off.
He stared at the blank screen for a moment, processing what he’d seen before asking Wharton to rewind back to the beginning so he could watch it again. The footage offered nothing new on second viewing. The sex was consensual, but the man had initially appeared to be reluctant, maybe a dare taken too far. He’d swayed slightly at the start, as if he’d been drinking. There had to be something more he wasn’t seeing.
Wharton walked back to him and sat down on the floor. ‘My mam.’
It took him a moment to understand what she was saying. ‘On the tape?’
‘She was murdered that night.’
He flinched. She’d said it so casually, like it was no big deal.
‘I didn’t really know her,’ she said, her voice low. ‘I wasn’t old enough to remember what happened.'
He instinctively reached for her hand, closing his eyes as her nails dug in, knowing she was trying to stop herself crying.
‘A man approached me with the tape at work a few days ago. He gave it to me and said it was important, that I should have it.’ She took a moment to compose herself before continuing. ‘He said he knew what had happened to my mam.’ Wharton released her grip and started to chew a fingernail. ‘I didn’t know what to do.’
Neither did Carver. ‘Start at the beginning.’
‘I thought he was a guy wanting a massage, but he was nervous, all on edge. I didn’t think much of it. It happens all the time, but then he said he wanted to talk. It freaks me out when they do that, but then he started going on, being weird with me, telling me how sorry he was about everything. He gave me the tape and kept apologising. I couldn’t handle it, so I pressed the panic button in my room and hid the tape before security threw him out.’
‘Did you get the guy’s name?’
‘I wasn’t thinking straight. I just wanted him out of my face. Once I’d had a cig and calmed down, I got to thinking that if he did have something to say, he’d find me again. He knew where I worked.’
He knew how this was going to end. ‘He hasn’t been back?’
She shook her head. ‘I decided to forget about it.’
‘And you’ve no idea who he was?’
‘What did he look like?’
‘Average. Not particularly tall or fat.’ Wharton pointed to her cheek, drawing a line down it. ‘He had a scar there.’
It was a start. ‘How old was he?’
‘Pushing sixty, something like that.’
‘What about his hair?’
‘Dark, but going grey on the sides.’ Wharton stopped talking and started to cry again. ‘I’m scared, Luke.’
He thought about reaching out for her hand again, but decided against it. ‘Have you got anywhere you can go?’ he asked. ‘Until we get this sorted out?’
‘There’s nowhere.’ She mentioned her ex-boyfriend. ‘Maybe I could ring him?’
It was a bad idea. ‘Any family you can stay with?’
‘There’s nowhere.’ She took the tape out of the machine and walked over to the mantelpiece. ‘The police didn’t get anyone for my mam’s murder, but a journalist came here, about a year ago, well before you moved in. She told me she knew something about what had happened, but I panicked and shut the door on her.’ She took a newspaper cutting out of her pocket and handed it over. ‘I read this a couple of days later.’
Carver scanned the report quickly. The journalist had disappeared, the story changing when her car was found at a well known suicide spot. The article described it as a tragedy, no known factors contributing to her death.
‘There’s more,’ Wharton said, telling him that the journalist’s sister, a police officer, had visited her the week after the suicide, wanting to know what had been said between them.
‘What did you tell her?’
‘Nothing. I panicked, thinking it was best to play dumb. I shouldn’t have, I don’t know. There wasn’t much I could tell her. She left me her number, but I didn’t call her back.’ She looked him in the eye. ‘Maybe I should have done.’
Carver put his arm around her, knowing he had no clue what he should say, but also thinking. The name of the police officer who’d visited Wharton, asking about her sister, was familiar to him. Too familiar.