Miriam and her dog were a late on Wednesday morning due to her forgetting to change the batteries in her bedside clock. As they reached the point where they normally turned right at the bottom of the wood her dog stopped rigid in the middle of the path. She uttered a small growl and glared at a point in the ferns off to their left.
‘Rosie you silly dog what is it now?’ Miriam tugged at the lead in an endeavour to continue along the path, but the dog stayed rigid continuing to growl in the direction of a point in the ferns. Miriam followed the line of the dog’s gaze, gave a surprised gasp and stepped back half a pace. The cause of her surprise was the slight glint of a gold ring as a sliver of the sun caught it through the trees as they parted momentarily in the breeze. The ring was on the finger of a hand.
She held the dog on a short tether and stepped forward slightly to get a better look to assure herself that she wasn’t imagining the hand. She could now make out the body of a man lying prone in the ferns. The back of his head was a mass of dried blood.
‘Oh my God!’ she exclaimed aloud and started to rummage through her coat pockets for her phone which for the second time this week she had forgotten. Having made sure she didn’t have it on her she pulled the dog around and started back along the path. Rosie was not co-operating at all; she must have sensed she was having her walk cut short.
‘Come on Rosie for heaven’s sake you silly dog. It is bad enough that I will have to tell Helen that I left home without my phone again and you start acting up. Come on will you, we must get home."
Declan Murphy recently promoted to Detective Sergeant was startled out of his reverie sitting in his kitchen listening to the morning news with a mug of tea, cupped in his hands for comfort. It was his mobile phone bouncing around on the table in front of him. He picked it and pressed it to the answer position and speaker without looking at the caller. He was predisposed to believe it was his ex-wife with one of her usual whinges.
‘What is it this time?’ he answered none too politely, fed up with these calls.
‘Sorry to get you like this Paddy.’ It was the desk sergeant in his station in Paterson Street station.
‘Sorry Graham I didn’t have my lenses in – thought it was my ex. What is it the gaffer’s got a flat tyre and late for his golf match, again, and wants me to give him a lift?’
‘No and wish that it was. Looks like we’ve got a murder in that wood behind the flats in Argyle Street, the home of the great unwashed of the town.’
‘Don’t tell me. You think I am so good you wouldn’t think of giving this to anyone else especially as I’m on my day off?’
‘Wish I could mate. Sorry to ruin your day but you were partially right about the boss. He is playing golf and needs you to head up the crime squad until he can get away. Can you get over there?’
Less than thirty minutes later Declan sas walking up to the crime scene. He'd parked in Argyle Street by the footpath leading into the woods. At the point where the asphalt stopped on the gravel pathway running perpendicular to it was a WPC looking rather relieved to see it was one of their own. Behind her was a length of blue and white warning tape stretched across the path secured on a tree either side.
‘They’re just back there a little, Sarge. Inspector Little is there at the moment cos the Super is running late as well as forensics. DC Allenby is handling it with a photographer who just got here before you.’ With that she did a half-turn and lifted the tape which Declan ducked under.
‘Morning Declan. Sorry to drag you out on your day off. Unavoidable I’m afraid,’ the Inspector uttered without even a hint of remorse. Declan again noiselessly nodded in reply.
Instead he walked on to the DC Barrett, barely recognisable in his crime scene plastics. He continued writing on his pad before turning and acknowledging Declan.
‘Morning Sarge. Nasty bit of work here I’m afraid. Local old bloke from the flats been badly smashed on the back of his head. I’ve called for the forensics’ mob but as usual they are busy and will take another half hour to get here.
‘From the flats eh? You’ve found some I.D. on him then?’
‘Yessir. Wasn’t exactly difficult, Constable Barrett lifted his face mask to speak more easily. Whoever done ‘im in riffled his wallet and chucked it down beside him. His library card and other bits were obviously no use to them.’
‘Who is he? Do we know anything about him? Do I need to get kitted up? Declan looked around risking a glance in the Inspector’s direction.
‘No, I don’t think so Sarge. I’ve gone through all his pockets I cleared it with the boss first and I think the forensics will do all that needs to be done from here. If I give you all I’ve found on him you’d probably be better off going round his place. There are some keys amongst this lot.’ He handed a collection of items in specimen bags to him. ‘His name is John Gregory, Flat number 32, Chandler’s Block.’ Murphy put each item carefully into his webbing shoulder bag.
‘Who found him?’
‘A Miss Wells. She was walking her dog around seven-thirty this morning. By the way where is your K.9? Didn’t leave him in the car, did you?’
‘Nah, my ex has got him this week. I thought it was her calling first thing to moan about him when it was the station calling to get me out here. What’s the M.O. d’you reckon?’
‘No doubt the forensics’ lot will totally disagree, but I’d say a simple mugging first using a hammer to the head.
‘Ok. I’ll get up to his flat, but I’ll check with this Miss Wells first. What’s her address and how old is she?’
The Constable flipped through his notepad. ‘She lives with her sister in that close off the London Road. Elmwood Close, number 14. Don’t get your hopes up; she’s old enough to be your mum and a bit.’
‘Right I’ll be off. If anything, else comes up give me a bell when the Super arrives, and I’ll see you back at the station when you finish up here.’
‘Sir,’ this to the Inspector whom he didn’t feel he needed to say anything more to being as how he knew he would have been following his conversation with Barrett word by word.
He continued back down to his car and drove around to the car park pulling up in front of Chandler’s Block, climbed the three steps at the entrance and pushed open the swing doors.
