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Wiping Out Guilt


(A Kina McKevie Crime Novel)


By

Laurence Moore



Copyright © 2017 Laurence Moore


1st Edition 2017


All Rights Reserved.


The use of any part of this publication without prior written consent of the publisher or author is an infringement of copyright law.


Also by Laurence Moore


The Kina McKevie Series


Wiping Out Guilt

Chasing Answers

Left Behind



The Wasteland Soldier Series


A Fractured World

Escape From Tamnica

Drums of War

Men of Truth


Books available at:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/734379


Contact


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For more information visit:


http://thewastelandsoldier.blogspot.co.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/authorlaurencemoore

https://twitter.com/moorelaurence15


About The Author


Laurence Moore has been writing since the 1970s. He enjoys fast-moving books with complex main characters taking the lead.


The Kina McKevie series is set in modern-day London and features an ex-convict turned investigator, elbow deep in solving crime.


The Wasteland Soldier series is set in a post-apocalyptic America and features Stone, a no-nonsense fighting man looking to restore balance to a dangerous world.



About The Book


Out of prison. Looking for redemption. Caught up in a murder inquiry. Now it's time to put things right.


Wiping Out Guilt introduces readers to Kina McKevie - a complicated woman who slides into the world of private investigation. This origins story is the first in a series.


"There wasn’t a day that I didn’t hate myself. What can you do with that? Disappear, that’s what and London is the best city in the world to disappear in. No one notices. No one cares. It’s what I’ve done since getting out. And it’s working OK for me ...”


Half-Irish, half-Jamaican Kina McKevie is back in East London more than a decade after killing her abusive, drug-dealing boyfriend. Burdened by the guilt of a self-destructive past, she exists on the fringes of life, shunning family and friends and hiding in dead-end night jobs.


When record producer Simon Farley is stabbed to death, his girlfriend, Olivia, Kina's half-sister, is arrested and charged with his murder. Convinced of Olivia's innocence and determined to fight for the truth, Kina starts her own investigation, knowing the time for hiding is over.


But eleven years is a long time out of the game and the streets and estates of London have grown more deadly than Kina could have ever imagined.


Table of Contents


Title Page

Copyright

Also By

Contact

About The Author

About The Book


Wiping Out Guilt


Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four


Coming Next







PART ONE






ONE



There wasn’t a day that I didn’t hate myself.

What can you do with that? Disappear, that’s what and London is the best city in the world to disappear in.

No one notices, no one cares.

It’s what I’ve been doing since getting out. And it’s working OK for me …


* * *


It was 9.55pm.

Six women went into the building. I was one of them. It was a four-hour shift.

There would be routine during that time. I had no problem with routine. I didn’t care how mind-numbing or repetitive it was. There was clarity in routine and neatness and that suited me fine.

The work was physically demanding but mentally unchallenging. I got on with it. No complaints, no arguments, nothing was beneath me. The company was Fast Genie Industrial Cleaning, a firm well-established across East London over the past six years. The boss man, Mr Lakhami, got no attitude from me. I wanted to work, I needed to. I had all my certificates, earned inside, once I’d caught myself on. I was now a model employee, at least I had been for the past three months.

The six of us wore an identical uniform; grey polo shirt, loose-fitting blue trousers and heavy-duty black boots. We also wore a red and white visitor lanyard, handed to us at reception by one of two security guards. It was the talkative one that signed us in. He was a well-built black man in his twenties with a strong East London accent. His name was Liam or Leo or something, I was rubbish with names. He always enjoyed a joke or two with us. But I didn’t laugh at any of them. I didn’t even smile. I doubt he noticed.

Two of the women were Nigerian; they were gorgeous-looking and spoke English and French mixed in with a language they called Yoruba, I think. I’d never heard of it before. They seemed perpetually happy, filling late-night corridors with gentle song as they worked. They had great singing voices and there was a good vibe between them and the two security guards. Both men wore wedding rings and flirted with the two women, especially Liam or Leo or whatever his name was. There were promises of running away to sun-drenched beaches. The second guard didn’t say as much. He mostly laughed along with the harmless comments from his partner. He was a much older guy, in his mid-sixties. It was all good-natured and the girls sung melodies at the men.

In days gone by I might have enjoyed the banter. Right now, to be truthful, the only company I was interested in was my own - and I wasn’t too keen on that. One of the other women I worked with was named Jenny. I connected with her the most. By that I meant I nodded at her and asked how her day had been. That was the extent of our friendship. She was close in age to me. I was thirty-six and I reckoned she was about the same, give or take a year.

Jenny’s life could rival any long-running soap opera. It was complicated with a new boyfriend and his two kids and his ex-wife who was, in Jenny’s words, a social media monster or troll or something. Then there was her ex-husband and her own four kids – all caught in the crossfire of a rampant fling with a local guy who’d decorated her new flat and who she’d coarsely labelled donkey-dick. I thought he was the new boyfriend but apparently not. It was messy.

“Do you want me to put you in touch with him? You won’t sit down for a week.”

I’d told her I wasn’t interested, donkey-sized or otherwise.

“Are you a bit funny, like?” she’d asked, in that dense, foghorn Liverpool accent of hers.

She had terrible mood swings and these came to work with her. No middle ground with Jenny. One moment she was cheerful and talkative and the other she was ready to slash her wrists and exterminate the entire male population. But at least she had shit to fight over. I could’ve told her of my past, straightened her out with a few stories of my own, only I didn’t.

Besides, she never asked anything and I was glad. I was nobody, a sounding-board in her eyes, the way I liked it.

Some nights Jenny got pissed at the Nigerian women; it was the singing and the fact they were always happy, I guessed. She’d tell them to shut up but the girls took it as humour and would sing even more. They didn’t get it. Once she told them to fuck off back home. She looked at me directly afterward and later that night, once her temper had tapered off, she’d cornered me and apologised.

