I’m in a lot of trouble. I’m on borrowed time with Studley-Brown and George Mackie and still no nearer to locating the package. Wayne knows something but he won’t tell me and Tina is preoccupied with her father’s medical condition. As far as I can figure there are at least two groups of people who want the documents – three if I assume Mr Oldfield would rather they remained in his safe. And time is passing, I’m way past any deadline Mackie will consider reasonable, Studley-Brown and Mickey are due back any minute and Simon isn’t answering his phone. All in all, it isn’t a pleasant scenario. I’m like Canute without the self-belief. The tide isn’t going to stop, is it?
Eight thirty that evening there’s a knock at my door. My stomach lurches, escapes my throat, bounces off several walls and nose dives back through my open mouth. I stand for a moment expecting the door to splinter under the weight of a violent fist, and Mickey Flynn to shoulder his way in like an ape through jungle undergrowth. I wait for my heart rate to settle and I stare at the door. I should have a whispered password for friends, or a coded knock, four slow, three fast, but even then, you can’t be sure. It’s not just walls that have ears. Neighbours have them too.
‘Who is it?’
I sigh with something stronger than relief and unlock the door, opening it enough to allow Simon to slip through. I glance outside to see if he’s been followed but the corridor is empty and the stairs silent. I lock the door behind him.
‘My, we are nervous, aren’t we?’
‘I’ve earned the right,’ I say.
‘Any chance of a coffee?’ he asks. ‘I’m parched.’
I accommodate him and we sit down at a table, business like, to share our discoveries. I tell him what little I can and share with him my fears about my impeding painful demise. He has the decency to look down and shake his head sympathetically. Nonetheless, I think I see his eyes light up as he sees the value of his story move up a notch or two. ‘Every cloud,’ he thinks... We talk about the newspaper office, my meeting with Councillor Greenhalgh and the condition of Thomas Oldfield.
‘Shame,’ he says, ‘Poor Tina. How’s she coping?’
‘As you’d expect.’
I see traps everywhere.
‘You know what Wayne’s like. He’s not one to worry unduly.’
I want to talk about Studley-Brown since he’s on my mind at the moment like sandpaper on a wound.
Maximilian Studley-Brown,’ he muses. ‘I’ve heard that name before, and recently too. I’ll check him out, and Mr Flynn too. That name is worth half a column in its own right.’
We spend an hour catching up and I don’t feel any better. The situation is getting more complicated rather than less and all of Simon’s enquiries seem to be adding to the burden that’s crushing me.
‘What do all these people want with a document that Oldfield has kept in his safe for twenty odd years without any apparent concern? What could be so fucking urgent after all this time?’
‘It seems a little harsh that after twenty years your time limit should be twenty-four hours,’ he agrees. He’s obviously got death on his mind because then he says, ‘Carl Jeffreys is dead. He was murdered and left in the boot of a car in a scrap yard. But for an inquisitive scrap yard worker and a bit of good luck, he’d never have been found. Within half an hour he’d have been reduced to a crushed cube of flesh and bones and maybe a stain on the ground.’
‘Yeah, I heard. It’s not much of an epitaph.’
‘He phoned me, told me he’d got information about J.D. The tragedy is he probably couldn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know.’
‘He called me too, looking for money. He was scared.’
I pause. I don’t have many fond memories of Carl Jeffreys but it seems appropriate to spare a moment to mourn his passing.
‘Poor sod, I wonder if he really did know what happened to Joseph Derby,’ I say.
‘I think we can assume Derby disappeared in another scrap yard or found himself part of the foundations of a redevelopment.’
‘You think he was murdered?’
‘It’d make a better story,’ he grins.
‘Then the JAYDEE documents may incriminate some pretty important people.’
‘Maybe, but I don’t understand how Oldfield came by the business called JAYDEE. I hope for the family’s sake he wasn’t complicit in what was going on.’
I shudder at the thought.
‘What about Mackie and Greenhalgh – have you anything there? Any connections?’ I ask.
‘I’m working on it.’
‘Work quickly. I’ve only got hours to live.’
He’s about to take his leave when there’s another knock at the door and my stomach lurches so far I’m sure it’s sitting on my tongue. It’s certainly deprived me of the power of speech. I stand like a statue of fear the middle of the floor, my palpitations echoing so loud I fear for the window glass.
‘For God’s sake, get a grip,’ Simon says and opens the door - foolishly, as it turns out.
It takes about two seconds for him to realise his mistake and he steps back and sits down heavily. He’s working hard to regain composure because that’s what a serious journalist does when faced with danger, and he’s a serious journalist. Me, I’m just scared.
I no longer pay attention to him; I’m faced with Studley-Brown and his bulky minder and I’ve got plenty to think about on my own account. Predictably, Mickey steps towards Simon and looks down at him from his dark heights.
‘Fuck off,’ he grunts.
He’s a man of few words, our Mickey.
I don’t want Simon to go because if he goes I’ll be on my own and that’s not what I want just at the moment.
‘This is Simon Walsh,’ I say, turning to Studley-Brown, and forcing my voice to behave itself. ‘He’s a journalist friend of mine, on the Evening Post. Simon, this is Mr Studley-Brown.’
Simon would offer his hand, only his route is blocked by Mickey. He leans back and acknowledges the introduction with a half-smile and a wave.
‘Ah, Mr Studley-Brown,’ he says, as if the name is well known to him, ‘how nice to meet you at last.’
