INSOMNIACS do sleep, they just don’t get much of it, and Harry Paget was no exception. So, when he found himself awake in the middle of the night, he didn’t immediately look for a reason for his sudden wakefulness. It was just how it was and had been for the past 730 sleepless nights. Nor did he open his eyes straight away, preferring to keep them shut in the vain hope that he might, just might, against all the odds, drift off again.
When a floorboard creaked, he wasn’t alarmed. Harry had grown used to lying in bed just listening to the sounds his old house made in the depths of the night; the ticking of a cooling radiator or the creak of the woodwork as it contracted. Some nights he imagined himself alone at the wheel of a sailing ship in the middle of a dark ocean, with only the groan of the ship’s timbers and the crack of the wind in the sails for company.
As the seconds ticked by, he became conscious of the wider world beyond his bedroom; the sighing of the wind in the trees that lined the avenue, and the distant barking of a dog. A car pulled up to the junction and waited for the lights to change. Its idling engine and the muted sounds of the car’s radio carried up to him on the still night air – ‘You’ve got a friend,’ sang James Taylor – one of Annie’s favourites. The music took Harry’s mind shooting straight back to the 70’s when he and Annie were courting. That song had been their song, but he was abruptly dragged back to the present by the familiar sound of a dressing table drawer being slowly withdrawn.
Harry froze. That drawer couldn’t have moved by itself…
His mind racing almost as fast as his heart, he cautiously opened one eye to find a dark figure peering at him, the face a ghastly red, caught in the glow from the bedside clock radio’s digital display. In his gloved hands he held Annie’s jewellery box. Before Harry could say or do anything, the intruder brought the box smashing down on his face and made for the door. But he had to run round the bed to get to it and, with an agility that surprised both men, Harry rolled out on the opposite side of the bed and hurled himself at the fleeing burglar. The impetus of Harry’s dive sent the man crashing against the wall, dislodging one of Annie’s framed watercolours. All three tumbled to the floor. As the man attempted to get to his feet, Harry jumped on his back, wrapped both arms around his neck, and clung on like a limpet as the man sought to shrug him off.
‘Get off me, you dirty old bastard!’ growled the man, and Harry caught the whiff of stale cigarette smoke on his breath.
Harry hadn’t worn pyjamas for years and his pale limbs showed up ghostly white in the darkness. In any other circumstances, he would have found the situation amusing. His intruder was clearly more alarmed at the prospect of being buggered by a naked, middle-aged man, than he was of being arrested. The impression Harry had was of a young man and a strong one, and he wondered how much longer he could hold onto him.
‘I just want my wife’s jewellery box,’ he said, through gritted teeth.
‘I dropped it when you jumped me, didn’t I.’
Harry cast around. His eyes had grown more accustomed to the darkness, but his night-time vision wasn’t good.
‘I can’t see it.’
‘Fuck sake! I’m lying on it,’ snarled the intruder. ‘If you want it, you’ll have to get off me.’
Harry was quite prepared to let the thief go if that meant he got Annie’s jewellery back. But, and it was a big but, could he rely on this vicious criminal to keep his word?
‘Hurry up, this thing’s digging in me.’ whined his assailant.
It was risky but he would have to go with it. ‘All right, but you keep one knee on the floor. You hand me the jewellery box, and then you leave. OK?’ His captive grunted. ‘OK?’ Harry repeated, this time louder.
‘Yeah, yeah. Just get off me.’
Harry slowly withdrew his arms from around the man’s neck. He was half expecting a trick of some kind, but was still caught off balance, when the young burglar brought his head whipping back into Harry’s face, smashing his nose. He felt the warm gush of blood and his hands shot up to stem it. At that same moment an elbow was driven with great force into his abdomen. Harry rolled off onto his side where he lay doubled up, and gasping for air.
Bleeding and winded, Harry was defenceless as his assailant jumped to his feet and, accompanied by a stream of expletives, delivered a series of kicks to his body. The last thing Harry saw was a large boot coming towards his head, and then blissful unconsciousness; sleep of a kind, a rare event since losing his beloved Annie.
