Posted May 10, 2018
Hannah Shawcross jumped, spilling tea on her jeans as the doorbell rang. She swore under her breath as she got to her feet to fetch a tea towel from the kitchen area of her poky little flat. As she mopped at the damp patch on her jeans, the doorbell rang again. This time, it was accompanied by a hard knock on the door.
“Jesus,” Hannah muttered. “How big do they think this place is?” She walked into the tiny hallway, just large enough for a couple of coats to hang up by the door, and looked through the spy hole. When she saw the distorted faces of two men looking back at her, one of them in a police uniform, her heart fluttered in her chest. Hannah opened the door a couple of inches and peeped through the gap.
“Miss Shawcross?” The man without a uniform said, holding up a black leather wallet with a silver shield on it. He was dressed in a cheap looking suit with a barely ironed shirt and creased tie. “Are you Hannah Shawcross?” Hannah nodded in reply and opened the door.
“You’d better come in,” she said. Hannah knew deep down that they would be round at some point, but she had hoped that it would be a long time after she had disappeared.
She walked back into the lounge area and cleared some cushions off the sofa so that the policemen would have somewhere to sit down.
“Please, have a seat,” she gestured at the threadbare sofa. Both of them mumbled “thank you” as they sat down. Hannah sat on the remaining chair and watched as the policeman who had asked her name put some paperwork down on the coffee table between them. Even though it was upside down, Hannah could see the words ‘Arrest Warrant’ in bold letters on the topmost piece of paper. Underneath it was what looked like bills, and Hannah recognised the logos of credit card companies on some of the pages.
“So, Miss Shawcross,” the policeman in the suit said while his uniformed colleague just looked at Hannah with a blank stare. “I’m Detective Sergeant Bertrand, from Norfolk Police,” he nodded at his companion, “and this is Constable Turner.” The detective reminded Hannah of her brother. They were both about the same age — early thirties — and they both looked just ever so slightly worn about the edges. “We need to talk to you about your neighbour, Jessica Huntley.”
“I know you do,” Hannah whispered. “I’ve been waiting for you to come round.” She paused for a second. “I just wasn’t sure when it would be.” Hannah glanced down at the arrest warrant and the credit card paperwork underneath them. “It started with the post,” she said in a low voice.
“I’m sorry, could you repeat that?” Detective Sergeant Bertrand said.
“I said, it started with the post,” Hannah said, looking at the policeman. Even his eyes were the same pale blue colour as her brother’s. She watched as he pulled a small black notebook from his pocket and opened it. He flicked through the pages until he found the one he wanted.
“We’ve got a record of disturbances between you and Miss Huntley that go back almost a year. But you’re saying it started with the post?”
“Well, the disturbances weren’t anything to do with the post.” Hannah nodded toward the arrest warrant. “But what you’re here for started with that, yes. I’d just had enough. If it wasn’t her bloody music it was something else. Like the string of losers constantly coming and going.” The detective’s eyebrows went up a notch. “I swear, she’s either dealing drugs or she’s on the game. Probably both.” Hannah crossed her arms over her chest as she said this. The detective didn’t reply. “I had to do something.” They sat in silence for a few seconds. The uniformed policeman, who still hadn’t said a word, shifted in his chair.
“So, the post?” the detective said, breaking the silence.
“Yeah,” Hannah’s voice was back to a whisper. “The postman put a bunch of Huntley’s post in my letterbox, see? There was an elastic band around it all.”
“What did you do with it?”
“I opened it.”
“Even though it wasn’t your mail?” Detective Sergeant Bertrand flipped to a fresh page in his notebook and scribbled something. Hannah just nodded in reply, knowing full well that the game was well and truly up.
“Yeah, I know it was wrong. But I had to do something. I mean, look at this place.” She waved her arms around to illustrate her flat. “Just look at it. It’s a shithole, but it’s all I can afford. I’m a cleaner, for God’s sake. Minimum wage.”
“What was in the post that you opened?” the detective asked.
“Bills, mostly. A few overdue ones as well, so it’s not just me struggling, is it?” Hannah had to fight to keep her voice stable. She could feel a lump in her throat but didn’t want to start crying in front of the policemen. What was done was done, as her mother always used to say.
“And what did you do with the bills?”
“I just hung on to them. But there was a bank card in there as well.”
“Right. You hung onto that as well, did you?” Hannah nodded and swallowed before replying.
“Then, a couple of days later, the PIN turned up and the instructions for online banking.” Hannah watched as the detective wrote it all down in his little notebook. “But I didn’t take anything out,” she continued. “I just changed a few details for the account, that was all.”
“What did you change?”
“The flat number. That was the only thing I changed.”
“So that all Miss Huntley’s post from the bank would then come to you?”
