Tag Archives: murder

THE CASE OF THE STOLEN ARM

21 Aug

It was a quiet time of the year, summer being upon us and crime being low. Holmes was racking his brain over a notice in the Times, of a grave at the church cemetery being dug in the night and robbed of an arm and why that should be important, when Lestrade arrived unannounced.

It’s one of the worst scenes I’ve ever witnessed,” growled Inspector Lestrade as he paced back and forth in the front room of 221b Baker Street.

Sit down, man, and tell me all about it,” said Holmes irritably. “I can do or say nothing to help if I’m in total ignorance. You might as well be talking about a muddy pool in East Grinstead for all I know.”

A murder,” breathed the almost shaking inspector. “And not just any murder…”

I see,” replied Holmes. “Who was murdered, and why?”

The best I can tell you is it’s a woman,” replied Lestrade. “and the only reason I can tell you that is because her feather hat was untouched by the fire and still next to her charred head. A tank in which fish were swimming around must have tipped over in the struggle and soaked the feathers.”

So the victim was burned to death,” murmured Holmes. “Nasty!”

Most unpleasant,” I interjected.

And what of the rest of the scene?” asked Holmes.

It’s been left exactly as it was found, and guarded by a constable whilst I came to consult you on the matter,” said Lestrade. “I know how particular you are to examine crime scenes before they’re interfered with by my men. And although I’m more than competent when it comes to solving most cases I may need some of your specialist skills with this one.”

Then we are with you, Lestrade,” barked Holmes, “Watson, your coat and my hat if your please. Lead on Inspector. I am at your service.”

We were taken in a police wagon to the outskirts of town where a large stone house was surrounded by police officers. At first glance there was little to mark it as different to any other large stone house in a street of such buildings, but on closer inspection there was evidence of fire damage, in particular to the windows of one of the rooms on the first floor. The windows had obviously been shattered, probably by the heat, and the shards that remained were blackened by smoke and tar.

Come,” ordered Holmes, and he walked swiftly towards the front door, which was swinging open. A police officer tried to intercept him, but at a word from Lestrade we were allowed to pass.

Inside, the house had a neglected feel to it, as though furnishings and the like were being used long beyond their useful life, and when worn, not repaired or attended to but made to linger on, untidily. I concluded that this was a house in which the rewards for honest toil were far from adequate.

A maid servant was in a parlour as we passed by, and I wondered as I glanced through the door why the household employed a woman who appeared to be dressed in a considerably ill-fitting uniform, for though she was slight and petite of build the dress she was wearing, and the apron, were clearly for a much larger person. Once again I wondered if there were financial problems within the household to explain the provision of inadequate attire.

Holmes grunted, and we climbed the stairs.

The room that had been devastated by fire was filthy with the remnants of that fire, with black dust smeared on and coating everything. And the smell in the air, it reminded me of the concentrated stench of roasting meat mixed with toxic smoke.

But that wasn’t what made me gasp in horror. On the floor, lying on what until recently must have been polished floorboards, was the unmistakable shape of a human body, blackened beyond recognition and smelling of the same smoke that had made the whole room stink. Incongruously, the large white feathers of a fashionable piece of female headgear lay next to the shattered remains of a fish tank and two dead fish lay next to them like Piscean signposts to a nether kingdom in which the dead live again.

The room was generally damaged. A cocktail cabinet complete with glasses, decanters and a couple of bottles, stood testament to a kind of normality. Next to the bottles was the barely legible brochure to a seaside resort, Scarborough I believe, though it was almost burnt to an illegible crisp.

Holmes became his usual analytical self as he moved around the body, peering close now and then before standing back and briefly taking in the whole scene, and then touching the black charred remains of charcoal flesh and what may once have been fine worsted clothing with a gloved finger.

Interesting, Watson,” he murmured. “What do you make of it?”

She’s dead,” I told him, “of that there can be no doubt.”

You’re right about the dead part, but I would challenge the she,” he rejoined.

There can be little doubt, Holmes, “I said, “No man would be seen out and about wearing a hat like that! Feathers ill-become the male sex!”

Ah, but look closely, Watson … and you, Lestrade. “The feathers are unburned. They’re not even scorched, and we are being led to believe that water from a fish tank accidentally extinguished any flames and prevented damage from further conflagration when feathers are amongst the most combustible things on Earth? Now, if you please, observe what we are meant to think of as the sad individual’s right hand. What do you see?”

I looked, curious in case I had missed anything, but nothing looked to be amiss to me. The withered, not quite totally consumed arm and hand lay in a natural position, gripping a walking cane as if about to take another step, and a fleeting image of an imagined other world sprang into my mind.

The deceased is holding a walking cane,” pointed out Holmes, “and not any old walking cane but one with a silver handle and worn ferrule. This was an expensive cane when it was new, but one that has seen better days as can be determined by the wear on its tip, and from a casual examination, bearing in mind its dimensions, the length of its shaft and so on, it must have belonged to a male of around six feet in height. A woman needing a cane would, if she could afford it, have a delicate stick, one manufactured for the lighter frame of a female. And whoever afforded this cane could most certainly have afforded the very best and most suitable and if the deceased was a woman would almost certainly have used a lady’s model.”

I see, Mr Holmes,” murmured Lestrade. “That makes sense.”

