Authors: David Menon
BY DAVID MENON
Copyright 2014 David Menon. All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any real person, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
This is for Maddie who is the constant in my life … and it’s for all the red shirted men and women I’ve been working with this summer and our extended Squires Gate family. It’s been a blast and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
This is also for anyone who’s never been a blue, calm sea but who’s always been a storm.
David was born in Derby, England in 1961 and has lived all over the UK but now he divides his time between Paris, where his partner lives, and the northwest of England. In 2009 he gave up a long career in the airline industry to concentrate on his writing ambitions. He’s now published several books including the series of crime novels featuring Detective Superintendent Jeff Barton that are set in Manchester and the series of Stephanie Marshall mysteries set in Sydney. He’s also created the DCI Sara Hoyland series beginning with Fall from Grace. When he gets any spare time he teaches English to foreign students, mainly Russians, and works part-time for a friendly low fares airline. His other interests include travelling, politics, international current affairs, all the arts of literature, film, TV, theatre and music and he’s a devoted fan of American singer/songwriter Stevie Nicks who he calls the voice of his interior world. He loves Indian food, he likes a gin and tonic that’s heavy on the g and light on the t, plus a glass or three of red wine. Well, it doesn’t make him a bad person.
Also by David Menon
Detective Superintendent Jeff Barton series.
No Questions Asked, coming early 2015.
DCI Sara Hoyland crime mystery series
Fall from Grace
Best Friend, Worst Enemy.
The Stephanie Marshall mysteries.
What Happened to Liam?
Could Max Burley Be a Killer?, coming early 2015.
The Murder in His Past.
The Wild Heart
Kind of Woman.
Leroy tried to struggle against the restraints. He was sitting at one end of what felt like some kind of bench with his legs straddled either side. There was an ice cold metal pole against his back and a thick metal collar round his neck that prevented him from lowering his head. Something was touching the back of his neck. He couldn’t figure out what it was but it also felt like metal of some kind. His arms had been pulled back and his wrists cuffed tightly to the metal pole although his hands had been forced too far apart to be able to touch and that was causing excruciating pain in his shoulders. His knees were bent and his ankles chained to something behind him. He’d been stripped naked and he was cold. He was really cold. Tape had been placed over his mouth and eyes. He could almost smell his own fear.
Then the man’s voice filled him once more with horror.
It was a voice he didn’t recognise but somehow he knew it was the voice of a white man.
‘You may as well save your strength’ said the man. ‘You’re really going to need it’.
Leroy heard the man step closer and then he lit a cigarette. ‘Face up to it, Leroy. You won’t be getting out of here alive. You’ve come here to die my friend. Or rather you’ve come here for me to execute you. That’s when the fun will start. Well it will for me anyway but for you it might not be so much fun. More like the unbearable torments of hell. You think you control the streets. You think you can take whatever you want and give absolutely nothing back. Well let me tell you, Leroy, it isn’t going to happen anymore because I’m going to pick you all off one by one and teach the Gorton boys a valuable lesson in an eye for an eye’.
The man paused whilst he took a drag on his cigarette. Leroy was breathing rapidly and was totally consumed with terror.
‘Do you know what, Leroy? I was so keen to get down here and fill you in on what’s going to be happening during your last hours on earth that I forgot to bring an ashtray. Still there are always other places to stub your fag out’.
The man grabbed Leroy’s penis, pulled back the foreskin and stubbed his cigarette out on the end. He kept it there grinding the hot tobacco into the sensitive flesh. Leroy struggled once more in his restrained position. He was desperate to get away from the onslaught of sudden pain and could feel himself crying. He tried to scream but the tape across his mouth muffled the sound.
‘Try and get some sleep now, there’s a good boy’ said the man. ‘You’ll need some rest whilst you contemplate your last night here on this earth’.
Leroy was hungry but the need for food and especially water was being savagely repressed by the pain that felt like it was tearing his muscles apart. He’d barely been able to sleep but when his body had given in to the need for some kind of close down he’d immediately woken up again with a start and started crying when he remembered the situation he was in.