“I didn’t mean you, you know, when I said that about going back home. I mean, you’re almost home anyway. You’re not one of them.

I was mixed race. My mother was Irish, my father Jamaican. Dad would’ve tore strips off her for that comment but he was gone now. I shrugged off her words. It was the only thing to do. I’d been born in Belfast and that was a city where colour wasn’t the only division. I’d heard a lot worse than what had come out of Jenny’s mouth. Besides, she wasn’t filled with hate - only her throwaway comments were.

The Nigerian women could’ve have reported her to Mr Lakhami and I could’ve backed them up but none of us wanted any situations at work. Mr Lakhami quickly moved on employees who made waves.

I didn’t say much that night or any other night. I didn’t have much in the way of conversation. I wasn’t in that kind of loop. You weren’t cut off inside. I knew about the world. But I had nothing to offer. I was here to put the hours in and get paid. Not gossip about celebrity divorces or reality TV or who was stepping out with who. On the few occasions I said anything, and it was usually about tea or coffee in the canteen, the two Nigerian women would quiz me about where I was from.

“You are not from London,” one of them would say. She had a broad smile, shiny teeth and a fierce sounding voice. I never could get a handle on her name. “Where are you from? We want to know where you are from.”

“She is from Australia,” said the other girl. I couldn’t pronounce her name, either. She had a punchy tone. Every word was a jab. “Maybe New Zealand. Are you from New Zealand? Or Australia?”

“No, no, no. She is from Sweden, yes? Yes? You are Swedish, yes?”

“Kina is not a Swedish name. Does that sound Swedish? Anyway, Swedish girls have blonde hair.”

They would laugh at that comment and I would smile, a rare thing, and leave them hanging and guessing.

It was Jenny who bustled into the conversation, setting them straight.

“What are you pair chatting about? Kina’s from Ireland, leprechauns, shamrocks and all that.”

The women were disappointed. Ireland clearly wasn’t exotic enough for them. God knew where they thought Jenny was from, probably the moon. Jenny was a little off target, in truth. I knew she thought I’d been born in the south, the republic, but I’d grown up on a grey council estate in the north. There wasn’t much left of my accent after all these years in England, just a twang here and there when my blood raged.

The cleaning contract was with a wholesaler on an industrial estate. It spanned two units. The warehouses were shuttered. Through grilled windows and padlocked wire gates we could see parked forklift trucks, shrink-wrapped pallets of cardboard boxes and long aisles of shelves stacked with stock. It was a bit eerie-looking with the lights off and no staff around but we didn’t have to work in there. Our business was with the offices, canteen, corridors, stairwells and toilets.

We swept, wiped, emptied, vacuumed, polished. We straightened blinds, switched off lamps and took away coffee and tea-stained mugs.

What would Billy make of me now? Fuck him…

I was out of the halfway hostel, putting distance from the past. I had an honest job. I rented a flat. I paid my bills, bought smokes and cans of lager and picked up clothes from the local charity shops.

I wasn’t going back to my old life. No matter the temptation.

I looked up from my bucket. It was midnight already. We were allowed one break halfway through our four-hour shift. I never started it early or came back late. Jenny did, and Sally, her mouthy partner-in-gossip. They were always first in the canteen and last to fill the kettle and get out the mugs. Pauline, a quiet woman in her fifties, made a point about it every night but she often skived a few minutes here and there. Even the Nigerian women came back late.

I took off my goggles and gloves, thoroughly washed my hands and headed for the canteen. Drink made, I went outside for a smoke.

An overhead light came on. I huddled in a doorway, put down my mug of tea and shook out a cigarette, ducking my head from the wind as I lit it. I picked up the mug, took a sip and leaned against the wall. The light illuminated a stack of wooden pallets and two bins with unit numbers painted on the front. The rest of the industrial estate was in darkness, silent, all except the parcel company across the way. That place ran every hour, vehicles in and out. I could hear a radio, songs of the sixties, and echoing voices of drivers and loaders.

The estate was just off a busy dual-carriageway. The city crowded round us, a wall of lights and perpetual noise, never sleeping, never shutting off. There was nowhere in London, not one tiny spot, where a quiet moment existed. That suited me just grand – too much of the past lurked in quiet moments.

I dragged smoke into my lungs, stared at the brightly-lit buildings soaring into the night sky. An ominous bank of clouds was rolling in. It was going to chuck it down later.

The radio jangled away at the parcel company; a strumming guitar and a whining voice singing about love.

Jenny and Sally came out to smoke. I straightened up. The three of us crowded in the doorway. They took out their smart phones, ash crumbling onto tiny, lit-up screens. They shared pictures, posted messages and spoke in mumbles, never really looking at each other. I had a smart phone. It was tucked into my back pocket. I hardly ever got calls or texts and had only gone online once.

I funnelled smoke through my nostrils. Sally showed me a picture of a pensioner and a cat with an amusing caption. I didn’t really get the joke but she did so I forced out a half-laugh for her.

Break was over, for me anyway. My cigarette end went into a rusted metal bucket, hissing as it landed in an inch of water.

I reached for the door handle. A dark blue car drove onto the estate. It cruised by the parcel company and then us before disappearing from sight. There was nothing over that way except units in darkness.

I waited. I watched. Pauline complained I was letting in the cold air. I’d forgotten I still had the door open.

The car didn’t reappear. I guessed we weren’t the only ones working late. I went inside, got back to work and forgot about it.

It was the early hours of Tuesday morning but it still felt like Monday night, the start of the working week, and one shift would quickly blur into another.

Tonight would become tomorrow, tomorrow would be the same as tonight, which meant every tonight and tomorrow was just a strange repeat of yesterday.

Then my phone began to buzz. And none of that was about to matter.

The Nigerian women were singing in Yoruba. It sounded beautiful but they stopped at once.

“Answer it, Kina,” said one of them.

“You never know,” said the other. “It might be a man.”