“Yeah,” Hannah said. “Can I go and get something from my bedroom? You might as well see all of it.”
“Go with her please, Turner,” the detective replied.
Hannah got to her feet, and followed by the silent policeman, walked to her bedroom to get the box file she’d been keeping everything in. For when she was ready. That day was never going to come though, Hannah knew that. She’d never been arrested before and started to wonder whether it would be like the crime dramas she enjoyed watching. Hannah could feel tears start to prick at the corners of her eyes, and she blinked them away.
When she walked back into the lounge, she put the box file on the table next to the arrest warrant and other paperwork. Opening it, she pulled out a sheaf of papers and handed them to the detective. The logos on top of some of the papers in the file matched those on top of the policeman’s paperwork. Barclaycard. MasterCard. Even the DVLA. Hannah sat back in the chair and waited as the detective flicked through the pile of paperwork. When he looked back up at Hannah, she saw his face had darkened.
“Exactly how much credit did you apply for in her name, Miss Shawcross?”
“About twenty grand, I think,” Hannah said in a small voice, hoping the policemen wouldn’t notice the lie. “It was easier than I thought it would be. I just got a bit carried away when I realised the bitch upstairs had a much better credit rating than I would ever have.”
Detective Sergeant Bertrand looked in the box file and shook it from side to side. The collection of plastic cards in the bottom of the box rattled, and he picked one of them up to examine it.
“A driving license?” he said, even though it was obvious that was what it was. Hannah nodded. “With your photograph and address, but in her name?”
“Yeah,” Hannah sighed. “I just ordered a form off the internet and sent it back with a new photo and a letter from the bank. With my address.”
“Why did you want a driving license?”
“So I could order a passport.” Hannah felt a tear at the corner of her eye which she brushed away with the back of her hand. The detective stared at her.
“You do realise how serious this is, don’t you?”
“But I never took anything. I just wanted to see how far I could go with the whole thing.” Hannah was lying, but she figured the police weren’t going to know that.
“That doesn’t matter,” the detective said. “This is identity theft.”
“I know,” Hannah said with a small sniff. “I’m sorry.” She tried to look penitent, hoping that turning on a bit of female charm might help. From the look on the two policemen’s’ faces, it wasn’t going to work.
There was a lot that Hannah wasn’t about to tell the police. Like her plans once she had got hold of a passport. Her plans to max out every one of the credit cards in as short a space of time as possible, and transfer the money into an off-shore account she’d set up. Twenty grand on the credit cards was a small lie — the actual amount was closer to fifty — and once the loans Hannah had applied for all came in, she would have almost one hundred thousand pounds in total. There wasn’t any name at all on the off-shore account — it was just a number. In a post-office box, bought and paid for in cash, was the rest of the paperwork. The paperwork she didn’t want the police ever to find. The car loan documents for the BMW that would be ready in a couple of weeks. The advance one-way ticket on the Eurotunnel. Hannah might only be a cleaner, but that didn’t mean she was stupid. A hundred thousand pounds would go a long way in rural France. Or Spain. Or Italy. Hannah hadn’t decided where she would settle, not that it made any difference now.
“Constable Turner, would you do the honours please?” Detective Sergeant Bertrand said to his colleague. Hannah looked at the younger uniformed policeman as he started to recite his piece. His voice was an octave higher than Hannah had thought it would be, looking at him.
“Hannah Shaw, I am arresting you on suspicion of identity theft. You do not have to say anything, but anything you do say…” Hannah tuned his voice out and looked at the detective. She wondered if they were going to cuff her or not, and held out her hands just in case. Detective Bertrand just looked at her and shook his head from side to side. When the policeman had finished reading Hannah her rights, he asked her if she had anything to say.
“No, thank you,” she replied in a soft voice. Tears pricked again at her eyes, but this time she made no effort to wipe them away. All that planning, months of it, and she’d been caught with only a few weeks to go.
“When did you last you see Miss Huntley?” Detective Sergeant Bertrand asked.
“I’ve not seen or heard her for a couple of weeks,” Hannah replied. “I think she’s away.”
The detective spun the piece of paper with the words ‘Arrest Warrant’ around so that it was the right way up for Hannah to read. He pointed at one of the text fields on the form with a finger. Hannah leaned forward to read it. Why was that bitch Huntley’s name on the form?
“She was last seen on a flight to Malaga last week. Travelling on a passport in your name.” Detective Sergeant Bertrand splayed the papers underneath the arrest warrant for Hannah to see. They were all credit card statements. With Hannah’s name on them, but the wrong address. According to the statements, Hannah lived upstairs, and was in a significant amount of debt.
“Oh, you have got to be kidding me,” Hannah whispered as the uniformed policeman got to his feet.
“Come on, Miss Shawcross. We’ll take you to the station.”