DETECTIVE SERGEANT Glyn Tudor rubbed his unshaven jowls and stared across Harry Paget’s narrow kitchen table at the man’s battered features. He didn’t see this kind of thing very often in a low crime area like Stretton Spa; the population was largely made up of the elderly and early retirees from the south east of England. The latter had cashed in their million pound, three bedroom semis and were enjoying the good life in South Shropshire. Following his divorce, Tudor had been unable to afford anything larger than a small, two bedroom-flat in his home county, and this was a source of some resentment.
He had no idea which category to place Paget in. Despite a trip to A & E, his face was such a mess, it was hard to determine his age. Still, Tudor couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. Butterfly sutures traversed his left eyebrow, the bridge of his nose and the left cheekbone. Whilst the pale blue eyes, one barely open, that stared out from under his thinning grey hair were tiny islands set in a purple sea.
PC Maggie Mellor stirred a heaped teaspoon of sugar into a mug of tea and brought it over to the table. She set it down in front of Harry and Tudor looked up sharply.
‘Where’s mine, Mellor?’ he asked.
‘Sorry Sarge, that was the last of the milk,’ she said with a mischievous smile. Young and pretty with soft, brown eyes, she was used to dealing with misogynists like Tudor, having grown up with three older brothers.
Tudor, who, along with his shave had skipped breakfast that morning and at this rate would miss lunch too, eyed the mug of tea enviously. That and a bacon butty would have gone down a treat.
‘The garage over the road sells milk,’ said Harry nasally.
He’d said very little so far and Tudor’s head went swivelling back to him; a widower, he’d said. Another poor sod unable to look after himself. He’d seen that often enough round here. Men who had found themselves back on their own after decades of marriage and couldn’t hack it.
‘It’s all right, Mr Paget. I’ll have one later. Now, I know you’ve already spoken to PC Mellor here and her colleague but, if you wouldn’t mind, I’d like you to go over it again with me. Got your note book handy, Mellor?’
The PC dipped a slim hand into the top pocket of her uniform jacket and fished out a small, black notebook and pencil.
‘Ready when you are, Mr Paget,’ she said.
Harry wasn’t listening. His mind was elsewhere as he tried to gather his thoughts. When he’d regained consciousness earlier that morning, daylight was already seeping in under the heavy bedroom curtains. He didn’t know how long he’d been out for, but it must have been some time. Almost immediately he began to shiver as his dormant body sought to restore normal functionality. With this restoration had come pain, and Harry was made aware of his various injuries; a sharp stab in his right side every time he breathed in, the throbbing pain in his face, and the mother of all headaches. But his greatest hurt came from the loss of the jewellery box and the precious artefacts contained in it. It was a wound that would not heal until the box was returned to him.
Harry realised he’d been staring abstractedly out of the window and turned his attention back to the room. The two police officers were eyeing him expectantly.
‘I said, would it help at all if we went upstairs? You could walk me through what happened.’ Tudor pronounced each word very slowly as if speaking to someone with hearing difficulties.
‘We can do this another day, Mr Paget, if you don’t feel up to it,’ Mellor suggested kindly.
‘No, no, I want to do it now,’ said Harry with some vehemence. ‘You will catch him, won’t you?’
Tudor and Mellor exchanged meaningful looks.
‘We’ll do our best, Mr Paget. Was the jewellery insured?’ asked Tudor.
‘What? Yes, but I don’t care about the money. I just want Annie’s jewellery back.’
Tudor was used to the man of the house going ‘Bruce Willis’ on him; describing in lurid detail what they would do to the violator of their home, should they ever get their hands on them. So he was puzzled by Paget’s lack of anger or desire for revenge, considering the amount of violence that had been visited upon him. It was sad, but chances were he’d never see that jewellery again…
‘I understand that sir. Was that all… I mean, has anything else been taken?’
‘Just some cash I left on the side there,’ Harry indicated the work surface behind them. ‘’bout thirty pounds and some change.’
Mellor noted that down. ‘The guy was in the lounge too, Sarge, been poking about in a bureau.’