It was true that he’d been a pretty bad boy in his time. But the Gorton boys had been his crew. More than that they’d been his family and they’d been his future. He’d beaten people up. He’d beaten up young children who’d disrespected the laws of the Gorton boys. He’d answered them all back and struck fear into their hearts. He’d give anything to be back on those streets now.
Every time he tried to move, even a slight movement of his arms or legs, his body almost seized up with pain. He’d pissed himself. He’d had to. He’d had no choice. He could smell the pool of urine on the floor below him. It was stone cold wherever he was and yet he’d been sweating. It felt as if his legs would snap away from the rest of his body at any moment. His shoulders felt like they were on fire as they struggled to keep his arms fixed in their sockets.
He heard the door open and his body almost went into spasm with fear.
‘So how was your night?’ asked the man. It was the same voice as before. ‘Sorry. That really was a silly question. I’ll shut up and get on with preparing your painful means of death’.
Leroy heard the man walk behind him. Oh Christ what was he going to do to him? He couldn’t help pissing himself again.
‘Oh the waterworks’ said the man. ‘Still, I can’t say I blame you. You must be terrified. Well you should be because this is really going to hurt’.
Leroy started crying. He could feel the tears roll down from underneath the thick tape across his eyes and across his cheeks.
‘I suppose you want your Mum now, don’t you? Well don’t worry. You see I’m filming this whole thing and I’ll be sending a copy of the DVD to your dear, sweet Mummy. The DVD won’t show me of course. I pause the camera when I come into the room. Now, in the best traditions of all executioners I’m going to let you have your final words’.
The man ripped the tape from Leroy’s mouth. Leroy let out a loud scream and was finding it difficult to breathe.
‘It’s a good job nobody can hear you’ said the man. ‘Now, what do you want to say?’
‘Please, man … please don’t do this. I’ll do anything … ‘
‘Did you give any of your victims the right to a final few words? I don’t suppose you did’.
‘I’m … I’m sorry’
‘Oh sorry is a bit late, my friend’.
‘Why are you doing this to me?’
‘Because you and the rest of the Gorton boys have got away with too much for too long’.
‘I’m begging you, man’ Leroy pleaded.
‘Oh this is getting boring!’ said the man who then taped Leroy’s mouth up again. He watched Leroy try to struggle and got great satisfaction from seeing him twist and contort with frustration and terror.
Leroy heard some kind of mechanism twisting behind him and then the cold metal he’d been feeling against the back of his neck began to move forward and force his neck up against the metal collar. He flinched. He was finding it difficult to breathe.
‘Do you know what a garotte is, Leroy? Well you’re strapped to one right now. I turn the wheel at the back here which forces your neck against the metal collar and after about four or five twists it’ll break your neck and you’ll be dead. Each twist will increase the pain you feel and you’ll struggle more and more to breathe. Goodbye Leroy. You could’ve had a truly meaningful life but as it turns out your life was pretty pointless really. Better luck next time. Now here’s the second twist and with it you’re just that little bit closer to death’.
Detective Superintendent Jeff Barton was addressing a meeting of the ‘Mothers of the Gorton boys’ in the Gorton area of east Manchester. The group had been formed after a member of the Gorton boys gang, Leroy Patterson, who was only seventeen, had been abducted, murdered, and his body then dumped on the street where he’d lived. The residents wanted to know what the police were doing to catch the killer and were accusing them of neglecting to place all their resources behind the investigation because it was Leroy Patterson, a young black man who nevertheless had an already established record of intimidation and violence.
‘I can assure everyone here that the Greater Manchester police are conducting their enquiries professionally and without any degree of negativity towards the identity of the victim’ said Jeff, emphatically over the loud whispers of discontent. ‘But as I said earlier, one of the reasons why we’re not getting very far with the investigation is the resistance of this community to talk to us’.
An elderly woman stood up and didn’t let her years dampen or moderate her obvious anger. ‘We’re talking to you now! But we don’t get the meaning of talking when it’s not backed up by action’.
