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Authors: Richard Haley

Dead Dream Girl

BOOK: Dead Dream Girl
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Dead Dream Girl

Richard Haley

he body was winched out of the water very slowly on a flat board. Skilled divers had manoeuvred it on to the board with great care, after first untying the cords that had attached the body to a bag of stones. The frogmen had been anxious to ensure that no further damage was
caused to the body than happened at the time it was thrown in. Autopsy examinations in the search for clues to a possible identity of the killer would be
enough as it was.

The body still wore a summer dress. It was torn and mud-stained, but a woman among the small group looking on was able to detect that it hadn’t been cheap. It was drop-waisted and had elegant button work down the bodice and a finely etched floral pattern.

The body’s face was bloated and had the sort of pitting and scarring that had probably been inflicted by predatory pond life. It was just possible, in the nearly autumn sunlight, to tell that the hair was honey coloured. The SOC team, standing grim faced on the reservoir bank, needed none of these sparse details to tell them whose body it was. It could only be that of Donna Jackson, a woman their CID colleagues had been searching for for weeks. A boy, a
keen underwater swimmer, had found it. Children were forbidden to swim in the reservoir, but they did anyway. If it hadn’t been for the boy, one of the onlookers muttered sourly, the poor kid’s body would have been down there for good.

Frank Crane drove on to Willow Tree Park on an evening in June. It was an attractive name for what was a council estate, always known by locals as the Willows. It was on the edge of Bradford and near the green belt, but that hadn’t stopped it going to the dogs exactly like the inner city ones. It had just taken longer, that was all. There were still pockets of respectability, but too many problem families had sidled their way in, who used the gardens as storage dumps for old tyres and rusting car parts, and kept vicious-looking dogs on chains. Their children lived a life of their own, mainly in packs of ten on street corners.

Garden Drive was in the middle of the estate and looked to be one of the better bits. The Jacksons lived at number 27. Crane had been told they were decent,
people, and this seemed to be confirmed by a neatly clipped hedge, a newly mown lawn and flowered borders. The house was a small boxy semi, like all the others, and Crane could only park his car with difficulty about twenty yards away on the crowded road side.

He walked up a narrow, flagged pathway and pressed the bell of a cream-painted door. He didn’t hear a ring tone and it went unanswered. He knocked. The door was then slowly drawn open, as if not much used. He guessed that the Jacksons’ normal visitors knew to use the side door.

‘Mrs Jackson? I’m Frank Crane.’

‘Oh … hello,’ she said nervously. ‘Come in, please.’

She was spare and smallish and had dark brown hair
which had an inch-wide strand of grey running from the right temple. Hollow cheeks emphasized a knobbly bone structure and her hazel eyes were haunted looking above a long nose. She wore a faded zip-front navy shirt and well-worn, stone-coloured cords.

She turned and led him along a short narrow hallway and into the back room. It looked like it doubled as living and dining room. A man sat at a small drop-leaf table in front of the window and a young woman sat in an armchair watching
. She reluctantly switched it off with a remote. ‘It’s all right,’ she said, to no one in particular. ‘I’m taping it anyway.’

‘This is Mr Crane, Malc,’ Mrs Jackson said, still nervous.

‘Pleased to meet you, Mr Crane,’ he said, getting up and holding out a hand. He was smallish but stocky, in trousers and T-shirt, with heavy glasses that slightly enlarged pale blue eyes, blunt, reddish features and greying dark hair. His hand shook slightly. He seemed as uneasy as his wife.

‘And this is Patsy,’ Mrs Jackson went on. Patsy gave him an indifferent smile, her eyes not quite meeting his.

‘I’m sorry you’ve had to come in the evening,’ Jackson said, ‘but with us all working … Connie could have had some time off, but we all wanted to be here, know what I mean?’

‘Don’t worry, Mr Jackson. I do a good deal of my work in the evening.’

‘Call me Malc. And this is Connie.’

‘And I’m Frank.’

‘Will you take a drink, Frank? Beer? Whisky?’

Crane never normally drank while working, but he felt drinks would help them to relax for what could be a demanding interview. ‘A beer would be fine.’

‘I’ll see to it, Dad.’ Patsy got up. ‘How about you, Mam?’

Connie shrugged indifferently. ‘I’ll have a small Bristol Cream, pet, if there’s any left.’