‘Do you keep anything of value in the bureau, Mr Paget?’
‘No, it’s where I keep the household bills, insurance documents – that kind of thing.’
‘Ok. Odds are he was looking for cash. And where do we think he got in, Mellor?’
‘These houses are quite old Sarge. They have a pantry...’
She took a few steps across Paget’s cramped kitchen to a narrow door and opened it. Tudor followed and peered in over her shoulder. The pantry had become an extension of the under stair’s cupboard. Its shelves were stacked, not with cans of food, but with cans of paint. There was also a selection of light bulbs, cleaning materials, boxes of screws and a collection of hand tools. An ironing board stood against one wall and beside it a vacuum cleaner.
‘All the other windows are uPVC. This one’s wood and rotten in places. Prised it open with a screwdriver, by the look of it.’
‘Be a bit of a squeeze, wouldn’t it?’ observed Tudor.
‘You wouldn’t get through it, Sarge, but a slim, fit, young man could slip through easily enough,’ said Mellor archly.
‘Mind you don’t cut yourself on that tongue of yours, Mellor,’ Tudor murmured into her ear. He returned to stand beside the chair he’d recently vacated. ‘OK, Mr Paget. Shall we go upstairs?’
The bedroom was in darkness, the heavy curtains still closed. Harry hovered on the threshold for a moment before switching on the light and walking in. Despite the familiar furniture and the Laura Ashley wallpaper that Annie had loved so much, the room seemed alien; one that belonged to someone else. The two police officers pulled on surgical gloves and disposable overshoes before following him in.
DS Tudor positioned himself at the foot of the bed; a stocky figure with coalminer’s shoulders and a shock of dark hair, greying at the sides. His blue-grey eyes darted this way and that as he surveyed the crime scene.
‘Which side of the bed were you sleeping on, Mr Paget?’
‘The side nearest the window.’ It had been Annie’s side.
Tudor’s gaze travelled from the bed to the window and the dressing table that stood in its bay. His eye was caught by a framed photograph of a smiling woman and a young gap-toothed child that stood on top of it; Paget’s late wife and their daughter, he assumed.
The top drawer on the left-hand side of the dressing table hung out like a dangling tongue.
‘I realise this must be difficult for you sir, but could you just take us through what happened?’
Difficult just didn’t cover it as far as Harry was concerned, but once he got started, he couldn’t stop talking and his story just poured out of him. Annie’s death, his insomnia, the realisation that somebody was in the room, the ghastly face looming over him…
‘You saw the man’s face?’ Tudor shot a glance at Mellor. ‘Young or old?’
‘He was young, early twenties perhaps...’
‘OK… can you describe him?’
Harry tried to visualize his assailant but struggled to bring him into sharp focus.
‘’bout my height, I think…’ he said, then fell silent again as the shadowy image he was trying to hold in his head faded.
‘Hair colour?’ Tudor prompted.
‘Brown… or it could have been black. Sorry, I’m being so vague, but it’s hard to tell the difference in the dark.’
‘It’s all right, Mr Paget, you’re doing really well,’ said PC Mellor encouragingly.
Tudor gave a discreet cough. ‘If we could just concentrate on his face for the moment, Mr Paget, did our young friend have any distinguishing features – scars, piercings, that sort of thing?’
Harry thought hard. ‘Not that I remember. To be honest, I only glimpsed his face for a second before he hit me, and the only light in the room was coming from that clock radio.’ He pointed to the digital display.
Tudor went over to the bedside table and, cupping a hand over the clock’s display, examined his other hand in its glow.
‘Umm,’ he said. The detective stretched himself out on the bed, hands by his side like a corpse. ‘Shut the door and turn the light off will you, Mellor.’
Mellor could guess what was coming next; the sergeant had something of a reputation amongst the PCs for pulling this kind of stunt, but did as she was told. When the light went off, the room was plunged into darkness except for the eerie, red glow from the clock face.
‘Now, come over here.’
Mellor felt her way round the bed and stood over the horizontal Tudor.
‘Lean over me,’ he said.
