Fish Bone Alley 3 available to purchase in print and E-book soon (please check blog for updates). Extracts and blurb further below.
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Extracts followed by blurb
We are in Clumps office. The cheap stuff is out, so whatever’s going on it isn’t that serious and subsequently shouldn’t be that dangerous. But then you never can tell.
“Not for me, sir,” says Head as Clump is about to fill the glasses.
Clump shoots Head a puzzled look, “Are you ill?”
“No, sir. I’m just cutting down on the booze.”
“Well, sir it can’t be good for you continually drinking copious amounts of strong liqueur before lunch, during lunch, after lunch, before dinner, during…”
“As you wish,” cuts in Clump. “And you, Inspector do you also wish to abstain?”
I am tempted, but Head’s right, we do drink far too much. “Um… To be honest, sir although I don’t intend joining the Temperance Society, I think it would be a good idea to cut down and to cut it out completely before lunch.”
To our amazement Clump puts the bottle and glasses back into the draw and slowly but pointedly shuts it. “Right, let’s get down to it. Cornwall, Sergeant what do you know about Cornwall? And take note, I only want sensible answers.”
“It’s famous for dumplings and pasties, sir,” smiles Head.
“And pilchards,” adds I.
“What about swedes and turnips?” says Head. “They grow tons of the stuff and are known as swede, turnip and dumpling heads.”
“You are mixing up your counties, Sergeant,” grates Clump. “I believe Norfolk and Suffolk are famous for swedes, turnips and dumplings. What else?”
“Smuggling,” says I. “The area is notorious for smuggling in booze and tobacco from France.”
“Good answer, Inspector. Well done. Although I am of the opinion that the problem isn’t anywhere near as prolific as it once was.
“Ship wrecking,” says Head. “I read a book once about how the Cornish used to lure ships onto the rocks during storms, brain all the crew and run off with the cargo.”
“Excellent,” beams Clump. “As you are both obviously well informed about the Cornish way of life, I am sending you down there for a few days.”
“What for a holiday?” says Head.
Ignoring him Clump says, “Have either of you heard of a place called Bullington Castle?”
We shake our heads.
“Bullington Castle is owned by The Earl of Bullington, who is a personal friend of mine. While his wife, Countess Constance, just happens to be Mrs Clumps younger sister. They have a problem gentleman that the local constabulary has been trying to solve for the past month or more without even a smidgen of success. What is that problem you ask?”
“What is that problem?” asks Head.
“Shut up, Sergeant,” snaps Clump. “The problem is attempted murder, gentlemen. Lord Percival Bullington, the eldest son and heir apparent to the Bullington Estate has had three attempts on his life. Attempt one consisted of someone taking a too close for comfit pot shot at him while he was in a cornfield. Attempt two consisted of someone jumping out of a hedge and firing an arrow at him while he was out riding…”
“Red Indians?” queries Head.
Clumps bushy eyebrows meet, “They don’t think it was Red Indians, Sergeant, but Robin ‘bloody’ Hood may have had something to do with it. Sometimes, Sergeant you really do stretch your luck. Now, either you start taking this seriously or I shall have you suspended on no pay. Do you understand me?”
“I was merely…”
“Well don’t. Attempt three occurred two days after attempt two. Lord Percival was making his way outside the castle when a huge chunk of masonry was pushed from the parapet, just missing his head and landing at his feet where it embedded itself several inches into the ground. Since then Lord Percival has remained in the castle for his own safety, while the local constabulary investigated the incidences.”
“Obviously to no avail,” puts in I.
“Exactly. Therefore, you two will be going down there to take over the investigation. Any questions?”
“What about my Chloe?” demands Head.
“What about your Chloe?”
“Can she come with me?”
“It may be summer, Sergeant and the weather glorious at present, but this is work. You are not going on a bloody jolly, you are going to investigate a series of serious attempts on someone’s life, so why on earth do you think I would sanction your wife joining you to cause you all manner of distractions?”
“Because she is about seven months pregnant, sir and I don’t want to be too far away from her in case something happens.”
“I can understand that, Sergeant. But what good is a husband when it comes to pregnancy and giving birth? I will tell you, no bloody good whatsoever. The only man a pregnant woman wants to see is a qualified gynaecologist. In short, someone who can truly help her should anything go wrong.”
“But I could help her by being there should she give birth early.”
“Are you mad? Trust me, Sergeant when I tell you it is imperative that you are not there when she gives birth, unless you wish to see a side of your wife you never dreamed of seeing in your worst nightmares. As the pain and discomfort of giving birth increases with every ‘push’ so she will start glaring at you through accusing eyes that say this is all your fault. She then follows on verbally with such as: ‘You’re never going to do ‘that’ to me again, so don’t even think about it as I am never going to go through this again. It’s all right for you, you, bastard, you had the easy bit. I want a divorce so I can become a nun. God, what my poor mother suffered. And so on.”
“But surely you advocate a husband at least trying to comfort his wife at such a time, sir?” says I. “Didn’t you try and comfort Mrs Clump when she gave birth to your children?”
“No. I avoided it like the plague and went to the pub on each occasion.” Suddenly he appears rather thoughtful as he scratches at his beard, while fixing Head with questioning eyes before counting the fingers on his hands. “Correct me if I am wrong, Sergeant. Did I or did I not attend your wedding five months ago just after Christmas?”