‘But that’s precisely why we’re not getting anywhere’ Jeff countered although in a calmer more measured voice than before. He’d dressed himself up in a suit with a shirt and tie instead of his usual preferred attire of leather jacket, chinos and some variety of check pattered shirt. He’d thought it essential to look the part with a community where all the ladies in particular took such care of their appearance. ‘We hit up against a brick wall of antagonism to the police every single time and it makes it very difficult for us to even try and do our job. Leroy Patterson didn’t just disappear off the streets. He left the house of his friend Tyrone Peters at 11.30 on the night of the 17
to walk the quarter of a mile to his own house on Millgate Drive. We know he never made it. But someone must’ve seen something? Someone must’ve heard something that made them go to their window and sneak a look through the curtains? This is a built up area with very little open space and I’m just not prepared to accept that nobody saw or heard anything either then or when his body was left at the end of Millgate Drive two nights later. You notice strangers in this area. Somebody will have noticed someone that night’.
Jeff was on a panel with the local Labour councillor for the ward, a man called Royston Albright who lived just a stone’s throw behind the community centre where they were meeting. Sitting right in the middle of the ‘audience’ was the silent brooding figure of Melanie Patterson, Leroy’s mother. Jeff had met her when he’d gone to inform her of her son’s fate and he couldn’t help but find her an attractive woman. Her shiny black hair had been straightened and was at shoulder length, she certainly looked after her figure which had been accentuated by a tight fitting black dress, and her make-up was subtle.
On the face of it there was no shortage of suspects when it came to who might be responsible for the abduction of Leroy Patterson. The number of fellow professional criminals with a grudge against the Gorton boys was as long as your arm, not to mention the ordinary members of the community whose lives had been shattered by the actions of the gang in some way or other. But the use of violence by the Gorton boys and those associated with them was crude and banal. It was entirely physical and locked around fists and crow bars. Whoever had killed Leroy Patterson was in an altogether different league of savagery. According to the pathologist June Hawkins Leroy had been killed by suffocation but not with someone’s hands. The marks on the back of his broken neck suggested to June that it had been crushed by some sort of a device. And the only thing she could think of was the ancient execution device known as a garrotte.
The estate was sprawled out across a couple of miles to the east of Manchester city centre with the main Sheffield road as its artery and the Etihad stadium dominating the immediate skyline. The Gorton boys had taken over the entire area and the local housing association had been inundated with requests, mainly from elderly people who were too scared to go out, especially after dark, to be moved to somewhere else. But spare housing stock was low in most areas and the opportunity to grant the wishes of everyone who wanted to move out was just not possible. So people lived in fear. Local tradesmen making deliveries and workmen putting in telephone lines or fixing boilers always came in two’s. None of them would risk going onto the estate alone. Ambulances and fire engines had been regularly attacked whilst they’d been going about their duties and an elderly woman had recently died in the back of the ambulance that was trying to get her to hospital but which had been held up by a mob wielding large planks of wood and iron bars. They’d struck the engine bonnet, the sides and back of the ambulance, terrifying the woman inside in her final moments of life. They gave her no thought or decency but when they got fed up they finally just let the ambulance pass. It was all a game of power to them. They didn’t care who got hurt as long as it wasn’t them. The woman died before she reached the hospital.
‘When have you ever helped us?’ somebody cried out.
‘And when have you ever accepted our help in good faith?’ Jeff retorted. The room suddenly went quiet. He could see the ladies and gentlemen of the press who were in attendance suddenly sit up and take notice. They’re not interested in justice for anyone. They just want the angle of a white police officer losing his rag with local residents in a predominately West Indian community. That’s what they’d be looking for. And now he was about to hand it to them on a plate. ‘Look, it’s time for a dialogue between us based on truth and honesty. I’ll grant you that the police have sometimes been at fault in the past but I don’t accept that it’s all the fault of the police. It goes both ways and I will hunt down the killer or killers of Leroy Patterson and I will lead a team to the best of our collective responsibility. But I need something from you. I need to know the names of everyone who was part of the mob that surrounded the ambulance that prevented Evelyn Squires from getting to the hospital promptly after her heart attack. Evelyn Squires died. But you know that. You also know that the mob that surrounded the ambulance she was in was responsible. It wasn’t the police and it certainly wasn’t those brave paramedics. But you won’t give us any names will you? You expect us to do our job, and rightly so, but if it’s one of yours you let them get away with murder. And then you wonder why relations between us are so bad? Do you not see what I’m getting at here? Justice is not a one-way street. It means we have to talk to each other if we’re going to solve the murder of Leroy Patterson and find out who the cowards were who prevented Evelyn Squires from getting to the hospital. But as you accuse me and my colleagues of dragging our feet in relation to the death of Leroy Patterson you should remember that this community has got the highest rate of gang related crime in this city but if you allow yourselves to get to know me you’ll realise that the very last thing anybody could accuse me of is racism. The law is the law whether you’re a black teenager in a gang or an elderly white woman on her way to hospital. Think about it and work with me’.