Tudor was enjoying this, she thought. He’d tried it on with her several times in the past few months. On each occasion she’d knocked him back, but the stupid man kept coming back for more.
‘No, he’s right. You’re unrecognisable in this light, Mellor.’
There was a tap on the door and a uniformed officer stepped just inside the room. Tudor leapt up off of the bed and Maggie was forced to hop backwards in order to avoid a clash of heads.
‘Sorry to disturb you, Sarge,’ the officer said with a smirk, ‘SOCO’s here. Can I send them up?’
‘We just need a few more minutes,’ Tudor told him, then realising how that might be misconstrued, switched to the offensive. ‘How’s the house-to-house going, Crawford – got anything to report?’
‘Nothing so far, Sarge. None of the immediate neighbours saw or heard anything.’ Then, deadpan, ‘The lady two doors down asked me to find her missing cat – should I...?’
‘All right, that’s enough of that. Back to work, Crawford, and put the light on as you go, there’s a good lad.’ As the light came on, Tudor turned to Mellor. ‘Comical your oppo, isn’t he?’
‘He thinks so,’ she said drily.
Tudor turned to Harry. ‘Sorry, Mr Paget, but I’m afraid we’ll have to leave it there for the moment and let the forensic boys and girls do their work. If you could let us have a list of the missing items and any photos you have of them, we’ll get that circulated. I’ll phone you later with a crime number for your insurance company.’ Taking a business card from a leather card case, he handed it to Harry. ‘If you think of anything else that might help us, give me a ring. Right then, it’s back to house-to-house for you, Mellor and the station for me. I’ll give some of our regulars a pull, see if they know anything about Mr Paget’s missing jewellery.’
The SOCO team were waiting at the bottom of the stairs, their silver metal equipment cases at their feet. Tudor stopped to give them a quick briefing, leaving Mellor to escort Harry back to the kitchen. Paget eased himself down into his chair, took a sip of tea and grimaced.
‘Gone cold, has it?’ said, Mellor with a sympathetic smile. ‘Never mind, I’ll pop over to that garage and get you some milk. Make you a fresh one. Nothing like a nice, hot cuppa, is there?’
Tudor was just leaving as Mellor stepped into the sunlit hallway and she followed him out into the street. The hills above the town were vivid green against the clear blue sky, and a glider appeared to hang motionless, like a huge bird of prey, in the air above the Long Mynd.
‘You shouldn’t have got on that bed Sarge,’ Mellor told him, as she closed the wrought iron front gate behind her. ‘You’re not Sherlock Holmes.’
‘That guy, Paget, seems to think I am. What?’ She was giving him a reproving look. ‘Oh, come on, Mellor, you know as well as I do there’s not much chance of him getting that jewellery back.’
With the two police officers gone, Harry’s kitchen seemed very empty. Suddenly he felt lonelier than ever. When Annie had become terminally ill, he’d taken early retirement to look after her, and he found himself wondering, as he had done every morning for the past two years, what the hell he was going to do with the rest of his life? The despair he had been fighting to hold back gripped him, his shoulders heaved and, with a howl more animal than human, he burst into tears. Harry did not often give in to self-pity like this; he considered it unmanly – big boys didn’t cry. Staring into a black hole that threatened to swallow him if he let it, Harry blamed himself and, even more so, the young burglar, for this unwelcome revisiting of old sorrows.
He was still quietly sobbing into his hands when he heard footsteps in the hall and realised Mellor had returned with the milk. Harry did not want the girl to see him like this, and hurriedly dabbed the tears from his eyes with shirt sleeve. In his haste he forgot about his injured nose and let out a startled yelp.
‘Mr Paget… are you all right?’
‘Fine,’ he said, avoiding her gaze.
‘You don’t sound fine.’
Mellor came around the table and examined Harry’s stricken face.
‘Oh,’ she said. ‘Do you want to talk about it?’
‘It’s nothing. Things just got the better of me, that’s all.’
‘Hardly surprising after what you’ve been through.’
Mellor set the bottle of milk down on the table and slipped into the empty chair.
