The cops came and arrested us first thing. I thought about going in the full Bogart get up from the night before, but instead pulled on a pair of jeans and two-tone shirt from my bag. Helen had evidently gone for the theatrical look. She wore a white padded jacket over a green summer dress, pink headscarf and Marilyn glasses. There were no cuffs, no hands pushing us down into the car, we even travelled in the same vehicle, an officer sat between us. After they’d read us our rights they said very little else.
We were taken to Stanley Road Police Station, just south of Bootle. An eyesore of a building, all faded redbrick, concrete colonnades and midnight blue trimmings. We were escorted through the back, buzzed in, then to a lift, up two floors, out into a corridor, into an open plan office and finally into a big corner office.
“Well, well, well.” a man said as we were shown in. “If it isn’t the troublesome twosome. Well come in, come in, it’s not like you haven’t led us a merry dance already.” He leant against a desk, palms at 90o, pipe in the corner of his mouth. He had the moustache of a sergeant major and everything about him screamed, ‘Cop’. He was one of the old school, you’d spot him from the other end of the Smithdown Road. Even his wardrobe was of a palette I’m guessing hasn’t be manufactured in about 30 years. There was a dark green wax jacket hanging on the back of the door and I’d have been unsurprised to find a deerstalker in his desk drawer (next to the Bells).
“Where is she?” he pointedly asked Helen.
“Why does everyone think I know where Sarah is? I’m not even looking for her.” She sighed and gave the man the once over. “Is it Detective Inspector?” Nothing. “Chief Inspector?” A slight tilt of the head. “Chief Inspector? Ok, well Chief Inspector, Sarah’s parents are, naturally, worried about her. They want to know she’s safe and they came to me for help and I said I’d see what I can find out and if I can say she’s safe, job done as I’m concerned. I have no loyalty to Sarah.”
“Then why remove her clothes from the house?”
“Her clothes? I’m sorry, I don’t understand.” She gave a huff. “Can we sit down?”
“Oh, yes of course?” We sat in two chairs that looked like they’d been nicked from a Sixth Form Common Room. “Now then,” Helen said, “you said something about clothes being taken.”
He sized her up. “When my officers attended the murder scene, the bedroom drawers were stuffed with women’s clothes. Two days later, a neighbour calls the station to report his catching of two people hopping his fence from the Lennox place. My officers checked, noticed someone had been in through the back and discovered the ransacked drawers.”
“So the neighbour said these people were carrying bags of women’s clothes then?”
The Inspector sat back, sucking on his unlit pipe. He sighed. “That they didn’t. I suppose you’re going to try and tell me that wasn’t you.”
“I think it would be very foolish of us to deny that at this point.” I intervened. “Everyone in this room knows it was us.”
I almost laughed. Between us we were doing a fine job of pissing on his parade. He looked crestfallen, but rallied, “And what business was it of yours disturbing a crime scene?”
“Oh I don’t know.” Helen replied. “Something about all of this didn’t add up. Where was Sarah when Lennox was getting shot?”
“Well I hope it was worth it. I hope you found something good.” His sarcasm was getting a little wearing by this point. I guess Helen felt it too.
“I found that none of your officers know how to pick a lock. Or know, logically, where a man like Lennox would keep a key.”
He smiled, pensively. “So that was you was it? I wondered how we’d missed that first time.”
“Well, we thought about relocking it, but figured that would be seen as obstructing an investigation.” He made to speak, but she raised a hand. “It was wrong of me to break in and for that I’m sorry. What can I say? I’ve had some bad influences in my life. But I swear to you that those drawers were empty when we were in there. Whoever took them, it wasn’t us.”
The same dejected look. “How did you find us?” she asked, biting her lip to conceal a smile.
“Two people matching your general description were reported at the Royal Liverpool yesterday afternoon. It was only when we pulled the CCTV last night that one of my officers said, ‘Oh, that’s our Helen’. She married your aunt’s brother or something.”
He nodded “And it’s only her glowing report that’s keeping you from the cells while we decide what to do with you.”
“Hi ya Helen.”
“Oh hi ya Val.” Helen said, spinning around. “When did you come over?”
“Came over last July.”
“Cool beans. How’s Uncle Paul?”
“Yes, yes,” the Chief Inspector interrupted, “if we can break up this mother’s meeting ladies, back to the matter at hand if you don’t mind. Why are you involved with the shooting of one Scott Gallagher? A known associate of Messrs Brett and Kurt Nicholson. A former associate I was led to believe”
Helen hung her head at mention of the scroat. I explained the situation.