Patsy went through to the kitchen and the three of them stood in silence. Crane was used to this awkward moment, when people were steeling themselves to talk about emotional or embarrassing situations. He had ways of putting them at their ease, but Connie suddenly said, ‘Show him the papers, Malc.’

‘They’re here, Frank. I got them ready.’

The papers were insurance statements. Crane caught the figure £10,000 Sum Assured, and the words ‘plus
bonus to date’. Puzzled, he glanced from the papers to Malc’s uneasy, enlarged eyes. ‘It’s due in a week or two, Frank, do you see?’ he said anxiously. ‘So we can pay you, no problem, if you don’t mind hanging on till they pay us.’

‘We don’t care how much it costs,’ Connie said flatly. ‘We wanted it for a down payment on a house of our own, right away from the Willows, but nothing comes before putting that swine behind bars where he belongs.’

‘That’s right, Frank,’ Malc said, his voice breaking slightly. We couldn’t live with ourselves if we didn’t do everything possible.’

Crane looked at their anxious faces. He’d thought long and hard about coming here. Terry Jones had already told him they’d have to break into their nest egg to pay his fees. But he’d also said they were determined to have a private man and if Crane didn’t take the case they might land themselves with someone who’d take the money and walk through it. In the end he knew it was the challenge that
had drawn him. His challenge, their tragedy, that was the sad bit.

‘I don’t need any proof you have the money. I know respectable people when I see them. What I need to tell you is that I can only accept the work when I’ve talked it over carefully with you. I need to decide if I can be of genuine help. If I do act for you I’ll explain exactly how much it will cost. And … well … I’d also like to say how deeply sorry I am about your daughter.’

Neither spoke, their faces impassive, their eyes
, but a sense of powerful emotion seemed to thicken the air like humidity. It was a relief when Patsy came in with the drinks on a battered tin tray. She offered it to Crane with the same non-connecting smile as before. She was tall, with her mother’s brown hair, which she’d sprayed into a tousled style that did nothing for her. She had regular but completely plain features, apart from eyes that were a shade of lavender. She was aggressively made up as if trying to force prettiness on to her modest looks. She wore a wrinkled slash-neck cotton sweater in green and white stripes and grubby white bell-bottom trousers.

‘Sit down, Frank,’ Connie said finally, on a near-
note. A small three piece had been crammed into the little room, which also had a sideboard and a stereo, as well as the television. The wall pictures were of the type that came from chain stores. Crane sat in one of the armchairs, Malc in the other, the women on the sofa. They seemed as packed together as people sitting in the corner of a crowded pub.

‘You will take it, Frank, won’t you?’ Connie spoke in a low urgent voice. ‘Mr Benson wouldn’t have mentioned your name if he’d not thought you could help.’

‘Worked the clock round, DS Benson,’ Malc said huskily. ‘Couldn’t have done no more. None of them lads could.’

Crane nodded, remembering the time when Benson had been grey with fatigue, when there’d been a task force, an incident room, endless overtime. He said, ‘I’m going to have to bring back painful memories. I know there’s been a question mark hanging over Donna’s boyfriend – Bobby Mahon, wasn’t it?’

it, Frank,’ Malc broke out. ‘No question. Even DS Benson said they weren’t looking for no one else in the end. I tell you, I’d have seen to the sod myself, except it’d only have brought more upset to Mam here and Patsy.’

‘Dad …’ Patsy put a hand on his trembling arm.

‘It’s the truth, Frank,’ Connie almost whispered, her eyes moist in declining sunlight. ‘She … she came home with bruises more than once, a black eye, a swollen face. We had to keep her out of Malc’s way till we got her looking right again, he’d have gone round there and smashed him.’

‘Too right,’ he muttered. ‘Too bloody right.’

‘He said she was two-timing him, that Mahon,’ Connie went on. ‘But she wasn’t. She was a bonny girl. She couldn’t help it if men couldn’t take their eyes off her.’

Crane caught Patsy’s glance. Her face was
. She said, ‘Anyway, he was two-timing
. Seemed to think he could do as he chose.’

Crane said, ‘How did he take it … when Donna was found?’

‘Cracked on to be heartbroken,’ Malc said bitterly. ‘Round here every verse end when they had to let him go. Swearing it wasn’t him, over and over again. He could even turn the waterworks on. Crying. Always round here crying.’

‘I think it was genuine, Dad,’ Patsy said. ‘I’m sure he
was upset, even if he did do it. That was Bobby’s trouble, it was just the same when he landed her one, pleading and sobbing for her to take him back.’