‘You’re in shock, Mr Paget. It’s a perfectly normal reaction to this kind of trauma. I’ve seen it dozens of times.’
‘I was so strong, you know; when my wife died, I mean. I had to be, my daughter was in bits. When people told me I should sort out my wife’s things, I did. It was hard, but I did it. That jewellery and a handful of her watercolours was all I hung on to. He could have taken anything else, and I wouldn’t have given a damn. But he had to take her things and he might just as well have ripped out my heart.’
Unable to come up with any suitable words of consolation, Mellor fell back on the great British standby in times of crisis, ‘I’ll just make that tea,’ she said quietly. Taking two clean mugs out of the cupboard, she popped a tea bag into each of them and set the kettle to boil.
‘I’m not going to get that jewellery back, am I?’ said Harry when Mellor returned to the table with the tea.
Maggie Mellor sighed. ‘I won’t lie to you, Mr Paget. We’ll do our best but the statistics aren’t good. You want your wife’s jewellery back? My advice is to take your story to the media. Get it in the papers or on TV. You never know, our light-fingered friend may have a conscience. It’s been known. And if he hasn’t, then maybe one of the women in his life, his mother or his girlfriend will have one.’
DS TUDOR pulled up on the car park of the Jasper Arms and surveyed the half dozen vehicles parked there. One in particular caught his eye; an orange Fiesta with ‘go faster’ stripes along the side. He glanced at his watch. It was 11.15 am. The pub didn’t open until eleven but then, the owners of these vehicles had probably been waiting outside the door when the landlord opened up.
In its Victorian heyday, The Jasper had been a rather grand hotel with terraced lawns and tennis courts. Those days were long gone and most of the land had been sold off over the years for redevelopment. The car park was all that remained of the once extensive grounds. The ornate Victorian exterior at least still hinted at the building’s rather more glamorous past.
The detective locked his car and went in through the rear entrance. A small vestibule with a door on either side gave access to the lounge bar and a pool room. Tudor pushed against the door for the latter.
Inside, sunlight, streaming through the blinds of the large window which fronted the street, banded the scrubbed wooden floor and faded, dark red wallpaper. Two youths were playing pool. A dark haired young man in T shirt and jeans was crouched over the table, whilst his sandy-haired opponent stood to one side, his cue resting in the crook of his arm like a rifle. As Tudor came through the door, ‘sandy hair’ looked up and nudged his friend just as he was about to take his shot. The cue skidded over the cue ball and the dark-haired youth went sprawling over the table. He leapt back up and rounded on his friend.
‘Jimmie! Whadya doing? You stupid fuck…’
Jimmie was still staring at Tudor and the dark-haired youth followed his gaze.
‘Ooops,’ said Tudor with a grin.
‘Oh, it’s you,’ said the dark-haired youth and looked sullen. He had a narrow face, thin lips and prominent eyebrows which almost met in the middle.
Tudor strode over to the pool table and stood directly in front of Shaun, fixed him with a hard-eyed stare. Shaun stared back with blood shot eyes. It all came down to who would blink first.
‘You don’t seem pleased to see me, Shaun. Why is that, I wonder?’
‘I just missed my shot, thanks to you.’
‘Foul play, wasn’t it? I thought that was your speciality, Shaun?’
Shaun held his gaze for a moment longer but then turned away. Retrieving his pint from the bar, he took a swig. Wiping the back of his hand across his mouth he said, ‘Did you want something, Mr Tudor? Only, as you can see, I’m in the middle of a game of pool with my mate, Jimmie, here.’
‘I’ll come straight to the point then. Where were you last night?’
Shaun leaned back against the bar and furrowed his brows as if deep in thought. ‘Ooh now, let me think. Where were we last night, Jimmie?’ Jimmie grinned. ‘Oh yeah, we were here!’ he said, as if it came as a sudden revelation.
‘What, all night?’
‘Pretty much, yeah. It was a lock-in. I got so pissed, Jimmie here had to take me home. That’s right, isn’t it, Jimbo?’
‘That’s right, rat-arsed, he was,’ Jimmie confirmed.
