A Liam Collins Mystery by Kevin Tye
Week 1 - Saturday
In the Moon lit peace of the night a shadow detached itself from the surrounding darkness. He turned and looked over at the target for the tenth time in as many minutes. All he needed was the blessed Moon to go down. When he had planned this evening, he had not bargained on the moon being so bright, however, he didn't let the delay worry him. In some ways this was even better, the later he did it, the less chance there was of getting caught. He was crouched down behind a clump of bushes at the edge of the field. Glancing at his watch, he noted it read twelve-ten. Every unit in the field was in darkness. Most units had solar powered lights arranged around them, just in case anyone decided to do any sleepwalking. He hoped for their sakes, and his, that no one did get itchy feet. He told himself that he would wait until twelve-thirty, and then he was going in. The time passed slowly and he found himself checking his watch every few minutes until twelve-thirty rolled around.
He unfolded himself to his full height, and began his approach to the target unit. He didn't skulk, but walked purposefully across the site as if he belonged there. As he reached the unit, he lifted a small aerosol can of lubricant out of his pocket. He leaned down and sprayed the full length of the awning doorway zip. Slipping the can back in his pocket, he grasped the shuttle of the zip and began quietly to slide it up. The lubricant did its job, the zip opened silently. He slipped through the opening and just as quietly slid the zip closed. He was now inside the awning of the unit and most importantly, out of plain sight. He turned towards the door and out of another pocket withdrew a small container of graphite powder. He carefully inserted the nozzle of the container into the caravan door lock and squeezed a small amount of the silky dark grey powder into the opening.
Replacing the container in his pocket he took out a single key and inserted it into the lock. As quietly as he could he turned the key in the lock, whilst gently leaning his full weight against the door. The weight of his body against the door prevented it from popping open and making that tell tale sound that all caravan doors made. Gingerly, with the lock fully turned he eased back and allowed the door to swing open silently. He was pleased he had decided to wear his body-warmer. It was blessed with more pockets than he needed. From a top pocket, he retrieved a tiny LED penlight which after turning on he wedged in the corner of his mouth. He knew that the interior of the caravan would be completely black. This was obvious. He had looked at the outside of the van as he had walked up to it. The windows were completely dark indicating that the all the blinds were down and probably the curtains were drawn.
The small light cast a tiny white cone of light, which was not much, but he felt it would be enough. From his left hand side flap pocket he withdrew a wide roll of duct tape and a handful of large cable ties. This would be fun he thought as he closed the door to behind him.
Week 1 - Sunday
Liam Collins looked at his face in the passenger's vanity mirror for what seemed like the hundredth time. He ran his fingers through his hair and checked his teeth for any small particles of food. Finally he breathed into his hand and sniffed. The normally carefree, slightly amused expression was absent from his handsome face. His skin was stark white against the darkness of his short cropped Van-Dyke beard and moustache, and his normally calm, cool blue-grey eyes looked slightly wild. Kitty Fielding puffed nervously on her cigarette, only removing it from her mouth briefly. She had checked her appearance almost as many times as Liam had. Taking a final puff, she ground the cigarette out in the small ashtray in the central console and slid it away.
'I really wish we'd not decided to do this Liam. I thought that we were all right as we were.' said Kitty lighting another cigarette. She took a long pull from it and blew her stream of smoke up and out of the car. She loved driving her MG with the roof down. She had been bequeathed the car by a friend, a friend who had turned out to be a womanising misogynist, and that had made her initially uncomfortable accepting the bequest, but after she had driven it a couple of times, she realised she was in love with the car. She had never before cared much about cars, to her a car was a car, but driving the MG made her feel free, alive, and that was essential to Kitty. Feeling alive was the most important thing in the world to Kitty. Liam looked at her and noticed her hand was shaking as she drew again on the cigarette.
'It seemed like a good idea at the time.' he said.
'To you.' she snapped. 'To you. I knew I should never have said yes when you asked me. I knew this was a bad idea.' Kitty's bell of blond hair swung from side to side as she shook her head violently. She prided herself on being pretty un-flappable, but she knew without a doubt what she was doing at the moment was flapping, and flapping big time. She placed the cigarette back between her lips and with both hands smoothed her blue slacks down. Kitty had always favoured blue when she wanted to dress smartly. She felt that the powder blue slacks, dark blue blouse and powder blue silk scarf complemented each other so well, that she shouldn't have to worry about her appearance. But she did.
