I wrote this story based on Regus Hunt, a character in my novel The Making of Billy McErlane and five others who also appear there: Billy McErlane; Antony Baker; Mister Henry, the lawyer who will one day defend Billy in a murder trial; the Detective Sergeant; and the Detective Inspector who reminds Mister Henry of a vulture. It stands on its own and I hope you’ll enjoy it for its own sake.
Kevin Daly had never done an honest day’s work in his twenty-two years of life. If you asked why, he’d say he’d never got the taste for it. His father hadn’t, either. Neither of them saw any reason to be a wage slave for somebody with more brains, more education or just more luck when the taxpayer was prepared to keep them in bread and butter and a little dishonesty would put all the jam you could want on top. But, then, his father hadn’t offended Regus Hunt, which was why – unlike Kevin – his father had never even thought about giving himself up to the police.
Regus was known for many things, but forgiveness and charity were not among them. He had once broken all the fingers of a man who stole the handbag of a woman he was interested in. Kevin Daly knew that. When Antony Baker had helped himself to the drugs money Billy MacErlane was holding for Regus, Regus had beaten him to death with his bare hands and left under-age Billy to take the rap. Kevin Daly knew that, too.
So, when Kevin learned that the Beemer he had broken into and driven away belonged not, as he had thought, to some middle class tosser but to Regus Hunt, he did not shrug it off. He experienced a terror that left him for a moment unable to speak or move, and then sent him howling down the street, wailing as he had not since he was nine years old and his teenage sister had caught him trying on her underwear and beaten him so savagely he was left with only fifty percent hearing in one ear.
It was three-thirty on the afternoon of Sunday, the twenty-fourth of May, 2009 when Kevin stepped into the police station. The date was significant. Sunday afternoons would normally have been quiet, or at least as quiet as big city police stations ever get, with villains, deadbeats and honest citizens alike sleeping off the big meal of the week.
This, though, was not just any Sunday. At three on the dot, Newcastle United had kicked off against Aston Villa in the last game of the season and, if they didn’t get at least a draw, Newcastle United were going to be relegated from English football’s top flight. Even with a draw, other results might still send them down, but without the bare minimum of a single point they were gone no matter what happened elsewhere.
Desk Sergeant Toni Straker was listening to the match on a little radio. Newcastle’s fate would not much trouble Straker, and for two reasons. One was that the sergeant thought that only men obsessed about sport, and inadequate men at that. The other was that Toni came from Sunderland, and no Mackem of either sex can ever be completely unamused by the travails of the Toon Army. Nevertheless, however happy she might be on civic grounds to see Newcastle relegated, Sergeant Straker knew it would bring the police nothing but trouble. Pub and shop windows would be going in from North Shields to Fenham. Wives and children across the region would take a battering as distraught drunks lashed out at the softest targets available. The cells would overflow with drink-filled wife-beaters. Police would be so stretched responding to domestics that muggers, rapists, burglars and murderers would have a free run.
And all for nothing because, a few days later, every charge by every wife would be dropped.
Shortly after three-thirty and to Toni Straker’s relief, Villa’s Gareth Barry completely mis-hit a shot at Newcastle’s goal. Reprieve was short-lived. Any decent full back would have cleared the threat with hardly a moment’s thought, but Newcastle didn’t have a full back. What they had where a full back might have been was Damien Duff. As an attacking winger, Duff was international class with more than sixty Irish caps to his name, but he was no defender. Back-pedalling furiously, he met Barry’s shot and, instead of steering it safely out of the danger zone as a real full back would have done, he knocked it away from goalie Steve Harper’s waiting arms and into the back of his own net.
Straker laid her head on her arms. Armageddon had just moved a whole lot closer.
It was into this scene of resignation and despair that Kevin Daly brought the carefully prepared but transparent set of lies he thought of as his statement.
Straker raised her head and examined her visitor. ‘I know you,’ she said. ‘Don’t I know you?’
‘Kevin Daly, Missus Straker.’
Straker sighed. ‘Of course. What do you want?’
Daly placed a car key on the counter. Straker looked at it without touching. ‘What’s that?’
Daly’s face expressed puzzlement. ‘It’s a car key.’
Straker’s eyes came up to meet Daly’s. She allowed herself a moment of silence. Then she said, ‘I can see it’s a car key, Daly. Can you manage a little more? Starting with whose car it fits?’
‘I don’t know, Missus Straker.’
‘You don’t know. Do you know how you came to be in possession of it?’
‘How did you get the key, you little cretin?’
‘Oh. Well, that’s the thing. See, I was standing there and somebody gave it to me.’
‘Minding your own business.’
‘I was, Missus Straker.’
‘And somebody gave you a car key. Handed it to you and said, “This is for you.” Is that what happened? Christmas came early for the Daly family?’
‘No, no.’ Daly laughed. ‘I wouldn’t have taken it, would I?’
‘This BMW comes racing up to the kerb and this guy jumps out and throws us the key and runs away.’ He peered at the sergeant. ‘What’s funny, Missus Straker?’
‘This BMW comes racing up to the kerb and this guy jumps out and throws you the key and runs away. That right?’
‘I bet you can’t describe this guy?’
‘He was going too fast.’
