On Didsbury high street in South Manchester, Jenny Lake was meeting her daughter Gabby in a small cafe called ‘Cameron’s Place’. She’d ordered a ham roll and when it came it wasn’t particularly inspiring. There was a heck of a lot of bread but not much ham and it was accompanied by a salad that was drenched in the strongest smelling vinaigrette she’d ever known.
‘Mum, you look like that sandwich is a major disappointment’ said Gabby.
‘Well it is’ said Jenny. ‘I overslept this morning and didn’t get any breakfast. I’m more than ready for something’.
‘Well change it’ said Gabby. ‘Say you don’t like it and ask for something else’.
Jenny sighed. ‘No, it’ll do’.
‘It won’t do, Mum, if you don’t like it’.
‘You know I don’t like to make a fuss’.
‘No, go on, Mum. Cameron won’t mind’.
The café was owned and run by an Australian called Cameron James who was in his early thirties. He’d met a Manchester girl when she was travelling in Australia and fallen in love enough to follow her home. They were married now with a little son but that didn’t stop all the women from flirting with Cameron. He was the typical tall, lean, rugged Aussie type who always wore shorts as soon as the sun came out. He had the kind of relaxed, easy going manner that meant he got on with absolutely everyone. He’d joined the local cricket club and the local rugby club. His physical allure was enhanced by his curly dark brown hair and his face always being covered in five o’clock shadow. He had that kind of straight out of bed look that made the women who went into the café think he was the best bit of crumpet they’d laid eyes on for years.
Cameron came over to the table with his usual relaxed antipodean swagger.
‘Is everything alright for you here, ladies?’
Gabby explained that her Mum didn’t like the sandwich and after a short debate Cameron said he’d bring her a cheese and tomato one instead and without the salad.
‘Sorry about that ladies’ said Cameron with his usual charm. ‘I’ve got a new bloke started in the kitchen and his techniques need a little refinement shall we say. But he’ll learn’.
‘You know, Cameron, if you weren’t married and I wasn’t deliriously happy with my fiancé then you and I could’ve been made for each other’ teased Gabby.
Cameron smiled. ‘Yeah, well maybe in the next life, honey’.
‘I’ll hold you to that’.
‘But how will I find you? You might come back as a cat or something’.
‘In which case, I’ll find you. You know what cats are like’.
‘Strike me pink it’s a good job my wife can trust me’.
‘If I was your wife I’d keep you under lock and key’.
‘Now there’s an image to get me through an otherwise tedious afternoon’ said Cameron and then winked at her before going off to the kitchen to sort out his apprentice.
Jenny shook her head and smiled. ‘You are shameless’.
‘Mum, I’m getting married to a man I love very much but I’m not dead to the sight of some eye candy’.
Jenny didn’t quite know what to say to that. Her marriage to Gabby’s father had felt like one year folding into the next one and the next one. She wasn’t in love with Ed anymore. She didn’t know if she ever had been or if he’d ever been in love with her. They weren’t even comfortable with each other. They were distinctly uncomfortable at times and that could make time pass so slowly when they were at home together, especially since Gabby had flown the nest to move in with her fiancé Owen. They should’ve had more children but they hadn’t. They’d been putting off the inevitable for almost all of their twenty years of marriage and Jenny had learned to fill the gaps with going to the gym and making curtains.
‘You are sure about everything, aren’t you love?’
‘About marrying Owen, you mean?’
‘Of course I’m sure, Mum. Why are you asking me that?’
‘But you’re a pretty girl, Gabby, and you’re young’.
‘Where’s all this coming from?’ asked Gabby before cutting into her order of raisin toast with scrambled eggs.
‘I just don’t want you to wake up in ten years time and wish you’d had more freedom before settling down’.
‘I thought you liked Owen?’
‘I do, love, I do. I like him a lot, you know I do. But he’s not my concern. You are’.
‘And are we talking about me or you here?’
Jenny’s response to her daughter’s direct accusation was momentarily paused when Cameron brought Jenny her replacement sandwich. She closed her eyes slowly to fight back the tears. What this was really all about was money. The bills for Gabby’s wedding had to be paid in two weeks time and Jenny didn’t know how she and Ed were going to do it. Jenny’s parents were both dead and had never had much money anyway. She didn’t earn much as a doctor’s receptionist. She’d never be able to borrow what was needed. It looked like her only option would be to ask Ed’s mother who lived in Spain. She’d helped them out before although Ed didn’t know. He’d have been furious if he had have found out. He’d never got on with his mother for as long as Jenny had known him.
‘That’s not a question a daughter should ask her mother, Gabby’.
‘Mum, I know what it’s like between you and Dad and you’re both still young’.
‘Or is it money, Mum? I know the letters that arrive for Dad. I know he’s got financial troubles’.
‘He always has had’ said Jenny. ‘That’s nothing new’.
‘Mum, do you still love Dad?’
Jenny breathed in deep and then said ‘I don’t hate him. And it’s not like I can’t stand the sight of him. But I wouldn’t call it love. Not in the way that you and Owen are in love. Not in the way your mate Cameron here crossed the world to be with his girl. There’s something there between your Dad and me but I don’t know what it is’.
‘Oh, Mum’ said Gabby as she squeezed her mother’s hand.
‘Ah, look, I don’t want to be talking about this now’ said Jenny. ‘I couldn’t be happier for you, Gabby. Owen is a great bloke and I do mean that. I just wanted to make sure that’s all’.
‘I know and I am happy, Mum’ said Gabby who’d fallen head over heels in love with Owen the first time she’d met him. She’d broken her ankle and Owen had been the casualty nurse who’d attended to her. ‘I just wish you and Dad were too’.
