Under The Bridge- Buy it now!

CHAPTER ONE

MICHAEL

The bone poked out of the mud and into Michael’s life.

‘Whoa, stop, stop!’ Michael, the site caretaker, waved his hands above his head and shouted over the grinding diesel engine.

The digger emptied its load on a growing mound of damp earth, a strip of blue tarpaulin hanging from its scoop. The bone disappeared, reburied immediately. But Michael knew he had seen it and started digging through the soil, his fingernails becoming clogged and his hands cold as he dug deeper.

‘What’s up?’ The driver killed the engine and climbed down from the cab.

‘I saw a bone.’ Michael was determined to find it now.

The drizzle came in waves, sweeping in from the Mersey and across the building site, leaving dew drops on everything it touched.

The foreman shouted, ‘Why you stop?’

‘Paddy ‘ere reckons he saw summat,’ said the JCB driver.

‘Michael, what you see? Why you stopping job?’ Istvan turned to the driver. ‘Get back on machine.’

Michael’s fingers dug through the congealing mud to reveal a hard, brown shape. ‘Here it is.’

‘Fucking dog bone. Get back to work.’

Michael ignored him and pulled the earth aside to reveal a long shaft. ‘This is no dog bone—this is a man’s.’ He looked round as other workers gathered. ‘Check the trench to see what else we got down there,’ he said.

‘Who you think you are, CSI? You are caretaker—get back in shed.’

The driver joined Michael. He grabbed a shovel and jumped down into the shallow trench. ‘Here, this is where it come from.’

He scraped away the soil as a growing band of workers watched.

Istvan was losing control of the situation. Flashes of blue appeared in the ground, and the driver bent and tugged at the plastic sheeting. Another worker joined him, and they began to prise free the plastic, pulling and tearing it.

‘Careful there.’ Istvan leaned forward, now as intent as everyone else.

The site was quiet as work stopped, and people gathered around. There was something there, wrapped in plastic sheeting. ‘That’s enough, back to work, everyone,’ Istvan ordered in vain.

‘Go on, lads,’ Michael urged.

He wanted to see what was there. If it was human, Christ. This was Raglan Street—he knew this street. This is where the builders’ yard was back in the day.

The two men in the trench climbed out. Leaning back in, they wiped away the loose soil and got a grip of the tarpaulin from each side and heaved. There was a ripping sound, and both men fell backwards as a cloud of soil exploded into the air, a mud-covered skull in its midst.

‘Bingo,’ shouted Michael.

Under The Bridge the novel set in Speke and Garston is now available for pre-order in ebook (Kindle & EPUB) and paperback. Publishing 18th Feb 21.

Kindle – http://ow.ly/rL4T50CNBKg

Ebook – http://ow.ly/atft50CNBKe

Paperback – http://ow.ly/F0Wd50CNBKf




CHAPTER TWO

VINNY

Vinny reached for his phone. Bollocks. Twenty minutes to get there. He couldn’t afford to be late, not today. Today, everything holding him back would end. A son he never saw, an average history degree, and part-time work in a crappy shoe shop, all of which had reduced his finances and his reserves of optimism to zero. His clothes were laid out: ironed jeans and a smart polo shirt. Not over-formal. He wasn’t a geek. He had debated a collar and tie but rejected it. He was dressed and out in ten.

Panic and hope were two butterflies that fluttered round in Vinny’s stomach as he cycled along the busy streets of Liverpool, rehearsing his lines in this audition for life. He dodged and weaved through the mid-morning traffic. Sweating, he pushed himself up the wide spare avenues of Toxteth until he reached the narrow, crowded streets around the University. He had done his preparation; he knew his arguments. He didn’t want to mess this up. The building he was heading for wasn’t among the lifeless concrete structures or the new steel and glass blocks. As he flew along the pavement of Hope Street, he could see his destination—the glorious red brick creation poking out behind the modern funnel-shaped Catholic cathedral.

He dismounted, patted down his wavy brown hair, and smoothed out his jeans. As he was bending to lock his bike to the street barrier, a tall, dark-skinned woman approached him.

‘Can I give you a flyer?’ Her accent was broad, rich, and not local.

Vinny looked into her bright eyes. She wore a multi-coloured band around the black hair that topped her slim face and sharp features.

