Empty Places: Part Four of Six

By: Harlan Thoroughgood


This article originally ran as one feature. However, because of space limitations in reprinting these columns online, Harlan,Morgan and myself have re-edited them so that they appear in six consecutive parts.

In the modern world there are a lot of ways to track people down, but most people don’t know about them, because if they did it would put an end to the idea of an investigation involving someone doing actual leg-work. Generally, these days, most people can be tracked down thanks to the electoral register and a few phone calls. There are other ways, but this has usually worked for me.

However, there is one drawback to this approach, and it was the main problem with this part of what was becoming a genuine, pavement-pounding investigation: I did not have the name of either the young boy who was found savagely beaten in an alleyway by the police years before, or the name of the young girl who was sobbing over him, but who chose to remain silent.

No name meant that this was a trail without a beginning, never mind an end.

I was just pulling into a local convenience store car park when my mobile phone rang, which was a shock, as I had, a few hours earlier, explained to Rhea Walton that my phone was out of charge. Because I threw it into a pond.

“Hello?” I said, sure that it must be someone calling from beyond the grave to give me a lead on this story.

“You’re a dead man,” said Morgan. “What did I say about not dragging Thora’s name through the mud? She’s a professional muck-raker, for God’s sake, she gets plenty dirty enough by herself.”

“You would know,” I replied, smirking, safe in the knowledge Morgan couldn’t see me.

“Wipe that smirk off your face,” he responded. “I can hear it down the phone.”

“Morgan, everyone already knew,” I protested. “And we’ve got more important -”

“Everyone knew, but said nothing. Big difference, Harlan! Now they know everyone is talking about it, and they don’t want to lose out in the juicy gossip lotto. Do you know what the top prize for the juicy gossip lotto is, Harlan? They have an actual prize. An actual prize.

“What is it? You feed me something juicy and we can go halves.”

There was silence on the other end.

“Did you ring for an actual reason, or just to let off some steam? It’s hot here. I was about to buy some water. I’m feeling light-headed, Morgan.”

The silence continued for a beat.

Fine. I’ll hang up.


“We’ll split it three ways.”

“You and Thora can keep it. Tell me why you rang up!”

“I’ve got three things for you, and all of them are big news. Numero uno, Tolstoy Pennington is looking after the McCourt’s business interests, so be wary -”

“Oh, Speedy Gonzalez, thank you for saving me.”

“You have a run in?”

“He’s with the one person who could provide me with all the information I need.”

“Not quite. You remember you don’t like talking to the police?”

“It’s not that I don’t like talking to them, it’s that they kick people to -”

“Save it for the column, Soap-Box. I tracked down one of the officers who found the kids that night, but this is time sensitive because, well, politicians are looking to close the book on this one. Her name is Stella Wood, and the details are waiting in your email, so get over there, like, twenty minutes ago.”

“What is the third thing?”

“She didn’t tell me much over the phone, but she did tell me who could have destroyed the entire scene that morning, and was therefore a person of interest in their case.”

“Jimmy McCourt?”

“Nope. He was nowhere near there. He has a genuine alibi.”

“Who, then?”

It turns out I was half-right, after all: a lead.


Stella Wood lives in a run-down little council house. She works at a supermarket, now, having quit the police due to stress, two years earlier. She looks delicate from a distance, but up close you can tell she would be more than capable of dealing with an angry drunk. When she greeted me at the door, she eyed me up and down, sizing me up.


“That’s me,” I replied, with a friendly smile.

She didn’t return it, just stood aside and expected me to invite myself in.

I did. I don’t mess with the police when they are staring me in the face. Retired or otherwise.

Inside the house it was cool. She handed me a bottle of water.

“Your editor rang ahead,” she said, with a slight smile.

It set me at ease. I think the show at the door was just that: a show.

We sat down in her kitchen, at a small table in the narrow room. She poured herself a cup of tea, and offered me one despite the water. I declined it.

“You are probably wondering why I rang The Atlas,” she started. “I know us cops are supposed to all read The Post, hate immigrants, and love right-wing politics, but I got into it to help people out. That’s what got me booted out, okay? The stress of banging my head against a wall in the hopes that a few people would be better off. In truth, we just manage the stress, sometimes. Sometimes we’d do some real good, but you have a small period where you feel like nothing you do matters, and slowly the world warps around that belief, until your belief becomes the reality.”

“You want to talk about it?” I asked. She would talk to me. She just wanted to explain herself. It was the least I could do for her putting her neck in the noose like this.

