Yorkshire Times
A Voice of the Free Press
Duncan Johnstone
Literary Correspondent
10:21 AM 18th November 2023

Sheila In Danger Again - Part 1

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James Grant was awoken from a deep sleep by the strident ringing of the telephone beside his bed. Rousing himself he remembered what had happened the previous night - or rather earlier that morning. He had discovered the whereabouts of his assistant Sheila and, with some assistance from Eric, had broken into the house where she had been taken prisoner and, after a scuffle, successfully rescued her. He had then taken her to the house which she shared with her brother John. Knowing that John worked mostly from home and so would be able to look after her, he left her in his keeping.

Then he had returned to his flat, above his Consulting Rooms, taken off his shoes and coat, and collapsed onto the bed. In moments he was asleep.

He looked at his watch. It was mid-morning. He was still lying on his bed, fully clothed. He shook himself awake and picked up the phone. It was Sheila.

“Don’t think of coming in today” were his first words.

“No. Don’t worry. I’m not. But I thought you ought to know something that I heard while they were keeping me a prisoner. It concerns the diaries they were so concerned to get hold of.”

“Yes. I remember.”

“Well. They thought I was unconscious and didn’t realise I heard much of what they were saying. The one key point was this - ‘We must get those diaries - but only one really matters. The one with a silver cover which includes the entries for February - specifically 14th February.’”

“Thanks, Sheila. I’ll look into it. Now you get some rest and don’t worry about anything for a few days.”

“That is easier said than done - but I’ll do my best.” And with that she rang off.

James was now sitting on the edge of his bed. The first thing was to get a shower and a change of clothes and try to get back into the real world again!

Half an hour later he was sitting in his office and preparing to look for the diary Sheila had mentioned. It was one among a collection of diaries that they had come by following the death of Selma Welby. The girl had acted very strangely, seeming to move from one personality to another. Now it was becoming clearer why she had been so strange.

Before the recent events James had forgotten all about the diaries. Now he had to remember where they had been filed. Sheila would have done this with her usual efficiency. He duly found them in a file she had entitled “The Welby Case”.

There were a fair number there - mostly in school exercise books. He found three with silver covers - but only one for the period which included February.

He flicked through the pages until he came to the entry for February 14th. Selma’s writing was difficult to decipher, but after several minutes, he thought he had got the basic point. She had written -

“It’s at the speed dating sessions that they get them!”

That seemed to be the main thing. But to what did it refer? Who were “they” ? Who were “them”? Where did it happen? As he pondered his eye lighted on the framed verse on his desk - the words of Rudyard Kipling that he kept constantly in mind -

I keep six honest serving men
(They taught me all I know);
There names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

Several of these questions needed an answer now! What was clear was that the event in question took place on Valentine’s Day (Should he send Sheila a card?) - less than a fortnight away, James realised as he looked at his calendar. But where?

One man who might know was his old friend Detective Inspector Peter Foster. No time like the present. He picked up the phone and called the local police station.

“Can I speak to D.I. Foster please?” After explaining who he was, he was put through.

“Hello Peter. It’s James here. I wonder if you could help me?” He read the words Selma had written. “Do you know where this place is?

“Yes” came the assured reply. “Somewhat dubious joint called The Palace - in Dodge Street. My officers refer to it as ‘Dodgy Street’, so you get the picture.”

“Thanks”, said James, and put the phone down.

James had not limited his search to the particular diary covering 14th February, but had taken a few hours to go through them all. Some entries were what might be expected in a young woman’s diary -although many seemed to have a darkness about them. Others were more revealing.

From what he had read, and some previous knowledge he had pretty well established the following -

Selma was not the natural daughter of the Welbys but had been adopted (or possibly fostered) from her early teens.

She had been the object of sexual abuse - initially from her adoptive ‘father’ - and then from other men who would visit the house. This had begun when she was in her mid-teens, and went a long way to explaining her strange behaviour leading to her apparent split personality.

She was not the only person being abused, but her home seemed to have been a centre for contacting and abducting young girls. Some of these were hawked around the country. Others disappeared altogether.

Among the places where these girls were ‘recruited’ was The Palace where drunkenness made it easy for them to be deceived and then kidnapped.

He decided to let Sheila know what he had learnt. She would be curious about what the diary entry had said.

He dialled her number and reported his findings to date.

“So what is your next move?”

“I’ll contrive to get to the dating session somehow and see what I can discover. From what I could make out from other entries in the diary it would seem that there is a trafficking gang who kidnap girls and sell them on for - well, you can probably guess. I think Selina must have been a victim in some way. She wasn't related to the Welbys in fact.”

“How about”, said Sheia, “that I should go to the dating evening and see if they will pick on me. You could then follow up from there.”

“Certainly not! Anyway, you are supposed to be convalescing.”

“It’s a couple of weeks away yet. I’ll be more than ready for action then.”

“But I don’t intend to put you at any further risk.”

“Well”, replied Sheila, “that’s what I’ll do. It is up to you whether you decide to look out for me!!”

James put the phone down. Why had he been so stupid as to tell her what he’d read!?

This created a fresh challenge. He knew he wouldn’t be able to change Sheila’s mind - but he couldn’t let her walk into danger on her own. He would need to be nearby to see what, if anything, happened. And he would need some help, too. Contact Eric.

As James awaited 14th February, and as the date drew ever nearer, he became more tense. What if anything did go wrong? What if Sheila was taken? What if he and Eric (who had readily agreed to accompany him) messed up in some way?

At last the much anticipated, and much feared, day came.

Sheila had found her own way to The Palace and been warmly welcomed to join the group of young people facing one another across a long table. She noticed that some of the girls were drinking with a couple of men prior to taking their place in the line. She got up and went over. Were they trying to get them drunk? They’d be looking for the prettiest girls and Sheila, while not conceited about her looks, realised that men found her attractive. If she could get in with these drinkers there might be something to learn. The main problem was to appear to drink a lot while not doing so, for she knew that it was the aim of the traffickers, if these two men were they, to get girls drunk and make it easier to offer them a lift home. A home they would never see again.

It didn’t take long for the men in question to notice Sheila. Even before the official ‘dating’ sessions across the table had begun, these men were on the lookout for possible victims. Sheila was perfect. And she played up to the role, pretending to be a rather silly girl who readily accepted drinks from strange men! She managed to spill or otherwise dispose of much of the alcohol she was brought, but could not completely avoid it. What at first was a pretence was in danger of becoming reality as she was offered yet more drink. She needed to do something. She briefly excused herself to go to the ‘ladies’ where she forced herself to be sick. However, she still felt a little unsteady.

Meanwhile James and Eric were sitting in an inconspicuous car in the pub's park. James was very worried. He had several times tried to dissuade Sheila from her intended course of action, but without success. He had decided to share his findings with Peter who was more than willing to assist. Much of what James had told him he already knew, but now there seemed to be an opportunity to catch at least some of the traffickers red handed. Thus, in another part of the park, Peter and another officer waited in an unmarked police car.

Inside Sheila, and another girl who truly was drunk, were being offered lifts home to ensure their safety! They accepted and the two men each took one of the girls by the arm and went to the door - but not the main door but rather a side entrance not generally used by the public.

Meanwhile James and Eric waited, as did Peter and his companion unaware that Sheila and the other girl had gone.

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