Leave Only Footprints
Two murders. One hunter. But who is the hunter and who is the prey?
In a small Midlands town in the 1970’s a café owner and newspaper editor are murdered within days of one another. Convinced the cases are connected, young reporter Paul Sears begins a hunt for his boss’s killers. As the police investigation flounders Paul risks his life and that of his young family in trying to outwit a vicious gang who will silence anyone who crosses their path.
4th September 1972
Paul had to hit the brakes hard. The smell of burning rubber wafted through the open window as his Morris Minor slid to a halt. He cursed at the thought of ruined tyres. A copper stood in front of two white police cars waving vehicles through, his helmet badge glinting. He peered down the High Street. On the corner stood Madison’s café. White blinds had been pulled down over its blue-framed windows. A closed sign hung at an angle across the front door. Outside, blue lights strobed from an ambulance.
He took the next right downhill to the traffic lights, which changed from amber to red as he approached. He pulled on the hand brake and strummed his fingers on the steering wheel to the rhythm of The Who singing My Generation. “Why don’t you all fa…fade away?” It seemed to take forever to get to eight beats, when he knew the amber light would appear. He was riding the clutch and didn’t wait for green, his tyres screeching on the dry, dusty road. Another right turn took him back on to the far end of Church Street. It had been cordoned off at this end too, so he took a sharp left. The radio fell off the back shelf and the dial jumped station to a new song, Something in the Air.
He parked Meg and gave her warm bonnet a pat before racing back onto the street, the sun beating on his neck. A familiar, stony faced figure was guarding the barrier. It was Derek Winters, an old rocker who’d joined the force to get a bigger motorbike. He still looked down on mods like Paul. The PC stared straight ahead, trying to hide his boredom and pretending he hadn’t noticed anyone. Beyond him, Paul saw that the ambulance had mounted the kerb. He heard someone shouting instructions. Then the front door swung open violently against the outside wall, the glass tinkling as it shattered. The crew wasted no time getting the stretcher on board. The patient was rigged up to an oxygen cylinder. Paul flashed his ID card under the policeman’s nose.
‘Sorry, Mr Sears, no one allowed beyond here. Press or public.’
‘What’s going on then?’
‘Looks as if you’ve worked up a sweat getting here. Wasted your time I’m afraid.’
‘Give me a break. Who’s in the ambulance?’
Paul pulled a dog-eared notebook and Bic biro from his pocket.
‘You won’t be needing that.’
‘Why is the high street closed?’
‘Do me a favour, will you?’
‘No, you do me one. People want to know what’s happened here.’
Winters stared straight ahead, unblinking.
‘Did you hear what I said?’
‘Good day to you, Mr Sears.’
Paul sensed this could be a big story, a real chance to get his name on the front page. Slipping away from the roadblock, he approached the ironmonger, Phil Chapman, who was wiping down the shop window ledges. If eagle eyed Phil didn’t know what was up, then nobody would, well except for Fred the newsagent maybe. Old Fred knew everyone in Risdon.
‘Well mister early bird, seems you got here too late this time.’
‘Any idea what all the commotion’s about?’
Phil put the cloth back into his dust jacket pocket and picked up a brush. The pan grated on the pavement as he swept up, putting Paul’s teeth on edge.
‘I don’t want my name in your paper, lad. Folk will think I’m a nosey parker.’
And they would probably be right thought Paul before continuing. ‘No names I promise. What did you see?’
‘Wouldn’t you like to know?’
‘Well here’s the thing. We’re offering some free large ad space this week to our best clients. I have a strong feeling you might qualify. It would attract more people through your door.’
Phil glanced back towards his shop. It was full of tools, light bulbs, boxes of nails and the whiff of WD40 but totally devoid of customers.
‘Did you say a quarter page?’
‘That depends on what you’ve got for me.’
‘It was all quiet first thing. Then I heard the sirens getting closer. The police got here first and then an ambulance bowled up so fast it nearly took out the squad car. Next thing I knew they had blocked the street.’
‘What about your people? Did they see anything?’
‘Young Betty said Madison’s was closed up when she went by, but she did hear shouting inside.’
‘Any idea who they were?’
‘That’s all I know.’
‘That’s a darned sight more than I got out of PC Plod over there.’
‘A quarter page it is then!’
