With her cryptic instructions ringing in my ears, I left Helen leafing through address books up on deck and took the A59 into town. The morning haze had been replaced by an airless, muggy afternoon. I drove with the window down all the way. Taking a cheeky detour past Anfield, I got stuck in the traffic of people finishing early for the weekend. I parked up late a little after two.
The second I entered the Egg, the first floor veggie cafe on Newington, I knew what she meant. You couldn’t miss the guy, there was something about him (‘though by the time I hit the A59 north all I could say for sure was that he was Irish).
I crossed the room and stood over him. Hard eyes and letterbox mouth stared back. He lowered his head and shook it. “I said she wouldn’t come.” He sized me up. “And who might you be?”
“I’m the guy she sent to find out what you’re after.”
“And did she tell you anything? Who I am?” He grinned. “What I am?”
“No, and I didn’t think to ask. Look, I ain’t being funny but we’ve got a lot on so the sooner you tell me what you want the sooner I can get back yeah.”
A knowing light glowed in those tough eyes. “Hmmm, not boyfriend. Not known her long have you?”
“Is this relevant?”
He leaned back and stared off to his right. “Probably not. Fine, tell her I’ve got my hands on an Action Comics no 1 and I’m looking to make a fast sale.”
“I’ll pass on your message” I replied, making to leave.
“Ask her if she knows what her boat’s name means.” I stopped, adjusted my gait and continued out the door.
His words echoed like a bad movie half the way back. It was something I hadn’t considered before. ‘The Great Hiatus’? The names of ships rarely made sense, anymore than racehorses. But my mind soon drifted and by the time I hit the Southport Road I was trying to think what Peter Griffin’s fishing boat was called in Family Guy (the ‘S.S. More Powerful Than Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and the Incredible Hulk Put Together’, I looked it up later).
A kid on a BMX nearly ran me over walking down the lane to Helen’s boat. “Oi.” I shouted after him. He gave me the finger. “Do one faggot.” Face obscured by a dark blue hoodie.
Helen was on still on deck, on the phone, scribbling down notes. “Huh huh, huh huh. Ok, thanks Gwen, let me know if you hear anything else yeah.”
“Who’s the scroat?” I asked, hooking my thumb over my shoulder.
Helen smiled. “Scot’s a bit of a rough diamond, but he’s a good kid. He was part of the Nicholson’s get up ‘til a bunch of us helped him get out. He’s going to see what he can find out about Lennox.” She stiffened. “What did Andy want?” I told her. Her eyes narrowed. “What’s he up to?”
“Definitely, last one went at auction went for a million dollars.”
I hmmmed. “Sounds like a knock off.”
“Trust me, the comic’s real. It’s in perfect condition too.” She sighed. “Well, I can’t worry about that now. That was my mate Gwen on the phone?”
“Gwen?” I recognised the name.
“She’s the doctor took care of mum when she was... Y’know.” I nodded. Helen was fourteen when her mum died of cancer. “Gwen managed to get a look at the post mortem report. Cause of death, single gunshot to the forehead. 9mm weapon. From the entry and exit wounds, the killer was at least 6 inches taller than Lennox.” She looked up from her notes. “Sarah didn’t kill him, O’Connor’s right, this was a professional hit. And yet...”
“And yet where’s Sarah?”
“Exactly. Something about this doesn’t make sense but I can’t figure what it is. Up for a trip to Garston?”
“Sure.” I raised an eyebrow. “Why?”
She grinned: “I just want to get a look at the house.”
On the drive over I asked Helen about Sarah:
“We mated around together at college. Had a right time too. When we were out, we’d see who could blag into the most exclusive place. Sarah always won and it did get pretty ridiculous. Like the afternoon we went out up for cocktails, all dolled up, and ended up meeting Princess Anne.”
“All down to Sarah. Blagged us on to a reception committee and we got driven off to a garden party in Sefton Park. Pretty dull, and we only met Princess Anne for a moment. Was always like that with Sarah. Remember all those dos Tony Blair had at 10 Downing Street when he got into power? We went to one of them too. Dull as. Wasn’t a guest list Sarah couldn’t get on or a gig she couldn’t get backstage at. Saw my fair share of tour buses ‘cause of her. A real eye opener. Kind of how we ended up in Downing Street really. No one could resist Sarah. Almost no one.”
“What I don’t get is her dad says she’s used to getting her way, implying she’s manipulative, yet bats away any suggestion she’s involved in Lennox’s death.”