Their eyes sparkled as I took the phone from my back pocket. I must have come across as pretty lonely to them.

“Is it a man?”

I was going to disappoint them again. It wasn’t a man. It was never going to be a man. It was Olivia, my sister.

She sobbed down the line at me. I couldn’t make out half of what she was coming out with but I got my head round one thing pretty quick - tonight wasn’t going to be a repeat of yesterday.

And tomorrow? I had no idea about tomorrow because Olivia was in the police station.

Her boyfriend, Simon, had been stabbed to death.






TWO



I stood with the late-night onlookers.

The residents of Clement Drive were in shock. No one had a camera phone out. No one was filming this to upload. There was plenty of muttering and head shaking and sadness. The city was drowning in crime, beatings, stabbings and shootings. It was on the news every night, in the local paper every week, but not here, not here in this part of Stratford, down this charming and expensive cul-de-sac. The last crime reported here was an attempted burglary and that had been four years ago.

Now there was police tape rippling in the wind and the crackle of a police radio and multiple cars parked at the kerb, lights reflecting in the puddles.

I stared at a cordoned-off detached house. It was red brick with a paved driveway and a single brick garage with a shutter painted blue. There was a car out front, shiny and black. The doors were open, the interior light was on, and a white-suited man was rummaging in the glove compartment.

A forlorn-looking tree stood on the front lawn, brown leaves twisting as they fell from shaking branches.

The house lights were on. White-suited men and women searched room-by-room, handling shit that didn’t belong to them. There were more in the street, photographing the pavement and the side of a house.

Olivia had lived with Simon for a year. They’d dated for six months before that. I was still locked up at the time this was all going on. She told me about him when she came to visit and times we spoke on the phone. He was a record producer, working with local bands. She gave me a few names. I didn’t recognise any of them; I was old school, heavily into jungle with a slice of Tracy Chapman when I needed to chill. He had a son, Trevor, primary school age, who lived with the mother, Melanie. The knock on the door would come soon enough for them.

Simon never came to visit me inside. There were reasons, work commitments, that kind of thing, but I could always tell Olivia was lying or covering for him. She didn’t have to because I didn’t have a problem. Mum and Douglas were used to visiting and Olivia had been coming since she was eight-years-old. For Simon it would have been an intimidating place and he was probably wary of me. It must have been hard for Olivia, breaking it to him that she had a sister inside for murder. The guy didn’t owe me a thing.

I met him twice after getting out. He was a good-looking black guy, bald-headed with a neat goatee-style beard. He was eight or nine years older than Olivia. I didn’t say that much to him but he tried his best to include me in every conversation. He was pretty nervous both times but he did alright because I wasn’t the easiest person in the world to talk to. I found him polite, intelligent, hard not to like.

But there was something about him. He seemed a little distant in the quiet moments when conversation naturally fell away. He would look around to see who was nearby. Maybe, deep down, he was embarrassed to be seen with an ex-convict. I don’t know. I was probably reading too much into it.

I came away thinking he was perfect for Olivia and the bonus was that Mum liked him – she adored him, and that was a big headache out of the way.

No one had ever adored Billy, or even liked him. They’d all warned me. I should’ve listened.

I was listening now, digging into the chatter around me. I picked up on what had gone down.

One neighbour had witnessed Olivia arriving home shortly after 10pm. He was a tall white man with tightly-curled brown hair and an unremarkable face. He clearly remembered the time because he was expecting his wife home at 10.30pm and when he heard a car on his drive he’d glanced at the clock and was surprised she was back so early. He checked at the window and saw a cab bounce off his driveway. It was then he noticed Olivia going into the house. He made a quick gesture with his hand, indicating she’d been drinking, before diving into a long-winded rant about vehicles manoeuvring on his drive.

Another neighbour, a woman in her fifties, said “I saw him go out. I called out to him but he didn’t reply. I don’t think he heard me.”

“What time was that?” I didn’t see who asked the question. “I think it was about eleven,” was the reply. “I was putting out the rubbish. I let Eddie back in. He always comes home at eleven.” I got the feeling Eddie was a cat, not her husband. “Poor fella, awful thing to happen.”

“It was the yelling that got us out of bed,” said a man in his late-thirties. He wore a thick fleece over pyjama bottoms.

“Oh, God, that was awful,” said the guy who’d seen Olivia arrive home. He’d given up moaning about his driveway.

“I doubt any of us will sleep tonight,” said another.

A white-suited woman crouched and snapped photographs of bloodstains on the pavement.

“You don’t expect it here,” remarked a scrunched-looking woman. She hadn’t said anything up to this point. “Even though he was, you know.”

You know?

It was drizzly, cold and windy. I shivered. I wore a jacket over a fleece, jeans and trainers. I took out my cigarettes. Someone at my elbow grumbled as I sparked my lighter. I couldn’t give a fuck if they had a problem with me smoking or a problem with the colour of my skin – you know?

Besides, my sister had a bigger problem and in the next few minutes I was going to make it a hell of a lot worse.

White-suited detectives gathered on the pavement, pooling the information they had, starting to build a picture of the murder. There was gesturing and pointing and a few of them walked to the corner of the drive. It was a mobile crime scene. Simon had been attacked nearby but managed to make his way home and had died there.

I kept watching, kept listening, a lump in my throat, a gurgling in the pit of my stomach.

They’re gonna come for me. Any moment now. Once they start processing names they’ll realise that Olivia has a half-sister with a record.

Cops are cops. Fuckers are gonna put this shit on me and send me back. You did this crime. You took a knife and attacked him.

It’s what you did before…

I thought back to Olivia’s call. She’d been near-hysterical, choking out the words.

How could anyone hurt him, Kina? He was so kind. We were going to try for a baby next year…”

She wasn’t me. This would crush her. She had fire but not enough to pull through this. She’d need me but I didn’t know how to be there for her.

I continued to smoke and stare, dark eyes glazed.