'It is not a bad idea.' Liam annunciated each word quietly and calmly. 'And I thought you were trying to stop?' he indicated the three-quarters smoked cigarette. 'You've smoked more of them in the last twenty minutes than in the last three days.'
'With good reason Liam.' She reached for the keys to the car. 'We're not doing this.' Liam reached across and placed his hand over hers.
'Yes Kitty, we are.' He carefully removed the keys from her hand and slipped them into his pocket. 'We are rational sensible adults and we can do this.' She took a final drag on her cigarette and flipped the butt over the side of the car.
'Sorry darling,' she said, more calmly now, 'nerves I suppose.' Liam noted that her hands were no longer shaking, and her breathing had settled 'Shall we?'
Liam got out of the car and walked around to open her door for her. His tall spare frame towered over her as he offered her his hand. She ignored the offered hand and stood without help, holding out hers for the keys so that she could lock the car. Smiling Liam dangled the keys over her hand, but didn't drop them in. He jingled them invitingly, the smile spreading to a grin. She began tapping her foot on the floor impatiently and he laughed and dropped the keys into her palm.
'Just wanted to be sure you weren't going to do a runner on me.' She smiled back.
'As if.' she said leaning down to lock the car. Liam took her hand and they walked over to the Crab Catcher café. Their friends all said what a handsome couple they made, he strikingly handsome, and she stunningly attractive, in a mature poised way. She shook out her blonde hair as they walked pulling the fingers of her free hand through the silky thatch. As they approached the entrance to the restaurant, Liam could see the two people they were waiting for, sat at a small table out on the pontoon. That was one of the reasons that the two of them loved the place. You could happily take breakfast sat out in the sun with the water lapping under you as you ate. The place was calm and comfortable.
They walked through the restaurant, and out onto the pontoon hand in hand. Both the people at the table got to their feet to greet them. Liam took the man's hand and shook it, then leaned over and kissed the woman on the cheek.
'Mum, Dad, this is Kitty.
Roger Desmond rolled over and kissed his wife. He pushed himself up and climbed carefully over her and put his feet on the floor, then slid them into his slippers and stood.
'Yes. I'll stick the immersion on too.'
'Bring me a cup in ...' she mumbled, opening one eye and looking at the clock, 'fifteen minutes.'
'Will do.' He slipped on his dressing gown and slid the door open to the sleeping compartment, stepped through and closed it behind him. Reaching over he flipped the switch to turn on the immersion heater, then filled the kettle and set it on one of the rings on the gas cooker to boil. He pushed the button on the piezoelectric starter to fire the ring and then opening the door to the toilet-cum-shower went in and began his morning routine.
The kettle had started whistling by the time he had finished his ablutions, and he smiled to himself. He loved the sound of the kettle when it came to the boil. It reminded him of his childhood home, where his parents lived, in a small village on the outskirts of Basingstoke. His mother would never have an electric kettle, believed that they didn't boil the water properly, not like her Whistling Pete. He had never found out why she called it a Whistling Pete, but she always had, and probably always would.
He took the boiled water and after popping a couple of teabags into the pot poured it in. Many people these days didn't bother with a teapot, made their tea by dunking a teabag into a cup. Rena absolutely hated tea made that way. She always maintained that if you couldn't be bothered to make tea properly then you shouldn't make it at all. It didn't help that Rena liked her tea very weak, and tea made in a cup always had more than average quantities of tannin in it making it taste bitter.
Roger slid the small tea tray from its parking place down the side of the fridge and placed two cups on it. He put milk in the cups and reached for the teapot, almost dropping it as he tried to lift it. The teapot was stainless steel and the handle got hot enough to melt lead, or so it seemed. They kept a rubber hand protector slung over the top of the tap so that you could use it to pick up the teapot without burning your hand. He reached over and snagged the protector and this time picked up the teapot without a problem. Roger poured tea into the two cups then put down the teapot, picked up the tray carrying the two cups and opened the door of the sleeping compartment.