So I conclude that the corpse before us, though burnt beyond any kind of recognition, is possibly that of a man,” continued Holmes, “and that the fish tank and its contents were used by the killer (if killer there was) to confuse us, for the presence of the hat indicates that at least somebody might be lying on the floor in front of us.”

How can you say that, Holmes?” I asked. “It’s a man, I’d swear it!”

You will observe,” said Holmes, “that there is so little remaining of identification that even a doctor of pathology would struggle to find any trace of who the fellow was? Is that not true, Watson?”

I nodded. It is impossible to put an identity to charcoal unless there is other evidence present.

I believe,” said Holmes with a smile lurking on the corners of his lips, “that you will find that lump of charcoal is meant to be the master of the house who has has tragically spontaneously combusted. I further believe that it will be shown that he was a heavy drinker of spirits, which can be used as a possible cause of his sudden combustion. After all, gin burns with a hot and consuming flame.

I read it like this. We are led down a path. We see a pile of charcoal and assume that a man was incapacitated by drink, possibly from constant worries about debt, and the cheap gin was draining any wealth he had. His problems were driving him insane and consequently to the forgetfulness of strong liquor.

You will find his wife in a parlour downstairs, disguised as a maid servant because her own clothes were possibly red with a great deal of blood and gore discolouring them.”

So she killed him?” I could see that Lestrade was confused.

Nobody was killed,” announced Holmes. “Haven’t you been following me, Lestrade?”

Then what…?” he stammered.

This black shape, still smoking from the flames, was never a man,” said Holmes.

Then it was a woman?” suggested Lestrade.

Pig, maybe, or offal stuffed into an old suit,” mused Holmes. “But not a man or a woman.”

But why…?” asked a totally befuddled Lestrade.

Holmes smirked. “I’ve no doubt that when the coroner has finished with his task of deciding the manner of death the maid downstairs will emerge from her ill-fitting uniform, don a fresh disguise as either herself or her own husband depending on who the coroner decides is dead, and claim a handsome insurance payout on a tragic death before joining her husband elsewhere, possible, I believe, in Scarborough.”

So it’s just fraud?” demanded Lestrade.

But the fellow’s arm, Holmes,” I interjected, “it might be scorched badly, burned even, converted into ashes, but I’d swear it was a human arm!”

Remember, Watson,” he said, “I think there’s a little notice in The Times of a freshly dug corpse minus one right arm… It might be interesting to look into that, don’t you think?”

© Peter Rogerson 05.08.17

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THE WINTER OF MY DISCONTENT

10 Jun

I was poking in the coal-hole looking for a lost tortoise that might have decided that it was time to hibernate when I stumbled on a crow-bar left as a gift by the burglar who tried to break in last September.

It was good finding it, but the tortoise was nowhere in sight and I began to feel guilty. It was a cold winter, and I was discontented.

So, I would imagine, was the tortoise.

But that crow-bar was going to come in handy.

The trap-door had been there for as long as I’d lived in the house. I remember pondering over what it might be when I’d been a lad of nine or ten looking for somewhere to shelter from the rain and sorely tempted to lift it and see what might be seen under the coal-house floor, but being a feeble squirt I lacked the strength to budge it as much as a millimetre with the only tool I had to hand, an old screwdriver, and I gave up trying when it came to be time for school.

Then there was the time when I was in my teens and as keen as mustard on the girl who lived next door and I got to fantasising that there might be a tunnel under that trap-door that led directly to her lily-white-sheeted bedroom where I might find myself in the middle of a teenage fantasy involving bodily fluids and heaving bosoms, but there was a great deal of coal-dust round the trap door and I realised how stupid I’d look if I appeared in her boudoir with a smudged face and spreading black dust everywhere, so I desisted before I started.

Now I’m getting on in my years and have crow-bar to hand.

Why would a coal-shed have a trap-door in its floor and what might it be hiding? What secret places might I find if I open the trap-door and where might the steps that I’d undoubtedly find lead me?

If my great-granddad was here he’d tell me not to be bothered, but they told me he died before I was born after many a swashbuckling adventure in dark places. It’s strange how easily the deceased can come to mind when you’re contemplating trap-doors.

Old trap doors can be the very devil, especially if they’ve been in place where they are for well over half a century. Years of debris, moistened no doubt by condensation every cold season, had formed a kind of concrete, black as Satan’s backside and just as disgusting. I had to use that crow-bar as a kind of blade to cut through it, and the taste of the dust in the air was like the taste of sin.

Have you ever tasted sin? I have….

So it was hard work easing that metal slab open with a crow-bar that was a gift from a burglar, but I moved it bit by bit. It creaked and at one stage I thought the metal was going to bend or snap, but it didn’t, and eventually I lifted it and gazed fully into the face of my aforementioned great-granddad, though I didn’t recognise him. Well, I wouldn’t, would I, never having met him in the flesh, and now he had no flesh for anyone to recognise anyway, just a grinning skull and a sign that said, in bold capitals, “WILLY DID IT”.

It’s hard knowing what to do with a skeleton that accidentally appears under a trap-door that really shouldn’t be there, so I did what every right-thinking person would do and notified the authorities.