There was a reporter with the cops, scrambling for a story, pulling at the edges of human tragedy. He was a piece of shit, the lowest of the low.

People shuffled around me, muttering, getting tired, talking about going back inside and having a cuppa. I noticed, for the first time, they were all white. My mum was white. My father had been black. I was an outsider amongst these people. Had they accepted Simon? “Even though he was… you know.” Yeah, I knew what she’d meant and I’d noticed no one seemed to have any issue with her comment. They would’ve accepted Olivia. She was as white as it got.

Had she called Mum and her dad, Douglas?

My real dad had arrived in London at the beginning of the sixties. He was already a teenager by then. His parents met a wall of hostility and were employed in unskilled, low-paid jobs. Then Dad met Mary McLaughlin. He had a thing for Irish girls. She had a thing for black men. It was a potent mix.

By the seventies, Mary wanted to go back home. There was too much hate toward the Irish in London and Dad was sick of the racism, as well. They moved to Belfast and planned on getting jobs and saving for a house, marrying and having plenty of wee ones. None of that ever happened. I don’t know why they split. Dad used to tell us stories of his wild days when he first arrived in the city; drinking, stealing, taking drugs, parties. I know he met Mum when he was seeing Mary. The randy old devil let that slip one night.

I was ten when he was ripped out of my life. They came for him late one evening; masked men in military jackets with baseball bats and hammers. He’d been warned twice by those who really controlled the city. Stop fucking thieving, Ruben, or we’ll take your kneecaps, you fucking black bastard. He couldn’t stop. They knew he never would. His body was found on waste ground, hands tied behind his back. They’d shot him in the head and dumped him with the old tyres and mattresses.

The cops came round asking questions. We knew who was responsible. We all knew who was dishing out the punishments. But to tout, as we called it, was a death sentence worse than the one Dad had received.

Mum kept me off school for a time, not that I was going much anyway. School was tough for me. It wasn’t London. I was the only mixed race girl in our class. Now I was the only mixed race girl with a murdered dad.

We moved to London in the summer of 1991. I was eleven at the time. I left behind the estate and school, friends and enemies. We stayed with extended family before settling in a place called Stratford. I’d never heard of it before. Despite my accent, I didn’t stand out. Mum never lost hers but mine faded over the years. I went to a same-sex school. I was no longer the odd one out. London swallowed me and spat me out as one of its own.

I was a moody and out of control teenager when Douglas King came on the scene. When Mum married him I refused to change my name. I’d been born a Samson but Mum had changed me back to her maiden name when she’d been widowed. So I was a McKevie and there was no way I was name-swapping for a third damn time. Mum accepted my decision without argument. That was a first. I was a nightmare at home. I still carry the guilt of that and she doesn’t let me forget it.

Douglas was English. He was nothing like my dad had been. There was no fire or anger in him. He was a settled man. He worked hard, paid all the bills. I treated him like he was nothing.

I wasn’t there for the wedding. I disappeared, got wasted and thought of Dad; that broad grin, his big hands dancing me round the kitchen, the smell of fried chicken and coconut bread.

I had thought of going back to Belfast, to rekindle my past, but I had no money and no real energy or ambition to do so. It didn’t feel like home anyway. My accent had spliced. I was with a crowd of friends who were English born. They treated me as one of them and we lived day-to-day; drink, drugs, theft. There were a few young men over the years but none of them satisfied. My heart was taken and not by any of them. Her name was Jade and she had been my best friend since I’d arrived in London. I’d loved her in every way possible but I didn’t know how to begin with her so I found what I needed disappearing into gay bars, alone, easy prey for the mature women looking for a taste of something young and rough.

Then Olivia came along. I wasn’t there at the birth. I wasn’t there for the first few months of her life. I didn’t care about having a sister.

Our group was breaking at the edges. Jade had a guy in her life. He was a prick and she didn’t seem happy. We were rolling into heavy crime, creating a reputation. Then one of us overdosed. It shook us to the core. It was coming apart at the seams. It was time to run.

I phoned Mum, crying, and she told me to come home and meet my baby sister and all would be forgiven. I went home and met my sister but nothing was forgiven. Mum worked me over day after day, always when Douglas wasn’t around.

But it was worth it, for Olivia. I’d never held a baby before. She had pale skin and wispy yellow hair. She was stinky, demanding and drove me crazy with the crying and shit-filled nappies. I couldn’t be angry at her. She had tiny hands and tiny fingers that clasped and unclasped. There were daily miracles as she blinked and smiled and burped. My hardened exterior was starting to melt. I was even decent to Douglas. He mentioned once he had two sons but didn’t talk to them or his ex-wife. Mum and Douglas were older parents. This was a second chance for them.

“I want to get it right this time,” he said.

“Oh, aye,” said Mum.

I realised, with numbing sadness, that she felt she’d got it wrong with me. Did she blame herself for the way I was?

I had recently turned eighteen. There wasn’t much fuss. I remembered not caring because for once in my life there was someone else to think about, someone tiny and defenceless, and maybe this was my chance to get it right.

Turning a corner, I began to sort out the mess in my head, to lower a few barriers, to understand the anger that roared inside.

Then I met Billy and what had gone before was nothing compared to what was to come.

Dad would’ve battered him from the first moment. He would’ve seen the kind of man Billy was. I knew but I couldn’t resist the life. That weakness was always going to be in me.

Douglas got to see Olivia grow. My Dad never did and I was glad because he died believing his little girl was an angel.

He was the only person in life I’d never disappointed.


* * *


I blinked, flicked away my cigarette.

Uniformed officers were knocking on doors, notebooks open, dragging more sleepy residents into the stark reality of a murder inquiry.

A few of them were heading toward the group I stood in.

I had to get away.

The rain was beginning to fall a little heavier now. Head spinning with memories, I thrust my hands into my pockets, dipped my head and began to walk, hoping to look inconspicuous. My curly dark hair tumbled around my face.