“And are you both aware that Mz O’Connor is wanted in connection with a number of high profile robberies?”
“But you want to know she’s safe? Has it ever occurred to you that she’s probably safe in a Nicholson safe house? Her partners in crime.” Helen admitted this had been a possibility before the events of the previous night. “A bluff!” he replied on hearing our report. “To throw you off of the scent.”
“Possibly, but I don’t think so somehow. Though you are right about one thing, wherever Sarah is, I’m sure she’s safe, laughing at everyone.
“The young lady has plenty to laugh about. Unofficially they’ve stolen £9 million over an eleven week period. We’re still not sure how they do it.”
“I suppose you’re sure Sarah is involved.”
“Quite sure. Auntie Val, have the TV set brought in here if you please.” A TV and DVD player were wheeled in on a wooden-metal frame. It was becoming more like school by the second. Val plugged it in at the wall and inserted the disc the Chief Inspector handed her.
We saw a series of CCTV extracts. The images were grainy, but the chain of events looked similar in each location. Sometimes it was a bank camera, but more usually a jewellers. A couple walk in. The guy is wearing a golf shirt and Kangol hat, but they don’t suit him, you can tell he’s dressing above where he feels comfortable and it’s adding to his stress. He never once looks relaxed. She, on the other hand, is in total control. Sometimes she’s wearing jeans, sometimes a dress, but always does all the talking. It’s usually a man at the counter, occasionally a women, but the speed at which it happens is phenomenal. She talks to them, engages in some light physical contact and before you know it the assistant is removing items from beneath the counter or emptying the till of cash and watching as the couple load up. A couple of times the assistant even puts the jewels straight into the woman’s bag. And just as Lenny had said, the assistants do indeed hold the door and wave them on their way. I looked at Helen. She had her best poker face on.
“I think we can agree that that proves that.” the Chief Inspector said as the disc ended.
“I agree it looks bad for Sarah.” Helen replied. “But like I said, if I can say she’s safe, job done.”
He leaned back in his seat a moment. “I won’t deny I could use your help. But I need to know there’ll be no more secrets between us.”
“Agreed. What do you need?”
“Well...” The phone went. “Hello. Yes, she’s here now. He’s what? Oh is he now. Ok, we’ll be right down then.” He had that stern look again. “Well it seems that young master Gallagher has regained consciousness and is asking to speak to Mz Marr.” Helen beamed like the dawn breaking. “Sergeant, kindly arrange transportation to leave immediately.” The officer left the room, while Val and a male colleague milled around. The Chief Inspector turned to his paperwork, pipe in the corner of his mouth. No one spoke.
Helen ducked her head to catch the Inspector’s eye. “Can I ask how the investigation is going? Do you know if the same person killed Lennox as shot my friend yet?”
“I doubt it.” he said, guffawing.
He pulled out a gruesome picture from a file. “Meaning that this is the man we suspect of having executed Lennox. Hi name is, was, Daniel Kitson. Wanted in connection with a number of killings in the North West. Must have had an attack of guilt. On Thursday morning he put a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.” The image showed most of the back of his head was gone.
“Oh god, that’s horrible.” said Helen, a hand over her mouth.
“Agreed.” he said, returning the picture. “The curious thing is where Mr Kitson chose to end his life.” We looked blankly at him. “Does Maple Avenue mean anything to you?” We smiled, looked at each other, then shook our heads. “No.” we said. “It’s where Sarah O’Connor’s parents live.”
“My god.” I said. “O’Connor mentioned that at the boat.”
“Yes.” Helen replied, guardedly. “Very curious.”
The sergeant came back and we were escorted in reverse through the maze and out to the carpool. We waited for the car to arrive. The Chief Inspector exchanged banter with a colleague.
I watched Helen. She was in her own world. I said, “Weird that guy killing himself near the O’Connor’s, eh? Funny coincidence.”
“There’s too many coincidences here Sam.” The voice came from the same distance as her expression. “Something still isn’t right. Why can’t I see it?”
We were whisked away to the hospital, the Chief Inspector riding shotgun, the same officer sat between us. It was a short ride down to Prescott Street.