Rena was already sat up in bed, propped up on her orthopaedic v-cushion. She smiled at him.
'Thought you were having another forty winks?' he asked, smiling back at her.
'Too hot.' she said. He reached over and placed her cup on the small table by the bed. His cup, he placed on the small shelf under the window. Roger had never really enjoyed tea in bed. He always felt better drinking tea sat up rather than half laying down. He cocked his ear towards the outside world.
'Seems to be some commotion out there.' he said.
'Mmm.' said Rena. 'I've been listening to it. There seems to be something going on further down the field.' She took a sip of her tea and closed her eyes appreciatively.
Roger sipped his tea and listened to the people talking outside, until he heard a quiet tap on the door of the caravan. Draining the rest of his tea, he walked out into the main living area. He had dressed in the toilet after he had done his morning ritual, so he felt decent enough to open the door.
'Morning Roger,' said Adrian Sullivan. 'sorry to bother you this early.' Roger glanced at the clock almost instinctively, and noticed that it was eight-fifty.
'Quite all right Adrian, it's not that early. What's up? We've been listening to the mutterings for the last ten minutes or so.'
'We can't seem to raise Edith.' Adrian Sullivan looked decidedly worried.
'What do you mean?'
'Edith said she was planning on joining us for the walk this morning. We checked her unit before we left for the walk and her blinds were still drawn. Well obviously we didn't disturb her, after all the old girl might have decided to sleep in. We got back about twenty minutes ago, looked in on her again and her blinds are still drawn.
'We're worried about her Roger. We wondered if you would come across and check on her, you being ... well ...'
'Let me put my shoes on and I'll come across.'
'I'll be there in a minute, I just need to let Rena know where I'm going.' Closing the door, he reached down and fumbled for his trainers.
'What's up?' shouted Rena from the sleeping compartment. Her voice was muffled.
'Edith's still in bed. Adrian's worried. Wants me to play John Law and go and beat down her door.' Roger shouted back.
'Hang on,' she replied, 'I'll come with you. I'm nearly dressed.'
'Hurry it up then.' He had just finished tying his laces when Rena stepped out of the sleeping compartment fully dressed. She had already put on her shoes. Roger led the way out of the caravan and across the camp site towards Edith's unit. He was a slightly built man in his mid forties. His face was vaguely rodent like, not helped at all by a long nose and a widow's peak of dark brown hair. Rena Desmond was a perfect complement to him. She stood at five feet with blond hair and blue eyes. When they arrived at the caravan and awning, a crowd had formed around it. Roger pushed his way through the people, Rena close on his heels. Someone had already opened the door zip on the awning, so Roger stepped up to the caravan and tapped lightly on the door.
'Edith, you okay?' There was no response. 'Edith? It's Roger Desmond. Look I'm coming in.' He turned to Adrian Sullivan. 'Don't suppose anyone has a key to her van do they?'
'Doubt it. The locks on the older Eccles will pop if you give 'em a bit of grief though.' Roger nodded and turned back to the caravan.
'Edith? I'm sorry, I'm going to have to break the lock on your van.' He reached for the handle of the door with both of his hands and once he had a firm grip on it, he twisted violently. There was a loud crack like a pistol report, and then the lock gave way. Roger swung the door open and stepped in. The sight he was greeted with stopped him in his tracks. The caravan was a complete mess. All the drawers and cupboards had been turned out. The only occupant, an old woman, was laying spread eagled on her bed, her hands and feet secured with cable ties, and a polythene food bag was over her head. It was cinched tightly around her throat with another cable tie. Her eyes stared sightlessly out from the bag. He immediately backed up and turned around.
'Sorry people, can you back up. This just became a crime scene.'
To say that you could cut the atmosphere on the pontoon of the Crab Catcher with a knife was a gross understatement. Liam sat quietly seething. His parents were blatantly ignoring Kitty and it was pissing him off big time. They had said hello in that polite parental way, and then had addressed every comment they had made to Liam. He had attempted to feed Kitty lines that would involve her in the conversation but had failed miserably.
