Ghost Virus: Chapter 11


Jerry bought himself a cup of black coffee from the coffee machine before he went down to the interview room. The young man who had been trapped in the charity box was bent over the table with his forehead resting on his hands. DC Derek Willis was sitting opposite him, reading through the incident report, and moving his lips while he did so. A uniformed constable sat in the far corner with his arms folded, yawning from time to time.

Derek Willis was a large overweight man in his early forties, with a short grey buzzcut and a roughly hewn head that resembled a half-finished granite sculpture. He was wearing a grey suit as tight as a sausage-skin and his neck bulged over his shirt collar. Jerry had worked with Derek on three or four cases, and while he wasn’t at all imaginative, he was thorough to the point of being obsessive. In fact his fellow officers called him ‘OCD Willis’.

When Jerry drew out a chair, Derek dropped the incident report onto the table and said, ‘Ah, Pardoe. You know this young chap already, I gather.’

‘We’ve talked,’ said Jerry. ‘This is the first time I’ve met him face-to-face.’

The young man looked up, too. His face was dead white and foxy-looking, and his hair stuck up. He wore a silver stud earring and he was covered in tattoos, all the way up to his neck. In appearance, he reminded Jerry of Sid Vicious, and he gave off the same air of rebellious vulnerability.

‘They got you out of there, then?’ said Jerry. ‘I would have let you stay there for a week or two, and just fed you on salt-and-vinegar crisps and corned-beef sandwiches.’

‘That ain’t funny,’ the young man retorted.

‘It wasn’t meant to be. The only funny thing about it was you getting yourself stuck. I mean, that was hilarious.’

‘For the record, son, can you confirm your name?’ said Derek, although he had all of the young man’s personal details on the incident report right in front of him.

‘Billy. Billy Jenkins.’

‘Address?’

‘Number eight, Dewar House, Tooting Grove.’

‘How old are you, Billy?’

‘I was seventeen in June.’

Jerry sipped his coffee, staring intently at Billy all the time. Then he said, ‘Didn’t you realise you were going to get stuck in that charity box? There’s even a warning notice on the outside, saying don’t attempt to climb inside.’

Billy shrugged. He started scratching the back of his left hand, and then his skinny bare arm.

‘What’s the matter, Billy?’ asked Derek. ‘Got the itch, have you?’

‘I could do with some stuff, man. I’m feeling really pukish.’

‘What kind of stuff?’

‘Anything.’

‘What are you on? Crystal meth? Coke? Or just good old common-or-garden smack?’

Billy looked at Jerry appealingly, and said, ‘Cheese, mostly. But anything. Otherwise I’m going to throw up, man, honest.’

Cheese was a mixture of heroin and Benylin cough mixture. Jerry had seen a lot of it around lately, especially in schools. It was highly addictive, but it did tend to make its users vomit.

‘That’s all right,’ said Derek. ‘I can call for a bucket if you really need it.’

‘Please,’ said Billy. ‘Just one hit to stop me from itching.’

‘Well, answer me some questions first, and then we’ll see what we can do. To begin with, were you trying to rob that charity box off your own bat, or did somebody tell you to do it?’

Billy shook his head. His nose was running and some clear snot was flung across his cheek. Derek reached across for the box of tissues which they always kept in the interview room.

‘Here, blow your nose. And answer my question. Somebody told you to do it, didn’t they?’

‘No, but I needed the money.’

‘What for?’

‘To pay off my debt, man. I’m so deep in the shit it’s untrue.’

‘How much?’

‘Three hundred quid.’

‘For cheese? Is that it?’

‘Most of it, yeah. Some of it just for food and bus fare and stuff.’

‘Who do you owe it to? All the same person or more than one?’

‘About fifty quid to my girlfriend. The rest to somebody else.’

‘Somebody else?’ asked Jerry. ‘Somebody else like who?’