The detective put, by a chief superintendent who didn’t like him, in charge of the case was the most objectionable man I’ve ever met. He asked me who I was and when I told him “Willy Arkwright” (which is my name) his first reaction was along the lines of me being the Willy on the sign being held aloft by my deceased relative, and when the pathologist said the body must have been put where it well nigh almost a century ago (or maybe twice my age ago) he pooh-poohed the facts and arrested me for murder.

Everything seemed to fit in with his theory, mostly because of that wretched sign. He even managed to find evidence that the trap door had been opened relatively recently (a cigarette stub that I dislodged along with tons of coal dust while I was hacking away with the crow-bar) and even when I complained that I’d never smoked, not ever, not once in my life, he managed to pooh-pooh that as well.

He put together quite a dossier. My great-grandfather (DNA evidence proved that’s who it was) had been born in 1898 and disappeared in 1929. And it seemed that the state of his bones suggested he might have been lowered into a hole under the coal-shed and a trap-door closed on him around that time.

“But I wasn’t anywhere near being born then!” I protested, and “neither was my dad,” I added.

Then there came a sparkling piece of brand new evidence, which most detectives would dismiss out-of-hand but he didn’t.

Willy was a family name. I had it, my dad, granddad and great-granddad all had it, and it went back through generations before that. Even William the Bastard had it, and he lived a long time ago, or so they say. But it didn’t make much of an impression on the Inspector who was determined to see me spend the rest of my natural behind bars.

He said that if I had someone known as a bastard in my family tree then it was evidence I was a wrong-un and it’s a pity they’d stopped hanging desperadoes like me because hanging’s just what I deserved.

In court, the jury agreed with him. They were all good honest Christians to a person, and consequently well used to looking the truth in the face, and calling it a lie.

Which is why this has been a particularly gruelling winter of discontent for me. It’s a good thing about the tortoise, though. He came and rescued me when it was clear I wasn’t coming home in time to feed him. Spring-time had come and I don’t know how he did it but he chewed through the bars of my cell with a will.

Never say that our pets aren’t useful, because I know full well that they are! Especially tortoises.

© Peter Rogerson 05.12.16

ROSIE BAUR, D.I. Chapter 9

29 Mar

9. THE HANGOVER

“Peter, you and I will go and take a look at the other neighbours, those at number five,” said D.I. Rosie Baur when the morning’s assessment meeting was over.

“I saw them the morning the body was discovered,” volunteered D.C. Martin Thrives. “There are three of them there. They didn’t see anything or hear anything or suspect anything. And they maintain they certainly didn’t do anything!”

“We’ll go anyway,” replied Rosie, “three brains might be lucky and catch something that one brain misses.”

“Yes ma’am,” murmured Martin. “What do you want me to do?”

“Take a look at that Charity shop she manages,” Rosie told him, “pay particular attention to the staff and the way they talk about Mrs Buttery. I’ve got a few reservations in my head about that good lady!”

The Superintendent put his head through the doorway. “You mustn’t get blind racism mixed up with the will to murder husbands,” he said. “The woman’s got some unpleasant views and it got to be a shock to her system when she discovered that the officer she was complaining to was even blacker than the woman she wanted to complain about!”

“I’d like to have been a fly on your wall that day, sir,” grinned Rosie. “And of course I won’t mix the two things up. I can take blind racism for what it is, the shallow workings of a feeble mind. She even takes the Daily Mail, I noticed!”

“Carry on, then,” rumbled Superintendent Flibbert. “Don’t let me keep you.”

“What was that about the Daily Mail?” asked Peter Jenson when they were in her car and on the way to Binyard Close. “That’s the paper I take when I take one, which is about once in a blue moon.”

“As long as you don’t believe half of what it says,” said Rosie, “Now for number five Binyard. “Winston and Jodie McCarthy with their son Brendon or Brandon, something like that…”

“Brandon,” confirmed the Sergeant, consulting his list.

“He’s a teenager, seventeenish, and as harmless as a flea on an elephant,” murmured his Inspector.

“How harmless is that?” asked Peter.

“A mild irritant and no more, like most teenagers, and like most teenagers he’s never been in any kind of trouble though he probably gets up the noses of his parents from time to time. But Martin found out something about Jodie, that’s Mrs McCarthy to me and you when we get there. It seems that unlike the objectionable Buttery woman she did have a fling with the deceased some years ago, when she was her son’s age. The good constable Thrives seems good at digging out this kind of information and as long as he gets it right he should go far!”

“Is there any significance in a teenage fling, ma’am” asked the sergeant.

She shook her head. “I very much doubt it, but it might be best to keep it in mind … just in case. He’s quite a bit older than her, around fifteen years or so, so it says more about him than her.”

“Many an older man has an eye for pretty young totty,” suggested Peter.

“Well, here we are, let’s go and take a peek at her and see what’s what,” she said, pulling up outside the McCarthy house.

Number five was an exact replica of numbers one and three. The small front garden was neatly tended and the front door smelt as if it had been recently painted. That door was opened almost immediately by a teenage boy with hair dyed with a green streak in it and wearing jeans that had less denim in the knee region than seemed either tidy, sensible or even practical.

“I saw you coming,” he said quietly, his voice cultured, his attitude polite despite his streetwise appearance.

“Mr McCarthy?” asked Rosie, flashing her warrant card as ID.

