Authors: J. J. Salkeld
Tags: #Detective and Mystery Fiction, #Noir, #Novella
The Blue Notes
Border City Blues Novellas 
J J Salkeld
UK, Novella (2015)
The Blue Notes
Border City Blues: THREE
By J J Salkeld
© copyright J J Salkeld, 2014/2015
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Cover photograph by R F Simpson
Cover art by Michaela Waddell,
Good Friday, April 3rd
Carlisle Foodbank storage and distribution centre, 10.18am.
Ted Taylor looked out across the car park on the far side of the almost empty yard, and noticed with approval that the driver was being careful to park within the demarcated lines, and well away from the loading area. He wasn’t quite sure why, but he hadn’t expected that kind of consideration from a copper. But when the tall young man got out of the car, and started to walk towards him, Taylor understood why the car had been parked so thoughtfully. It was Henry Armstrong, who volunteered regularly at the food bank, and he was a lovely young fella.
‘All right, Henry, lad?’ said Taylor, as Armstrong ran up the short flight of stairs to the loading bay. ‘Is it just a coincidence that you’ve turned out to this one, like?’
‘No, Ted, not really. I saw your name on the crime report this morning, and asked my boss if I could come out, even though this is a uniformed job by rights. But she said yes, so here I am.’
‘Aye, Ted, we do have women coppers. They can even wear trousers, if they want.’ But Armstrong saw that Taylor was smiling. ‘Oh, I see, you’re winding me up.’
‘Aye, maybe. Anyway, I’m not sure that there’s even been a crime, has there? As far as I can tell we’ve got more of value this morning than we had last night.’
‘So I hear. About this bloke who broke in, then. You really think that he actually put diesel into your trucks? He didn’t take any out?’
‘Oh, aye, I’m certain. We’ve got no money, Henry, you know that, so we keep a careful record of our mileage, and exactly what we spend on fuel. By my reckoning the big lorry should be less than half full today, and the two smaller ones about the same. But when I checked them they were all full. Absolutely brimmed, like.’
Armstrong shook his head. ‘We’d better go and check the CCTV, I suppose. Have you got a sample from each of the tanks for me to take away for examination?’
‘Aye, I have, but it’s clear. There’s no red diesel in it, if that’s what you expected. And all our vehicles are running fine. I called each of the drivers just now to check. Everything is totally normal, like.’
‘It’s a mystery then, is this. But aye, an offence has been committed all right. This bloke broke in, didn’t he?’
‘Aye, into our garage. It was all properly locked up last night, I can promise you that. I did it myself, and I’m right particular.’
‘I know that, Ted. So are the doors damaged? He forced them, did he?’
‘No, he did not. Come and look for yourself.’
Henry followed Ted down the stairs, and to the metal roller door to the garage.
‘Bugger me’ said Henry, quietly. ‘Not a mark on them.’
‘Sorry. So he either picked the lock, or had a key. Could it be a volunteer, do you think? Someone who already has a key, or copied it, maybe?’
‘Possible, I suppose. But why would they come round in the middle of the night? Why not bring the fuel in through the day, and just donate it in the same way that other folk donate tins of soup? It’s what we’re here for, like.’
‘Maybe the fuel comes from an illegal source, even if it’s not red diesel. Or perhaps they’re just shy, Ted, I don’t know. Come on, let’s go the office and you can show me the CCTV of this master criminal in action.’
‘Can you put a copy of this on my memory stick?’ asked Henry, after he’d watched the video through twice. ‘You don’t get a good look at his face, do you? All you really see is a bloke carrying jerry cans into the garage a few times. He must be fit though, the speed he moves. They’ve got to weight a good few kilos each, those cans.’
‘Aye. About 45 pounds each, full up, I reckon.’
‘What’s that in kilos, Ted? I can’t visualise it.’
‘No idea, lad. But you’re right. Your boy is pretty fit, I reckon.’
‘Well, that lets out about ninety percent of the local cons straight away. Right chair-busters, most of them are. Mind you, since absolutely none of them has ever been known to give anything away to anyone I suppose it can’t be any of our usual customers. Anyway, if you’d just stick a copy of the file on here, then I’ll be on my way.’
‘You’ll have to do that, Henry. I’ve got no clue, lad. All I can do is press a few buttons on it, like.’
It took Henry a couple of minutes to create the copy on the ancient computer, and Ted made them both a brew while he did so.
‘Thanks, Ted. I’ll just sup this down and I’d better be on my way.’