An engine came on, headlights speared the shiny tarmac. I stole a furtive glance. It was a police car. I watched it from the corner of my eye. It nudged slowly out of the close, wipers squeaking. I was too busy checking out the car that I didn’t see a small cluster of people ahead. I collided into them. One woman grunted, fired a sharp look at me. I mumbled a hasty apology and brushed past her but she didn’t acknowledge it and let everyone know. The hairs on the back of my neck crawled. Sweat flooded my armpits. The woman flung her arms in the air, making a scene. I reached the mouth of the close, tossed up my hood, ready to run.

There were two uniforms on the corner, watching, talking. One of them was in his forties, bearded, gloved hands hooked into his belt. His partner was fresh-faced, a typical cop partnership.

That fucking loudmouth bitch, she’d drawn their gaze onto me.

I rounded the corner.

“Excuse me, miss.”

They came off the kerb. My heart thudded.

“Miss?”

I began to cross between parked cars, pace quickening. I didn’t stop or look round at them.

“Miss, can you wait a moment?”

Both men broke into half-trots. I spotted an alleyway ahead. This was Stratford. I knew the lay of the land.

They knew where I was going. Now they shouted. “Hey, don’t move.”

My hands flew from my pockets. I sprinted toward the alleyway, leaping a metal barrier. I disappeared into darkness, increasing my speed, arms and legs pumping.

There was the clatter of boots behind me. A voice shouted into a radio. I was in good shape. I kept running, not wasting a second in looking back.

I reached a canal, a black ribbon beneath the stars. I ran along the towpath, pushing hard toward a bridge. There was no one around. The wind bit at me. The rain blew in my face.

I scrambled up a lager-can strewn grass verge and fled across the bridge, the roar of a plane overhead.

The outline of the young copper appeared on the towpath. I didn’t know where the older one was.

Moving unseen, I reached houses, gardens, alleyways, garages, an empty street, a bus shelter.

A cluster of youths were gathered inside. There were four boys, one girl. One of the boys was kissing her whilst another had his hand up her skirt. Bikes were scattered on the rain-soaked pavement, takeaway wrappers rustled in the wind.

My footsteps alerted them, they glanced over, uninterested.

I sprang over a rickety chain-link fence, weaved past bins and rubbish and emerged onto another road that ringed a green and was surrounded by houses. There were no lights showing. I spotted a fenced-in playground, headed for it.

Jumping a brightly-painted wall, I made for a wooden playhouse. I tugged open the door. It was damp inside. I folded away, out of sight, and caught my breath.

In the distance, a freight train clattered along dark lines. There was the muted sound of traffic, the beat of music.

The young copper emerged on the edge of the green. He stood for a moment, hand on his radio.

Then he trudged away, looking angry. He shouldn’t have been. I was picked up an hour later.






THREE



“Why did you run?”

It was a decent question, the cop had to ask it, but I folded my arms, gave her a sour look and said nothing.

“If you talk to me I can help you.”

She paused.

“I can help your sister.”

I didn’t answer.

“I want to help you both.”

I could hear the rain. It was throwing it down out there, beating against the frosted windows of the interview room.

“Your sister has lost her partner under brutal circumstances. But I also understand how scared you must be, Kina. I want you to know that you haven’t been forgotten in all this.”

The room was warm. I was glad because my clothes were damp. Without thinking, I ran a hand through my hair, untangling knots.

“You were released nearly four months ago and tonight’s murder mirrors your own crime.”

They’d brought me to Stratford police station. I’d been here several times. I’d been charged here. It might have been this exact room.

“I know you’re frightened, Kina. I understand.”

She wants to send me back.

“Why don’t you drink your coffee, Kina?”

It sat on the scarred desk that separated us, steam rising.

“Do you know me?” I said.

Her name was Corrigan. Her rank was sergeant. A uniformed constable was at the door.

“Do you? Do you know me? No, you don’t, so don’t keep up with this Kina shit like we’re friends, you get me?”

I kissed my teeth.

“I’d like to get to know you,” she said, ignoring my tone. “I want to help you.”

“Is that why they sent you?” I gave a short laugh.

“Do you mean because I’m black or because I’m a woman?”

“Either. Both. I don’t fucking care. You pick. You’re the boss in here. I know what I am. You know what I am.”

“Tell me why you ran from the crime scene?”

“You know why.”

“You need to speak up.” She gestured toward the tape machine. “Tell me why you ran.”

“You fucking know why.”

Corrigan turned her attention to a file on the desk. It was bulky and the pages inside were untidy. It should’ve irritated her but it didn’t. It was irritating me. I needed to get those pages all neat and tidy, bring a bit of clarity and order to things.

She took her time reading, messing up the file even more and keeping me waiting. It was annoying the fuck out of me. A gust of wind rattled the windows. She looked up, suddenly, and then looked back down, turning a page as she did.

I got her moves. She was working me over. The friendly-friendly approach had got her nowhere. She was going to say very little, create a void. The silence would, she hoped, unbalance my thoughts and get me talking. Like that was going to happen.

“You ain’t reading that shit,” I said. Fuck, I’d let her win, already. “You know you read that file before coming in here. You know all there is to know.”

I shifted in my chair, unfolded and folded my arms.

“I want to see my sister.”

“Not yet.”

“Now. I want to see her now. She’s done nothing.”

Corrigan paused.

“No.”

I clenched my hands against the edge of the desk. “What happened to her fella?”

“I was hoping you might be able to fill in some of the pieces for us, Kina.”

“Oh, sure.” I snorted. “And you ask why I ran? You’re already preparing to send me back.”

“No, Kina.”

“So you are. History repeating itself?”

“Is it?”

“I want to see Olivia.”

“Not at this moment.”

“Are you enjoying taking your sweet time?” I said. “You know, I’ve been in the system since I was young. I know your game, copper. You’re trying to wind me up, get me jabbering.”