She was just looking out to sea and sipping her coffee whilst Liam sat there steaming. His father looked him in the eye, and arose motioning with his head for him to follow him. Liam got up and walked after his father down the pontoon to the end, out of earshot of the women. He turned on Liam and opened up.
'What in God's name do you t'ink you're playin' at boy?' he snapped at Liam in his thick Irish brogue. In the fifty odd years he had spent in England, he had never lost his Irish accent, and in moments of stress such as this, it came back in spades.
Diarmuid Collins was seventy-five but could have passed for early sixties. He had come from Dublin in 1953 at the tender age of sixteen almost penniless. He had worked his way up in the building trade such that by the time he was forty-five he owned his own successful contracting firm.
Unlike most building contractors, he believed in hiring the right staff and making them stakeholders in his company. At retirement, Diarmuid Collins was a self made millionaire and still held the controlling interest in the business.
He had hoped that Liam would want to succeed him in running his company, but his son had always want to be a police officer and wouldn't be persuaded otherwise. Liam had inherited his father's stubbornness, a fact that was self evident from his answer.
'I'm not playing at anything Dad, and don't call me boy. You can do me the decency of paying me a little respect, even if you can't be bothered to show respect to my girlfriend.' Liam had never been so angry with his father before, not even when the old man had threatened him with dis-inheritance when he joined the force.
'Girlfriend? Girlfriend? 'Dat woman is old enough to be your mother. You're disgustin' so yo'are.'
'Well don't pull your punches Dad, tell it like it is!' Liam spat the words at his father. 'But that's never been your problem has it? How many people have you pissed off with your bluntness, sorry since we're saying it like it is, your rudeness.' His father looked at him and then laughed. Not the happy comrade's laugh, but the brittle laugh of someone who is only a small step from hysteria.
'Have you given a t'ought to your mother? You little gobshite, have you?'
'What do you mean?'
'I mean have you thought how your relationship with this woman-'
'Her name's Kitty!' Liam snapped.
'Foin. Have you thought how your relationship with Kitty is going to affect your mother? Here's you shagging a woman old enough to be your mother, and a woman who's clearly past the chance of giving us a grandchoild.' Diarmud's accent had become even more broad as he ranted at his son.
'Ah, so that's it. Now we're getting to it. It's not about me, it's about producing heirs to the Collins dynasty.'
'Don't you try and turn this on me Liam.' Liam knew he had scored a hit as his father's last comment had been delivered in a hushed tone in comparison with the previous comments. This was what it was all about. His parents were worried he wouldn't have children. They wanted grandchildren and he was in danger of not producing.
'Dad.' Liam reached over a put his arm across his dad's shoulder. 'Kitty and I are having fun. Nothing more, nothing less. I don't know how long we will stay together, but I hope it is a long time. No let me talk.' Liam held up his hand as he saw his father was about to interrupt. 'I'm not even sure I want children. I certainly don't want to subject a well balanced young woman to a copper's life. Kitty understands what is involved with going out with a copper. She is under no illusions that I won't be dragged off at a moments notice, that I won't be tied up on a case for days on end. She understands. Do you know how good that alone is for me Dad? It's golden. Of many professions, being a copper is one of the hardest on relationships, one of the highest divorce rates. Do you see what I'm getting at? Even if I end up married with the requisite two point four children, the odds against it staying that way are pretty low. Do you get what I mean?'
Diarmud Collins looked at his son and nodded his head.
'You're not going to change your mind over this one are you Liam?' Liam shook his head. Diarmud nodded.
'We'd better get back to the ladies, and try and salvage something from this abomination of a breakfast. Come on son.' He began walking back down the pontoon to the table where the two women were sat.
As soon as Liam and Diarmud had walked down the pontoon away from the two women, Kitty had turned and looked directly at Liam's mother. Lucy Collins was a startlingly attractive woman of fifty-eight. She was not a pound heavier than she had been at age twenty when she had met and married the wayward but charismatic Irishman, Diarmud Collins. The two of them were as physically different as they could be. She was petite, fine boned and slim as a rail. He was large and solidly built, his craggy features could not have been called handsome in any conventional way, but there was a strong sense of presence about him. It was his personality, charm and charisma that had first attracted Lucy to him. Oh he could be cheerless and icy cold when the mood took him, but when he was with Lucy, she only ever saw the good in him. Lucy had looked at this woman through her clear grey eyes and felt jealousy. It was irrational, she knew, but she couldn't help feeling jealous of this woman only a few scant years her junior, if at all, who was taking her son away from her. She had been about to speak but Kitty beat her to it.