It was like talking to Laurel and Hardy. Except that Jimmie, though gormless, was the chubby one. He couldn’t have got through Paget’s pantry window, but Shaun was slim enough.
‘Anybody else there who could confirm your story?’ he asked.
‘Are you saying I’m making this up, Mr Tudor?’
Tudor narrowed his eyes, ‘Don’t push your luck, sonny. I’m a vindictive bastard and I’ve got a long memory.’
Chastened, Shaun proceeded to recite a list of names and Tudor jotted them down. Tudor was familiar with all of them. Most had previous. He added Shaun and his chubby pal to the list.
‘All the usual suspects, eh, Shaun? Let’s see… Darren Parfitt; convictions for assault and petty theft...Tommy Russell; receiving stolen goods…Oh, and Pete Goodhall; two counts of burglary…’ Tudor paused, tried to gauge Shaun’s reaction but could discern none. ‘Dave Maddox, he continued; ‘taking cars without the owners’ permission, and last but not least, Alun Edwards; possession of a Class A drug. Nice company you keep. And no doubt these paragons of virtue will vouch for the fact that you never left their sight. So, just to get it straight, you were drinking in here until the early hours of the morning – how many pints do you reckon you consumed in that time?’
Shaun silently mouthed the numbers as he attempted to add them up, a task which ultimately proved beyond him.
‘I dunno, ’bout twelve,’ he said.
‘Well, it’s a nice round number at any rate. Twelve pints of… lager, was it?’ Shaun pointed to the name emblazoned on his pint glass. ‘All right, if you want to be pedantic, twelve pints of Heineken at what…three quid a pint? That’s thirty six of Her Majesty’s pounds. You drink in here most days, don’t you.’ He stated it as a fact rather than a question. ‘Over the course of a week that must cost a bit. You’re not working so, where did you get the money to pay for all that booze, never mind run that pimped up fiesta outside?’
Shaun took another long sip at his pint.
‘That’s what job-seekers is for, init, Jimmie?’ Jimmie grinned and raised his glass.
‘A lot of people would disagree with you,’ said Tudor. Me for one, he thought. He didn’t go to work and pay his taxes to provide beer money for tow-rags like Shaun Tomlins. ‘So, you’re actively seeking work, are you, Shaun?’ Tudor was unable to keep the disbelief out of his voice.
‘Oh yeah, deffo, Mr Tudor. Trouble is, I’m a watchamacallit… a square peg in a round hole. I’m difficult to place.’
Not for me, laddie, Tudor was tempted to say, I’ve got a cosy prison cell that would be a perfect fit for a square peg like you. Frustratingly, it would take a lot more than mere suspicion to put Shaun in there for any length of time. Tudor cast a jaundiced eye over the pool room with its shabby furniture and the yellowed prints of dogs playing billiards that hung on its walls.
‘Well, you deffo won’t find a job in here lads,’ he told them. ‘I’ll be back,’ he added by way of a parting shot.
Back in his car, Tudor opened a window and lit a cigarette. Inhaling deeply, he let the smoke escape slowly from the corner of his mouth, then opened his notebook and went down the list again, tracing the names with his finger. Two of them, Pete Goodhall and Shaun Tomlins, were of particular interest as both had previous convictions for burglary and he decided to concentrate on them for the time being.
His mobile rang. Tudor snatched it up from the seat beside him and checked the caller ID; Maggie Mellor. Perhaps she’d changed her mind about going for that drink…
‘Missing me already, are you?’ he said playfully.
‘Me and the entire squad, Sarge; saw Crawford crying earlier.’
He could hear the laughter in her voice and felt crushed.
‘OK, OK. So, what’s up?’
‘Just been talking to one of the neighbours, says she saw a young guy hanging around outside Paget’s house that afternoon.’
‘She give you a description?’
‘Yes, but it’s pretty vague; medium height, dark hair… doesn’t narrow it down much.’
‘Oh, I wouldn’t say that. I’m looking at someone right now who matches that description perfectly...’