Jeff sat down and breathed out slowly. There was silence in the room. He hadn’t expected to make that kind of speech but he thought it was necessary and perhaps overdue. He was sick and tired of the police taking all the knocks when half the time they’d be able to solve many more crimes if the public were open and frank with them. He was also sick and tired of people expecting him to be a racist just because he was a police officer. If that was the game they wanted to play then they most certainly had picked on the wrong one. It would no doubt get him into trouble with the powers that be on the force but so be it. Chief Superintendent Chambers would no doubt be calling him in to explain the press headlines that will follow but he was prepared for that. He looked at his watch. It was just before nine o’clock. He wanted to get home to see his son Toby who’d been off school with measles. Jeff had taken some time off earlier in the week to be with him but their live-in housekeeper and child minder Brendan had been doing a wonderful job and Toby was over the worse now. He’d probably be back at school in a day or two. In the meantime he had his iPad to keep him occupied and a multitude of films that Brendan had downloaded for him to watch whilst his temperature came down and the spots on his skin began to disappear.
It was clear from the way people were turning their backs on the panel that they considered the meeting to be over. Royston Albright began gathering his things together.
‘That was a good speech, Jeff’ said Royston. ’But if I’d have made it I’d lose my seat at the next election. I’m a member of this community so I speak as one who knows that they don’t like having it given back to them’.
‘I was quite mild and tempered compared to what I really wanted to say, Royston’ said Jeff. ’Maybe I’ll save the rest for next time but I’ve got to convince them to trust me. Surely it can’t be that impossible?’
‘Well you never know’ said Royston. ‘They did put a man on the moon after all’.
Jeff smiled. ‘You’ll keep me posted if you hear anything?’
‘Of course. I’ve got your number. We’ll keep in touch. I’m not your enemy, Jeff. I support you in what you’re trying to do’.
‘Thanks Royston’ said Jeff who was then collared by the members of the press. He told them he had nothing to add to what he’d said in his speech and to what he’d said earlier that day in the press conference. As for whether his strident tone would win him more enemies than friends he said that was too early to tell but that he had an investigation to conduct and he and his team would be getting on with that. Once they realised they weren’t going to get any more gold out of him they lost interest and transferred their efforts to what remained of the audience. Jeff noticed that most people were standing round Melanie Patterson who gave him the odd backward glance that didn’t look friendly. She was probably in her early forties and Jeff admired the way her chocolate coloured skin contrasted with the deep red of her nail polish and lipstick. He watched her put on a thick overcoat. It was cold out but as he watched her he thought that maybe it was time to start looking towards the future where relationships were concerned. Up until recently he hadn’t been able to even entertain the idea of being with another woman. He certainly found this woman attractive but he could never entertain the idea for one second of getting involved with the mother of a murder victim. It just wouldn’t be right on so many levels. But to establish some kind of positive rapport with her might be useful in unlocking the community resistance to police enquiries.
‘She’s the one woman in this community who you really do need to have on your side’ said Royston who’d been kept back by the journalists and then seen where Jeff’s eyes were focusing. ‘She’s like an unofficial leader. The rest of them listen to what she says. Of course there is talk about what kind of role she really plays in this community’.
‘How do you mean?’ Jeff asked.