Corrigan looked up from the file. She was a little younger than me but no less experienced.

“You’re correct, Kina.” She picked up her coffee, drank. “You have been in the system since you were young.”

Her hair was brown, cut in a short bob. She had typical cop eyes. They didn’t miss a thing. Her lips were painted dark red. The colour looked good on her and broke up the drabness of a typical cop suit - black jacket and trousers, white blouse, ID lanyard round her neck. An unusual silver bracelet hung round her left wrist. It was the only jewellery she wore. I liked it, another redeeming factor along with the lipstick.

I didn’t know if her sympathy and understanding was genuine. Cops were smart at planting traps. I didn’t hate them, they had their place in this world, but I wasn’t about to trust one.

I tried to keep quiet, let her talk.

“Your mother brought you to London when you were ten-years-old. No, correction, you were eleven-years-old. This was a year after your natural father, Ruben Samson, was murdered by the IRA.”

“It was never proven who killed my dad.”

“He was murdered for being a thief, yes?”

“Yes.”

“He was twice warned and eventually hospitalised after a punishment beating but continued to steal from the local community until he was tortured and shot.”

“I know my dad’s story,” I said, quietly

“I’m sorry, it must be painful. I’m sure he was a good man.”

Once more there was that sympathy and understanding in her eyes. I couldn’t tell if it was fake.

“Your first arrest came in Walthamstow, 1994. You stole a car. You were let off with a warning. There followed a string of offences including vandalism, shoplifting, underage drinking, more vandalism, more shoplifting. You were arrested numerous times but never incarcerated.”

Corrigan prodded the file.

“On and on until one of your little gang took an overdose. Georgina Jenkins. She was seventeen years old. That could have been you lying in your own piss and puke.”

She’d skilfully subdued me.

“You were in court once more. The judge believed you had been influenced by the older members of the gang you were in.”

Silence.

“The judge also believed a custodial sentence would have furthered your criminal career, not tempered it.”

Silence.

“I think the judge felt you were a victim rather than a perpetrator. You were given a final chance.”

I stared at the tape. Rain poured down. The uniformed copper was motionless at the closed door.

“I was no victim. I made my own choices and they were all wrong ones. I have to live with that.”

Corrigan nodded, thoughtfully.

“You stayed out of trouble for several years. By this time your mother had a new husband and you a sister.”

“I know my life story.”

“Tell me about Billy Ingram, Kina.”

“Am I under arrest?”

“No, you’re helping with a murder inquiry.”

I sneered. “Billy’s long dead.”

“Then he won’t mind us talking about him.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Do you want to be placed under arrest for fleeing a crime scene? Or do you want to help your sister?”

“I want to help.”

“Then let’s talk about Billy Ingram.”

“Can I smoke?”

“No.”

“Jesus.” I glared at her. “You know what happened between us. You know how it ended.”

“I know that Billy Ingram turned you into a punching bag.”

“I told you, I made my own choices.”

“There’s nothing wrong with admitting you were a victim.”

I’m no victim. I did wrong. I went to prison.”

“On one occasion, Ingram broke your arm and fractured two ribs. You spent time in Newham General.”

I turned silent again.

“Another time you were admitted with…” She stopped, abruptly, and looked over her shoulder at the male officer by the door. “You can leave us for now.”

He left, without a word. She spoke into the tape, indicating he was no longer in the room.

“No more of that,” I said.

“He took a life that hadn’t even been born,” said Corrigan.

I picked up the coffee cup, drained it. My hand was trembling. “No more,” I said.

“It’s hard to understand why you were even convicted after the level of abuse you suffered.”

“Well, I was, so that’s it. I don’t want to talk about him anymore. Billy is the past. I have a new life now.”

Corrigan nodded. “You rent a room above a shop and you work for Fast Genie, a commercial cleaning company. Limited contact with your family since leaving prison. No social life. No online presence. No boyfriend. No girlfriend.” She paused. “It’s not much of a new life, is it?”

“Right.”

“You seem directionless, Kina.”

“Thanks, you’re sending my confidence sky high.”

“How were things between Simon Farley and your sister?” she asked, suddenly.

“Fine.”

“Any arguments?”

“No.”

“Falling out?”

“No.”

“Affairs?”

“I know where you’re going with all this. I stabbed Billy so I stabbed Simon.”

“You did more than stab Billy Ingram.”

I clenched my fists, and then slowly opened them. “He used to threaten people with that gun. I shot him six times. Your lot said he was dead after the first one. None of what he did got proved in court. That’s why they gave me eighteen years.”

I shook my head.

“I didn’t stab Simon Farley.”

“I’m certain you didn’t. But Olivia…”

“Are you fucking kidding me? They were planning on having kids.”

“There’s a lot of tragedy surrounding your family, Kina. And you and your sister have been exposed to considerable violence.”

“Me, not Olivia. And Simon wasn’t abusing her. She would’ve told me.”

“Did you confide in a friend or family member when you were being beaten?”

“I want to go. Now. Right fucking now. Charge me or let me leave.”

“Once I confirm your whereabouts. Would you like another coffee?”

“No. What do you mean confirm my whereabouts?”

“We have an officer checking with Fast Genie at this moment.”

“Great, thanks for that. My stepdad lined that job up for me. You go snooping round asking questions and implicating me in a crime and I’m finished.”

“I’m sorry, but we need confirmation to eliminate you from the inquiry.”

“Of course you do.”

The rain never stopped. Nor did the questions. Corrigan went round and round but I shut down. I’d picked up a few bits of information hanging on the close. Now I got a little bit more in the hours that passed.

Olivia was a trainee stylist in Romford. I already knew that. What I didn’t know was her movements up to Simon getting stabbed. Now it was time for Corrigan to fill in the blanks for me. Olivia had finished work at 5pm. She’d met two friends at a Thai restaurant. The three of them left approximately 6.45pm and moved onto a local wine bar. One friend left at 8.15pm. Olivia and the other friend left shortly after 9pm. There were confirmed sightings of her arriving home at 10pm and this had been backed up by the regular minicab company she’d used. Simon had gone out after 11pm. Olivia could’ve followed him. She had an open window.