He implies knowledge he doesn’t possess and it bolsters my confidence.
Studley-Brown smiles and I watch for a forked tongue to emerge between those thin lips. ‘Journalism - a dangerous profession,’ he says. ‘Are you working on a story at the moment?’
‘An historical story,’ Simon says, really cool, ‘about the disappearance of a local businessman, Joseph Derby.’
If Studley-Brown knows anything he doesn’t show it. His expression makes impassive look like an outburst of hysteria.
‘Fascinating,’ he says. ‘Are you making progress?’
‘I always get my story,’ Simon says.
There’s a faint chuckle coming from somewhere inside Studley-Brown but it doesn’t escape. ‘Unless the story gets you first, I suppose.’
‘The story already has a casualty,’ I contribute. I’m feeling braver now I’ve got an ally. Then I remember it’s Simon Walsh and he’d break his mother’s fingers for a good story. ‘Carl Jeffreys. Do you know him?’
This time I see a reaction, and a look of annoyance flickers across Studley-Brown’s face. He removes his steel rimmed glasses and wipes them slowly on a white handkerchief.
‘Is there some reason why I should?’ He breathes on the lenses and cleans them again, then checks them against the light from the window before he replaces them on his face. The Nazi interrogator look has returned.
He turns to Simon. ‘Mr Tyler and I have a matter to discuss,’ he says, ‘and since it’s a matter of importance to both of us I’d be grateful if you could give us a few minutes to ourselves.’
It sounds like a request but the presence of Mickey makes it more like a demand.
Simon doesn’t move. He reaches in his inside pocket and removes a small, digital recording device and places it on the arm of the chair. I notice his hand is shaking, but his voice is steady. I have a feeling this isn’t going to end well.
‘Mr Tyler has made me fully aware of your business,’ he says, ‘and has asked me for advice, as a fellow journalist.’ He turns the device on, and a red light flashes. ‘We believe the package you are looking for is connected with the deaths of Joseph Derby and Carl Jeffreys. Do you have any comment? On the record?’
Studley-Brown nods at Mickey who picks up the recorder and looks at it with the understanding of an ape with a railway timetable. He turns it off and then walks to the door, opens it and flings the device down the corridor.
‘You can collect it on your way out,’ he growls.
‘It comes as a surprise when he speaks,’ I say to Simon.
Studley-Brown focuses his attention on me and shakes his head. ‘I’d hoped we could settle this matter to our mutual benefit without recourse to unpleasantness, but you appear to have taken the matter out of my hands. Have you any news for us regarding the documents we seek?’
‘Who’s your client?’ Simon interrupts but Studley-Brown doesn’t even glance towards him.
‘I need a couple more days,’ I tell him. ‘I can get them, I’m sure I can.’
‘I know you’re from London,’ Simon is chewing some bone he’s got his teeth into, ‘so I guess your client has moved from here to the capital. That must make him a successful businessman or someone working for the Government, a diplomat maybe, a Member of Parliament?’
His voice disintegrates into a moan of pain. I glance towards him but his face is tensed and his lips tight. Mickey is grinding his boot down on Simon’s foot and holding his hair tightly, forcing his head back.
‘If you choose to remain in the room whilst Mr Tyler and I conclude our business, please have the courtesy to be quiet,’ Studley-Brown says drily.
Mickey leans forward and tightens his grip on Simon’s hair. ‘He means, “Shut the fuck up.”’
Simon cries out as he feels his hair coming loose from his scalp. I wince.
Mickey slowly releases him and steps back, but not far.
‘No, Mr Tyler,’ he says, ‘I don’t think another two days is an option we can consider. You have, after all, significantly raised the stakes by involving another journalist in our affairs. I can no longer trust you.’
He stands up and offers me his hand.
‘Goodbye, Mr Tyler. I doubt we shall meet again.’
He turns and holds out a hand to Simon but Simon is rubbing his aching scalp and doesn’t respond.
You’ve got to admit this man has perfect manners. He’s like a guillotine compared to a blunt axe – very smooth and efficient, but deadly nonetheless.
‘Give me forty-eight hours,’ I ask him.
‘Goodbye, Mr Tyler.’
He walks towards the door but then he stops and turns towards Simon. He pauses before speaking as if his words are diamonds to be selected and graded with precision.
‘I should think very, very carefully before you commit anything to paper, Mr Walsh. My client has deep pockets and would pursue a libel action to its utmost extent if he deemed it necessary in order to protect his reputation. He has the very best legal minds at his disposal. I would also want to make it clear that my client has had nothing to do with the deaths you are investigating, nor did he have a hand, directly or indirectly, in the crimes that have taken place recently. His concern is simply that something might be contained in the documents which, indirectly and solely by association, may reflect badly upon him. He has nothing to fear from the law or from an honest presentation of the truth but...’ He pauses again to frame his words precisely. He uses words like a surgeon uses a scalpel. ‘...reputations can be tarnished by the flimsiest of unfortunate associations. He has no desire to take unnecessary risks which would detract from the important events with which he is preoccupied. Good evening, gentlemen.’
With that he’s gone, but it’s like he’s left something behind because there’s a presence in the room which prevents us from speaking. There’s a space where he stood but it’s not empty. It contains an echo of everything that just occurred. I decide to sit down before my legs give way.
‘Fuck,’ I mutter.
‘Indeed,’ says Simon. ‘I couldn’t have put it better myself.’