“You did, sir.”
“And you are saying that your wife is about seven months gone?”
Head goes red, “Um… Correct, sir.”
“I see. That being the case, your attempt to emotionally blackmail me into allowing your wife to accompany you on the trip to Cornwall, is denied, as you should have kept it buttoned up until you were married. You will just have to make sure your wife is left in capable hands while you are away should anything happen.”
“Fear not, Sergeant,” says I. “Chloe can move in with Betty while we are away.”
“She’ll still have her work to do.”
“Gentlemen,” grates Clump. “Let us exit the domestic doldrums and get back to the matter in hand.” He slaps a folder on the desk. “Here are your instructions and reports on the case thus far, along with train times and where you will be billeted, etc-etc.”
“Where are we staying?” asks a miserable looking Head.
“At a rather grand rustic inn called The Smugglers Rest. I have stayed there myself on a few occasions. Good food, comfy beds and glorious views over the ocean. You will be catching the 7.30 from Paddington tomorrow morning, which gives you the remainder of the day to catch up with any outstanding paperwork and to tidy up your messy desks.”
“But we never tidy up our desks,” pleads Head.
“You will today as the new Chief Constable is coming around for an inspection tomorrow, and he is a stickler for order. Order equals discipline and efficiency, so he says. Right, bugger off so I can have a fart, a cigar and a scotch in peace.”
We get to our feet and I pick up the folder. Just as we reach the door, Clump says, “One more thing. This coming Friday, which is four days hence, Mrs Clump and I shall arrive at Bullington Castle to stay for the weekend. It is Miss Matilda Bullingtons twenty first birthday along with her engagement to Lord Jeremy Trout. But do not worry ‘lads’ I will be in holiday mode and will not encroach upon your investigations. Besides you may well have solved the case and headed back home before I even get there. So, good luck and see you both soon.”
“Thank you, sir,” we chorus.
“Bloody Cornwall,” groans Head slamming our office door the second we are inside. “I can’t go, Gerald. Why it’s practically at the end of the world and further away than France. I can’t be that far away from Chloe at this critical stage in her bump.”
“To be honest, Richard I think Clump’s being very unreasonable about this because he doesn’t want to lose his face. He’s more concerned about his relative’s welfare than ours, while winning himself massive trollop points by sending us there, in the certain knowledge, we’ll solve the case and prove that Scotland Yard is the penultimate crime fighting force in the entire world, while we, trained of course by him, are two of its best detectives.”
“We’re not that good, are we?” says Head plonking himself down beside his desk.
“Compared to most of the idiots in the force we are. Why are we so good? I will tell you; we think for ourselves, act on our decisions and say bollocks to convention. But to be effective we cannot operate efficiently if we are burdened with personal problems that causes conflict between us. Are you with me so far?”
“Good. Let me enlighten you,” says I sitting down on Heads desk and accidently pushing off a pile of papers in the process. “I can’t have you moaning and groaning throughout the trip because you are worrying about Chloe. Therefore, I suggest we take the girls with us.”
“How can we? Clump will crucify us should he find out.”
“He won’t find out, trust me.”
“But what about Chloe’s job?”
“To hell with it. She’ll have to give it up shortly anyway.” Leaning closer to Head I lower my voice in case someone is earwigging at the door. “I still have most of the money we made from the Blue Diamond case and you must have as well.”
“The wedding cost a fare bit and things for the baby made a small hole, plus a few little luxuries. But yes, I’ve still got seventy pounds hidden away, which is more than enough to put down on our own little place in a decent area.”
“Which you can’t do without attracting attention to yourself.”
“I know that, Gerald. Trust me when I say I’m not so stupid as to go throwing money about.”
“Of course, you wouldn’t. Even so we must continue to be careful and not allow ourselves to get too cocky. Right, that’s enough of that, let’s get on.”
Head lets out a groan, “I can’t bear the thought of Chloe suffering on a train all the way down to Cornwall, Gerald. All that swaying about and bumpety bumps. Constant clickity clacks and squealing brakes…”
“She’ll be fine. What do you want to do? Leave Chloe here and drive yourself mad worrying about her? Or perhaps you should consider going sick to get out of it, or leave the force and take your chances. Or, as I suggest, we take the girls with us. It is early June, Richard. Summer is here, so let’s enjoy it for a while away from the big smoke. We shall be working but not all the time, while the girls can just enjoy. Betty needs a holiday and Chloe could certainly do with a change of scenery, and all she has to do is put up with the journey there and back.”
“Chloe’s never seen the sea let alone walked on a beach.”
“There you are then. It is settled. We shall all go.”
“What if Chloe doesn’t think she’s up to it?”
“Well that will be that I suppose and we’ll have to go back to plan A. Chloe will move in with Betty until our return and I will have to suffer your constant moaning and groaning, your sour face, bad tempers and lack of concentration regarding the case.”
“I’m not that bad, surely?”
“Yes, you are. Now until we put it to the girls, let us get on.”