“We were expecting you,” said Brandon McCarthy. “You can’t have a murder next door without the cops wanting alibis from one and all!!”

“Do you need an alibi?” asked Peter.

The boy shook his head. “Nah,” he said, “at least I hope not. I was in bed watching my telly.”

“What was on?” asked Rosie.

The boy hesitated, then: “it was a porn channel,” he said, “but don’t tell my parents, will you? I’m old enough to join the armed forces and die for my country but not old enough to enjoy watching the antics of angels in the altogether!”

“We’ll keep schtum,” assured Rosie, “what you choose to watch on the television is no concern of ours. Now are your parents both in?”

He shook his head. “Mum is, in the kitchen nursing a hangover, but dad’s at work.”

Mum was a red-headed woman in her forties and she was sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee in front of her and a troubled look on her face, which would have been pretty had she chosen to smile. That fiery red hair could do with a brush through it, thought Rosie.

“Cops, mum,” said her son. “They’ve come to quiz you about murders!”

“Er … yes,” she stuttered, “you’d better sit down,” she added, “I’m sorry, but I had quite a night yesterday and I’m suffering for it this morning.”

“Like you do most mornings,” said her son, dislike suddenly etched on his face. “She drinks,” he added. “Too much,” he concluded.

“We wondered if you noticed anything amiss two nights ago when the man next door was murdered,” asked Rosie, “around eleven, we think, though it may have been a bit later.”

“I was out of it by then,” muttered Jodie McCarthy, “like I am quite often these days. There’s not much else to live for round here. There’s just got to be something that makes life worth while.”

“Handsome sons aren’t enough,” muttered Brandon, “I’m off to watch the box in my room,” he added. “Some antiques programme,” he added when he saw the expression on Sergeant Jenson’s face. “I like antiques.”

“Any particular period?” asked Peter.

“Georgian furniture. They were classy back then,” replied the boy, his eyes showing more enthusiasm for old tables and chairs than they had for porn.

“I’m with you there, lad,” said Peter.

“What do you mean, you were out of it by then?” asked Rosie of the hung-over Jodie McCarthy.

“Look, I like a drink and it’s not illegal,” almost snarled the red-head. “And as for killing the silly old fool next door, I’d have done it years ago, when he raped me, and not left it until now!”

“He raped you?”

“I was only, what, nineteen or so. It was more than twenty years ago and a time I’d prefer to forget. I never reported it because I knew what you cops would have said, that I asked for it bearing in mind what I was wearing when I met him. I liked short dresses and looked good in them, and sometimes forgot to put on underwear. I still do like short things, though Winston doesn’t approve so I don’t wear them any more.”

“Were you neighbours back when..?” asked Rosie.

“No. I worked at the library after I left school, and then I met Winston. I felt safe with him because he’s almost ten years older than me, but it didn’t take long for me to discover he’s a boring old sod with a minuscule sex drive. Then I found out where … my rapist … lived and got Winston to want to live here, next door to him. He’s easy to manipulate, is Winston.”

“Are you trying to say you wanted to be raped again?” asked an incredulous Rosie.

“I dunno. I just wanted something, I suppose. I was pregnant with Brandon so he couldn’t have made me pregnant again … but it never happened … don’t ever shit on your doorstep, he said when I made my hopes obvious, and he never did.”

“Did Mr McCarthy find out?” asked Sergeant Jenson.

She shook her head. “He couldn’t have,” she said, “neither of us would have dropped the teeniest hint. And anyway, he stuck to his word and never did anything dirty on his own doorstep, not once.”

“If he had found out it would have been a motive for murder,” murmured Rosie.

“Winston murdering people? Now you have proved you’ve not met him. Winston won’t even swat a fly!” laughed the red-head. “Now if you’ve got no more questions I need to lie down for an hour.”

“It’s only mid-morning,” whispered Peter to Rosie as they made their way back to her car.

“She’s in a bad way if she gets wasted like this,” said Rosie, “and detective sergeants who visit superior officers and their bottles of red at the dead of night might take note of the downward trail and where it can lead.”

“Especially if those superior officers have a penchant for personal nudity whilst having a body most men would die for,” sighed Peter. “And, ma’am, that’s exactly what you’ve got!”

