Right into Bird-brain.
They stared at each other, a yard apart. Bird-brain broke the silence. Smug look.
‘Where’s your chick, then?’
Paul took aim. ‘Sorting out the search warrants ... you’re on the list.’
Bird-brain’s expression darkened; his mouth spat out gutter language a sailor would be proud of – even with a belly full of rum to loosen the tongue.
Paul closed in and took a shot. ‘Take it from me ... if you don’t want Alsatians sniffing up your arses and busting your drug-team into relegation, tell me where I can find Ox.’
By the look on Bird-brain’s face, Paul had scored.
Ox, according to Bird-brain before he did a runner, was tall and lanky with a black, spiky haircut – and had territorial rights to sit in the Prof’s chair. The lad himself, wearing faded jeans and a roll-neck sweater – together with his similarly attired mates – was watching TV at the Bard. The pub was close to the college – football talk and chicks were the main attraction for the Seagulls.
Paul wasn’t going to act heavy, not there. He was outnumbered; plus he needed help to identify Boyson. He bought a pint of Bitter, and perched himself on an empty bar-stool.
Waited, had another pint. Waited some more.
The Seagulls were reliving their league win. Sheffield United had been stuffed good and proper. A two-nil scoreline; they were happy enough.
Which boded well for Paul.
He got his opportunity when Ox went for a leak. The urinals were out the back in an open-ended shed enclosure. While Ox was occupied in flushing a few fag-ends down the guttering, Paul showed his warrant card, followed by a photo-fit picture of Boyson.
‘Quiet word.’ He motioned to the fire exit; the door being propped open with a telephone directory.
Ox didn’t jump, didn’t register alarm; just shook himself dry, zipped up his fly and led the way out. He took out a packet of Lucky Strikes and offered one to Paul. He glanced around; made sure no one was listening.
‘I need insurance,’ he said. His voice was deep and cultured; clearly this Seagull was an educated criminal, and soccer thug. Brains and brawn, leadership qualities.
Paul expected no less from the Yuppie grapevine. Ox had been forewarned. No doubt he had been clocked the moment he had arrived – and left to stew while Ox made up his mind to deal with it personally. He turned down the offer of a cancer stick and brought out a couple more pictures, showed them. ‘If you know this man, tell me ... and I’m off your back.’
From the surprised expression, Paul presumed Ox had expected more. He nodded. ‘That’s all. Finito.’
Ox stared, lit up a fag, weighed up the odds, decided to risk a punt. ‘Seen him ... or someone a lot like him ... around Harmony Estate ... don’t know his name ... or where he lives.’
Paul gestured, hoping to elicit more information. ‘Harmony Estate is a big place.’
Ox flicked his half-finished fag onto the ground and ground it in. He made a move to walk back inside. ‘There’s a lady in block H ... we call her “Opera” ... who sits outside her flat with Pavarotti blaring and binoculars glued to her eyeballs. Ask her.’
Paul started to follow, but Ox held up a hand. A couple of his spiky mates were standing at the door. ‘I wouldn’t bother coming back in here, sometimes things get out of hand.’
Message received loud and clear. Paul headed out the back entrance. He looked at his watch. Time was moving on; it would soon be dusk. He decided to give Harmony Estate a quick once-over to check on this Opera lady, and then Carol’s flat.
He got lucky. He heard the musical arias first – then he spotted Opera almost immediately he walked up to H block. She was wrapped in a huge shawl and seemed to be packing up for the day. He waved and jogged over to the entrance and up the stairs. She seemed excited to meet a police visitor - especially a detective - and invited him inside to meet her son.
‘Getting too dark and it’s too cold for me, dearie,’ she said, while warming herself by the electric fire. ‘Cup of tea, dearie?’
Paul nodded, grateful for the chance to get warm himself. Out came the Delphi teapot and china cups, her son doing the honours. For an old lady, she had her wits about her, and Paul was amazed as she regaled the coming and goings of Harmony Estate.
‘The Bill is my favourite,’ she said. ‘And Reg Hollis is such a sweetie.’