Gazing around the room I admit that it is in a bit of a mess. My desk is piled high with files and rubbish of all sorts, including a plate with left over mouldy bread, cheese and a giant dead slug on it. There are piles of documents stacked up against the filing cabinets that are themselves stuffed to over flowing. The floor looks like a communal rubbish dump, and there must be at least half a dozen mugs laying around half full with stagnant green coloured liquid of various sorts. But at least they act as effective insect collectors.
“Why don’t we just set fire to the office?” says Head dead pan. “We could accidently knock over a lamp or something.”
“Clump would want to know why we lit a lamp when the sun is shining through our little window. A fire is a good idea, Richard but out of the question. We need a proper plan.”
“Why don’t we go to the store room, grab a few packing cases, chuck everything in and then take it around back and set fire to it there?”
“And have half the Yard descend on us complaining about the smoke. I think, Richard we should do as you suggest, but instead of setting fire to everything we’ll just find somewhere to hide it all until we return from Cornwall, and then burn it.”
“Brilliant,” smiles Head getting to his feet. “We could hide it all behind the old stables. No one goes there much because they’re due to be demolished.”
“An excellent idea. Let’s get to it and pray that no one sees us.”
It takes us two hours of hard graft to clear the office, sweep the floor and polish up the furniture. Standing back to admire our work we both agree it looks good. The little added touches set it all off. The vase of flowers on Heads desk, stolen from the canteen, are very beautiful, and complement the pair of small rural panoramas in oils nailed on the wall that we pinched from the ‘unclaimed stolen property cupboard’. But my favourite is the small bronze nude of Aphrodite we also found in the cupboard; that now sits on the window sill.
“That statue won’t be there long,” warns Head. “Once the Chief Constable sees it, he’ll have it removed while extolling the virtues of virtue, and then what? We’ll get in trouble, Gerald that’s what.”
I shake my head. “Richard, the Chief Constable is a hypocrite of the highest order. He may sprout the bible and harp on about chastity and moral ethics, when in truth he’s a secret collector of filth and a notorious wanker.”
Head appears amazed at this revelation. “Really? How do you know that?”
“Let’s just say I have done my homework. Not only is the Chief Constable a collector of dirty printed works he is also a collector of, shall we say, erotic art. He’ll certainly remove the statue, but rest assured it will end up in his collection. In short he will steal it.”
“The cheeky bastard. Is nothing safe from the thieving morons in this place.”
“In short, no.” I rub my hands together. “I think, Sergeant it is time for a pie and a pint at the Dirty Duck, don’t you?”
“What about our promise to ourselves not to drink before and during lunch?”
“We could try adhering to it again tomorrow.”
“Alright then, let’s go.”
The station at Bullington is small but very pretty. Red brick walls and grey slate tiles. Hanging baskets full of budding geraniums, and several cut in half old beer barrels full of small rose bushes that are breaking out in flower. Stepping down on the platform, I set our bags down and turn to offer Betty my hand.
“Oh, isn’t it lovely,” smiles Betty. “I could live here, Detective Inspector.”
“Until you get covered in smoke,” says I as the train puffs out a cloud of smut, that luckily, fans over our heads.
I help Head with his suitcase while he assists a somewhat exhausted Chloe out of the train. She has not had a comfortable ride over the last two hours of the journey and is suffering from back ache, but to her credit she has made little complaint, and is so excited about the trip she is a joy to have on board.
There doesn’t appear to be anyone around so we pick up our luggage, step into the station and go up to the ticket office, which seems to be manned by a large ginger cat that hisses at us through the wire grille.
“I feel a little sick and dizzy,” says Chloe placing a trembling hand over her forehead.
“Let’s get you out into the air,” says Betty wrapping an arm around Chloe’s back to steady her.
I take charge of the luggage while Head assists Betty in gently steering Chloe through the station and out back into the sunshine, where they sit her down on a park bench that looks over towards rolling meadows full of sheep and nothing much else. Setting the luggage down I quickly note there are no cabs waiting. The place is completely deserted.
“There’s no cabs,” grates Head, “and we need to get Chloe to the inn as quickly as possible.”
“She needs to lay down,” adds Betty. “Why isn’t there any cabs, Detective Inspector?”
“I have no idea,” says I in all honesty. “It said in our itinerary that all transport has been arranged, so perhaps a cab will turn up shortly.”
“There must be someone about,” grates Head sitting down beside Chloe and taking her hand. “I’ll bet that’s the Station Masters house over there behind those thick bushes,” he points. “Perhaps we should go and knock on the door.”
“I’ll look around inside first,” says I on hearing what sounded like a door slamming. Back inside I go up to the ticket office again and place a hand too close to the gap under the grille, the cat suddenly pounces forward, shoots out a paw and tries to scratch me, but I am too quick for the spitting lump and swiftly retract my hand as its claws dig into the wooden counter instead of my flesh. I follow that action on with a clenched fist banging down on its paw. Belting out a screeching wail it jumps backwards, flies off the counter and tears out the office and disappears.
“Did yer just hurt my little Pussy?” sounds a rough voice from behind me.
Spinning around reveals a hairy faced giant of a railway man in full uniform with Station Master emblazoned on his hat. He is also doing up his fly buttons, so I assume he’s just been in the toilet.
“No,” lies I. “It took one look at me and fled.”