TO BE CONTINUED…

© Peter Rogerson 02.03.17

ROSIE BAUR, D.I Chapter 3

20 Mar

3. FOR STARTERS…

By the time Rosie had parked her caravan in the awkwardly sized place behind her semi-detached home and tidied things up, it was too late to return to the station and come to grips with the murder of the librarian. She managed to make sure that her neighbour would be happy to watch the twins while she was at work. He was an elderly man, what she looked on as a typical grandfather-type, and both kids liked him even though he could be a bit tetchy if they stepped out of line. The discipline was good for them and their enjoyment of some of the old man’s stories made the chore of being baby-sat bearable to ten year old twins.
Next day she arrived at the station bright and early.
Her first port of call was the pathology department where Cardew Dingle had the body on his table ready to show her what he’d discovered so far.
“Rosie, it was a savage attack, but I would imagine very brief,” he said, indicating a bloody contusion on the man’s head. “This would have done the deed. He would have known no more, not ever, poor sod. We don’t have the murder weapon, though officers are busy looking under every hedge and down every drain, but I’d say it was a metal bar, rusted, you can see specks of oxide in the wound, and wielded with huge force. A second blow wouldn’t have been necessary.”
“And the eyes, Doctor?” queried Rosie.
He shook his head sadly. “Yes, they’re particularly nasty. Someone went to great trouble to dig them out using what I should imagine was a largish spoon, maybe a table spoon or something like that. There are traces of gravy…” He pointed a latexed finger at one of the eyes. “See the darker brown within the dark of the dried blood? That’s beef gravy, or I’m a Dutchman.”
Rosie shivered. “Most unpleasant,” she muttered. “It seems that our librarian might have seen something that his killer didn’t approve of.”
“Or read something, if he worked in the library. There are plenty of books there that not even I approve of, Rosie.”
“You think … I’ve heard they keep some books for release on request only, behind the counter, because they’re not considered suitable for some readers…” mused Rosie. “You know semi-porn, so-called classics over-brimming with flesh.”
“It might be a starting point,” nodded the pathologist, “but it’s no more than a vague suggestion, really. But why would a man be killed for what he’s seen? How would killing him in cold blood, and gouging his eyes out with a spoon dripping with gravy, do anything about what he’s seen?”
“There are some cranks about,” said the DI sadly. “Anyway, anything else, doctor?”
“Death was some time between 10 and midnight yesterday, and I’d like to think you catch the bastard who did this,” muttered Doctor Dingle, almost savagely. “I’ve not seen anything as rotten as this outside of television dramas!”
“I’ll do my best,” assured Rosie. “Let me know if anything else crops up under your microscope,” she added as she made her way out of the laboratory.
“Our librarian’s not a pretty sight,” she said to DS Peter Jenson when she returned to her office and waved him into a seat. “What do we know about suspects? I mean, do we have any?”
“Binyard Close, where he lived, is a cul-de-sac with only four houses on it,” replied Peter. “And his was one of them, leaving three others. So I guess all the neighbours could be suspects, though none of them seem to have anything to say against the man. I’ve got Martin trying to dig deeper, though.”
“What about other buildings nearby? Say, round the corner?”
The DS shook his head. “There aren’t any,” he said, quietly. “Binyard close, named after a philanthropist who owned the land back in Victorian times and not the dreaded wheelie bins that decorate our streets these days, is out of town on the way to Swanspottle, which is ten or twelve miles away, as the crow flies. It’s open farmland on the main road, and not housing, I’m afraid.”
“So either it was one of the neighbours or a visitor gone there with the sole intention of sending Mr Buttery to the hereafter before his time,” sighed Rosie Baur. “What about his wife?”
DS Peter Jenson consulted his notebook. “Mrs Miriam Buttery. I met her after she discovered the body. A quiet, probably timid woman in her fifties. Said she would be distraught without her husband, but didn’t look too distressed. I doubt she could have done it. Not the type and if she had been the killer she would have put on more of a show, with tears and gnashing of teeth and so on.”
“Any family?”
“Two. You’ll like this|: twins, one of each. But grown up and living away from home, though not far enough for us to think they wanted to put a distance between them and the the old folks. They share a terraced house in Swanspottle and do visit their parents every so often.”
“When were they last there?”
Peter shook his head. “I’ve yet to ask them,” he said. “But it’s good to note that a pair of twins can grow up and still want to be together without being at each other’s throats!”
“They share a house, you say?”
“A small one. Victorian terraced, there’s a row of them in Swanspottle, built for the workers when they quarried for building stone out there back in the good old, bad old days. There’s no quarrying any more, but the terrace still stands. I should think they’re sharing for economic reasons. It’s not easy these days, at least not for the young, housing being what it is.”
“We’d best see them some time. Are they in the frame, do you think?”
“I doubt it. There’s no indication that there’s any friction between parents and kids.”
“Then let’s get to it, sergeant. I’d like to take a look at the scene of the crime and have a word with the wife and maybe any neighbours who’re not at work. Then the twins. I know a bit about twins…”
“Young ones, ma’am!”
“Talking of young ones, my Jack was upset to hear who was murdered. He likes going to the library and said the librarian knew a lot about the best books in the kiddie’s section. Said he was an expert on Biggles!”
“Who’s Biggles?”
Rosie shrugged and giggled. “Some hero, I suppose,” she said, “Jack likes his heroes! Come on, or the day will be over before we’ve done a single thing.”
TO BE CONTINUED…
© Peter Rogerson 24.02.17

ROSIE BAUR D.I. Chapter 2.