‘Sure.’ He took the leaflet.

‘Do you work for the University?’ She was advancing, clipboard in hand.

‘No.’ He didn’t want to get into a discussion.

‘A student?’

She was persistent, he would give her that.

‘No. Look. Sorry, but I’ve got to get inside.’ He was moving away from her as he said this.

‘The student union supports us,’ she declared.

‘I have to go.’

He didn’t wait for a reply. He scanned the leaflet as he edged his way through other campaigners and took the three steps into the building. Justice for Cleaners. He did something he would never have done if Anne were with him. He scrunched up the leaflet and tossed it in a waste bin just inside the double doors. He checked his phone. Bang on time.

Vinny walked through the high arched main entrance into a wide atrium and felt the cool air on his face. The contrast between the busy street outside and the cathedral-like interior was immediate. Wow, he thought, this is where I belong. He looked up to the richly decorated ceiling rectangles of deep blue with red and gold borders. The wide-open space below had a polished floor, and blood-red ceramic tiles covered the walls up to the first-floor level. Not an easy place to clean, he realised, thinking of the ‘‘Justice for Cleaners’’ woman. A heavy balustrade ran round a first-floor gallery supported by columns dressed in the same deep red tiles. He scanned the room list of plastic letters and numbers on a brass stand. He found her. Dr A Sheehan, room 4B.

The brass nameplate shone yellow-gold with age. Tiny, almost invisible swirls indicated years of assiduous polishing. Vinny knocked lightly and waited before inching the door open. The heavy oak door swung too easily on its hinges, opening faster than he’d intended.

The first thing he saw was a crucifix. The body hung heavily with arms outstretched, sinews and muscles strained, a crown of thorns with sharp points sticking out at the world or embedded in the skull of the drooping head. Rivulets of deep red blood were streaking down the pained, angular face. Fuck, Vinny thought.

‘Yes?’ someone from within called out.

He opened the door wider. ‘Sorry, Sheehan? Professor Sheehan?’

The woman behind the oak desk looked busy, distant, turning away from the computer screen to face him. ‘Yes?’ She said again.

‘Vinny, Vincent Connolly. I have an appointment.’

‘Ah, come in, Mr Connolly.’ She checked her wristwatch and smiled.

Entering the room, he closed the door behind him and made his way over the carpeted floor to the chair facing the broad oak desk.

‘I’m sorry, forgive me. I get so carried away at times. Is it Vincent?’ She asked, pushing her glasses high on her head—they balanced precariously on her bunched-up hair.

‘Yes. It’s Vincent.’He hoped the formality would equate with gravitas. He took a deep breath to try and settle himself, and sat upright, leaning slightly forward.

‘So, Vincent.’ She started looking through papers on her desk. ‘How can I help you?’

‘I raised the idea of investigating Irish immigration to the UK after the Second World War. I have the emails here.’ He rifled through his bag.

‘Ah, yes, that Mr Vincent Connolly. No need…’ With a wave of the hand, she released him from his search. ‘I remember.’ She smiled, leaning back in her chair, her arms resting on the black leather.

On the shelf behind her head, he could see a number of her titles, including her most celebrated work, The Making of Modern Identity – A History of Liverpool.

Doctor Sheehan’s voice was soft and melodic. He couldn’t quite work out the accent. ‘Go on. I’m listening.’

Vinny took a breath and launched into his practised spiel. ‘There is a wealth of material available from the 1840s and ‘50s on the effects and consequences of the famine and mass emigration from Ireland. There has, however, been very little research on the scale and impact of changes since then. Everything seems to stop around World War Two. Some of the largest changes in the structure of Liverpool have been since that period: the slum clearances, the building of new housing developments on the edge of the city. This was all happening when there was a shortage of labour. This shortage was partly filled by returning troops, but it also required an influx of Irish workers.’

‘Okay, that’s a fair point, and although I think some people are beginning to look into this, you are correct; it’s an under-researched area. Can I ask what your interest in this is? Are you Irish?’

Vinny allowed himself to relax back against the chair. ‘No personal interest,’ he said. ‘I just think it’s an area rich in potential. It’s a period when a lot was going on. The city was changing, not only geographically, but culturally. It’s also when the Scouse identity was being developed.’