Helen wrinkled a nostril, “Don’t underestimate the blindness of a parent’s love. But you’re right, she’s manipulative.”
“So what ya reckon? Did she have something to do with it?”
A moment’s silence. “That’s what I intend to find out. Right now I honestly don’t know.”
I tried to ask about Andy. “Forget Andy.” she snapped. She apologised. “Let’s not talk about him.” She said no more.
I drove past the Lennox place, a three-bed-semi on a typical British housing estate, all red brick and pebble dash. The front was taped off with blue and white stripes. Helen spotted the unmarked car parked across the way. I drove on and pulled up in an adjoining street.
We found a way out back through a neighbour’s garden. The tree there so big and overhanging that we literally ran up its trunk and climbed down the branches to a high stone ledge. The adrenalin was pumping. A rope swing hung from one of the lower branches. Helen regarded it and smiled. “Can tell Sarah’s been here.“ We kept low and glided across the lawn towards the house. The key had been left in the backdoor, easy to get at through the cat flap. I put my hand in and turned. We slipped inside.
The living room was a mess, bits of broken glass and coffee table everywhere. “Looks like quite a struggle.” I said.
“But a struggle between who?” she replied, philosophically. “Let’s get a look upstairs.”
The master bedroom was filled with the ubiquitous Ikea furniture: Squat bed with matching bedside and breakfast tables, two chests of drawers and wardrobe, all in a colour I think they call medium brown. The drawers of one chest had been ransacked and left hanging out. Likewise, one wardrobe door was open, that half empty except for strewn coat hangers at its base. Helen opened the other door to reveal a selection men’s clothing, black leather jacket, couple of hoodies, an Everton tracksuit top. The other chest of drawers contained more male clothing. Helen raised her eyebrows and wandered out into the hallway.
“Ah ha.” she said from the bathroom. I joined her. “Sam, have you noticed any make-up yet?”
“I backpacked through Europe with this girl, that’s another story, but her rucksack contained about that many clothes.“ She held her thumb and forefinger apart two inches. “The rest was make up, pills, and straighteners. Wherever Sarah is, she’s isn’t here.”
While one bedroom had been used as a gym, the other contained more tat from the Ikea catalogue. It showed signs of recent occupation. The bedside table was locked, but Helen soon put her hand on the key (luck you could call it). There were a number of letters addressed to Lennox, mostly bills, along with a metal pipe, a small bag of weed, as well as a lump of resin that we agreed smelt like opium. Lennox’s passport was there as well, two tickets to Melbourne tucked inside. The connecting flight from Manchester to Heathrow had flown at quarter past seven that morning.
“Shut this up again or leave it for the cops?” I asked, pocketing the weed.
“Leave it. It’ll leave us straight with them for breaking in. Between who?” I didn’t understand. “Downstairs, I said, ‘But a struggle between who?’ Why did I say that?”
“One way to find out.”
We went downstairs. “There.” she said, making straight for a silver clock lying on the floor. It shimmered in the semi-darkness. The battery had been knocked out, presumably falling from the wall. The clock face read a little before two forty.
“Do you still have that clipping on you?” I pulled it from my back pocket and handed it to her. “See,” she said, scanning the text, “’police were called by a neighbour shortly after three thirty. But the clock says two forty.”
“Right. So whatever happened in here happened an hour before Lennox got shot.”
“That’s my thinking, yes. That’s what’s been bugging me about this, the description of the mess inside. With a professional hit you take one shot to the head and you get the fuck out. What you don’t do is start tearing up the place.” Her lips pursed, her eyes narrowed. “Gwen said Lennox’s nose was broken and he had bruising to one of his arms. I didn’t think anything of it, but get on this, there must have been a fight here that ended up with Sarah leaving. Took out more like.”
“And then they came back and shot him.”
“Why would they? Think about it, why would a hired assassin get into a fight with Lennox and then come back and shoot him? He wouldn’t survive very long with sloppy work like that. And this was clinical, so I’m told.”
“Maybe one of the Nicholson’s came and got Sarah first and then sent the assassin.”
“I don’t know, maybe.” She smiled. “I’m sure you’re right.” There was a moment’s silence. “Come on.” Helen said. “I think we’ve seen everything here, best not push our luck too far.”
We made a real mess of climbing the tree back, got caught coming through the neighbour's garden, but made our escape with a mild tongue lashing.
Get it done.