‘Jackie ...’ he started.
She brushed him off with a glare that would neuter him. If only. ‘I’m busy right now DC James.’ She stalked out of the room without glancing back.
Well that wasn’t so bad. That told him not to mess with me.
She went back to her apartment to change into downbeat gear. Visiting Harmony Estate in her smart casuals, and looking out of place, would be asking for trouble; that’s if Carol had gone back there. Of course she would; there was nowhere else. She had already turned down the social worker’s offer of staying in a woman’s hostel; said her friends would laugh.
Jackie sighed. She knew what would happen, didn’t need a crystal ball. Money was priority now that Serena had died, so Carol would go on the game to make ends meet. That thought galvanised her into action. The last thing she wanted to see was Carol lying on a mortuary slab.
Harmony Estate was depressing, it matched the grimness of the landfill dump in texture and drabness, but without the seagulls; just shrieking children instead. Jackie picked her way through a morass of filth, trying to avoid a lethal jab from a discarded syringe hidden amongst the debris. Carol’s apartment was on the fourth floor of C block flats. Lift out of action, graffiti sprayed across its closed doors.
NOBODY AT HOME
Jackie climbed the stone stairs, stepping round discarded rubbish rotting in plastic carrier bags, a dead ginger moggy, and over the slumped body of a snoring addict. Thankfully the yob gangs that infested the Estate were either still asleep or hanging around Bridleton shopping mall. Someone else’s problem, not hers.
Number 42. The bell wasn’t working; she knocked. ‘Carol, it’s Jackie,’ she yelled at the taped up letter-box. ‘I need to talk with you.’ No response. She banged again, harder this time. ‘Carol, are you there?’ This time she heard sounds inside. Someone shuffling to the door, and a gravelly voice asking who’s there.
Jackie frowned. It wasn’t Carol. Maybe her boyfriend. She repeated that she needed to talk with Carol.
The door opened. It wasn’t a boy. Unless his name was Peter Pan. Caucasian male, aged around fifty, greying hair tied back in a ponytail, brown eyes, no distinctive markings, tattoos or scars. He was wearing a greasy white T-shirt with a large expanse of stomach protruding and dark trousers with the fly undone. Sandals with toes that needed a wash. Peering behind him was a dishevelled Carol, looking a bit worried.
The man mumbled something about one week’s rent, eyeballed Jackie and pushed past her. Jackie didn’t resist, didn’t floor him, didn’t say anything, and didn’t arrest him. Nothing. She was incognito; no point in revealing her identity on Carol’s doorstep. Instead she stepped inside and closed the door. Carol seemed a bit wary. Didn’t say ‘Hi’ or anything. Just waited.
Jackie broke the silence. ‘Who was that?’
Carol screwed up her face. ‘Landlord.’
‘What was he doing here?’
A single tear rolled down Carol’s cheek. ‘Collecting the rent,’ she whispered.
Jackie put her arms around the little girl. Gave her a hug. ‘It’s all right. I’m not going to arrest you or anything. Just tell me what happened.
‘He felt me with his dirty fingers and said ... you know ... do what Serena did. His thing smelt; but I had to hold it. Then you knocked.’
Jackie cursed silently. Money; the root of all evil. The last few days of Carol’s innocence being ripped away by dirty old men, before she became a hardened prostitute. ‘Carol ... you don’t have to stay here.’
Carol started to sob. ‘Miss ... Jackie ... I got no money.’
‘Only what Serena left me. That won’t last long.’
‘What about your friends? Can’t you share a room or something?’
Carol looked pensive. As if considering the idea. ‘Don’t know. Maybe.’
Jackie waited. Carol hadn’t finished.
‘Jackie, I told social services, I don’t want to leave. Serena’s with me here.’
So that was it. Carol felt comfortable. At home. Even though the flat was just a moderate bed sit with separate bathroom attached. And stuck in the middle of Harmony Estate, with a pervert for a landlord. Jackie sighed - said she’d make tea for them. Gave Carol a chance to take a shower and wash away the man’s sweaty taste.
Later, when Carol had washed, changed, and finished her tea Jackie steered the conversation away from the domestics and back into Serena’s life. There wasn’t an easy way to broach the subject. Especially when perched on the edge of the double bed. ‘Now you’ve had time to think, did you ever see or meet any of Serena’s men?’
Carol sat on a ragged carpet that covered the floor. She seemed to be staring at the little alarm clock sitting on its own on a shelf above the dresser. ‘Sometimes,’ she admitted.