Jeff went to see Chief Superintendent Ian Hayward at the earliest opportunity. It was all he needed this morning. His son Toby had started wetting the bed again and at four o’clock this morning he’d been loading the washing machine with the wet sheets before trying to get a very distressed little five year old back to sleep. Toby had ended up sleeping in Jeff’s bed.
‘Sir, something’s come up in the investigation that I need to talk to you about’.
‘Like what, Jeff?’ Hayward asked amiably although he had a good idea what Jeff needed to speak to him about. He’d been haunted by it for twenty years and as soon as the human remains had been found at Pembroke House he’d known that it would only be a matter of time.
‘Sir, do remember a young man called Ronnie Wiseman?’
Hayward swallowed and then cleared his throat. ‘No’ he answered. ‘Should I?’
‘You might’ve forgotten because it was a long time ago’ said Jeff who was convinced that Hayward was lying to him already. The body language was loud and clear. ‘He was a resident at the Pembroke House care home for boys back when you were a constable and it was on your beat. In a television programme he says he made a complaint to a police officer about having been physically and sexually abused at the home but he wasn’t allowed at that time to mention the officer’s name. The force took out an injunction against the name of the officer being revealed but we’ve found out that it was you’.
‘I don’t know what you expect me to say?’
‘I don’t expect you to say anything, sir. I’m just asking as part of the investigation because you see, we can’t find any record of Wiseman’s complaint ever having been recorded. Now we have found evidence in a dungeon-style basement area of the home that suggests that ritual, sadistic abuse took place there and we want to get to the bottom of it’.
‘Well it’s news to me, Jeff’.
‘So you wouldn’t know why that injunction had been taken out?’
‘Detective Superintendent Barton, I’m not aware of any television programme or any injunction’.
‘So would you also say that Wiseman is lying, sir?’
‘It’s hard to give a definitive answer to that without having the full facts to consult’.
‘I can make sure you have them, sir, and then perhaps we can talk again?’
Hayward regarded Jeff shrewdly. Of all the investigating officers under his command it would have to be Jeff Barton who’d been given a key into his past. He wouldn’t give up until he was satisfied he’d got to the truth. But Hayward couldn’t tell him anything without landing himself right in it up to his neck and further and there were others to consult before he could do that.
‘Well if there’s anything I can recall from all that time ago then I’ll be sure to tell you, Jeff’ said Hayward. ‘How is the investigation going, by the way?’
‘Slowly, sir’ Jeff replied. He was annoyed at having been fobbed off by his senior officer. What the Hell was Hayward hiding? They’d known each other a long time and there’d never been any whiff of scandal surrounding Hayward. ‘We’re looking at the staff records and at the record of residents. Sir, do you know someone called George Griffin?’
‘George Griffin?’ said Hayward. He spun the name round his consciousness until he could think of a convincing lie to disassociate himself from Griffin. He couldn’t think of one so he went for the basic. ‘No. Again, should I?’
‘He was manager of the care home when you were a beat officer, sir’
‘Well as you said it was a long time ago’ said Hayward who then shifted a little in his chair. ‘I can’t be expected to recall off the top of my head everyone on my beat at that time’.
You lying bastard, thought Jeff. ‘My team need to speak to him because he was the manager at the time we estimate the victims to have died and he could provide us with vital evidence. Not to mention the allegations made by Ronnie Wiseman’. He decided to fire a warning shot across Hayward’s bows. ‘We want answers, sir, and we will get them’.
‘I’ve no doubt given your previous record’ said Hayward a little sharply.
Jeff then took the photograph of the toddler that had been found at Pembroke out of his pocket and handed it to the Superintendent.
‘Do you recognize this child, sir? The photograph was found amongst a pile of empty video cassette cases at Pembroke’.
Jeff watched Hayward’s face contorting, not dramatically, but just enough for him to be able to notice. Hayward recognized the child alright. Jeff watched him rub his hand over his mouth and try desperately to think of a form of words to add to the already established pattern of denial.
‘No’ said Hayward. He handed him the photograph back. ‘I don’t recognize him’.
‘Are you sure, sir?’
‘Jeff, what are you implying?’
‘I’m not implying anything, sir. I’m just doing my job’.
‘Well I’m afraid I have to leave now’ said Hayward. He stood up. ‘I’m due for a meeting with the chief constable so if you’ll excuse me’.
Jeff was bristling with anger as he made for the door but then Hayward stopped him.
‘How are things, Jeff?’ he asked. ‘On a personal basis I mean? I know it’s getting on for a year since Lillie Mae died. I just wondered how you and little Toby were doing?’
‘We’ll get there, sir’ Jeff answered, unsure of where this was going. Why the sudden, deliberate shift to the personal? ‘It isn’t easy but we’ll get there’.
‘You must miss Lillie Mae very much’.
‘Well of course I do, sir’ said Jeff. What a stupid fucking question that was. ‘There’s a part of me that always will’.
‘I’m sure you’ll find happiness again, Jeff’.
‘Well that’s as may be, sir, but my priority at the moment is to make sure Toby feels secure and isn’t scared that I’m going to suddenly leave his life like his Mum did’.
‘I’m sure you’re doing a great job of that’ said Hayward. ‘Although it isn’t easy for us men to take over the nurturing, emotional role with children that women are so good at’.
‘Oh I disagree, sir’ said Jeff, firmly. He was highly sensitive to the still widely accepted view that women cope better as single parents than men do. ‘You just have to man up and use some emotional intelligence. That’s all it requires’.