Wednesday 28 September 2022

Poor Charlie by David Gower, hot tea milk but no sugar

 Condensation ran down the steamy windows of the café. Behind the Formica covered counter what had once been a gleaming coffee machine hissed and bubbled. Long established stains ran down the sides towards a discoloured drip tray, it was evident to any eye – trained or untrained – that this   greasy spoon was greasier than most. Nevertheless, it provided Inspector Rivers with somewhere away from the station and his never ending pile of forms and cases to process. It had the benefit of being close enough in case he was needed but too far for colleagues to drop by casually. They had the station canteen and cheap grub available. Here offered a haven for thinking things through.

He sat alone toying with the half-drunk cup of tea in front of him. Had he been at home or in his office he would have poured the liquid into the saucer and blown across the surface to cool it. People frowned upon that sort of thing nowadays even in a place as down market as the Sunbeam Café. It was the kind of thing that betrayed his origins now he had a position to uphold. Reluctantly, he conformed and sipped from the cup whilst watching his cigarette burn between his fingers. Strange stuff smoke. It rose into the air, becoming the plaything of any passing draught until vanishing into nothingness. Eventually all that smoke would, somehow, join the smoke deposited over the years adding to the overall sepia tone of the café’s painted surfaces

Not even the sunniest of summer bank holiday in Brighton would make the Sunbeam look welcoming but it offered a place to reflect upon the discovery of the body earlier in the day. He had always been very fond of the victim and the level of violence seemed senseless, almost spiteful. Poor old Charlie, lying beside the pond with only one clue to the identity of the killer immediately available.

That clue lay in front of the Inspector on the Formica covered table. He put down his cup and stubbed out his cigarette. Now both his hands were free he could examine the item again. For all the world it was a charm, the kind that a woman would wear on one of those bracelets bedecked with tiny sewing machines, ten bob notes in a lantern and heart shaped fobs. This was just a simple letter of the alphabet. No hallmark just a yellow metal letter left beside Charlie’s mangled body. No witnesses to the event and any footprints of the killer already burnt away by the summer sun. Turning this over time and again told him no more that it had earlier. How many times had he fingered this trinket since Charlie had been found but no solution offered itself? The Inspector smiled to himself, any self-respecting detective in literature would experience a moment of clarity at such a point. That was the difference between real life and fiction. Life was a mix of random events whilst an author could lead the reader along a winding road and solve the mystery at a stroke. They should live in his world.

Time for the Inspector to get back to the station. Doreen was behind the counter of the Sunbeam Café today. Someone less able to project a sunbeam would be hard to find. An ever-present cigarette hung from her lips, her beehive hair set rock hard by hairspray and a voice flat and emotionless from years of the daily grind. Behind her on the wall was a framed picture of her terrier on the Brighton beach. She took his money for tea, a packet of fags and some matches. As he reached the café door, she called him ‘Inspector, don’t forget your hat love.’

Emerging into the sunshine he almost bumped into a smartly dressed woman. In her hand she had several sheets of paper. She seemed to be trying to pin one to a telegraph pole with little success. Always one to help a lady the Inspector smiled, took the sheet and between the two of them completed the task. Smiles were exchanged and the Inspector walked off in the direction of the station. What an overwhelming scent she wore. No time to chat to strange women, the mystery of Charlie still topped his thoughts. Senseless and probably never to be solved with just one clue.

Back at the station life had returned to what passed as normal. Charlie’s body removed and no sign of anything amiss where the corpse had been discovered. It seemed to the Inspector that no one was bothered about poor Charlie other than himself.

Constable Martin greeted the Inspector with a cheery grin. ‘Something fishy about all this, guvnor.’

The Inspector ignored the poor taste of his junior’s words.

‘Fishy indeed, Constable Martin. Nothing to do except show your limited wit to the world?’

Martin continued undeterred ‘A large scale crime wave about to begin if you ask me.’

‘Enough, have you no work to do?’

‘No need to be coy about it, boss,’ was Martin’s final barb.

There was an uncomfortable silence in the office as Inspector Rivers returned to his paperwork. The little yellow metal letter taunted him still. How had Charlie met his end?

Time in the office dragged. The shadows moved relentlessly across the Inspector’s desk indicating the approach of his shift. To break the monotony the Inspector went to light a cigarette beside the ornamental fish pool. Often he had sat here with Charlie and his mates. Now Charlie was no more. The emptiness seemed to be magnified whilst an uncaring world continued.

Back into the stuffy office and the hands of the clock, at last, indicated the end of the Inspector’s working day. His route to the street took him via the reception area. A strong perfume hung in the air which the Inspector recognised from earlier in the day. Strong perfume, smart woman and there on the notice board was a familiar sheet of paper.

It was a lost animal poster. A grey, short hair blue cat. Lost in the area recently and a reward available to anyone finding Kitty. The animal sported a jewelled collar with a yellow metal initial K clearly visible.

The Inspector’s prize Koi carp Charlie had been fished from the pond by Kitty during the previous night on the Brighton railway station platform outside the railway police office. Poor Charlie.

About the author

David has been a contributor of several stories to Cafelit following his introduction to his local creative writing group. Back after a long break struggling with technology! 

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