Authors: J. J. Salkeld
Tags: #Detective and Mystery Fiction, #Noir, #Novella
Call & Response
Border City Blues Novellas 
J J Salkeld
UK, Novella (2014)
Call & Response
Border City Blues: ONE
By J J Salkeld
© copyright J J Salkeld, 2014
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Cover photograph by R F Simpson
Cover art by Michaela Waddell,
Monday, 1st September
11.57pm, Carlisle Divisional HQ. Interview Room 1.
‘I’ve been sat here, waiting for you, for bloody ages, Pepper’ said Billy Brown.
‘You shouldn’t have been out on the rob again then, should you? You’ve only got yourself to blame, as usual. And it’s DS Wilson to you, Billy. And while you’ve been sat here I’ve been out solving the crime of the century, as a matter of fact. Would you like to hear about it?’
‘No, love. Do I look like I give a shit? I want to make a bloody complaint.’
‘But it was a masterpiece of detection, Billy, involving a right criminal genius. The Moriarty of the Raffles, you might say. So this prodigy had carved a message into the shiny new paintwork of his ex’s car, but still swore blind that it wasn’t him. And do you know what I did to crack the case, Billy?’
‘Called in CSI, I expect.’
Pepper laughed, and PC Carol Matthews, sitting in the chair next to her, joined in. Well, it was funny.
‘No, I’m afraid not, love. We’re so short of cash now that we only get forensic support for a multiple murder, minimum. And if it’s just one homicide they only give us a magnifying glass and tell us to sod off and sort it out ourselves.’
PC Matthews laughed some more, but Billy Brown merely looked a little more red-faced and annoyed than he had before.
‘Anyway, I solved it. All I got the genius to do was to write the word ‘bitch’ in my notebook. How do you spell bitch, Billy?’
Billy thought about it for a moment.
‘If I tell you can I make my complaint? You promise?’
‘You can, certainly.’
‘You must be a genius too, Billy. Because that’s just the way the other bloke spelled it, and it’s also exactly what was scratched through to the metal of that poor, innocent Audi.’
‘So how did it help you, then? Can you not spell, love?’
‘It’s B-I-T-C-H, Billy. And when I pointed this out to our genius he confessed on the spot. But now, given what you just said, it seems that plenty of other people might have done it too. Even you, maybe. So I do hope that we’ve not nicked the wrong bloke, I really do.’
Billy looked keenly at Pepper for a moment, just to check that she wasn’t being serious. She’d been nicking him pretty regularly for over a decade, and he thought that he knew her pretty well. She always looked nice and friendly, but she was a right evil bitch, and he didn’t care how it was spelled. So no, of course she wasn’t being bloody serious.
‘He’s a total twat, is Trevor,’ he said.
‘So you knew it was him I was talking about, then?’
‘Aye, of course I did. He’s been talking about what he was going to do to Sheila for days. Down the pub, like. And she got off lightly, I can tell you. He was planning to do all sorts.’
Pepper ran her left hand through her hair. It felt greasy and limp, but it had been a long shift, and it was almost over. She wanted to get out of the hot, dirty interview room, and into her cool, clean bed.
‘Well, that’s good to hear’ she said. ‘All he’s really done is make a bit of work for the local garage. Now, about this complaint of yours. You’ve been on the rob again, Billy, and PC Matthews has nicked you for it. I’m not right sure what you’ve got to complain about, mate.’
‘I’ll tell you what for. She’s been laughing at me. They bloody all have, all your lot. It’s against my human rights, is that. And I know my rights, Pepper. I mean DS Wilson.’
‘I’m sure you do. But what about the rights of the family you were robbing? Neighbours of yours, aren’t they? You’ll have known them for years, I expect.’
Billy smiled, slyly and fatly. ‘Two wrongs don’t make a righty though, do they? You told me that yourself, after that ruck over the lawnmower with next door last year.’