The old man smiled. ‘You’ll be launching a proper man-hunt for this bloke, I expect. Dogs, the helicopter, bobbies with sticks beating the undergrowth, all that?’
‘Oh, aye. He’s a right nasty piece of work, is this one. He goes around, breaking into charitable organisations, does no damage, probably tidies up a bit, and while he’s there he has the cheek to make a donation. If I counted those jerry cans right he must have donated well over a hundred litres of diesel last night.’
‘If you say so, aye. So did I do right reporting it, lad?’
‘Of course you did, Ted. On the basis of what we’ve seen I’d say the chances are that this is just one of your volunteers, making a donation in a slightly unconventional way. It’s the most likely explanation, I reckon. But I’ll complete a crime report, and you’ll get a number, not that you’ll be making an insurance claim, I imagine?’
Ted laughed. ‘We’d end up paying them, wouldn’t we? But seriously, lad, should we change our locks, owt like that, do you reckon?’
‘I can send one of our security advisors round, if you want, but I’m not sure that I’d bother, if I were you. After all, who knows what this bloke might do next time? Fit new tyres to the lorry, change the oil, fly round with a duster, who knows?’
‘And all because the lady loves Milk Tray, eh?’
‘It doesn’t matter, lad. A bit before your time, I expect.’
Acting DI Pepper Wilson tried to ignore the buzzing noise coming from her handbag. It was her personal phone, and these were working hours. So whoever it was could just sod off, at least for now. But it was the third text within five minutes, and if she didn’t read it then whoever it was would probably just phone her up, and that would be more irritating still. So she looked away from her computer screen, where she’d been trying in vain to turn the ACC’s latest set of operational objectives and priorities into something that would mean something to her DCs. And to Pepper herself, come to that.
It actually mattered, because in the old days all these things really meant was that there’d be an extra emphasis on certain types of offending behaviours for a bit, so only the brown-nosers and the careerists would take notice of the ACC’s priorities. Meanwhile every normal copper would just carry on trying to nick all of the cons that came within grabbing range, no matter what they’d done. But that wasn’t how it was now. Because now, with cash so tight and the blue line stretched so thin, if a type of offence didn’t make it onto the ACC’s hit list then there’d be no proactive policing effort against it at all, and precious little reactive support either.
‘Shit’, said Pepper, when she read the text. ‘See you in ten. Usual place’, she replied, and grabbed her black leather jacket from the wobbly hatstand in the corner of the DI’s office. Her predecessor’s old Barbour, as lined and creased as an octogenarian’s neck, was still hanging there, and she didn’t have the heart to move it. She’d never believed that his illness was brought on by anything more life-threatening than a backlog of paperwork and a strongly-worded memo from the station Super, but that wasn’t the point. A man down was a man down, no matter how ignoble the circumstances.
‘I’ve got to nip out to see a snout, Rex’, she said, hardly slowing as she passed DC Copeland’s eternally shipshape desk. ‘Walk down to the car park with me, would you?’
‘You need an escort now, Pepper?’ he said, getting up and following her towards the stairs.
‘I bloody deserve one. Listen, how are we doing for later?’ she said, holding the door that led to the stairwell open until Copeland had caught her up.
‘All set, I think. Firearms have been their usual selves. If they do one more bloody risk assessment I’ll shoot one of the bastards myself.’
Pepper laughed. ‘Aye, it’s funny, is that. Especially since they’re the ones who are armed to the bloody teeth. But they’re happy, are they?’
‘Yeah, everything’s signed off. We’re on for twenty two hundred in the briefing room. I’m looking forward to it, actually. Gun amnesties are all very well, but it’s more fun when you go out and scoop a few up from the street, and the scumbags with them.’
‘It’s the perfect night out, Rex. All that anticipation, a close encounter with a deadly weapon or two, and a bundle to finish it all off, with a bit of luck.’
Copeland laughed. ‘You’re a classy bird, Pepper. See you later then?’
‘Aye. Wouldn’t miss it for the world. I’ll be back in half an hour. You know what informants are like. Always facing some bloody crisis or other and looking for a leg-up, even if they’re responsible for all the shit themselves.’
Linda Taylor was waiting under the awning outside the large out-of-town supermarket where she worked. It was a sunny afternoon, but windy, and she was sheltering by the trolley store. When Pepper arrived the two women headed in to the cafe, where Pepper saw a couple of uniformed coppers having their break. One of them raised his hand and was going to say something, but his mate grabbed his arm and said something sharp to him. Pillock, thought Pepper. She walked past them to the counter without so much as glancing their way, while Linda found an empty table by the window.