Shaun had just come out of the pub and head down, was hurrying over to his car. Tudor dived down behind the dashboard as his suspect cast a furtive glance in his direction. ‘Now, where’s he off to in such a hurry?’ he muttered to himself.
‘Sarge? Sarge…are you still there?’
‘Sorry, Mellor, gotta go. Suspect’s on the move.’
He ended the call and stuffed the phone in his jacket pocket. Moments later, he heard the throaty rumble of the souped-up fiesta being started. Risking a quick peep, Tudor was in time to see the boy racer sweep past him as he headed up towards the car park’s exit, where he signalled a right-hand turn. Tudor waited until the fiesta had cleared the car park then, tossing the stub-end of the cigarette out of the window, followed him out onto the Shrewsbury road. He joined the traffic four cars behind Shaun’s but the Fiesta’s distinctive colour scheme made it easy to follow from a distance. Besides, Shaun was boxed in behind a Land Rover with a trailer, and a white transit van. So, for the moment at least, he wasn’t going anywhere fast.
The little convoy snaked its way at a leisurely pace along the Shrewsbury Road and past the school playing fields. Across the fields, Caradoc’s hill fort stood sentinel over the approach to the town; a brooding presence even with a clear blue sky behind it. When the convoy entered All Stretton, the car immediately in front of Tudor turned off, reducing the gap between him and his suspect. The rest, including Shaun Tomlins, proceeded to drive straight through the village, and it became apparent to Tudor that Shaun was heading for the A49. Once on the trunk road, it would be much easier for a ‘boy racer’ like Shaun to overtake the vehicles that boxed him in and take off.
As Tudor had foreseen, the moment they joined the A49, Shaun began swinging out into the oncoming traffic, chancing his luck in a bid to overtake the vehicles that blocked his way. Each time he was forced to swing back in again. These manoeuvres of Shaun’s grew increasingly reckless, to the point where Tudor began to fear he would lose his chief suspect to a fatal road accident.
They were approaching a straight stretch and the detective knew that, when Shaun made his move, he would have to go with him. High speed pursuit had not featured much in Tudor’s career so far, and he began to feel nervous at the prospect of risking his neck on what could turn out to be a wild goose chase. He was still considering this when, with a squirt of black smoke from the exhaust, the Fiesta shot out from behind the transit van. Instinctively, Tudor slammed the gear stick into third and stamped his foot down hard on the accelerator. The Mondeo seemed to hesitate for a moment then lunged forward and he narrowly missed clipping the car in front, as he swung out into the opposite carriageway. Tudor still had three vehicles to get past as Shaun whipped in front of the Land Rover. The Mondeo was barrelling along, its engine growling like a cave full of angry bears. In the distance, a lorry was approaching. Straining forward in his seat, Tudor held the wheel in a dead man’s grip and, with the pedal flat to the floor, willed the Mondeo to go faster.
The lorry loomed larger in his windscreen by the second. The driver flashed his lights. Gritting his teeth, Tudor ignored him. Only the Land Rover to get past and it was down to seconds. It was reckless to go on but the fiesta was pulling away from him. With the rev counter red-lining, the lorry was almost on top of him.
‘Jesus! Come on, come on,’ screamed Tudor.
The squeal of brakes echoed his scream, the lorry juddered and its tyres smoked. The pungent smell of burning rubber filled the Mondeo’s cabin as Tudor shot through the narrowest of gaps, pursued by the sound of honking motorists. In his rear view mirror he could see the Land Rover driver mouthing obscenities and shaking his fist at him. He didn’t blame him, it had been an appalling piece of driving on his part, verging on the suicidal, almost. Did he hold his life so cheap, that he was prepared to throw it away in pursuit of a worthless scrote like Tomlins?
In his head, he could hear Maggie Mellor scolding him, “You’re not a stunt driver, Sarge. You could have caused a major accident.”
The thought was a sobering one and Tudor eased his foot off the accelerator and shifted into fifth. Shaun’s fiesta, though some distance away, was still clearly visible, thanks to its bright paintwork and the owner’s bad taste. Tudor gradually closed the gap and, by the time they reached the outskirts of Shrewsbury, he was only three cars behind him once more.