‘Of course he was. But I’ll also bet you did write down the car’s registration number.’
Daly pulled a piece of paper from his pocket, but Straker held up a hand to stop him. ‘No, Daly. I’ll tell you.’ She read a series of letters and numbers from a pad on her desk. ‘Is that right?’
Daly nodded. ‘That’s amazing. How did you know?’
‘Of course, you’ve no idea who the car belongs to.’
‘Umm…no. I don’t. Haven’t.’
‘Well, never mind. You’ve done your civic duty, Daly. I’m sure the owner will be delighted when we tell him. Might even come round yours to thank you personally, I shouldn’t wonder.’
‘You won’t give him my name?’
‘Why on earth not? There might be a reward in it for you.’
‘Please, Missus Straker. Don’t give him my name.’
‘Wipe all your fingerprints off the wheel, did you? When you found out whose car it was you’d nicked?’
‘This isn’t funny, Missus Straker.’
‘Not to you, I can see that. Hunt reported the car stolen an hour ago and he is steaming.’ The sergeant leaned across the counter. ‘Do you think you’d better speak to CID?’
‘CID? What for?’
‘To try again? With a new story?’
Daly stared at this woman who smiled as she tormented him. Then he stepped back from the counter, turned and made for the door. As he left he broke into a run, but the two approaching constables had seen Straker’s signal and had no difficulty in seizing Daly’s arms, turning him round and frogmarching him back into the police station.
‘Well done, lads,’ said Straker. ‘Kevin Daly, I’m arresting you on suspicion of taking a conveyance without the owner’s consent. You do not have to say anything but it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in Court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence. Get him printed and stick him in a cell till someone from the top floor has time to talk to him.’
On her radio, the half time whistle blew. One of the constables nodded his head towards it. ‘How are they doing?’
‘They’re losing. Like Mister Daly here.’
Two hours later, Newcastle had been relegated and the mayhem foreseen by Sergeant Straker was indeed breaking out, but a Detective Inspector still found time to visit Regus Hunt’s lawyer and say they’d like him to arrange for Hunt to come in for questioning.
‘Mister Hunt reported his BMW stolen. We’ve charged a young waster called Kevin Daly with TDA. It’s not called that any more, but that’s what it is.’
‘I’m sure Mister Daly will be pleased to have his car back, Inspector. But why does he need to be questioned?’
‘We’d like him to explain the presence of a quantity of drugs we found in the car.’
Mister Henry stared at the Inspector. A smile played around the edges of his full mouth. ‘Is it really likely,’ he asked, ‘that Mister Hunt would have reported his car stolen as quickly as he did if he knew there were drugs in it?’
‘Well, the drugs exist. I’ve seen them.’
‘Yes. I see. Were you actually there when they were discovered?’
‘Not at the time, no.’
‘They were shown to you afterwards.’
Mister Henry picked up a cigar and pushed the box across the coffee table in front of him. ‘Cohiba Esplendidos,’ he said, snipping the end with a cutter. ‘They’ll set you back more than seven hundred pounds for a box of twenty-five. Possibly the best cigar there is. Try one?’
The Inspector took a cigar and pushed it into his inside pocket. ‘I’ll keep it for later.’
‘One of your colleagues,’ said Mister Henry, ‘always reminds me of a vulture. Keeps his head tucked under his wing. Except when he wants to ask a personal question. Is he the one running this case?’
‘If you mean who I think you mean, then yes, he is.’
‘He’s never been a friend of Mister Hunt’s. I suppose he refused police bail?’
‘He wanted to. The Super said he couldn’t.’
‘So Daly’s at home?’
‘Right at this moment, I believe he’s on a bus to Middlesbrough. He has a sister there. He has to return at ten on Tuesday.’
‘But of course you haven’t told me that.’
‘I’m not even here. The official invitation will come by phone.’
‘Well, thank you for the courtesy visit, Inspector. I’ll wait for the phone call and I’ll bring Mister Hunt in immediately after lunch tomorrow.’
Four years is a long time, and a great deal can change. In October 2013, Newcastle United were back in the Premiership and now it was Sunderland who sat on the bottom rung, fearing the drop. Toon Army tempers were as sweet as they are ever likely to get. With no witness to confirm that the drugs belonged to Regus Hunt (which in fact they did not, having been placed in his car by the policeman who looked like a vulture), the case against him was abandoned. The Inspector who called on Mister Henry had received a box of Cohibas together with ten thousand pounds in cash. Police regulations required him to return the gift and report it to his superiors, but the donor was anonymous and he preferred to follow an alternative set of rules which, though unofficial, were more generally recognised: he smoked the cigars and used the money to clear his credit card debts. Another box of cigars reached the Superintendent, who dealt with them in the same way.
And Kevin Daly was never seen again. Somewhere on the mile walk from Newport Road in Middlesbrough, where the bus dropped him, to his sister’s home, he vanished. His sister thought about reporting his disappearance, but why? She didn’t care where he was, and she was pretty sure the police wouldn’t.
In any case, their father had drummed a simple rule into them both from earliest childhood. Never tell the police anything. It can lead to nothing but pain.
The Making of Billy McErlane is available here in paperback and for Kindle.