Crane glanced at her. It was a good point. He knew from experience that bad hats often did show remorse about a killing while stubbornly denying it was down to them. It didn’t mean the remorse was any less valid. He took out his notebook. ‘What was Donna’s job?’

‘She worked at Leaf and Petal.’

‘Garden centre, off Back Lane?’

‘That’s the one,’ Malc said heavily. ‘Helped in and among. Told folk where things were, worked a checkout, gave a hand in the café.’

‘She was doing grand,’ Connie said, wiping an eye with a knuckle. ‘She was doing grand. It’s seasonal for most of the young ones, what with the winter months being so quiet, but Mr Hellewell said he’d keep her on that last winter, teach her about the plants and the young trees. Told her she had a really good future.’

Patsy’s face was expressionless again.

‘Nice bloke, Joe Hellewell,’ Malc said. ‘Really took Donna under his wing.’

‘She did some modelling work as well,’ Connie added.

‘That was Clive,’ Malc told him. ‘Just calls himself Clive. Has that photography shop on Shilling Street.’

‘He was positive he could make a name for her,’ Connie said, with the same sad pride as before. ‘He was sending pictures of her to the people who do the mail-order
. That would be a start, he told her, there was no telling where she’d end up.’

Crane didn’t need to check Patsy’s expression this time. He knew it would be stonier than ever.

‘So … she worked at Leaf and Petal during the day and did her modelling in her spare time … evenings, days off?’

They nodded. ‘She were never in,’ Malc said, trying to mask his pain with an indulgent smile. ‘Never in. Off to her work, off to her modelling, off clubbing. I used to say, “The only time you spend an evening with your mum and dad, young lady, is when you’re poorly.”’

‘And she hardly ever
poorly,’ Patsy added. ‘Can’t remember the last time she had a cold.’

‘Should have caught pneumonia,’ Malc said, forcing a chuckle, ‘some of the skimpy things she’d go off in, middle of winter.’

‘How long had she known Bobby Mahon?’

‘He’d always been around. Lives in the next road. She got to know him properly at the Goose and Guinea. We never liked her going, not with the class of riff-raff goes in there these days, but what can you do?’

‘Tanglewood,’ Crane said. ‘Did she ever go along by the reservoir before she …?’

‘They’d go Sunday afternoons now and then, to walk the Mahons’ dog. It’s popular with folk who keep a dog.’

‘Is it likely she’d go there after dark? Of her own free will?’

Malc sighed, clearly struggling for self-control. ‘Mahon … he could talk her into things.’

‘She’d not have gone, left to herself,’ Connie said harshly. ‘Apart from anything else, you don’t know
goes in there after dark.’

‘Oh, I don’t know, Mam,’ Patsy said evenly. ‘She could be more than a bit wild, you know she could.’

‘She wasn’t wild, Patsy. She was just high-spirited, liked
a laugh, that’s all. I’m positive she’d not have wanted to go in that spooky place after dark.’

‘Get me another drink, Patsy love,’ Malc said, his voice wavering. ‘I’m sorry, Frank, it’s always the same when we start talking about our precious little Donna.’

Patsy glanced at Crane’s glass. Seeing it was still
she went off without a word. Crane said, ‘I really am very sorry to have to put you through it all again.’

‘You need to know the details,’ Connie said, tears now trickling steadily down her hollow cheeks. ‘She was so pretty, Frank, so full of life. How
could …’

Crane worked hard to detach himself from the unhappiness of some of the people he dealt with, but didn’t always succeed when the emotion was this raw. ‘I … think I have everything I need to be going on with,’ he said. ‘I just needed an outline of her life and work.’

Patsy put Malc’s refilled glass into his trembling hand. She said, ‘There was a lot in the
about it.’

‘Yes, I remember the reports.’

‘The bloke who wrote them, they call him Geoff Anderson. He spent an awful lot of time on it. Came here once or twice to talk to Mam and Dad. Keen as mustard to see someone nailed. Might be worth your while having a word with him. Nice bloke.’

‘I’ll do that.’

‘Lived and breathed it, Frank, same as DS Benson. Spent a long time with Mam and me, just going over her life so he could write it all up. There were times he could hardly get a word out himself, what with being that upset over Mam and me in tears, but Patsy managed to tell him what he needed to know.’

BOOK: Dead Dream Girl
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