‘I did, and you’re absolutely right, they don’t. So this offensive laughter, what’s been the cause of it then, Billy?’
‘You’d better ask her. Community beat officer, my arse.’
PC Carol Matthews slowly extracted her work mobile from the the waterproof pouch on her utility belt. ‘Evidence’ she said simply, passing it to Pepper, who took one glance and tried to suppress a smile. It was no good. Her mouth twitched, her nose followed, and then she laughed. It felt good.
‘I’m sorry, Billy, but it’s right funny, is this. Are there any more of these, Carol?’
‘Just swipe and you’ll see.’
She did, and this time she almost managed to keep a straight face. Almost, but not quite.
‘I’m really sorry’ she said, after she’d flicked back to the previous picture, ‘but you have put on a fair few pounds lately, Billy. You used to be in and out of those little windows like a greased pig, didn’t you?’
‘Aye, well. It’s not my fault, like.’
‘Of course it isn’t, love. None of it is. You’re not responsible, are you? It’s all those burgers, pizzas and Chinese carry-outs that’ll be to blame. But you have to admit that it’s pretty funny, these pictures of you stuck half way through that window. Especially the ones from the arse end, like. How did they get you out, in the end? Trumpton rocked up eventually and did the necessary, I suppose?’
‘Aye, those bloody firemen were all pissing themselves too, like. They finished up cutting out the whole window frame. So I’ll be complaining about them, and all. Thanks for reminding me. And I’ll be wanting compensation, mind.’
‘Of course you will. It’s obvious, is that. But before we deal with that, would you mind if I asked you a question. Seeing as I am a detective, and all.’
‘All right. If you’re quick, mind.’
‘I just wondered what you happened to the stuff you nicked? Mrs. Phillips tells us that her purse has gone, along with her mobile. But they weren’t on you, when you were searched.’
‘She’s a bloody liar. I never robbed anything.’
This time Pepper didn’t smile. She just wanted to get home now.
‘I’m sorry, Billy, but I find that hard to believe. Impossible, in fact. Why else were you climbing out of her window?’
‘All right. I was robbed when I was stuck, see. That’s what happened.’
‘Kids. I don’t know, I couldn’t see. I was bloody trapped, wasn’t I?’
‘So you were stuck in the window, and kids came along and took the gear that you’d just nicked. Is that right?’
‘Aye, that’s it. They said I had to give them the gear, or they’d hurt me.’
‘And you believed them?’
‘Aye, a right vicious little bastard is…… No, no, you’ll not get me that easy. Like I said, I don’t know who it was.’
‘All right. I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough. But just one more question for now, Billy. How come you got stuck on the way out, but not on the way in? Help yourself to a little snack, just to keep you going, while you were inside, did you?’
‘No, I bloody didn’t. And I can’t work that one out either, to tell the truth. All right, it was a bit tight on the way in, but I made it all right, didn’t I?’
‘Well, that’s a puzzle that we’ll have to leave for another day, Billy. It’s a great unsolved mystery, is that. But take my tip, and next time have a go at the shoplifting job. Some of the store detectives in Carlisle are even fatter, I mean more solidly built, than you are.’
Billy shook his head sadly.
‘Nah, that won’t work. I’ve been stopped two or three times lately even when I’ve not nicked owt at all. They said it just looked like I had something under my coat, like.’
This time it was Carol Matthews who laughed, and she didn’t stop, even when Pepper looked sharply at her.
‘All right, Billy, let’s talk about this complaint, then we’ll get you charged and tucked up in one of our nice warm rooms for the night.’
‘At bloody last. Like I say, they’ve all been laughing at me. Humiliating me, like. And Carol’s the bloody worst. She’s the ringleader, no doubt about that. I want her suspended. Aye, suspended.’
Pepper nodded sadly.
‘Suspended, eh? It’s a mad world, mate, especially in this job. And if you do make a formal complaint I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Carol was actually taken off the streets while this got investigated. Is that what you want, one less bobby on the beat in the city tomorrow night?’