Craig Murray stuck out on the ward like a badly suited rhinoceros. The Chief Inspector, or Reynolds as we discovered he was called, approached Helen’s goon, but Helen reassured him of Craig’s usefulness. “Takes a thief to catch a thief. Besides, I trust Craig more than your officers at this point and I can’t have Scott coming to any more harm because of me.”
He made to object, but it was half hearted and Craig stayed where he was. We went to ICU, everyone remaining outside expect Helen, who washed her hands, steadied herself, and was taken to a bed halfway down the room. The scroat was all hooked up to machines and fluids and didn’t seem to be moving. Helen covered her mouth with a hand as she approached. She knelt beside his bed, touched his face with her other hand, then kissed him on the forehead. He stirred and I could see his eyes opening and looking at her. His lips moved, but I guess she couldn’t hear, ‘cause she lifted her ear to his mouth. It was only a flash, a brief wave that passed over her face. Most anyone would have missed it. I saw it.
She kissed the scroat once more and walked out to us. “What did he have to say?” Reynolds asked.
She didn’t look at him for a moment. Then she gave a relieved smile, “He just said not to blame myself.” I watched her. “Chief Inspector, do you need anything else from me today? This whole thing has left me exhausted and frankly I’d like to go home and have a good cry.”
He tensed. “Well I suppose there’s nothing more we can achieve today.” He pointed his pipe at her. “But you hear anything and you contact me immediately, you understand?” She nodded and he handed her a business card. “My Sergeant will arrange a lift back.” He wandered off down the corridor.
For a time there was silence. Then, out of the blue came, “That’s right, he asked about her.” I looked at her. “Sorry.” she said. “Forget I said that.”
Only the driver came back with us, Helen sitting behind him, me riding shotgun. She stared out of the window all the way, glacial in her stillness. I didn’t know what the scroat had told her, but I could see her mind was racing.
Arriving back, she shuffled down the path behind me. Then the car drove off and she came to life, rushing off ahead to the boat. I was confused, coming down the stairs to find her leafing through address books, throwing the rifled ones to the floor. Finally she found what she was looking for, took out her mobile phone and started ringing numbers:
“Hi, this is Helen Marr. Who’s that? Oh hi ya Fran, how’s Dawn? Cool beans, listen you haven’t got anything new in have you? No? Ok, thanks. What, ok email me the details and I’ll let you know. Bye.”
She went through this routine three times, plugging in her hands free earpiece, doodling on a pad on her lap. I paced the room. On the fourth call, I heard, “You have. Yes, that’s the one. Came in last Friday? No, that’s brilliant, thanks.” She hung up. “Right, I need to go out.”
“Ok” I said. “You don’t want me to come?”
“Not this trip.” she said, heading determinedly for the stairs.
“What did the scroat really say?” I called. Halfway up she stopped.
Her shoulders dropped and she gave a huge sigh. Then she jerked her head back at me. “He said it was Sarah that Lennox was stealing. Sarah is what the Nicholson’s are after.” Then she was gone.
I paced the living room, boiled some water, checked the inbox and picked up Helen’s notepad. The inbox confirmed we’d bought two more ‘Do It Yourself’ covers from the seventy or so versions that were released of the Blockheads album. I made a note to ring Phill. The notepad was mostly the usual scribble. At the bottom she had virtually scratched the word, ALP in thick lettering. I retrieved the address book from the chair, still open at the right page, and rang the fourth number down. I got through to Birkenhead Docks. I asked if Alp was there. “You mean the A.L.P.? Sure, same berth as always.” I took the details, paced some more and finished my tea. I went to my car, thought for an age about what I was doing, then punched the postcode into the satnav and drove all the way to the Queensway Tunnel and over (under) to Birkenhead.
Of course, the satnav stopped working in the tunnel, took an age to reload coming out and then sent me the wrong way. I found the docks using the dying art of reading a road sign. I soon spied Helen’s car, but she was nowhere to be seen. I parked up besides the Micra and walked towards the Mersey. There was no one about that I could see. The dock was wide, I counted eight ships berthed, seven steel hulled crafts and one wooden sailing boat up ahead of me. I don’t know why, but I walked towards the wooden one.
I saw her hiding herself as I approached. She was crouched down behind a van. I concealed myself behind a wall and checked she hadn’t seen me. She was starring fixedly at the ship. It towered above us. Written in ornate gold lettering across its stern I made out the words: ‘Anna Livia Plurabelle’. “A.L.P.” I mouthed.
Get it done.