Ignoring the lift he climbed the stairs till he found number 32. He pushed his hands into plastic gloves and rang the doorbell and rapped on the door then waited. Getting no response, he pulled out the keys Barrett had given him and selected the only Yale key on the ring. The door opened first time of trying.
Inside the flat the first thing he noticed was how spartan and clean it appeared. But what was most striking throughout the tiny flat was that it told so much about the tenant without having to search through anything. This was the home of a man living on the very fringe of society. What little furniture and appliances had been supplied from charity shops. There was extraordinarily little food in the kitchen. In the fridge was half a pint of milk, a tub of margarine, an opened jar of raspberry jam and half a tin of baked beans.
Everything was scrupulously clean and tidy. It portrayed a man who was doing his best with next to nothing. A man who deserved a hell of a lot more in life than lying dead with a hammer hole in his head. He sat on one of the few chairs and pondered to himself what is must be like to live such a deprived existence.
He made some cursory checks to see if there was any names, phone numbers or addresses he might contact and came up with very little other than a small photo album, an equally small address book and a file of building society statements. He put these in his satchel and closed the threadbare curtains in the tiny lounge and left the building.
His next port of call was to the house of Miss Miriam Wells, the lady who discovered the body. Having declined the offer of a cup of tea he was able to ascertain that the lady could not add anything useful or further to his questions other than giving the time she found the victim. He thanked her and returned to the station. On his way back his thoughts drifted to how life had been so unfair to the deceased. He made a silent vow to himself that he would not rest until he solved this, his first major case until he caught who had done this despicable deed.
Back at the station, Declan walked into the briefing room where a somewhat irritable Detective Superintendent Fellows was in the middle of addressing the assembled group. Having had his golf ruined, a point he made for the rest of the day, he allocated various tasks that could be managed on a Sunday around the crime squad.
The next day they continued on with their investigations. Various people were contacted including the housing association and Tesco’s Express. They established the victim had been married as his wedding ring suggested but his wife had predeceased him five years earlier which was when he took up tenancy at the flats.
None of the objects found on him yielded any usable fingerprints and the most useful piece of detail he left behind was the Tesco’s receipt which showed he had bought two of Tesco’s Own large white loaves. Declan took the receipt as being the best piece of evidence they had even though the Super gave it little significance.
Following up on this receipt and the subsequent interviews with two staff members of the store he got lucky. By talking to the lady on the checkout that morning and also a rather dumb-looking lad who was stacking shelves that day, Declan was able to piece together the victim’s movements almost down to the minute.
The lady also seemed to know quite a lot about the victim. He was a regular customer with whom she often passed the time of day. Along with the stacker she went out of her way to be as much use as possible. He had been the only customer at that time apart from a rough looking lad also from the flats as far as they knew. They thought he was a recent arrival in the area, foreign and a refugee the pair of the thought. They didn’t know his name and he always paid with cash.
‘Would you be able to recognise this lad from a photo?’
‘Oh, sure they,' both chorused, the stacker nodding his head as if a prize or reward had been offered.
‘Right, you have both been a great help, I’ll probably be back before long. Thank you.’ Declan started to move away.
Before he could the cashier asked. ‘Have they done anything wrong? I couldn’t imagine the old gentleman would. He was so nice and quiet. Can’t say the same about the other one though.’
‘No, it’s a bit complicated, that’s all I can say at this time and as I said I’ll almost certainly be back.’ With that he left and drove to the flats.
Once there he parked and took out his phone and called the Superintendent’s direct number. ‘Have you been able to nail anyone done at the housing association yet sir?’
‘Yes Declan, what have you been able to find?’
‘Not a great deal sir but I am interested in a possible new youngish tenant. Could be foreign and maybe a refugee or the like.’
‘Okay I’ll put someone onto it. Where are you now?
‘At the flats now about to have a look around. If you come up with anybody give me a buzz, please sir.’ With that he switched off and got out of the car.
As he headed up the steps a young-looking baseball capped youth in scruffy jeans and a grubby red anorak came bursting through the doors so quickly, he almost ran into the detective. He was clutching a well-worn Tesco bag for life in his right hand.
‘Whoa there young feller, what’s the big hurry?’ Declan halted the man’s progress grabbing him by his upper arm.
The man attempted to loosen Declan’s hold on his arm, ‘Let me go. Think you’re a cop or summit?’ The man glared at him in a most venomous glare. He spoke in a heavy Eastern European accent.
‘By happy coincidence I am Declan smiled back. What’s in your bag if you don’t mind me asking? Declan released his arm but moved in front of the man.
‘What’s it to you what’s in my bag? Thought this was supposed to be a free country here not like where I came from. It’s only my rubbish I’m taking to the bins.’
‘Then you won’t mind me looking at it then, will you?’ Declan took hold of a corner of the Tesco bag-for-life. But the man wasn’t giving up without a fight. Though he hadn’t considered the strength of Declan’s hold. This resulted in a tussle and the pair of them tumbling back down the three steps, the man on top of the detective, by now thoroughly annoyed. They both let go of the bag to save themselves and the rubbish spilled out on to the road. Uppermost in the rubbish was a bloodstained hammer and the plastic wrappers of two loaves of bread.
About the author
Robin's short stories have appeared in CafeLit both on line and in print on a regular basis. He has also entered various writing competitions but has yet to get past being short listed.
Did you enjoy the story? Would you like to shout us a coffee? Half of what you pay goes to the writers and half towards supporting the project (web site maintenance, preparing the next Best of book etc.)