“Your sister claims to have fallen asleep once arriving home.”

Silence.

“She doesn’t remember Simon leaving the house.”

Silence.

“She only remembers the moment he returned – fatally wounded.”

Silence.

“Why did she call you first?”

“I don’t know.”

“Why didn’t she call her mum or dad?”

“I don’t know.”

“How well did you know Simon Farley?”

“I only met him twice. I liked him.”

“Did he ever visit you in prison?”

“No.”

“Write to you? Send you anything?”

“No.”

“Did Olivia ever bring him to visit?”

“For the love of God, no, no and no. Look, why aren’t you out there looking for the fucker that did this? He’s probably moving all the stolen gear whilst you’re sitting here wasting time.”

It was then another detective entered the interview room and announced himself for the tape. He was there to confirm my alibi.

“Let’s start again,” said Corrigan. “Did Olivia talk to you about the arguments she and Simon were having?”

I sighed. “No.”






FOUR



It was light when they released me.

Mum was out by the front desk, sat in a chair, hands folded, scowling. She was probably more annoyed with me than anything else. Simon was dead but I would still be at the top of her shit list. Maybe I needed to be. I don’t know.

The desk officer gave her a warm look. She was old and it had been a long night; he knew there was more than one victim in any crime. All I got was an icy stare. We went through the door, down the steps, onto the pavement.

The two of us stood on the street, undecided. Cold rain leaked from a dull sky. It was a typical late November morning.

I shivered, head fogged with memories. I blinked away tears and tiredness and lit a cigarette.

Mum’s tongue whipped at me. “Why did they arrest you? What carry on are you up to now? How in God’s name are you mixed up in this?”

She was in her sixties, proud and strong-willed, raised in Belfast, a city of borders and colours I never understood or accepted. I mumbled an abject reply that fuelled her temper. She couldn’t believe Simon was dead and she was terrified for Olivia. Mum had lived through the worse of the troubles back home, she knew all about injustice. I kept silent. She burnt strips off me, anger in her voice, only sadness in her eyes.

“Why are they still holding her?” she said. “I don’t get it. Is it because of you?”

I wanted to comfort her but I didn’t know how. I dragged on my cigarette, hoping the ground would swallow me up. I’d never been a parent. I never would, thanks to Billy. The pain of a parent was a mystery to me. I knew only the pain of a daughter who’d failed, over and over again.

The street lamps switched off. I could feel the steady vibration of music as the city stirred into life.

Cars zipped by, splashing through puddles. It would be so easy. One step and the screaming in my head would be over.

“Douglas has a flight in one hour,” said Mum.

It was out of her system. She’d said what needed saying. Now she sheltered under her umbrella, reading a text message.

I must have been frowning. “He’s in Holland. I told you that, Kina.” She hadn’t but it was pointless to argue. My stepdad was a software programmer … or something. I wasn’t really sure but the contracts his company acquired could see him in Derby one day and Denmark the next.

She pocketed the phone, raised her scarf against the brisk wind. “Are you coming or not?”

She was renewed. I wiped a sleeve across my eyes. She reached out a hand, patted me on the arm. I recoiled at her touch.

“You’re not the wee girl that went away, are you now?”

I wanted her to see my scars, hear the stories I had to tell. I wanted to collapse in her arms, sob.

“No,” I said.

“But today isn’t about you. We’ve had enough days about you, Kina. We need to put our heads together and help Olivia.”

She beckoned me along the street.

“There’s a cafe round the corner. We could do with some breakfast inside us.”

I hesitated.

“Are you going to stand there blaming yourself for all the woe in the world?”

No, I’ll let you do that, Mum.

“C’mon, Kina.”

We left Olivia behind; exhausted and wide-eyed and still answering questions. We walked in silence.

A young guy stepped out of a block of flats. He came toward us, taking up most of the pavement with his swagger and gold. He was black, six foot, good-looking, head bent toward his phone, the screen lit in his dark glasses. There was a scar beneath his left ear, about three inches long. His hair was styled. His clothes were expensive. I’d never seen him before but I knew him inside out. He was the cause of locked doors and terrified residents.

His car was at the kerb. A land cruiser, the size of a tank, black with red markings and tinted windows. He dug out his keys, unlocked it, without taking his eyes from his phone.

I saw the collision we were all heading for. Mum veered a little, out of his way. I didn’t make any adjustment. He clipped me hard and I rolled across the width of the pavement.

I threw out my arms. “What’s your problem, man?”

He ignored me, got in, fired the engine. Music thudded from his sound system. I held my spot, unafraid.

“Away with you, Kina,” said Mum. “Don’t be starting.”

The player dropped his window, grinned from ear to ear.

“Sorry about that, girl.”

“Don’t fucking girl me.”

He lowered his shades down his nose, stared for a moment, like I had the nerve to breathe the same air as him.

He kissed his teeth, then shaped a gun with his right hand and shot me down as he screeched away.

“Prick,” I said.

I shrugged him off, followed Mum along the street.

Bins overflowed, rain-sodden rubbish stirred in the gutter. There were flats covered in graffiti. There were lawns with wooden benches and one area dotted with fast-food wrappers, empty cans, cigarette ends and condoms. A delivery van slowed and parked, news radio on loud as the driver clambered out, package under his arm.

There were residents arriving home from work, walking from the station, climbing off buses or pulling up in cars, and there were plenty more preparing to leave; lights on behind half-lowered blinds, the rustle of cereal, the ping of the toaster, the kettle rattling as it boiled. All at once I began to sweat. I had been in a box for eleven years. Sometimes the pace of London overwhelmed me.