Pepper was hungry, so she bought a sausage bap for herself, and then ordered another. Linda would have just finished her shift, so she’d be hungry too. Then she guessed and ordered them both coffee, and added a couple of slices of millionaire’s shortbread on the side. Linda had looked as if she could do with cheering up.
‘So what’s the problem, lass?’ she asked, as she put the tray down between them.
‘I’ve got to get away. Now. Me and the kids. Tommy’s getting worse.’
‘He’s hitting you again?’ Pepper wasn’t sceptical, but there were no visible marks this time. And previously Tommy hadn’t been so careful to cover his tracks.
‘Aye, but he’s learned his lesson. Nothing above the neck, like. After you and that other copper gave him a hiding last year he’s concentrated on body-blows. Calls me his big, fat punchbag, the bastard.’
‘He’s using again as well, I take it?’
‘Aye. He says the gear is great now, and it’s never been cheaper. Since John Porter’s been gone it’s all been on the up, the drugs job, he reckons. But when he mixes gear with booze, and he always does, well, you know what happens then.’
‘Has he touched the kids?’
‘Just a matter of time, love. Days, probably.’
‘All right. Let me call the refuge. I know a couple of folk there.’
‘Don’t bother. They’re full, love.’
‘They’ll squeeze you in. And a proper space will open up soon.’
‘No, it won’t. They’re talking about closing it down, anyway, because of the cuts. So they can’t take anyone else, at least not for a while.’
‘Shit. How can they cut the stuff that should never, ever get cut? If they sacked a couple of our useless Superintendents at HQ they could the place afloat for bloody years. Redecorate it too, probably. All right, so how about a shelter somewhere else? I don’t know, out west, or Kendal, maybe.’
‘It’ll be the same story, love.’
‘Bollocks. But you’re probably right. OK, so what can I do? Why not come and stay at my place for a few days? Tommy would never be stupid enough to try anything on there, would he?’
‘Thanks, love, but I’d be scared for the kids, and myself, every time we went outside.’
‘Let us nick him then, love. You’ve got bruising, I imagine.’
‘I’m pissing blood, Pepper.’
‘Fuck that. Let’s get you to hospital, right now, and I’ll ask a couple of the lads from the back-watch to handle Tommy’s arrest. They’ve got a special interest in blokes like him, let’s just say that, and with a bit of luck Tommy will be in fighting mood when they turn up. That idle bastard wants a right good hiding.’
‘No, Pepper, no. He’d be out again in no time, and then we’d be buggered. He’d go fucking mental.’
‘He’d do proper time if we nick him again, love, I promise.’
‘That’s what you said the last time. And the time before that. Not that I’m blaming you, love. No, I need to get away. Try to start again. Give the kids a proper life. Brian’s still wetting the bed, and I can’t say I blame him.’
‘All right, get away from the city. I’ll do all I can. I can help you pack, maybe get one of the lads to drive you to wherever you want to go, when they’re off duty, like. I can let you have a few hundred quid too, but it’s all I’ve got, in cash, like. Sorry it’s not more.’
‘Don’t be daft, love, I can’t take your money. It’s not like your old man left you a bundle when he died, is it?’
Pepper opened her mouth, but she didn’t speak. Linda tried to read her expression. Was it astonishment, or what?
‘Say that again, love.’
‘What? I just said that your old man left you bugger all. That’s right, isn’t it?’
‘Shit. How could I have been so stupid? That’s what the old bastard was trying to tell me, before he died. He’s only bloody stashed the cash that Dai Young paid him. I just assumed that he’d pissed it all away as soon as he got it, the way he usually did. Shit. If I can find it then it’s all yours, love.’
‘You’ll have to hand it in though, won’t you? Isn’t it, like, the proceeds of crime, or something like that?’
Pepper shook her head, and took a big bite of her sausage bap. ‘No way will I hand it in, love, not if there’s a good use for it. Of course it’s the proceeds of crime, because my old man never earned an honest penny in his whole useless life, but who gives a toss about that? If I handed it over it would just vanish into a big black hole, and pay the expenses of some tosser from the top floor spending three days on some jolly in London. You actually deserve it, love. Call it a bit of poetic justice, like. Mind you, I’m not saying I’ll find it, like.’