19 Mar

2. THE VICTIM.

“There I was, constable, the sun replacing all the vitamin D that hard work’s dragged out of me as I luxuriate in my lounger, and I get that phone call!” said Detective Inspector Rosie Baur rather crossly. DC Martin Thrives fought a blush down when he recalled rumours of the DI’s naturist preferences when she was on holiday and secretly hoped that one day, somewhere, he might bump into her. He shook the thought from his head. It wasn’t a healthy one.
As for the DI, it had all been a rush and went against everything the twins had dreamed of enjoying, but the awning had been dragged down and packed away as neatly as rushing allowed, the caravan hitched up after anything breakable had been put safely away and her Xtrail coaxed into action, and all within an hour of the telephone call from Peter Jenson.
The journey back had taken a bit longer, but here she was, the hitched-up caravan still attached to her car in the station car-park and her ten year-old twins still moaning on the back seat. Their holiday had been ruined and they couldn’t see why. After all, mum might be in the police, but she wasn’t the only one. Cars full of them raced around the town all the time, didn’t they?
“Why does mum have to be a copper?” moaned Jack.
“So that she can afford to take us on holiday,” replied Jill, who saw the economic side.
“Funny!” almost snapped Jack.
In the station DC Martin Thrives had been put into the firing line as he was the junior member of the team and consequently unlikely to receive both barrels from the Inspector. She was famously generous to those who couldn’t so easily blast back at her on the rare occasions when her impatience got the best of her.
“It was most inconsiderate of the bloke…” said Martin calmly, knowing how to defuse most situations. “Getting himself murdered like that, and both of his eyes gouged out the way they were. If he were still alive I’d tell him so, and no messing.”
Rosie sighed. “Where’s Peter?” she asked.
“In hiding,” replied Martin. “In the office,” he added.
“I need to get the details and then take my load home before I get down to serious work,” she said, scowling, her attractive dusky face not at its best when she thought of having to face the twins again. A homicidal maniac would be easier, she thought. Or even two.
“The sergeant’s waiting for you, ma’am,” said Martin. “And I’m sorry,” he added.
“For what, constable?”
“For your holiday, ma’am. I know what it’s like, being promised and then having to miss out. The poor kids,” sniffed the constable.
He’d done enough. Sophie sighed and then smiled at him. Her face lit up with the first hint of that smile like it always did. I know she’s a brilliant copper, but with a smile like that she’s just got to be able to melt any heart, thought Martin Thrives, who could quite see himself sharing her doubtlessly perfumed sheets with her despite the fifteen year age gap between them. But it was all in his head, solely and unrealistically in his head, and he knew it.
“It’s a bloody nuisance,” greeted D S Jenson as she entered the main office. “And you building sandcastles with your angels on the beach!”
“We weren’t on the beach and I was sunning myself,” Sophie told him.
“And you in your best sunbathing costume, I’ll bet,” he grinned.
“If you want to know if I was totally commando then I guess you’ve worked out the answer to that,” murmured Sophie. “When I choose to soak up some sun then that’s what I do, no messing. Now what’s the story?”
“You know that little cul-de-sac on the way out of town, going towards Swanspottle?” asked Peter, “you know, all on its own and a good mile from any other living soul,” and assuming she knew where he meant, continued, “well, a gent by the name of Buttery, Philip Buttery to give him his full moniker, was found there around eight this morning by his wife, Mrs Miriam Buttery. Like him, she’s in her fifties and in shock. It wasn’t a pretty sight. Someone had seen fit to take his eyes out with a table spoon and it was a bloody mess.”
Sophie shuddered “Sounds nasty,” she said. “What does Cardew say?” Cardew Dingle was their pathologist, forty-odd, overweight and filled with all the charm of mortuary humour.
“He’s yet to do a full PM, but he reckons the bloke was killed around midnight, give or take. It seems he was putting the bin out, seeing as today’s collection day round there, and his wife was already in bed. She says he snores a lot, so they have separate rooms so she can get some sleep, so she never suspected he wasn’t curled up and in the land of nod himself. Anyway, he suffered from the proverbial blunt trauma to his head … and those eyes.”
“Separate rooms, eh? That sometimes tells a story…”
“The dead man looks to have been a bit of a scholar. He runs ” or ran ” the local library as librarian. Seems he was pretty diligent and the two girls who work there with him haven’t a bad word to say about him.”
“Might he have been having an affair with either or both of them?”
“It didn’t look like it to me. They were shocked, as you’d expect, and upset, but no great flood of tears and gnashing of teeth.”
“I’d best see them anyway. They might give us a better insight into the man than a wife who doesn’t sleep with him.”
“She, the missus, seems a bit mousey, on first meeting her. Works in a charity shop … I’ve got to check her out there … and Uniform are talking to the neighbours, to see if any of them noticed anything.”
She looked at him firmly, and then relaxed into a smile. “Well, I’ll climb into the harness when I’ve got my ankle-biters home and set up with a minder. This would have to happen during the school holidays! But it won’t take me long, I hope. Until then, keep an open mind. It’s not always the wife who murders the husband, you know!”
“Don’t I know it! Right, I’ll carry on, and I’m truly sorry that your holiday’s been wrecked like this, but there was nobody else with enough seniority to run this particular investigation, and murder is your speciality.”
“I know,” She smiled at him. “And I had to get dressed in double-quick time, and just for a dead man! It’s not the same, coming to work and having to wear clothes!”
“There’ll be another time….”
“You can bet your arse on that much, Peter!”
She returned to the car and caravan outfit and apologised to her twins.
“It’s a murder,” she said, making her voice sound morbidly hollow, more to amuse them than because that’s the way she felt. “The librarian,” she added.
“What? Mr Buttery?” asked Jack.
“You know him?” asked Sophie, surprised.
“I do go the library, mum, and he does try to help me when I’m there. I reckon he knows every book in the children’s section and he’s … he was … an expert on Biggles!”
She looked at her son, and ruffled his hair. “I see,” she said, “then I’d better sort out who killed him, and do it in double-quick time!