‘What if your family got robbed, while you’re down the take-away? Wouldn’t you want Carol to be out there looking for whoever did it?’
‘She couldn’t catch a cold. No offence, love.’
‘Well she caught you, didn’t she?’
‘Aye, but I was bloody stuck, like. It wasn’t that hard, was it?’
Pepper looked across the table at Billy, then glanced up at the clock. In less than seven hours time she’d be making Ben’s packed lunch, and she couldn’t remember if she had any fresh bread.
‘All right, Billy, here’s how it is. If you really do want to make a complaint then I have to take the details, and all the wheels will grind into motion. It’s a bit like when you ask the Social for more benefits, if you like. All kinds of people with nowt better to do get involved, and it keeps them nice and busy for a month or two. They don’t care about you any more than I do, but your complaint will help keep a load of useless pen-pushers in work, and at the same time it might actually stop a useful officer from actually protecting the public. Does that seem fair to you?’
‘I want to make a bloody complaint. So start writing.’
Pepper’s final, tired smile faded fast, and Billy wondered why he’d ever thought that she was attractive. She looked like a prison guard now, and not even the kinky kind.
‘All right, I will. But let me quite clear with you about what else happens next. That’s only fair. So you get to see the whole picture, like. Now Carol here is my friend, and she’s right popular in this nick, is Carol. And, let’s be fair, you do look like a proper daft bugger in those photos. But if you go ahead with this complaint two things will happen. First, everyone in this station will think of you first as a suspect, whenever there’s anything that you might possibly have done, what with your physical condition and all.’
‘That’s harassment, is that. You can’t bloody do that.’
‘Watch us. And then there’s the Social.’
‘What about them?’ Billy’s small, pale blue eyes were alert now. His livelihood was under threat.
‘Did I not say? As part of the complaints procedure we’ll do a full background on you, Billy. I’ll do it myself, actually, so it will be thorough. Bloody thorough. And as part of it I’ll have a look at your finances, your benefits, everything. And if there’s anything, you know, dodgy, then it’s my duty to let the Social know. And you know what that would mean, don’t you?’
‘Aye, my benefits would drop.’
‘No, not just drop, Billy. Because if you’ve been a naughty boy then they’ll look to claw back what you owe, and that could be thousands.’
‘You wouldn’t let us starve.’
‘There’s a food bank in town, Billy, and you look like you’ll last the winter on your reserves, like. So what’s it to be? If I leave this room and come back with the forms then we’re all committed to this.’
Billy sat back and thought for a minute. Pepper was a hard-faced bitch, everyone knew that. But it was no surprise really, what with her dad and everything. He tried to remember if he was entitled to his current level of benefits, but he didn’t need to think about it for long. He was bound to have exaggerated, everyone did. And last time he’d been in to see them he’d added those few extra ideas that had been going round the estate. It’d have been rude not to, like.
‘All right, I’ll not complain.’
‘And you’ll go guilty for us? It’ll save Carol days of paperwork, and you won’t go away for this one.’
‘How do you know?’
‘Because you hardly ever do, do you, Billy?’
‘Can I have something to eat?’
‘I’m sure that can be arranged.’
Pepper caught Carol’s eye, and the two women excused themselves and stood together in the corridor.
‘Thanks, Pepper. I owe you for that.’
‘You do not, love. I’ll give people like Billy one thing, they do know how to play the bloody system. If he grafted as hard at a proper job he’d earn a bloody fortune.’
‘Was it true, though? Do you really go through their benefit claims, when there’s a complaint?’
‘Do we heck. I was just trying to think of something that Billy was frightened of, because he doesn’t give a shit about anything we do. But having to go out and actually get a job, now that did put the wind right up him.’
‘Nice one, thanks. I’d better go and get Billy his tea.’
‘How many sugars?’
‘Only three, and a Twix to stir it with.’