“Ah… That’s because he don’t know yer from Eric. Once he gets to know yer he’ll be a purrin’ and a snugglin’ up to yer. Now, what can I do for yer?”
“We need transport to the local police station and then on to the Smugglers Rest.”
“Ah… Yer’ll be the famous detectives from London then, I take it.”
“You take it right.”
Making a show of taking out his fob watch from inside his waistcoat he gazes officiously at it before clicking the cover shut and putting it away. “It’s 4.30. Ol’ Seb’ will be here in about half an hour with a load of sheep to be loaded on the next train. He’ll take yer wherever yer want ter go for a few pennies.”
“We have two ladies with us who couldn’t possibly travel in a sheep wagon. They’ll require something more comfortable.”
He scratches at his scruffy beard, “Can they ride bicycles?”
“One is with child,” grates I.
“Well it ain’t my fault. Tell yer what me handsome, Doctor Brent will be a comin’ here ter see to my wife’s gout about six. He’ll give them ladies of yers a lift to the Smugglers once he’s done with the ol’ woman. Goes right past the Smugglers on his way home, he does.”
“Yer welcome. Now then, do yer folks want refreshments while yer wait?”
“That would be nice.”
“I’ll get the wife to make a pot of tea and plate up a few scones. Come with me an’ yer can all wait in the waitin’ room.”
The waiting room we find is very small but the bench seating along one wall is padded and comfortable. Chloe feels a little better, which instantly cheers up Head and Betty.
Snuggling up to me she whispers in my ear, “Do you think we may have a four-poster bed to sleep on, Detective Inspector?”
“No idea my little fantasist. So long as it is comfortable that is all that matters.”
“And doesn’t squeak too much,” she grins saucily.
We chat on until the Station Master returns carrying a large tray with our refreshments on. Dragging over a heavy looking round table with one hand he sets the tray down onto it.
“That’ll be five shillings,” smiles he.
“How much!” gasps Head.
“Alright, four shillings.”
“How about one shilling?” frowns I.
“’Ow about two and six?”
“How about a poke in the eye?” warns Head.
“Alright, my final offer, or I’ll take the tray away, one and six.”
“Done,” says I. Fishing around in my ‘new’ coins only purse, that Betty bought me for Christmas, I hand the money over.
“Lovely,” grins he while starring at Betty’s bust. “Anything yer want just ask.”
“We will,” says I glaring at the man. How dare he gawp so brazenly at my Betty’s bust?
Betty stirs the pot before straining the tea into very clean white cups on saucers.
“Those four scones look nice, Detective Inspector,” smiles she. “As does the jam and clotted cream.”
“That equates to one each,” says I watching Head like a hawk as he swiftly grabs the biggest scone to place triumphantly onto his plate.
The scones turn out to be as delicious as they looked, and after a couple of cups of tea each, we are all in good spirits.
“I’m really enjoying myself,” coos Betty.
“So am I,” smiles Chloe, the colour having returned to her cheeks. “I’ve never been on holiday before. It’s wonderful.”
Head puts an arm over her shoulders and hugs her to him as I stand up for a good stretch.
“I’d love to paddle my feet in the sea,” says Chloe. “Do you think we can all do that later?”
“You and Betty can,” says I. “Tonight, Richard and I will be going through the local forces reports to find out what’s what, so that we are fully prepared when we meet the Bullingtons tomorrow. It says in our itinerary that we will have a liveryman and a coach at our disposal throughout our stay, and we’ll be picked up at nine-thirty tomorrow outside the Inn.”
“Cor, a lay-in, what luxury,” beams Head. “Why so late, Gerald?”
“I assume, Richard it is so our visit doesn’t encroach on their personal routines. You know what these aristocrats are like, sticklers for routine and etiquette. Meals at an exact time. Everyone and everything in its place. Strict dress codes, especially for the ladies who will change clothes several times throughout the day to comply with convention. They’ll change for lunch, change for dinner, change to walk in the garden, change for a shit…”
“What a load of old tripe,” says Betty. “I couldn’t be bothered to change clothes umpteen times a day even if I were a queen. Goodness me, they must spend half their lives changing.”
“Well what else do they have to do except for crocheting?”
“Have sex with the gamekeepers behind the sheds,” grins Head.
“I’m sure they do lots of things,” grates Betty giving Head one of her admonishing glares. “It isn’t their fault they’re seen as secondary beings only capable of having sex and giving birth. I’m sure they play musical instruments, read and write, and are very learned.”
“We shall see, Betty,” says I. “Anyway, their world is far removed from the real world and in truth what do the men do when not going off to war?”
Head gives out a yawn, “Boring stuff like playing billiards and shooting millions of birds, that is when they’re not with their mistresses shooting other stuff.”
“You seem to know a lot about it, Richard,” says Chloe.
“I read a book about them once. It was called: The English Aristocracy Stripped Bare.”
“Never heard of it,” says I.
“You may well not have,” grins Head. “It was printed by an underground press and is currently banned for being too graphic. The book exposed several aristocrats, some still living, for their debauchery, their eccentricities and the madness that is inherent within them because of too much inbreeding. According to the book, your average aristocrat, whether male or female, are as mad as monks.”