‘Connolly is an Irish name, isn’t it?’ She asked.

‘I guess so, but I was born here,’ Vinny said.

‘So, you are English, Irish, and Scouse?’ She asked.

Vinny thought for a moment. He had never heard it put that way before. ‘Does it matter?’ He asked.

‘Not to me,’ she replied. ‘But you may find it does to you.’

Under The Bridge the novel set in Speke and Garston is now available for pre-order in ebook (Kindle & EPUB) and paperback. Publishing 18th Feb 21.

Kindle – http://ow.ly/rL4T50CNBKg

Ebook – http://ow.ly/atft50CNBKe

Paperback – http://ow.ly/F0Wd50CNBKf




CHAPTER THREE

ANNE

Anne was hunched over her keyboard, entering website subscriber details into the advertising database. A simple software fix would automatically transfer this information, but someone thought it was more useful to have a journalism graduate input the data one line at a time. She looked over the open-plan office at her colleagues, who were working hard to produce a daily city newspaper in an industry that was dying on its feet. Everyone knew sales were declining every year, and yet, here they were, like Canute trying to turn back the tide.

‘Anne!’ The shout came from her immediate boss, Anthony.

She was quick to respond, rising from her desk.

‘Here, have a look.’ Anthony was well into his forties with a receding hairline and pot-belly; he would be perfect in a chart showing the seven ages of man, just before the figure of the hunched and bald old man with a walking stick. She scanned the copy that he shoved at her.

PRESS RELEASE.

Merseyside Police Press Statement. 10.06.2004

Merseyside Police were informed of what appeared to be human remains discovered during building work in Liverpool 19.

Scene of Crime Officers and forensic experts have recovered the remains that are believed to be an adult male. They were discovered early on Monday morning and have been removed to the Merseyside Police Laboratory for further inspection.

Police are working with the construction company and the local community in an attempt to establish the identity of the individual concerned.

Further details will be announced in due course.

‘Where’s L19?’ Like most city dwellers, Anne knew her area and the centre. Apart from this, the rest of the city had been largely unknown to her until she’d joined The Chronicle.

‘You should know that—part of your extensive knowledge of your home city.’ He grinned.

She liked Anthony and knew he liked her. ‘Aha…actually, I think I do know. It’s Garston.’

‘Are you sure?’ His swivel chair was not only swivelling but also swaying from side to side; he smiled.

‘Yeah. I’ve been transcribing these addresses into the database all morning.’ She tried not to sound too frustrated.

‘You see…God’s plan in all its glory…and what’s the date today?’

‘The 12th, isn’t it?’ She always had the feeling he was toying with her.

‘That’s right, and what happens on the 12th of July?’

Anne’s face scrunched. ‘Oh, bloody hell, it’s the Orange Lodge.’ She was mad at herself. How could he respect her if she didn’t show initiative?

‘Bingo. The celebration of all things Protestant and orange. Primarily William of Orange—’

‘Who defeated King James in the Battle of the Boyne in 1690,’ Anne added.

Anthony finished the verbal ping-pong. ‘And proved beyond doubt the superiority of the men in bowler hats over the bog-trotting Irish Catholics. We’ve got Phil down at Lime Street station taking photos. Can you go and get some quotes and details?’

‘Phil?’

‘Phil the cot, the photographer.’ Anthony was smiling.

She knew he was waiting for her to ask.

‘Yeah. Yeah, I’m on it.’ Anne ignored the nickname.

‘And do you fancy this one?’ he asked, pointing to the press release in her hand.

Her heart jumped a little in excitement. ‘Really?’

‘Yeah, sort yourself out, get down there and see what you can find out. A hundred and fifty words for tomorrow’s edition.’

‘You got it.’ Smiling, she turned to her desk, stopped, and asked, ‘Phil the cot?’

‘I knew you couldn’t resist. He’s got five kids.’

‘Oh. Hilarious,’ Anne declared.

It was a thirty-minute drive, and Anne wanted time to look around. Getting through town was easy enough. She could go along the dock road toward the south of the city. She knew the area vaguely: it was near the new airport, where they had built the out-of-town shopping park. Garston and Speke had always been places she drove through on the way out of Liverpool—always on the way to somewhere else, but never a destination in themselves. At least, not until they moved John Lennon Airport terminal and built the shopping village.