Jackie tensed up. The bed springs creaked. This was news. The last time she had interviewed Carol, the girl had clammed-up about Serena. Denial mode. Jackie fished inside her jacket pocket and found her pocketbook and ballpoint. ‘I’m just going to write down what you tell me so I won’t forget,’ she said to reassure the girl.
‘Well there isn’t much. Short fat guy with a briefcase. Didn’t like him. Serena said he worked at the town hall ... I think. But I wasn’t really listening. Had to go to evening classes.’
Jackie whistled silently. ‘I’ll come back with some photographs ... see if you recognise him ... okay?’
Carol picked at a piece of fluff on her jeans. She nodded.
‘Was there anyone else?’
‘Only a name.’
‘Serena called me, told me not to worry. Said his name was Danny Boy.’
‘When was this?’
‘When she didn’t come home.’
Jackie stood up. Tried to keep calm. ‘Carol, why didn’t you tell me this before?’
Carol looked downcast. ‘Granma Willis told me not to talk to you, Miss.’
Keep calm. Unclench jaw. Keep calm. ‘Granma Willis. Who’s Granma Willis?’
Carol pointed a finger at the grimy window with iron bars across. ‘Paper shop on corner. I told you I work there early mornings.’
Jackie exhaled. Harmony Estate resident phobia. Didn’t want the pigs poking about into their business. Well too bad. Sod police procedure. Sod DCI Angers. Granma Willis, next stop. ‘Okay, Carol. If that’s it, I’ll come back later.’
Carol didn’t say anything. Didn’t move. Just sat there picking at the carpet.
Jackie let herself out and made sure the door closed properly behind her. She made her way back down the stairs; both the addict and the ginger moggy were gone. Just a sticky pool of congealed blood and strands of fur. She walked back past more piles of rotting garbage, and out into the Estate. It was drizzling; adding to the gloomy grey atmosphere. She pulled her jacket tight around her and jogged over to the corner shop.
The woman behind the counter wasn’t that old. Maybe mid forties; short cropped hair, skinny with a beaky nose, and a suspicious sneer.
Jackie took an instant dislike. ‘Are you Granma Willis?’
‘Who wants to know?’
Jackie showed her the ID card. ‘I do.’
The woman’s eyes started to dart nervously around. ‘What do you want?’
‘Just answer the question.’
The woman looked down at the counter and averted her eyes. ‘I’ve done nothing wrong.’
Jackie felt a surge of blood coursing through her veins. ‘Look if you don’t cooperate, I’ll arrest you for obstructing a murder enquiry.’
Jackie gritted her teeth. ‘For the last time. Are you Granma Willis?’
The woman looked up and stared defiantly. She pointed to the sign by the door. ‘Yes, I’m Granma Willis and this is my shop. And you’re not welcome.’
Jackie seethed inside. Granma was wearing a Garfield apron over her clothes; with a bit of luck the missing cat would be her dead moggy. Keep calm, take deep breaths. ‘I’m sorry to hear that Mrs. Willis, but I need to ask some questions.’
‘Tell me about Serena Naringa,’ Jackie prodded.
‘What’s to tell?’
‘Look Mrs. Willis ... we can do this down the nick if you don’t cooperate. You want me to call out the whole fucking squad? Have police crawling all over your shop?’
‘I got nothing to hide.’
‘We got sniffer dogs.’ That shut her up. Made her re-think.
‘Serena ... Serena ... name rings a bell. We got lots of coloured girls round here.’
‘For the last time, I’ll drag you down the nick myself for withholding evidence. I might even charge you for being an accessory to murder ... as well as busting you for pushing drugs.’
Granma Willis sneered. ‘Fuck off.’
Jackie whacked her fist on the counter. ‘That’s it. I’m arresting you.’
Ten minutes later, Granma Willis was bundled into a squad car by two burly officers; along with Jackie who was trying to make out she was also a victim of police brutality.
‘Book her,’ said Jackie to Albert, the desk sergeant. ‘Let her cool her heels in the cage until she’s ready to cooperate.’
He knew the ropes; quick, clean processing, all sharp objects and valuables signed for, and locked away. He smoothed his greying hair as if he had a starring role in “The Bill”, and told Granma Willis to follow him down the corridor to the cells.
Jackie went back to the squad room to write up the report - the version that she was threatened when returning from Carol Naringa’s apartment, and was checking that Carol worked in the paper shop. It was corroborating evidence, and her word against a hostile Granma Willis. She could picture DCI Anger’s irritation: ‘Your job was to interview Carol Naringa. That’s it. Then back here. Not to arrest the whole fucking Harmony Estate. Etcetera ... etcetera.’
But Jackie had the feeling she was getting nowhere fast.