Fortunately, Heads ramblings are interrupted by the sound of bleating sheep and a wagon pulling up outside. The Station Master sticks his head in.
“Ol’ Seb’s here. He’s only got a few sheep. He’ll put ‘em into a pen ready ter be loaded on the train when it arrives. Give him ten minutes an’ he’ll give yer a knock. Have yer finished eating and drinking?”
“Yes, thank you.”
“The scones were delicious,” says Betty.
“Thank yer, madam,” says he to her bust.
“I think he’s become quite sweet on me,” says Betty once he’d gone.
“Indeed,” frowns I. “Especially between your stomach and neck.”
“Don’t be coarse, Detective Inspector. The man’s simply too shy to look me directly in the eyes that’s all.”
“If you say so.” I sit down again. In truth I am itching to eventually get to the inn and settle in once Head and I have visited the local police station. A few beers and a good meal while we ponder over the case files thus far, followed by an early night in a comfortable bed, that hopefully doesn’t squeak too much, sounds marvellous.
A scruffy hairy face wearing a floppy felt hat pokes itself around the door.
“Who’s wantin’ a lift to thee police station?”
“We is. I mean we are,” says I pointing to Head.
“Right then, come yer along with me.” He touches his hat with dirty gnarled fingers and disgustingly long nails. “Welcome to Bullington ladies. I hope yer enjoy yer stay.”
“We will,” they beam.
“Lovely too,” smiles he, his eyes twinkling all over Betty’s bust before he disappears.
I told her that red dress was too risqué for the back and beyond. She should have worn something more fitting, but she wouldn’t listen, and now she has to suffer every yokel she meets gawping at her cleavage. “Are you sure you’ll both be alright until this Doctor Brent turns up?”
“Of course, we will, Detective Inspector. Do not worry we shall be fine.” Betty pats Chloe’s hand. “Won’t we Chloe?”
“We will indeed.”
“Well don’t go giving birth early unless I’m with you,” warns Head.
Chloe shoots him a confused look, “Why? What do you know about delivering a baby, Richard? Especially if it comes early.”
“I read this book…”
“Let us get on, Sergeant,” orders I grabbing mine and Betty’s bags. We kiss the girl’s goodbye and head out into the sunshine. It is surprisingly warm for early June and it seems as if summer started a month or more back. Flora and fauna are all ahead of themselves and the air rings with life. Hopefully it will last and we’ll enjoy a long hot summer.
Having unloaded his sheep, Seb’ is waiting for us along with a scruffy sheep dog beside a cart with huge wheels that is pulled by a bay coloured heavy horse. In full view, Seb’ is a thick set, short man with bandy legs covered with tatty corduroy trousers that are tied with string around the ankles just above manure covered leather work boots. He’s wearing a grubby smock with a red neckerchief tied around his thick neck. A long smoking clay pipe hangs precariously from the corner of his mouth and he exudes an aura of ‘I have all the time in the world so take your time’.
“Come yer over,” says he, and we do so, which is when my nose is assaulted by the stench of sheep shit steaming up from the waggon.
Seb’ climbs up onto the waggon, “Pass me up yer bags.”
I pass up my first bag which is wrenched away from my grasp and then tossed carelessly into the back of the waggon. For some reason, known only to God, I pass him my other bag which again is snatched away and tossed into the back. Head steps forwards and passes up his suitcase, Seb’ grabs hold of it by the handle, mumbles that it’s, “friggin’ heavy,” before hurling it, with a grunt, into the back. Now our luggage is undoubtably soaking in sheep’s piss and covered in shit, that’s covered in little muck flies, that have appeared in little clouds and seem to be attacking everything even remotely alive.
“Come yer up,” says Seb’ offering me a dirty smelly hand which I take hold of despite myself. Seb’s grip is so powerful, I fear it will break my bones as he practically hauls me up while nearly wrenching my shoulder from its socket.
I help haul Head up as Seb’ takes up the reins and pats the wooden board beside him.
“Sit yer down beside ol’ Seb’, me handsome,” says he.
I sit down and Head squashes up beside me. Glancing behind me I look down into the waggon, relieved to find that our luggage has been dumped on top of clean straw in a fenced off space separate from where the sheep were.
Seb’ pats me on the thigh and says, “Yer ready my lovers?”
I nod before meeting Heads questioning gaze as he mouths, ‘My lovers?’
‘No idea,’ mouths back I.
The dog leaps up into the back of the cart. Seb’ slaps the reins and the horse moves off while I wonder what Seb’ is wondering. I know that Head is wondering if Seb’ might be a bit strange, while I’m also wondering if the Station Master is also a bit strange as he also called me his handsome? Either way I’m not about to take the chance of Seb’ being a bit strange and say to Head, “Do you want to change places, Sergeant?”
“You don’t like sitting on the edge, do you?”
“I don’t mind. Actually, I have never minded.”
“Are you sure? I seem to recall you prefer being in the middle.”
“No, I don’t…”
“Now, now my lovers,” says Seb’ slapping the reins again. “Yer can take turns sittin’ on the edge if yer want. Perhaps yer’d like ter change round at the station so the sergeant can sit beside me for a while.”
“How about I sit in the back,” suggests I.