She drove past the terraced streets of the Dingle, down through the leafier and more affluent Aigburth, with its cricket ground and fake Tudor buildings, and beyond to Garston. A new bypass that skirted what was called ‘‘The Village’’ had been completed in the ’90s. On the bypass, traffic sped by without a sideways glance at the once thriving centre of Garston. She turned onto St Mary’s Road and drove into the village. A lot of the shop fronts were boarded up, streets of terraced houses running off each side. Halfway, she was shocked to see a burnt-out building. At the bottom, she turned right under the railway bridge.

Anne always knew when she was outside Liverpool 8. She was more aware. Her senses heightened, always the feeling of going back in time. Her unease increased as she drove Under the Bridge. She carried straight on past the red brownstone of St Michaels. A rail line ran along to her right, and she could see the embankment through the gaps in the demolished buildings. She noticed a taxi office and chip shop, the only two surviving businesses in the row of around ten buildings. An advertising hoarding between two derelict buildings announced, ‘Speke Garston Partnership. Investing in our future.’

Not sure where to go next, Anne realised she was facing the docks. All this was new to her, though at school, she had been teased she had ‘‘come off the banana boats.’’

She parked at the kerb and walked up to the metal gates. She could see through the chain-link fencing on the right-hand side. The docks looked deserted, the grey-brown water still and murky. Old cranes and winches dotted the concrete sides. Behind them were rail tracks and metal sheds. Looking out beyond the dockside, she could see the river. It was weird for her; she knew her father had come through this dock, or one just like it further up the Mersey. It must have been strange for him entering the city—a spectre of greys and browns, metal and concrete, after the lush greens and blues of the Caribbean.

She walked along, and a few minutes later, she reached the main entrance of the site on Banks Road where a sign indicated the office. Anne lifted the unlocked padlock, released the latch, and pushed the makeshift door. It swung heavily, scratching against the ground inside. A small hut, like a garden shed, stood just inside on her left. Straight ahead, she saw a mound of earth and a couple of diggers, their arms and claws resting and their cabs empty. Over in the far corner stood a white tent with police tape stretched over metal rails stuck in the ground.

Anne slipped slightly. She looked down, realisation growing that a body had decomposed in the mud, which was now sticking to her shoes.

She poked her head into the shed on her left. The man inside looked over his newspaper.

‘Hi. I’m looking for the foreman.’ She checked the phone in her hand. ‘Stan Fogel?’

The voice carried a familiar Irish lilt. ‘I know who he is, but who wants him?’ he asked as he folded his newspaper.

‘Tell him it’s Anne McCarthy from The Chronicle.’

He had a face like a prune, all shriveled up. ‘Oh, right. Yeah, sure.’ His facial lines decreased. ‘It’ll be about the bones, will it?’

‘The bones?’

‘Oh aye, nothing else going on here. We have to get the okay from the police before we can start again. Not too happy he isn’t, yer man there. Come in,’ he said. ‘You’ve to sign in.’

Anne signed her name in the logbook, finishing with the time and date: 9.32am, 12th July 2004. Her eyes scanned the notices and warnings on the wall. ‘Does all that apply to me?’

‘’Fraid so, love. But we’ve got a hi-vis and hat here. No boots, though.’

‘Seriously? Boots?’ she asked.

‘Hold on. I’ll get Stan on the radio.’ He peered over the counter as he spoke through the radio crackle. ‘He’ll be over in a few minutes. He’s on a call. McCarthy…Irish, is it?’

‘Yeah, in a roundabout way. Let’s say Irish via Barbados.’ She smiled.

‘Oh, well, it sounds warmer than Irish via Wicklow.’

Anne liked him. ‘So, about these bones, then?’ She pulled her notebook out of her bag. Her main fear was getting an important fact wrong. It was something that kept her awake at night.

‘I’m sure the boss will want to tell you all about that,’ he said, before carrying on. ‘It was on Monday, the day before last. The cops have been and gone now. Didn’t get anything else, just the bones. They had a couple of guys in the white suits and that, searching through the muck. But they gave up after a couple of hours. It was me that found them.’