She sighs, and looks like she might not for a moment, and then launches into it with gusto. “It was something easy. Something that shouldn’t have gone wrong. This woman reports her television has been stolen, and when we track it down, we find her son selling it. But her son then tells us that his mother told him to take it. He could get a good price for it, and she’d report it stolen to the insurance and get a new one. But, it was the fact that while we were running around looking for a television that was never stolen, this kid… This kid used to come up to us at the same time every day, as he left school, and ask us about our day being police. He said he wanted to be a policeman and catch criminals when he grew up. We are usually always there, but that day we were called elsewhere, and the other kids see his cop-friends aren’t there, and one pushes him. Nothing too serious, until the kid takes the wrong tumble and ends up with five stitches in his head. The next day, he just walked on by. I tried to say hello, but he put his head down and walked away. What was the point, when we get blamed for that?”

“Ibra Amin.”

She paused and looked at me. “That’s right.”

“My editor mentioned it to me. It’s not a story that stuck out, but the stories that don’t are often the ones that resonate most. The big stories… well, they are just too big to be real, aren’t they? A princess dies, a terrorist blows up some buildings, and we expect Bruce Willis himself to bring the culprits to justice. But something small, like Ibra Amin getting a few stitches, is something we all know, we all understand.”

She nodded a few times, lost in thought.

Then she handed me a slip of paper.

Before it was in my grasp, she had me held tight at the wrist, and stared me down across the table, so close I could feel the warmth of her breath on my face.

“You have to promise me something,” she said, even more serious than before.

I nodded.

“That is the name and address of the girl you are looking for. Her name is Carmen Watts. She never had a decent break in her life, and the only thing on her side at the moment is that no-one can get close to her and her boyfriend because he’s a dealer, and he loves her, and he knows all about this. He’s a decent kid in a bad situation, but he doesn’t see it is a bad situation. He thinks he’s living the dream. She feels safe with him around. The big, bad, drug-dealer.”

“What’s his name?”

“Reuben Roberts.”

“And what is it that I am supposed to promise?”

“You get her to tell you what she told him, and then you publish what she tells you. No. Matter. What.”

I thought for a second, and then looked her in the eye.

“What happened that night?”

She lets go of my hand, and looks a little confused for a moment. “You know, people spent so long telling me what to say about that night, no-one has asked me to tell them what happened. Well, no-one who wanted an honest answer.”

“Then tell me.”
Police Constable Stella Wood and her partner (unnamed by request) came across Carmen Watts and Bradley Newman in that dark alley, and immediately assumed he’d gotten into a fight he had little chance of walking away from. They called an ambulance, and while they were waiting, Stella’s partner tried to get Stella to talk. However, the only thing she kept repeating, over and over, between her sobs, was, “Just be quiet a few moments more.”

It was like a mantra.

“Just be quiet a few moments more… [sob]… Just be… [sob]… be quiet a few moments more… [sob]…”

At the time, they assumed she had been hiding when the fight had been going on. Carmen stood there, shaking in the cold night air, holding herself against the elements and the things that come out of empty places and hurt children.

Then, they went to the hospital, where they found marks around the penis and anus that made them think that there may have been some sort of sexual element to it.

But neither of them had been raped.

In fact, Carmen had been left alone. There wasn’t a single scar on the outside.

The inside, however, was another matter.

“Just be quiet…”


In movies, the villain has always been there since early on. They say that is what criminals do in real-life: they insert themselves into the investigation to feel smarter than everyone else, or relive the crime, or just because they are really awful at being a criminal and don’t think the genius detective with a one-hundred percent clearance rate won’t notice the several times a minute they slip up.

However, sometimes, in a world without Jessica Fletcher, or Adrian Monk, or Batman, we find that the criminal is not the irritating guy who has been rubbing our faces in it throughout the course of the investigation.

There were a few things that had begun to add up during the course of this investigation:

  1. The location where the crime took place was never found, but many of the buildings were torn down in the following few weeks.
  2. Carmen Watts was staying silent because of what had happened that night, not because of any external pressure.
  3. Jimmy McCourt was somehow involved in all of this.

All of which made me think about the name Morgan had told me earlier today:

Donal Kaye.

Donal Kaye, the business-genius whose renovation project breathed new life into a derelict area, and whose seminars since turning into a business-guru were selling well without him being a household name.

Donal Kaye, who gives inspirational talks about how he was abused by his father as a child, often in front of his sister, but overcame this, and rose to be a close personal friend of a great many influential people. Influential people with names like, “McCourt”.

Donal Kaye, who, in case you were missing the obvious, has a surname that can be reduced to one letter, seen on the telephone of Mike Walton the night he died:

The letter “K”.


To be continued…


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