'Mrs Collins,' Kitty had begun, 'why don't you like me?' This direct question had stopped Lucy dead in her tracks.
'I don't know what you mean. We don't even know you.' Before she could have continued, Kitty had interrupted.
'Exactly, you don't know me, but in the fifteen or so minutes we have been here neither you nor your husband has directed a single comment or even a glance at me. So I ask again, why don't you like me? What have I ever done to upset you?'
'Taken my baby.' had come the terse reply.
'Liam is not a baby. He is a grown man and old enough to make his own decisions regarding women.'
'He will always be my baby. No matter how old he gets he will always be my baby boy. I can't stand the thought that he is ... with you.' She had almost sobbed this last comment.
'I'm sorry Mrs Collins, I can't change who I am. I love your son, I love him very much, and your dislike of me whilst upsetting is not going to change that.' She had gotten up and had turned to leave. 'Tell Liam when he gets back from the pep talk with your husband that if he wants a lift I'll be waiting in my car for him.' She had walked from the restaurant and out into the car park. As she had reached the car she had begun to cry. Kitty rarely allowed herself the luxury of crying. She had dug into her bag and retrieved a tissue to wipe her eyes and blow her nose.
When Liam and his father had returned to the table to find Lucy Collins sitting alone, Liam had looked at her and could see that she was upset, but not half as upset as she was going to be.
'She's waiting for you in her car. She decided she didn't want to waste any more of her valuable time with us.'
'What did you say to her?'
'Somehow mother, I don't believe you. Somehow I don't think that was the case at all. Kitty warned me that this would be a bad idea, she said I ought to just let things ride for a while, see how we got on, but no, I had to blunder on in and force the issue. I had to try and get you and dad to like the one girl I have ever brought home. I had assumed that you would not be prejudiced against her just because she is older than you might like. I thought at least, you would keep an open mind, but no, you had to pre-judge her.' He turned to his father. 'From you, I expected this,' he turned back to his mother, 'but I thought I could trust you to be fair. Obviously I was wrong. Well Dad, don't bother threatening to dis-inherit me this time. I want nothing more to do with you, either of you. Now if you'll excuse me, I intend to go and apologise to my girlfriend and beg her not to dump me just because I have bigots for parents.'
He turned and walked off to the car park in search of Kitty. When he found her, she was sat in the car, still dabbing at her eyes and vainly trying to stop her hands shaking long enough to light a cigarette. Liam knelt down on one knee and put his hands over hers. She looked at him, tears still leaking from her eyes.
'I am so sorry I didn't listen to you darling.' he said. 'You were right and I was wrong. They are miserable bigots.'
'N-No they're not Liam.' she was still trembling. 'They're your parents and they love you.'
'Come on pretty lady, let me buy you a proper breakfast.'
'I doubt I look very pretty at the moment. Expect I look a frightful hag what with all the crying through my make up.'
'You could never look anything but beautiful to me, Kitty.'
'Good comeback.' She smiled at him and he felt like the sun had just come out from behind a dark cloud. Her smile always did that to him. He was just about to speak when his cell phone rang. Whilst he had forgotten he'd even switched it on, and not being on call had not intended to be contactable, out of habit more than anything he hooked it out of his pocket and glanced at the display.
'It's Roger,' he said, 'wonder what he's doing calling on a Sunday, especially a Sunday when he is camping.'
'Well darling,' said Kitty, 'you won't know unless you answer it.' She looked pointedly at the still ringing phone.
'Right.' He slide the front of the phone up and put it to his ear. 'What can I do you for Roger?' Liam listened for a minute or two, made a response, listened again and then closed the phone shaking his head.
'Remember that breakfast I promised you. I'm going to have to take a rain check. It seems Roger has found a dead body.'