He agreed that Hollis was a sweetie; wouldn’t last five minutes in real life without having the piss taken, but the series was popular...
He declined another offer of a cup of tea. He’d had two, and he needed to get going. It was back to business. He pulled out his envelope of photos. ‘I need your help to identify this man ... and where he lives.’
She carefully studied them and passed them to her son. ‘Wasn’t that the man with sack loads of rubbish ... you know ... the one moving in to that black girl’s flat?’
‘That’s right, mum, could be him. He was coming and going for weeks.’
Paul wasn’t clear. ‘Black girl’s flat?’
Opera tapped his arm and winked. ‘Lady of the night.’ She cackled. ‘And during the day.’
Her son shook his head. ‘Mum...’
Paul was intrigued. Boyson? Black Tom? Sacks of rubbish? ‘Maybe I will have another cup of tea. He turned on his cheeky grin ‘Got any cake?’
It was gone seven by the time Paul had the complete picture and a full stomach. He phoned Jackie to tell her he could be late – she started to ask questions - but the signal kept breaking up and he terminated the call.
The black girl - Precious according to the advert in Granma Willis’ window - had only moved in to the flat a month or two back. Then she suddenly vanished – they hadn’t seen her since. The man moved in shortly after she disappeared. Block C, Third floor, Flat 36 – the one on the end of the balcony.
He thanked Opera and her son - the meal was great - and rushed back to the nick and into the MIR. Even if it wasn’t Boyson, it sounded suspicious enough to warrant an investigation.
Four people were working – catching up on HOLMES processing – and Hillock was lurking in the background. Paul switched on his computer terminal, and while he waited for it to power-up, he leafed through Jackie’s follow-up file.
There it was – Sonja Borski and Precious Mogwase – could have been assaulted by Gilbert Pratt. Neither women were at home when Jackie had called and there was no record of a follow-up since on file. He checked the status on HOLMES – nothing there either - so both had fallen through the net.
He took the file over to Hillock and told him about the latest lead to Boyson.
Hillock dismissed it. ‘Another wild goose chase to Boyson on a hunch ... you’re jumping the gun again, Constable.’
‘I heard that.’ A voice behind them. DCS Adam Forsyth. ‘Mr. Hillock ... DC James seems to be the only one with any detective skills.’ He made it sound like a reprimand. ‘The least we could do is to run with it.’ He fixed Hillock with a stare. ‘Or have you a better idea?’
Hillock deflected the thrust and pointed at Paul. ‘You heard what Mr. Forsyth said. Use a couple of uniforms ... check it out.’
Adam Forsyth wasn’t finished. ‘You go with them ... you might learn something.’
Hillock’s face turned red. ‘Sir ... I don’t think...’
He was interrupted. ‘That’s just it. You don’t. We’ve been beating our brains out for the last few weeks and got sod all to show for it. The Chief Constable downwards has been on my back to get a result. Now, when we get a lead ... however tenuous ... you ignore it.’
‘No buts, just sort it. I want a report first thing tomorrow.’ With that he turned on his heels and marched out.
Paul could see that Hillock - to put it mildly – was seething. A bollocking by Forsyth in front of a junior officer was a sign that tensions were high. Not that Paul cared. He was still convinced Hillock was a nasty piece of work. Serve the bastard right.
Hillock regained some composure. ‘Let’s get it over with.’
There were no lights on at Flat 36, Third floor, Block C, but they could hear a TV inside. Hillock knocked a few times, elicited no answer. Same at the next door neighbour’s flat. He turned to Paul. Tony and Smithy were all ears.
‘Sherlock. Your call.’
Paul peered through the letter-box, shook his head, and bent his ear close. ‘Sounds like the news.’
Hillock sniggered. ‘I don’t suppose it occurred to you that there could be someone in distress, inside.’ He looked at them. ‘That’s why I’m here.’ He beckoned to Smithy. ‘Open it.’
The door was no match for Smithy. He splintered it with three blows and pushed open the door. Hillock led the way along the corridor and into the main room.
‘Jesus,’ he said.