Sins of the Father(6)

By: Hannah Howe


He shook his head then offered a smile of reassurance. The smile revealed yellow teeth, a legacy of years spent smoking. During one of our conversations, he’d confessed to his nicotine habit, then insisted that he hadn’t touched a cigarette for nearly twenty years. So an ex-nicotine addict, absolved of that sin.

“You know the worst of it,” he said, “just about.” Leaning back, he continued, “When I was into the robberies, I had a little gang, like you do when you’re a kid. Frankie Quinn was in my gang. We used to call him the Mighty Quinn, for obvious reasons. Anyway, Frankie was in my gang, a good blagger in his day. When I went straight, Frankie kept his hand in, you know what I mean, petty stuff mainly. The filth would pick him up from time to time, and he’d endure a spell in the cooler. Anyway, they released Frankie a week or so ago, but the word is he’s been fingered again and he’s looking at a long stretch. He’s about my age, mid-sixties, so a long stretch inside would kill him. The word is, he’s looking to cut a deal, spill the beans, provide evidence. Apparently, he’s a bit of an archivist, kept my old plans and notes; heaven knows why, maybe for insurance, maybe he’s a hoarder. But the fact is, he has the dirt on me and he’s looking to offer that dirt for his freedom. There are coppers on the force who are desperate to nail me. And if I go inside, at my age, it would kill me. I couldn’t face it, Princess; I’d top myself.”

I leaned forward, placed my elbows on my desk, eased my chin against my hands. I frowned then asked, “What do you want me to do?”

“Frankie’s crawled into the long grass. I want you to track him down. When you’ve tracked him down, I want you to tell me so that I can have a word with him.”

“A word?” I asked, arching my left eyebrow.

“I’m not looking to do a number on him, I promise,” Gawain said, sensing my suspicion. “I’m not looking to do anything that would get you in trouble. I just want a word, that’s all.”

“What would you say to him?” I asked.

“I’ve got his picture, with some of the lads in the pub.”

Ignoring my question, Gawain delved into his inside jacket pocket. He produced a photograph, creased with folded edges, and offered it to me. The photograph, maybe ten years old, depicted four middle-aged men, all grinning, all slightly inebriated. Despite the picture’s age, I recognized Gawain instantly, therefore there was a good chance I’d recognize Frankie Quinn.

“I just want to set the record straight,” Gawain explained, “remind him of better days, of the times I pulled his neck out of the noose, appeal to his better nature.”

Gawain pointed at the photograph, at a man standing to my father’s right, with an arm around his neck. It seemed fair to assume that that man was Frankie Quinn.

“Frankie’s not a bad man,” Gawain said. “Okay, he’s crooked, but he must be feeling the heat if he’s going to turn grass. After all, he’s had the opportunity, but never done it before.”

I took hold of, and studied, the photograph. Over the past seven years, searching for missing persons had become a staple task for my agency. I’d located many people, though a handful had eluded me. I could look for, and possibly find, Frankie Quinn. But would that increase Gawain’s troubles? Would my actions place my career and myself at risk? He was my father, after all, and although I had my doubts, I concluded that I had to trust him; I had to respond to his cry for help.

Gawain shuffled forward. He perched on the edge of my client’s chair. In earnest tones, he said, “I know you don’t owe me, Princess; in fact, I owe you. I’ve been a bad father, I know that. But give me a chance, give me a break and I will repay you, not only with money, but with love and my time, I promise.”

Tears threatened to well up in my eyes, so I blinked and asked, “Where should I start?”

“A mutual friend, another gang member, Stan Livingstone.” Gawain pointed at Stan, who was standing to my father’s left; the fourth man in the photograph remained a mystery to me but, for now, I let that pass. “That’s Stan there, the fella with the cheesy grin. Stan’s straight now, runs an ice-cream business at Barry Island.”