‘There are stories, rumours’ said Royston. ‘They say that she’s always been the real power behind the Gorton boys’.
‘Oh yeah’ said Royston. ‘They’ve made her out to be a proper Winnie Mandela at times. Now I don’t know for sure and I wouldn’t like to speculate beyond what I’ve already said. But it might be worth your while persisting with her’.
‘I think I’ll try and talk to her again’ said Jeff. He jumped off the makeshift stage and stepped briskly over. The rest of the people dispersed as he approached.
‘Excuse me?’ said Jeff. ‘Mrs. Patterson? Could we have a word?’
Melanie Patterson didn’t look at him as she replied. ‘I suppose you think that was a fine speech you made?’
‘Well it wasn’t scripted’.
‘And it sounded to me like it was driven by your ignorant prejudice about this community. Talk to you? Listen to you? I’d rather die’.
‘No I’m sorry I’m not going to let you get away with that one’.
‘I beg your pardon?’
‘What you just said to me was not only wrong but it was unpleasant and deeply offensive. Now I know you’re grieving but if I didn’t care about what I was doing and if I wasn’t being genuine then I wouldn’t have come down here tonight and I wouldn’t have said any of those things’.
‘So what are you saying?’
‘That we’ve got more in common than you think’.
‘So you say’.
‘Why can’t you work with me? Don’t you want us to find the killer of your son?’
Melanie gave out a short laugh. ‘You think I’m going to agree to colluding with the enemy?’
‘For the sake of finding your son’s killer then yes I do’.
‘Do you have children?’
‘It’s a simple enough question’.
‘Yes, I do. I have a son. His name is Toby’.
‘And I suppose Toby is being taken care of tonight in your nice big house in your nice white suburb by your nice pretty wife who doesn’t have a care in the world?’
‘Actually my nice pretty wife died almost two years ago of an aneurism that exploded in her brain. She was only thirty years old. I’m a single Dad and both father and mother to my son. It’s not always easy. So do you want to make any more judgements about me and my family when you know nothing about my life?’
Melanie was embarrassed. ‘I’m sorry to hear all that. A young man like you shouldn’t be left with a child to bring up on his own’.
‘It’s no more or less difficult than it is for a woman left in the same circumstances’ said Jeff. ‘It’s called life and you have to get on with it. And I’m trying to reconcile here the fact that you love to judge others but won’t be judged yourself. How do you work that one out? And why is it that you think the only prejudice is against black people?’
‘Because it is’
‘Well let me tell you something, my wife was of Chinese decent and do you know where the racism in our life came from? It came from my own parents who never accepted Lillie Mae because she was Chinese and who never come anywhere near their grandson because he’s mixed race even though he’s lost his Mum at such an early age and could do with knowing that they love him. So don’t lecture me about racism, Mrs. Patterson, because I know all about it at first hand’.
‘I’m sorry again’.
‘You don’t have to be. I know that you know about it too. But black people don’t have the monopoly’.
‘You do speak frankly for a police officer. I’ll give you that’.
‘I really think it might help if we talked sometime, Mrs. Peters’ said Jeff.
‘But I blame the police for my son’s murder and that includes you’.
‘That’s not fair, Mrs. Patterson, your son was part of a gang that terrorised people in this community and you have the nerve to stand there and blame the police for his murder?’
‘Well if you really want me to think differently then find my son’s killer’ Melanie struck back. ‘Then I might be prepared to believe that you’re genuine and we might be able to talk’
‘We’ll need to talk way before then if we’re going to really help things around here’ said Jeff. ‘You already have my card from when I came to see you before. Call me’.
Melanie picked up her handbag and threw it over her shoulder. ‘I’ll think about it’.
‘That’s all I can ask’.
‘You’ll keep me informed about the investigation into my son’s murder?’
‘You do believe there is one going on then?’
Melanie smiled. ‘Alright, I’ll give you that one. Well, I’d better be going’.
‘How are you coping?’
‘I lost Leroy’s father to cancer five years ago. I don’t cope, Mr. Barton. I get through each day as best I can but I don’t need to explain that to you because you know what it feels like to lose someone close’.
‘Good days and bad days’.