Again, Billy shook his head, and kept on shaking it. ‘I can’t tell you, man – I can’t! If I tell you, he’ll fucking kill me for being a snitch. Either that or cut my fucking tongue out. He’s done it before, I know he has.’

‘Never mind,’ said Jerry. ‘I believe I know who you’re talking about. It’s Jokubas Liepa, isn’t it? Liepa the Weeper, they call him, don’t they, because he always pretends to cry when he’s doing something really nasty to someone, like nailing their balls to the kitchen chair they’re sitting in.’

‘I’m not saying nothing.’

‘It was him, though, wasn’t it? Who else would accept second-hand clothes in payment for a drug debt? The Weeper’s the only man who’s got the organisation to turn second-hand clothes into cash.’

‘I need some stuff, man. I mean it. I’m dying here.’

‘I’ll see what I can do. But it was Liepa, wasn’t it, who sent you after those clothes?’

‘He didn’t tell me to do it. I was just walking past and I saw this woman shoving shoes and sweaters and all kinds of good stuff into that box, and I decided to give it a go. I’ve done it loads of times before and I’ve never had no trouble – never.’

‘You must be aware, though, that they’ve adapted almost all of the charity boxes lately,’ said Derek. ‘Once you’re inside, son, there’s no way that you can get yourself out. Not without a key, anyway.’

‘Didn’t you read the warning notice on the side?’ put in Jerry. ‘You can read, can’t you?’

‘Course I can fucking read. I come second in English, at school. Mind you, the rest of the class was all Pakis.’

‘Let’s try to be ethnically inclusive, shall we?’ said Derek.

Billy hesitated for a moment, biting at his thumbnail. Jerry had the feeling that he was going to come out with more, so he said nothing and waited.

Eventually, Billy said, ‘This is going to sound like I’m off my nut or something.’

‘Go on,’ said Derek. ‘I’ll be the judge of that.’

‘It sounds cracked but I swear it’s true, and it weren’t the cheese or nothing.’

‘I’m listening.’

‘The reason I thought it was going to be OK to climb in there, right – the reason was, I heard somebody else inside it.’

‘You heard somebody else inside it?’

Billy nodded. ‘I don’t know what they was saying. It was more like singing than talking. Like a woman singing.’

‘So you thought – if there’s somebody else in there, it’s got to be OK to get out?’

Billy nodded again.

‘And you don’t think it was the cheese singing to you, or whatever other shit you’d been taking?’

‘I heard them, honest. I heard them as clear as I can hear you now. But it wasn’t even like proper singing. It was just “ooh-wooh-ooh”.’

‘But once you’d managed to climb inside, there was nobody there?’

‘No. I was the only one in there.’

‘So how do you account for hearing that voice?’ asked Jerry.

‘I can’t. But I swear on the Bible I heard it, and it wasn’t inside my head or nothing. It was inside the box.’

‘All right,’ said Jerry. ‘You thought you heard a voice singing or “ooh-wooh-oohing” or whatever inside the charity box. But even before you heard it, it was your specific intention to steal clothing and shoes so that you could take them to Jokubas Liepa as part-payment for the money you owed him for drugs?’

‘You won’t say nothing to Jokubas, will you? He’ll fucking kill me. Even if I’m in prison he’ll pay somebody to kill me.’

‘I’ll have to have a word with Inspector Callow,’ said Derek. ‘He may decide to let you off with a caution.’

‘If we do that, though, we might have to make some conditions,’ added Jerry. ‘We could well expect you to give us more information on the Weeper and how he’s running his business these days.’

‘I seriously need some stuff, man,’ said Billy. His white face was glossy with sweat now, as shiny as if it had been coated in clear varnish, and he was trembling and scratching and shuffling his feet and his nose was running again.

‘I’m afraid I’ll have to talk to Inspector Callow about that, too,’ Derek told him. Then he turned to the uniformed constable and said, ‘That’s it for now, thanks. Can you take him back to his cell? And give him a blanket. I think he could do with a little security, right now.’


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