“What and get all straw on yer arse. No, yer stay put me handsome while ol’ Seb’ sings yer a song. Here, hold my pipe, but don’t smoke it cause I’m near out of baccy.”
He gives me his pipe, takes a deep breath and starts to sing so loudly I reason the seagulls soaring high in the sky can hear him.
“My lover an’ me went down to thee brook and stripped off all our gear.
Oh, he cried, I ain’t never seen one so big, I fear.
No, my handsome laughed I so. It takes a while for such a whopper ter grow.
But don’t you worry, we’re in no hurry, yer’ll soon have yer hands on he.
Yer’ll soon have yer hands on he.
Cause he marvelled at its shape and size, for he couldn’t believe his eyes.
Cor, he cried with glee, I’ll soon have that bugger in me gob yer’ll see.
I’ll soon have that bugger in me gob yer’ll see.
I said he would, but if he could, leave a little for his mother and me.
Leave a little for his mother… and me…”
I am speechless and contemplate pushing Head off the waggon so I can edge away from Seb’ who is obviously seriously strange. However, Head doesn’t move an inch when I try to cagily shoulder him off the waggon.
“What kind of fish was it, Seb’?” laughs Head.
Seb’ takes back his pipe, sticks it in his mouth and takes a draw, “A trout. The biggest me an’ my boy had ever seen. Cause we ain’t never seen it since.”
“Why’s that?” says I sighing with relief.
He throws back his head and laughs, “Cause, we caught the bugger an’ ate it. We often go down ter the brook on a nice day, me an’ the boy. Takes us a bar of soap an’ has a good scrub. Nothin’ like bathin’ in pure clean water.”
“You have just the one boy?” asks I.
“No… By heaven I got six boys an’ two girls. My oldest boy works with me while the other boys work on other farms as I ain’t got enough land an’ sheep ter employ ‘em all. One of me girls is still at home while the other lives and works up at the castle doin’ chamber maidin’.”
To confirm to myself that Seb’ isn’t funny I ask, “So, you and your wife have eight children?”
“You just said you did.”
“I said I had eight children, but I didn’t say who with. Me an’ Mary got four between us an’ I got three with Angela an’ one with Beryl.”
“Are Angela and Beryl your previous wife’s?” says I while wondering if the poor man may have twice been a widower.
“No…” he drawls. “They’re me girlfriends of course.”
“Girlfriends? Don’t you mean mistresses?”
“Well I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes when your wife finds out.”
“She found out years ago, when I told her.”
“But surely she can’t be happy with the situation?”
“She don’t mind so long as I don’t bring ‘em home ter stay thee night. Mary don’t mind seein’ ‘em in church though. An’ we all gets together at Christmas an’ Easter.”
“That must be nice and interesting,” says Head.
I’m not sure if he’s being sarcastic or not, either way I settle back a bit and relax, as the waggon heads upwards towards the top of a hill flanked on both sides by low stone walls.
A light salty breeze kisses our faces so the sea can’t be far away. Skylarks sing above our heads in a bright blue sky dotted with puffs of snow-white cloud. It is truly wonderful just plodding along and enjoying the scenery. Coming over the hill we are looking down towards a valley where nestles a small hamlet of painted white stone cottages with grey tiled rooves, as a cloud covers the sun and a shadow sweeps over the hamlet to accentuate the magic of the moment. This is all a dream, so different from the noise, hustle and bustle of London that I am lost in the euphoria of the moment, until Head grates, “Bet nothing much goes on down there. It looks deader than a dried-up old toad that was run over by a traction engine.”
“Thank you, Sergeant for that stirring rendition,” grates I. “Remind me to destroy your euphoria someday.”
“What euphoria was that, sir?”
“Bullington Village down there in thee valley,” says Seb’. “An’ believe it or not, Sergeant, yer’d be surprised what can go on in a small place like that. ‘Specially when yer got buggers like that Percy Bullington livin’ up thee road. Cor he’s a sod he is.”
Now, this could be interesting, “In what way is he a sod?”
“Can’t say me handsome. Too bloody risky what with me bein’ a tenant farmer in dept to the buggers. I’ll just say watch how yer go when dealin’ with ‘em.”
I attempt to get more out of Seb’ but he’s clamped his mouth so tightly shut it would require the services of a crow bar to force it open.
At last we reach the edge of the village. It is so quiet there doesn’t appear to be a soul around. Undaunted the horse trundles on. We pass a rustic old thatched inn called the Rams Head, the village school, a tiny slate roofed post office and a more modern general stores, until we come to a halt outside a small thatched cottage with tiny latticed windows and a wisteria covering half the frontage.
“Here thee be,” says Seb’. “Thee, police house.”
“Are you sure?” says I thinking I have never seen a police house looking like something off a chocolate box.
“Sure, as me balls only itch on Fridays.”
Head makes the mistake of asking, “Why only on Fridays?”
“Cause me drawers have been on all week an’ tend ter get a bit crabby by then.”
“How much do we owe you, Seb’?”
“Square me up later. How long shall thee be?”
“Hopefully not long. We shall go through the evidence gathered thus far on the case with whoever has been in charge of the investigation…”
“That’ll be Constable Burroughs,” cuts in Seb’. If he ain’t in he’ll be down the pub. I’ll be goin’ there me self an’ will send him over to yer if he’s there. Come an’ get me when yer ready.”