‘Exactly. And I was just getting over the loss of my husband when life dealt me this new blow’.
‘I think you should call me Jeff’.
‘And I suppose you can call me Melanie’.
‘So will you call me so we can talk?’
Melanie smiled. ‘I said I’d think about it and I will think about it’.
‘So now with regard to the Leroy Patterson case’ said Jeff who was sitting in his office with DI Rebecca Stockton. ‘I wanted to sound you out, Becky, about the initial statement by Melanie Patterson, mother of Leroy?’
‘Well to be honest, sir’ said Rebecca. ‘I’ve never heard such sanctimonious twaddle in all my life’.
Jeff gave a half smile. ‘Don’t sit on the fence now, Rebecca’.
‘Well sir, her son had been a thug and yet she was talking about him as if he’d found the secret to achieving world peace. She claims to have been devoted to him as his mother and yet all that devotion led to him becoming a member of a gang that terrorised people. Leroy left school a year early without any qualifications to do anything with his life other than engage in criminality. I’ve read his school reports. They all say he was too lazy and had too much attitude to focus on his education but of course, according to his oh so devoted mother it was none of her or his fault. It was all the fault of the rest of us’.
‘I take it you’re not too keen on her then?’
‘The hypocrisy of her hit me like the smell of someone wearing dirty underwear’.
‘Right, well I think I’ll go and see her on my own in that case’ said Jeff.
‘Are you saying I can’t be professional and keep my private opinions to myself, sir?’
‘No, I’m not saying that, Becky’ said Jeff who was slightly taken aback by the sudden aggression in Rebecca’s tone.
‘Well with all due respect it sounds like it to me’ said Rebecca who was seriously annoyed at Jeff’s attitude.
‘Look, the important thing here is to build trust in the community to help solve the case’ said Jeff. ‘And you’ll need to put your feelings to one side in order for us to do that’.
‘I’m well aware of that, sir’ said Rebecca, testily. ‘I’m hardly a rookie recruit’.
‘Right’ said Jeff who wondered what the hell had got into Rebecca. ‘I’m glad that’s settled. Look Becky, I don’t know what gets in to you sometimes but you’ve got to stop this moodiness of yours. Sometimes I don’t know who the hell you’re going to be from one day to the next, whether you’re going to be the excellent police officer and someone I regard as a close friend, or whether you’re going to be this stroppy teenager who keeps throwing her toys out’.
‘Is this an official bollocking, sir?’
‘You see, there you go. Becky, we’ve got two new officers joining the team today. I don’t want them walking into an atmosphere of tension between the two senior officers so buck your ideas up and that’s an order’.
Rebecca looked at Jeff and wondered if he was genuinely in denial or just plain stupid. ‘I’ll see the Leroy Patterson case through to its conclusion, sir. And then I’ll apply for a transfer to another team’.
‘Rebecca, I ... ‘
‘ ... you just don’t see it, do you sir?’ she blurted out, more emotionally than she’d wanted to. ‘You just don’t see it’.
‘What don’t I see?’
‘That it’s ... that it’s better for the integrity of the squad if we don’t work together’.
‘You’ve got to say more than that after dropping that bombshell’.
‘No, sir, actually, I don’t have to say anything else’.
‘I may not accept your transfer request’.
‘Then I’ll go to the police federation’.
‘Oh Becky for God’s sake ... ‘
‘ ... and sir, if you don’t mind, it’s DI Stockton from now on’.