TO BE CONTINUED…
© Peter Rogerson 23.02.17

THE TOWER MAN

14 Jan

He built the tower tall and strong, an edifice so mighty his enemies quailed at the very thought of walking in its shadow.

He was the lord of all he surveyed, which said a great deal, for he surveyed much of the known world and even some beyond its borders, but it was derelict and filled with nothing much. His wealth was mythical and formed the basis of many tales told in hostelries by sage old men and toothless gaffers. It was even rumoured that he had a deep well inside his edifice, and that a team of dwarfs delved deep within it, heaving unimaginable wealth to the surface hour after hour and piling it high within its ramparts.

The tales became unbelievable, but he did little to dissuade people from telling them. They added, he thought, to his own kudos. The very nonsense words surrounded him with an atmosphere of almost tangible wealth: his breath, it seemed to him, was made of the gems themselves. And when he rode out on horseback men crawled on their bellies before him and failed to notice that his horse was a half-dead nag,

He was always scornful. It seemed to him that lesser men should always be treated with huge doses of scorn, and as all men considered themselves to be lesser men as they grovelled in front of his perceived grandeur, then all men received the scornful treatment. It pleased him and kept them in their place.

There is one thing that happens every time a man with apparent and rumoured incredible wealth becomes established in the world, and that is he attracts the unsavoury and the vile. He becomes an object of jealousy because there are always some willing to sacrifice all, even their lives, in an effort to get a slice of his fortune. They gather in murky dens and whisper foul expletives at one another, their trousers hanging obscenely from their bodies and their caps greasy beyond belief. Their teeth are invariably blackened by tobacco and disease and their breath has about it a foul stench.

Of all the creatures spawned under the blue skies of a fair planet, it might be said that they are the people who really need wealth, or they will die of the foulness and sores that covers their bodies. And those who dwelt within this land were no exception.

As tales of the wealth of he who built the tower spread far and wide it reached the ears of this certain type of man, and as if drawn by an invisible magnet they descended onto his doorstep and began talking to one another, foul words rumbling between them until he inside the edifice heard them. So he went to the front door, fortified as it was by huge steel bars and great iron bolts, and swung it open.

What have we here?” he asked when he saw the unsavoury gathering.

They looked at him and took a step back.

We have called to see your master,” said one of them, believing the man who had opened the door to be a lowly servant, for his cloth was cut after a cheap style and his skin was soiled.

I have no Master,” the man replied, a gleam in eyes that were said to be made of gemstones. “I live within this tower that I built, and I live on my own. What may I do for you good gentlemen?”

You?” sneered the man who had spoken for the other. “You own this great place? You and whose army, that’s what I would like to know! But we will find out, won’t we, fellow brigands?” he roared to the motley gang standing behind him.

Aye, we will!” they shouted back.

And they pushed past him in a crowd of stinking, reprehensible tatty men, and swarmed over the inside of the castle. They went up flight of stairs after flight of stairs, and looked hither and thither, but never found so much as one gemstone.

In the end they returned to the main entrance where he who had built the castle was still waiting patiently.

They say you are the lord of all you survey,” snapped the leader of the gang of ruffians. “They say you have unbelievable wealth! They say you have tunnels delved deep into the world, and have mined huge mountains of wondrous gemstones! Where are they, fellow?”

They say those things, do they?” smiled the master of the edifice. “Well, they may be wrong, don’t you think? You have seen my wealth, my friends. You have seen the very substance of all that I own, and must judge for yourselves.”

There is nothing here,” admitted the leader of the gang, “but the tales are so convincing you must have cast a spell that hides your wealth! Yes, that’s what it is! You have used magic and have hidden your piles of jewels and gold and silver and rare coin! You have tried to deceive us with your foul magic, but we are not so easily fooled!”

I have what you see and no more,” sighed the master of the tower.

You lie and cheat!” roared the leader of the ruffians. “Come men, we will string him up and then maybe his magic will become as nothing and we will see what is truly there!” he urged.

And being easily led the gang grabbed hold of the tatty owner of the edifice, and took him to a nearby tree, and placed a rope around his neck, and hanged him. His face went many shades of different colours, back and forth like dying faces might, and then, sadly, he died.

He died with his tongue hanging out and his eyes bulging. He died with his heart fluttering to an anguished standstill. He died, and his flesh started decomposing as the sun shone on it and rats gnawed at it.

Now for the riches, men!” shouted the gang leader, and he returned to the tower. The gang entered once more, and went up the stairs one by one until they reached the very top. Then they came back down again, staircase by staircase, until they reached the bottom.

There is nothing here,” they moaned.

There must be!” shouted the self-appointed leader. “For the folks around tell such tales of wealth and gemstones…”

But none say they have actually seen a single ounce of anything more precious than an apple core!” snapped another.

Then they left the tower, and stood and looked at it.

Like a huge obelisk with windows, it seemed to reach to the heavens themselves. But there was no decoration, no sign, nothing but plain stone, to suggest it was anything more than it seemed to be, a folly in a green land.

Bah!” shouted the men in unison and they all returned to their homes far and near.