Anne tried to look impressed. ‘You found the bones?’

‘Oh, aye. They were all brown and broken like, wrapped in plastic. Well, some were broke. But them scoops on those diggers are not too delicate, if you know what I mean?’

‘Yeah, of course. Did you hear anyone say anything about the cause of death?’

‘Oh, no.’ He looked shocked. ‘They wouldn’t tell me a thing like that.’

He looked at the ceiling as if deep in thought for a minute and then said, ‘Although I don’t suppose the big fuckin’ hole in the head would have done him any good.’

Anne’s heart skipped a beat. ‘Him? You said, ‘‘him’’?’

‘Yeah, well, I saw him coming out, didn’t I? I knew it was a man from the off.’

‘How did you know?’ It was a stupid question, and she knew it.

‘’Ow, he was an ugly fucker all right. Those big eye holes and half his teeth missing.’

‘So, it was a skeleton, not a corpse?’ She tried to clarify.

‘Yeah, like I said—bones—but such an ugly skull. I’m telling ya must’ve been a bloke. Came flying through the air, it did.’

She didn’t understand his last comment and assumed she’d misheard.

‘That’s me.’ Anne handed him her card.

He handled it with care before opening his jacket and putting it in the chest pocket of his shirt.

‘And you are?’ she asked.

A voice from behind her broke in. ‘You don’t want to know him, believe me.’ It was a strong voice with a guttural accent.

Spinning around, she held out her hand. ‘Anne McCarthy, Liverpool Chronicle.’

He ignored her hand.

The caretaker shook his paper open in a clear sign of disapproval.

‘Stan? Are you Stan Fogel?’ Anne asked.

‘Istvan, Istvan Fogel.’

He didn’t seem upset by the mispronunciation. Anne thought he was probably used to it. ‘Sorry. I was told it was Stan.’

‘No problem, all the time, it happens.’ He nodded in the other man’s direction.

Istvan indicated for her to follow. Once outside the hut, he turned to face her. He was well-built, with a rugged face, stubble, and thick eyebrows turning to grey. He wore heavy boots, jeans, a bomber jacket, and—seeming out of place—a collar and tie.

‘Sorry for the old man. Just two years left, then…’ He made a downward motion with his thumb.

A look of concern crossed Anne’s face.

Istvan saw her reaction. ‘No, I mean he’s sixty-eight—he’ll be retiring…not dying.’

Anne smiled, embarrassed. ‘Oh, right.’

‘Sorry, I can’t tell anything. The police have told me not to be speaking.’

‘We got a report about a body.’ Anne corrected herself. ‘A skeleton. Found here?’ She left the question hanging in the silence a moment before she continued. ‘Look, I’m not stupid. I can see the police tape; the site is empty. Come on, it doesn’t take a genius to work out something is going on.’

‘I’m sorry, I must say nothing. The police, you know.’

‘That means the bones must be fairly recent, not from antiquity…’

‘Not from where?’

‘Not ancient. They must be modern. The bones,’ Anne said.

‘I don’t know.’ He produced a card. ‘Here, talk to him.’

The card held the details of a Detective Sergeant David Cooper, Merseyside Police.

‘Okay. Thanks.’

‘Sorry, but I need ask you to leave.’ He put his head back in the shed. ‘Mike, you make sure the lady leaves.’

He gave her a shrug, turned, and walked off toward a Portakabin directly behind the shed.

‘Look on the bright side,’ said Mike, appearing next to her.

‘And what’s that?’ asked Anne.

‘You won’t be needing those boots now, will ya?’ His broad smile showed missing teeth.

Anne slipped her notebook back into her bag and walked to the badly hung gate, opening it. She stepped outside. Michael turned, about to head back.

‘Mike, isn’t it?’ she asked.

He turned round. ‘It is. Michael. M-I-C-H-A-E-L, in case you want to write it down.’

She didn’t make a note of it. ‘Would you let a young woman buy you a pint?’

Michael smiled. ‘Ooh, now, that’s an idea.’

Kindle – http://ow.ly/rL4T50CNBKg

Ebook – http://ow.ly/atft50CNBKe

Paperback – http://ow.ly/F0Wd50CNBKf







Published by jackbyrnewriter

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