Dead Dream Girl
By the Same Author
The body was winched out of the water very slowly on a flat board. Skilled divers had manoeuvred it on to the board with great care, after first untying the cords that had attached the body to a bag of stones. The frogmen had been anxious to ensure that no further damage was accidentally caused to the body than happened at the time it was thrown in. Autopsy examinations in the search for clues to a possible identity of the killer would be complicated enough as it was.
The body still wore a summer dress. It was torn and mud-stained, but a woman among the small group looking on was able to detect that it hadn’t been cheap. It was drop-waisted and had elegant button work down the bodice and a finely etched floral pattern.
The body’s face was bloated and had the sort of pitting and scarring that had probably been inflicted by predatory pond life. It was just possible, in the nearly autumn sunlight, to tell that the hair was honey coloured. The SOC team, standing grim faced on the reservoir bank, needed none of these sparse details to tell them whose body it was. It could only be that of Donna Jackson, a woman their CID colleagues had been searching for for weeks. A boy, a keen underwater swimmer, had found it. Children were forbidden to swim in the reservoir, but they did anyway. If it hadn’t been for the boy, one of the onlookers muttered sourly, the poor kid’s body would have been down there for good.
Frank Crane drove on to Willow Tree Park on an evening in June. It was an attractive name for what was a council estate, always known by locals as the Willows. It was on the edge of Bradford and near the green belt, but that hadn’t stopped it going to the dogs exactly like the inner city ones. It had just taken longer, that was all. There were still pockets of respectability, but too many problem families had sidled their way in, who used the gardens as storage dumps for old tyres and rusting car parts, and kept vicious-looking dogs on chains. Their children lived a life of their own, mainly in packs of ten on street corners.
Garden Drive was in the middle of the estate and looked to be one of the better bits. The Jacksons lived at number 27. Crane had been told they were decent, hardworking people, and this seemed to be confirmed by a neatly clipped hedge, a newly mown lawn and flowered borders. The house was a small boxy semi, like all the others, and Crane could only park his car with difficulty about twenty yards away on the crowded road side.
He walked up a narrow, flagged pathway and pressed the bell of a cream-painted door. He didn’t hear a ring tone and it went unanswered. He knocked. The door was then slowly drawn open, as if not much used. He guessed that the Jacksons’ normal visitors knew to use the side door.
‘Mrs Jackson? I’m Frank Crane.’
‘Oh … hello,’ she said nervously. ‘Come in, please.’
She was spare and smallish and had dark brown hair which had an inch-wide strand of grey running from the right temple. Hollow cheeks emphasized a knobbly bone structure and her hazel eyes were haunted looking above a long nose. She wore a faded zip-front navy shirt and well-worn, stone-coloured cords.
She turned and led him along a short narrow hallway and into the back room. It looked like it doubled as living and dining room. A man sat at a small drop-leaf table in front of the window and a young woman sat in an armchair watching Coronation Street. She reluctantly switched it off with a remote. ‘It’s all right,’ she said, to no one in particular. ‘I’m taping it anyway.’
‘This is Mr Crane, Malc,’ Mrs Jackson said, still nervous.
‘Pleased to meet you, Mr Crane,’ he said, getting up and holding out a hand. He was smallish but stocky, in trousers and T-shirt, with heavy glasses that slightly enlarged pale blue eyes, blunt, reddish features and greying dark hair. His hand shook slightly. He seemed as uneasy as his wife.
‘And this is Patsy,’ Mrs Jackson went on. Patsy gave him an indifferent smile, her eyes not quite meeting his.
‘I’m sorry you’ve had to come in the evening,’ Jackson said, ‘but with us all working … Connie could have had some time off, but we all wanted to be here, know what I mean?’
‘Don’t worry, Mr Jackson. I do a good deal of my work in the evening.’
‘Call me Malc. And this is Connie.’
‘And I’m Frank.’
‘Will you take a drink, Frank? Beer? Whisky?’
Crane never normally drank while working, but he felt drinks would help them to relax for what could be a demanding interview. ‘A beer would be fine.’
‘I’ll see to it, Dad.’ Patsy got up. ‘How about you, Mam?’
Connie shrugged indifferently. ‘I’ll have a small Bristol Cream, pet, if there’s any left.’
Patsy went through to the kitchen and the three of them stood in silence. Crane was used to this awkward moment, when people were steeling themselves to talk about emotional or embarrassing situations. He had ways of putting them at their ease, but Connie suddenly said, ‘Show him the papers, Malc.’
‘They’re here, Frank. I got them ready.’
The papers were insurance statements. Crane caught the figure £10,000 Sum Assured, and the words ‘plus accumulated bonus to date’. Puzzled, he glanced from the papers to Malc’s uneasy, enlarged eyes. ‘It’s due in a week or two, Frank, do you see?’ he said anxiously. ‘So we can pay you, no problem, if you don’t mind hanging on till they pay us.’
‘We don’t care how much it costs,’ Connie said flatly. ‘We wanted it for a down payment on a house of our own, right away from the Willows, but nothing comes before putting that swine behind bars where he belongs.’
‘That’s right, Frank,’ Malc said, his voice breaking slightly. We couldn’t live with ourselves if we didn’t do everything possible.’
Crane looked at their anxious faces. He’d thought long and hard about coming here. Terry Jones had already told him they’d have to break into their nest egg to pay his fees. But he’d also said they were determined to have a private man and if Crane didn’t take the case they might land themselves with someone who’d take the money and walk through it. In the end he knew it was the challenge that had drawn him. His challenge, their tragedy, that was the sad bit.
‘I don’t need any proof you have the money. I know respectable people when I see them. What I need to tell you is that I can only accept the work when I’ve talked it over carefully with you. I need to decide if I can be of genuine help. If I do act for you I’ll explain exactly how much it will cost. And … well … I’d also like to say how deeply sorry I am about your daughter.’
Neither spoke, their faces impassive, their eyes unfocused, but a sense of powerful emotion seemed to thicken the air like humidity. It was a relief when Patsy came in with the drinks on a battered tin tray. She offered it to Crane with the same non-connecting smile as before. She was tall, with her mother’s brown hair, which she’d sprayed into a tousled style that did nothing for her. She had regular but completely plain features, apart from eyes that were a shade of lavender. She was aggressively made up as if trying to force prettiness on to her modest looks. She wore a wrinkled slash-neck cotton sweater in green and white stripes and grubby white bell-bottom trousers.