Paul patted him on the shoulder. ‘I’ll get Rita to call you.’
They would be wondering where he’d got to by now, he thought, and perhaps they’d know more.
At the Risdon Echo office, Bert Harris looked up from his desk with a wry grin as Paul strode towards him.
‘Mr Sears as I live and breathe, it’s you. What kept you so long? The gaffer’s already been on the blower twice from Head Office. I’ve been stuck in here holding the fort. Rita’s not here yet.’
‘The High Street’s blocked off and an ambulance has taken someone away from Madison’s.’
‘What else did you see?’
‘A stony-faced PC and a grumpy ironmonger. Couldn’t get much out of either. It looks serious to me. Am I okay to go back out there?’
Bert got up and limped towards the kitchen. He had given Paul his break at the newspaper, sensing a good apple had grown on the Sears family tree. As Bert came back from the kitchen with tea, Sam’s secretary Rita burst through the door. Her ginger curls had been blown across her reddened face. She made her way up the office towards Bert, panting like a dog that’s walked too far on a hot day.
‘Have you seen outside? Had to walk half-way around the town to get here.’
‘Not easy on those heels is it lass? Get a list of advertisers, will you? Sam wants you to make some calls. And you’d better get back out there now lad. And get me the bloody story this time!’
Paul hot-footed it up the road. He could smell diesel fumes and disinfectant. He counted fifty steps in his head before reaching Hill’s newsagents. A stand outside on the pavement had headlines felt-tipped across it. “Icelandic Gunboat Attacks British Fishing Trawler.”
Inside, Fred Hill thumped down a pile of magazines onto the floor. The old man coughed as a cloud of dust filled his lungs.
‘Haven’t seen you for a while’ croaked Fred ‘what can I get for you?’
The old man grinned and pulled some chewing gum from a counter display. After he took his change Paul pointed up the street.
‘Don’t suppose you know what that’s all about?’
‘So that’s it, think you can buy me with a measly packet of Wrigley’s?’
‘You wouldn’t have papers to sell without the likes of me.’
Fred stroked the grey stubble on his chin. ‘Do you have a telly and radio at home?’
‘Yes we do.’
‘So you’ll be needing one of these too’ he said, handing him a Radio Times from the stack. Paul tucked it under his arm and pulled a five-pound note from his wallet.
‘Keep the change and tell me what you saw.’
‘Two coppers sprinting towards the Red Lion.’
‘They were shifting. Don’t know the one with the moustache who came in here either.’
Paul’s ears pricked up. ‘When was that then?’
Typical he thought, must have missed them by seconds. ‘What did he want?’
‘Warned me about thieves in the area. Said they were armed.’
Paul’s heart began to thump. ‘Who’s been hurt? Who was in the ambulance?’
‘He just asked if I’d seen two young guys this morning. Said they were wearing suits. One had a beard.’
‘And had you?’
‘They’d not been in here. Just the regulars this morning.’
‘Did he give you his name?’
Fred paused for thought. ‘Rushmore, no, wait a minute it was Rushcliff. Detective Inspector he said.’
Paul scribbled the name on the magazine cover and headed for the door.
The nearest phone box was outside the towering Ritz cinema. Paul called the police station and asked for DI Rushcliff. He was told by the switchboard that his extension was busy. He waited on the line, but was running out of coins fast, so he left his name and number. He sat on the steps outside the cinema to gather his thoughts. The Madison family was on his mind. Paul had a soft spot for Eric Madison. The café owner was the only friend he had on the town council. So, where next? If he headed to Sharp’s Menswear, he could pick up his wedding suit as well. Just nine more days to cross off the calendar and he’d have to break the news to her soon.
‘Have the police been here too?’ he asked the manager as he waited at the counter.
‘It was a bit like a scene from Z Cars when the Inspector walked in.’
‘Grilled you, did he?’
‘Wanted to know if we’d seen anyone in suits. That’s a joke isn’t it?’
‘And had you?’
‘Not the two guys he described, but we did hear something.’
‘What was that?’
‘A roaring engine, like a grand prix car. We ran to the door but all we saw was a flash of yellow and a puff of smoke.’
‘Did you get the make?’
‘It was too quick for that.’
Paul tucked his suit under his arm and strode with purpose up the High Street. Cops, robbers and a fast car, now he was getting somewhere.