“Will do,” says I. “Can we leave our bags with you?”
“Yer can. They’ll be safe with me.”
Head and I jump down as Seb’ clicks the horse on. Steering it around in the narrow street he heads back towards the Rams Head. Head and I walk up a flag stone path to the house where we find the door wide open.
“Hello,” calls I knocking on the door frame while nosing inside. “Anyone in?”
“Probably up the pub like Seb’ said,” says Head. “Let’s just go in.”
Stepping inside we find ourselves in a very neat and tidy small parlour with a pair of armchairs, a sideboard and an ingle nook fireplace. The heavily beamed ceiling is so low we have to remove our bowlers.
“It’s all very cosy,” says Head looking around. “Smells of lavender and roses.”
And exudes a strong sense of wellbeing as well, thinks I calling out again, “Is anyone there?”
There’s a planked door one side of the fireplace that probably leads upstairs while a similar door on the opposite side undoubtably leads outback, the latch on this door suddenly clicks up, and ducking his head in walks a twenty something policeman in uniformed trousers and dusty boots, with braces over a white flannel shirt with sleeves rolled up.
Broad shouldered, with a weathered handsome face and thick bushy moustache, he looks every inch the village copper as he straightens up so his hair just brushes the beam above him.
“Sorry gentlemen, I was out back digging up a few potatoes for dinner.”
He is lying, his hair appears ruffled and his fly buttons aren’t all done up while his cheeks are somewhat red. “Are you not on duty then, Constable?” remonstrates I.
“Oh, yes of course I am, sir. But then I’m always on duty. Seven days a week and twenty-four hours a day.”
“I see,” says I even though I don’t. I introduce myself and Head.
“I am Constable Burroughs,” says he fidgeting from one foot to the other. “Shall we go into the office and look over the case files, or would you care for a pot of tea first?”
“Why not both at the same time?” smiles I.
“Right sir. If you’ll kindly follow me.”
And we do so into a reasonable size kitchen, where we sit at a table with four chairs centre of the room, while he puts the kettle on the blackened range.
Neatly stacked police material covers half the table from wanted posters to pamphlets, case files and regulation manuals. Around the walls are more posters such as: Have you seen this chicken? Do you know who stole this ewe? Have you seen this man who was last seen riding a stolen bicycle through the village on April Fool’s Day while dressed as a nun? Below the heading is a rough sketch of someone in a nun’s habit, and the only way you could reasonably assume it’s a man, as its face is mostly covered by a wimple, is because the hem of the habit is around his waist to expose seriously hairy legs. But then it might actually be a nun on the bicycle who just happens to have seriously hairy legs.
“I can see you are a busy man, Constable,” says I to his back while reasoning that nothing much beyond petty theft rarely occurs around the area, leaving our constable with not a lot to do except get up to mischief. To confirm my suspicions I ask, “Do you mind if I visit your privy, Constable?”
Spinning around with a look of abject horror on his face he stutters, “N-n-no of c-c-course not, sir. It’s out back down the bottom of the g-garden.”
“Thank you.” Getting to my feet I throw Head a wink and take myself outback into the garden, where I find a well tendered vegetable patch and a wall of in flower, runner beans that heralds a narrow gravel path down towards a wooden shed beside a red brick privy with a green painted door. Behind the privy, running right across the garden there’s a low-cut hedge with a thoroughbred horse tethered on the other side, who gazes curiously at me before letting out a nodding neigh. The horse is wearing a side saddle, which tells me that its female rider is probably close by and even more probably in the shed. I go and peep through the sheds little window to see a firm young cleavage being hastily covered up by a white blouse. Things are looking up. Taking a few steps back I wait.
Three minutes pass by before the shed door opens and a petite, hatless dark-haired beauty steps out with her head down while trying to do up a final button on her blouse.
“Good afternoon, madam,” says I.
“Oh bugger,” she startles instantly fixing me with scathing hazel eyes. “Who the hell are you?”
“I am Detective Inspector Potter from Scotland Yard. Who the hell are you?”
Tossing back her head she sneers, “I am Matilda Bullington.”
“How do you do, madam? Do you often get dressed in sheds at the bottom of gardens?”
“If you must know I was galloping across the meadow when one of my buttons popped off my blouse. On spying Constable Burroughs out in his little garden, I rode over and asked him for needle and thread so I might stitch the button back on for proprieties sake. I simply popped into his shed, removed my blouse and did the deed. I mean, stitched on the button. Anything else you wish to know?”
“Not just now thank you.”
“Good. Then I shall be on my way.”
I watch her flounce off towards a little gate central of the hedge, her dark velvet skirt swaying to the rhythm of her curvaceous hips. She truly is a very beautiful young woman. Having gone through the gate she is out of view for a few moments before she mounts the horse and settles herself down. She now has a fashionable women’s riding hat on, a stylish short jacket over her blouse and a crop in her hand. She waves the crop in the air and calls out, “I trust you will keep this to yourself.”
“Of course, madam.”
“Good. No doubt I will see you before too long at the castle.”
Without another word she yanks on the reins to pull the horse’s head around, I hear the slap of the crop on the saddle and Matilda Bullington is swiftly carried away across the meadow.