Jeff drove onto the Gorton estate and pulled up outside the house of Melanie Patterson. Earlier he’d had another exchange of words with Rebecca Stockton about whether or not she should accompany him on the visit. He didn’t like falling out with any of his officers and he had thought that Rebecca was more of a friend than a colleague and could therefore get past any short circuits in their working relationship. Perhaps he was wrong. So much tension had crept into their relationship over recent weeks and he’d clearly got under her skin about something which was why she was intending to transfer from his team. But he also had to remember that he was her boss and if she continued to speak to him the way she had been doing then another far more uglier issue might have to be addressed. Jeff had never thrown his rank around. He’d never needed to. His management style had always led to his team co-operating with him and not challenging him for the sake of their own ego. This may be one of those times when he needed to be a lot firmer about just who was in charge. They say that familiarity breeds contempt. He didn’t really hold with that but he wouldn’t be taken the piss out of just because people think they can on account of his less than fervent style of authority. But something was driving Rebecca’s oscillating moods and he would never accept any transfer request until he knew what that was. His brother Lewis had often said that it was as clear as day that Rebecca was in love with Jeff. But Jeff didn’t see that. He and Rebecca were too close as friends for there to be anything else involved and besides, he just didn’t feel that way about her. At least, he didn’t think he did. He’d never really thought about it.
After he’d got out of his car he didn’t have to look in order to know that suspicious eyes were falling on him from everywhere. Curtains were parting, doors were being opened and people were appearing to see who the stranger in their midst was. Some of them would remember him from the town hall meeting but some of those would’ve been determined to forget. But that didn’t matter to Jeff. He wanted to know how a killer had come on to this estate, snatch a member of the controlling gang and then dumping his dead body back here a couple of days later. Did Leroy Patterson know who his abductor was and go with them willingly not knowing the trap he was being led into? Was somebody here helping whoever it was? Was it someone from inside who had their own reasons for turning on the Gorton boys? There were plenty of questions Jeff needed answers to and he had to get people round here to talk if he was going to find the killer of Leroy Patterson.
The inside of Melanie Patterson’s modest former council house was absolutely immaculate. It was one of those houses where you are a little bit afraid to sit down in case you disturb the perfect arrangement of cushions. It didn’t look like there was a thing out of place and everything had been cleaned to within an inch of its natural life. The front window didn’t have any of the marks of residue cleaning liquid that some people’s windows have and as she talked Melanie was constantly fiddling with something. Either she was straightening the already perfectly hung curtains or running her hands over the cushions even though they didn’t need it. Then between all that she picked up bits of fluff off the carpet that Jeff couldn’t actually see. She was wearing a grey soft woolen v-neck jumper and a pair of black trousers that had both been perfectly pressed. She was a lady who liked to keep up appearances and that can’t be easy when you live on benefits. None of the things Jeff saw around him looked like they’d come from the cheaper end of the market.
‘Remind me, Leroy did live here with you, Melanie?’ asked Jeff.
‘Indeed he did’ said Melanie with a slight smile in Jeff’s direction.
‘He hadn’t moved out then?’
‘No, he was born in this house and I took him to the cemetery from this house’.
‘But I understand you don’t live here alone?’
‘No, I still have my miracle child’.
‘Your miracle child?’
‘About fifteen years ago there was a massive hurricane back home in St. Kitts’ she explained. ‘The death toll ran into three figures. My brother and sister-in-law perished and the authorities had initially assumed that their son had perished too, poor child. He’d only have been five years old then. But just two months ago my nephew Jackson Williams turned up on my doorstep large as life. He’d been rescued during the hurricane and put into an orphanage and last year he decided to track down his family. He found out about his old Aunt Melanie in Manchester, England. So he came over here and I welcomed him into my home. It was as if the good Lord knew that I was going to be lonely’.
‘Where is Jackson now?’
‘He’s out and that’s all you need to know’ said Melanie, a little sharply. ‘Sorry. It’s just hard for me to separate the man from the police officer when I talk to you. Jackson has been a great comfort to me these past few days since I lost my son to a murderer. Have you got anywhere with your … investigation?’
‘I’m afraid not, Melanie’ Jeff admitted. It was true enough. They’d drawn a complete blank in their enquiries. ‘Look Melanie, I really need your help here. I’ve listened to talk here and there and I know that people in this community look to you for leadership’.
Melanie put on a half-smile. ‘Not always in a good way as far as the police are concerned. I’ve been harassed by your so-called fellow officers on more occasions than I care to remember’.