And the tower stood there through the ages. Men came and went, then when time was running short the place was left deserted and slowly, like a clock ticking down to zero hour, the ancient stones weathered. Then came the time when all the men in all the lands had died and the world was an empty place.

Only then, and like a sentinel, an old crow came along and landed on the edifice in a particular place, and the whole thing creaked and cracked and in glorious slow motion it tumbled down.

And underneath the weathered rugged stone that fell away was a second tower wrought from the purest gold with gemstones twinkling from it.

And a bleached old skeleton, swinging from a dead tree, gazed blindly here and there in the twinkling light, nodding slowly with the nodding breeze, and more at home that ever.

© Peter Rogerson 16.04.08 Revised 14.01.17

MURDER, FOUL MURDER

25 Aug

Chief Superintended Daniel (Rev, on account of he being an occasional lay preacher) Preest sat at his desk, scowling, and his door knocked
“Come!” he barked in his best authoritative voice.
“You wanted to see me, Re… sir?” asked Inspector Faux (pronounced Fo)
“This trouble at St Augustine’s…” began Rev, till scowling. He hated his nickname and was aware of the Inspector’s near-usage of it.”
“You mean the bloodiest murder this decade?” suggested Faux.
“It was in a sacred building, so you can’t call it “bloodiest”! Barked his superior, his face creased with more than a mere scowl.2There’s no call for such language when we’re talking about a church!”
“Well, there was a lot of blood, sir…” murmured Faux.
“That’s besides the point. Tell me, have you anyone in the frame? And I don’t mean the lunatic suggestion I’ve heard doing the rounds, that it was the curate!”
“Lunatic, sir?” asked Faux mildy.
“He’s a man of God, for goodness’ sake, and men of God don’t kill people,” growled Superintendent Preest.
“Never, sir?” enquired Faux in little more than a whisper edged with sarcasm.
“I preach at St Augustine’s and the staff there, clergy and lay, are angelic, to a fault!”
“A fault, sir?”
“Don’t be impertinent! You know what I mean!”
“Then who did it, sir? Who’s in your frame?” asked the inspector, knowing that true to form nobody would be.
“Who had access to the church? That’s how you’ll find your answer!”
“The curate, sir.”
“Besides him, man!”
“The vicar, sir, about an hour before the pathologist said the girl died,” murmured Faux. “Nobody else that we can discover, and it’s most unlikely that anyone did because the main entrance is on a main road in full view of everyone going to Tesco’s and the back door has been locked since they lost the key a year or so back. We’ve asked everyone until we’re blue in the face and although the two clergy were noted going in by a dozen witnesses, nobody else was.”
“There must have been someone,” growled the Chief superintendent. “A street cleaner or junkie, someone like that, someone who had it in for the girl.”
“It seems that the only person to take any notice of her was the…”
“Yes?”
“The curate,” sighed Faux. “And he’s got form.”
“I’ve told you, Inspector, that he’s a man of God and that makes him above suspicion!” snapped the Chief Superintendent.
“He was suspected of forming an improper friendship with an underage girl at his last parish,” pointed out Faux.
“That’s a slur! Nothing whatsoever was proved!” The superintendent looked more threatening and his scowl more deeply etched than ever.
“The girl named him,” sighed the Inspector, “and rumours had been doing the rounds for ages, just like they had at St Augustine’s. But this time he scotched the rumours all right. This time the girl was silenced … for good!”
“You’re treading on dangerous ground, Inspector…” hissed his superior officer. “I won’t have the good and holy name of the church dragged through the gutters just because you can’t find the junkie who committed a truly foul murder!”
“I think you’re right. It was a junkie,” said Faux with a sudden fading grin. “And if you’ll excuse me, sir, “I’ve got a dealer in the Interview room.”
“Ah, so he did it?” The superintendent visibly perked up and the scowl-lines almost disappeared.
“No, sir, he was in the nick when the girl was murdered. But the day before he claims to have sold heroin to the killer!”
“Now we’re getting somewhere, Inspector! You should have mentioned this before! Who is it?”
“The curate, sir, the Reverend Digory Smith, the bastard who plunged the sharp end of his crucifix a good dozen times into the flesh of an innocent fifteen year old girl who he’d taken a fancy to, and by his God I can prove it!”
The Superintendent bristled again and his scowl became deeper etched than any his Inspector had seen.
“That’s it, Faux! I’m not having the good name of the church tarnished! I’ll put Jones in charge of the case and find a reason to suspend you from all duties henceforth! Goodness me, man, there’s enough evil in the world without seeking it in gardens where only purity can flourish! I’m appalled that you can even think like you do!”
The Inspector shook his head not believing the outburst he’d just been subjected to and might have protested loud and long, but the door burst open and the Chief Constable, spruced and smart and ever-so-gently fragrant, stomped in.
“The St Augustine’s thing!” he barked at Superintendent Preest. “I want an arrest and I want it today. What’s got into you, Rev? Everyone knows who did it, and the swine’s out there, free as a bird!”
The Superintended swallowed. “It’s lack of evidence, sir…” he muttered, “it’s simply lack of evidence…”
“But…” stammered Inspector Faux.
“And I’ve heard as much nonsense from you, more than I can stand!” grated the Superintendent, dismissing his Inspector with a wave of his holy hand.
© Peter Rogerson 24.08.16