I unzipped my jacket and hooded fleece, a ribbed white vest top beneath, desperate to feel the wind on my hot skin.

The delivery driver was back in his van, window down, leering at my chest. Guy looked a creep. What the fuck?

The van tore away and we turned the corner. A row of shops lurked behind closed metal shutters. There were grubby-looking flats above. Shouting came from one of them. Traffic slewed by, rain shimmering in headlights. The smell of cooking was in the air. Mum pointed at the cafe. A taxi office was next door with stools outside, no one sitting on them.

Mum went into the cafe, placed her handbag on a vacant table. She unbuttoned her coat, hung it on the back of a chair. She sat down, took out her phone. She would wait for me to order. I stayed outside, smoking, watching her through a curtained window. Her daughters were aging her.

I turned my back.

Across the road was the shell of a new office building behind temporary fencing. A man was wandering around, yellow hard-hat on.

I flicked away my half-smoked cigarette, pushed open the café door and went to the counter.

A black-haired man took the order. He had light olive skin, thick eyebrows and a crooked nose. He looked cold. There was a heater on but it wasn’t throwing out much heat. I went and sat with Mum, drumming my fingers on the table without thought. There were framed photographs of the Mediterranean hanging on the wall. A beach would be perfect right now. Olivia and me. Not that I had a passport or any savings.

The guy fetched our order of bacon rolls and a pot of tea for two. I smeared red sauce across the meat. Mum used brown. I made the tea. I took mine strong, no milk and two sugars.

It was Mum who broke the cramped silence. She dug into her handbag and slid a bunch of keys across the table.

“Spare keys for Olivia and Simon’s house.”

I frowned at her.

“I want you to pack a bag for her. She won’t want to go back there, Kina. She can stay with me and Dad.”

“The cops will still be at the house. I won’t be allowed in.”

“Sure, then go this afternoon or tonight. She’ll want fresh clothes, so she will.”

I scooped them up, slurped tea.

“I still don’t know why they’re keeping her,” I said. “She’s a victim, not a suspect. I mean …”

She talked right across me. “And have a look around when you’re there, do you understand me, Kina?”

“No.” I put my cup down. “What do you mean?”

“He had a habit lately, Simon, of popping out down the shop at night. I had that kind of carry on with your father.”

“The guy does music. He’s at work all day.”

She gave me a look. She had a theory and I had no right getting in the way of it.

“Olivia told me he often went for chocolate bars. But he never walked, Kina, he always took the car. That night he walked. Now why in God’s name would he walk? He hated walking anywhere and especially around there. Sure, they both did so what was that all about?”

“That copper Corrigan reckons there was an argument and Simon went out for a bit of fresh air. But Olivia told them they didn’t argue and she went asleep when she got home from the wine bar.”

“So one of them is lying. You just have a wee nosy when you’re in there.”

“I thought you liked Simon.”

“He was a decent young fella, sure enough. He treated Olivia right. A good boy. I took to him at once. Not like Billy, he was a nasty shit. I told you at the time but, oh no, you knew better. There was never any telling you. You get that stubbornness from your father. Do you know that?”

I rolled my eyes.

“Just make sure Simon is all I thought he was. That he wasn’t mixed up with things. A lot of black boys get stabbed round here. I don’t want the police getting lazy.”

Mum knew all about the cops. Back in Belfast, here in London. She didn’t hate them; she’d battered me once for throwing bricks at RUC carriers as they’d streamed through our neighbourhood, eight-years-old, the crazy-haired girl standing with the mob, hurling rubble.

“You know how it is, Kina. We’ve seen it all before. Innocent families behind bars, killers strolling as politicians. Sure, it happens all over, so it does.”

“OK, OK. I don’t want another lecture.”

She smiled at me, a light flickering in her eyes.

“Good girl now.”

Two women breezed in, one black, one white, wet heels clicking across the worn floor. They were carrying laptop bags. They pulled out chairs on the other side of the café. At a glance, they looked in their thirties. The black woman had gold-coloured hair. She waved at the man behind the counter. He began to rustle up a regular order as she sat, facing my direction. The white woman had her back to me as she shrugged off a heavy coat. She wore a roll-neck jumper under a grey trouser suit. Her hair was brown, side-parted, cut short. I couldn’t see her face but I was certain I knew her. I turned away, an uneasy feeling in my gut.

Mum whispered across the table at me. “Kina don’t be starting anything. You’ve an arse-ache face on you this morning.”

Jesus, she had a way of reducing me to a ten-year-old.

The black woman with the dyed hair kept glancing at me. It was starting to piss me off. I didn’t have a long fuse. I hardened my eyes, twisted my mouth and glared back at her. Intimidated, she hastily ducked. I looked once more at the second woman. She still had her back to me.

“Kina, will you catch yourself on, girl? We need to focus on helping your sister.”

Mum was allowed to call me girl. I ignored her. Sometimes it was best.

The café door opened once more and a crowd of men streamed inside, talking loud, carrying newspapers and wearing high-visibility jackets. Two young men followed in behind them. The place was beginning to fill up. Two teenage girls in white aprons had appeared behind the counter. I could no longer see the gold-haired woman and her companion. The man behind the counter kept glancing over at us. He knew we’d finished and he wanted the table.

“I need a smoke,” I said.

The rain had stopped. The shops were beginning to open. I shook out a cigarette, lit up, Mum glaring at me.

“I’m going back to the police station,” she said.

“I’ll come with you.”

An inquiring voice suddenly called out. “Kina?”

We both looked round. It was the woman from the café, the one in the roll-neck and grey suit. The air was punched from my lungs.

Jade …”

My heart exploded. No, it wasn’t possible. A thousand words entered my head. I couldn’t pin down one of them.

“It’s me,” she said.

I knew it was her. Of course I knew it was her. And she was no longer the tearaway. She’d transformed; stylish and confident and more beautiful than ever but somehow no different. I couldn’t breathe. I really couldn’t breathe.


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