‘Well let’s park that for the moment’ said Jeff. ‘Melanie, there’s so much we need to know if we’re going to make any headway with this investigation but all we’ve had so far from conducting door-to-door enquiries down this street and those around it are the doors slammed in our faces. You can see how that makes our job difficult’
‘I suppose you’ve got a point’ said Melanie who despite herself couldn’t help but like this tall white man with the dark blond hair and the sparkle mixed with sadness in his eyes that were a reflection of her own. ‘Don’t you think it hurts me if my friends and neighbours know something that they’re not passing on to you?’
‘Then help me, Melanie. You won’t be betraying anybody but it might start something that will lead to us getting justice for Leroy’.
‘I’ll talk to people round and about’ said Melanie. ‘I’ll do my best’.
‘And what about Evelyn Squires?’
‘What about her?’
‘I need the names of those who stopped her ambulance getting through, Melanie’ said Jeff. ‘And I’m equally as determined on that as I am on getting justice for your son’.
‘I can’t promise you the earth, Jeff’ said Melanie who was in a dilemma when it came to the incident with the ambulance. Nobody was going to drop their own kid in it but she needed Jeff on side to get whoever had taken Leroy. ‘But you’d better come back in a couple of days with the rest of them you need to do your work and I’ll try and make sure the doors aren’t slammed in your face’.
‘That’s as much as I can ask, Melanie’ said Jeff. ‘Thank you’.
‘Why do so many young men join the Gorton boys, Melanie?’
‘You don’t ask easy questions, Jeff’ said Melanie. Her heart was heavy with the loss of her son but she had to keep on protecting him. She was his mother. ‘You see Jeff, the young people round here feel as far away from the bright lights of the city centre just down the road as they do from somewhere like America. They don’t feel part of the great modern success we’re all being told that Manchester is. They feel they have no control of anything to do with their destiny except these streets’.
‘There’s no excuse for the kind of violence we’ve seen from the Gorton boys, Melanie’.
‘It’s what they feel, Jeff’.
‘And I hear white youths in other areas articulating the same problems, Melanie’.
‘Well maybe they don’t have the cards stacked against them like our boys do’.
‘Melanie, how do you think they get in that state in the first place? They live on estates that are kept in a far worse condition than I’ve seen round here’.
‘Me and the rest of the women take pride in our neighbourhood and like to make it look nice. But when it comes to our boys, the rest of society has rejected them and expects them to fail’.
‘Yes, and they prove those cynics right’ said Jeff. ‘They play into their hands. Look Melanie, I’m a mere police officer. I can’t change the world. All I do is uphold the law with due fairness to everyone. But if this community can start working with us instead of believing we’re part of some grand conspiracy against you then we can start to turn things round’.
‘Will the alleged wrongdoings of the Gorton boys be placed in the past so that we can move on?’
‘You’re talking about immunity from prosecution?’ Jeff questioned. He was surprised she’d been as blunt as that and from an intelligent woman such as her it wasn’t what he would’ve expected. She was chancing it. She knew what the answer would be and yet he was also surprised at how relatively co-operative she was being considering how belligerent she’d been previously. What was motivating this turn around? Jeff didn’t allow himself to think that it was just his charm.
‘Yes’ said Melanie. ‘How else could we move on?’
‘That’s way beyond my remit, Melanie, and something I just couldn’t promise you or even comment about’.
‘Just as I thought’ said Melanie. ‘At least you’re honest and I admire that in a man. Now, shall I make us some tea?’
‘Only if it’s not too much trouble, Melanie?’
Melanie stood up. ‘When you’re a mother who’s buried her child nothing seems to be much trouble’.
‘I can understand how that feels’ said Jeff.
‘You lost your wife. That’s how you can understand. You were a husband and I was a mother who devoted herself to her child instead of going off and chasing a career like so many women do these days. They neglect their children’.
This was where Jeff had sympathy with Rebecca Stockton’s perspective on Melanie Patterson. If she’d been the mother of all mothers as she claimed to have been then how come her son did end up a mindless thug? She was deluded. It was part of being a mother in the middle of gang activity on some of Manchester’s toughest streets. Melanie Patterson had to believe that she’d done everything right. It was the only truth she could hold onto. But could it be, like Royston Albright had said, that Melanie did actually play a significant role in the activities of the Gorton boys?