After a urination, I go back into the cottage to find Constable Burroughs has made tea and is stirring the pot while sat at the table opposite Head. Burroughs gazes up at me with guilt and trepidation etched across his face.
“Did you find the privy to your satisfaction, Inspector?”
“Yes, thank you,” smiles I deciding not to mention my confrontation with Matilda. It has nothing to do with me unless it is linked to the attempted murders on Lord Percival. But Constable Burroughs is playing a very dangerous game messing around with an aristocrat who is expected to become engaged to another aristocrat this very weekend. What the hell he and Matilda think they are playing at I have no idea, unless they are in love? I take a seat beside Head and we start going through the constable’s files on the case, where it soon becomes apparent that the constable does not have enough experience to conduct an attempted murder on a chicken, let alone on a man. It also becomes apparent that he hasn’t the mental capacity to deal with anything above petty theft or sorting out the odd drunk. However, he is a very amiable young man who wants to do his best. In truth the lad is stuck in a veritable crime free area, leaving him nothing much to do except attend to his garden and roger the local posh girl while getting payed for it. The lucky sod.
An hour and a half later Head and I take what files we need and say goodbye to Burroughs. We make our way towards the Rams Head to find Seb’.
“I think old Seb’s sweet on you, sir,” teases Head. “He keeps calling you his lover.”
“On reflection, Sergeant I vaguely recall they are common phrases in these parts that mean nothing more than, say… a Londoner addressing you as mate or governor, or an eastern counties farm labourer calling you, me ol’ beauty.”
“I’m not so sure, sir,” says Head gazing askance at me.
“Let us leave it for now,” warns I. “I need a pint.”
“That sounds like a bloody good idea my lover.”
Ignoring his attempts to wind me up I walk on with a song in my heart. It truly is glorious; the sun is still shining; the birds are singing and the peace and quiet lull you into euphoric ecstasy.
“Christ, does anyone actually live here?” grates Head. “It’s so bloody quiet, apart from the twittering birds, you’d think everyone’s buggered off to the moon.”
I am about to go for him again when the sound of ribald laughter echoes down the street.
“Sounds like humans ahead,” grins Head. “There is life after all.”
“Coming from the Rams Head no doubt,” says I.
“It’s only seven, sir I reckon we’ve got time for a few pints before we head off to the Smugglers Rest.”
“A quick one will suffice, Sergeant. The girls will be expecting to have dinner with us before it gets too late. Plus, they can’t change until we get there because we have their bags with us. But worse, do you really want to antagonise them on the first night of their holiday by turning up half drunk?”
“I suppose not,” whines Head.
As the Rams Head comes into view, we find there are several locals sat outside on benches while swilling cider, judging by the strong aroma of fermented apples. Seb’ is sat amongst them and appears well gone already. They are a jolly, noisy group, most have bushy beards and floppy hats over longish scruffy hair, and are wearing smocks or flannel shirts.
“Here they be,” cries Seb’,” raising a pewter tankard. “My lovers, meet Detective Inspector Potter an’ his partner in crime, Detective Sergeant Head.”
They all raise their various drinking vessels in unison to greet us as one bellows out, “Beth, get yer lovely self out here, there’s gentlemen from London want servin’.”
A well-rounded busty barmaid appears from the pub’s open doorway and saunters over to the fellow who bellowed out, hands on hips she says, “Jim Thatcher, you got a gob on you like a fog horn an’ you’d be best served using it on a foggy night to keep ships from crashing onto the rocks.” Everyone laughs as she turns her attention to me and Head. “What would you gentlemen like to partake of?”
“A piece of yer,” says Jim with a wink. “Like us all.”
“Ignore the old sod, gentlemen. If I gave him a piece of me it’d kill him.”
“Two pints of your best bitter please,” says I.
“You want ter get a man’s drink into yer,” laughs Seb’. Get ’em a jug of scrumpy, Beth.”
“They won’t be used to such shit,” says she. “If you aren’t on that stuff from birth it’ll go through you like a bowl of prunes.”
“I’d like to try it,” says Head.
“Be it on your own head,” warns Beth.
“I’ll take the risk.”
“I’ll stick with the bitter,” says I.
“Sensible man,” says she giving me, for a change, a saucy wink before sauntering off.
One hour later we are back on the waggon and heading away to cheers of farewell from the locals. Seb’ is well drunk, but surprisingly coherent as he chats away nine to the dozen while offering us his opinion on who would want to try and kill Lord Percival Bullington. Which is practically everyone. The man isn’t the least bit liked so it seems. The information gathered from Seb’ and the locals about the Bullington’s was interesting but obviously guarded as everyone, one way or another, can’t afford to fall out with the local gentry, especially the Bullington’s.
Once at the top of the hill we’ve been climbing the sea comes into view a good hundred or so feet below us, and it’s barely twenty feet to the edge of the cliffs from the winding track we are on. In the far distance ominous rolling black clouds seem to be sitting on the horizon, while closer to the shore navy blue waves, topped with brilliant white foam, gently curl onto a sandy beach that stretches for miles.
“Storm a brewin’ up,” says Seb’ matter of fact. “Be rough later on.”
“This is heaven,” burps Head. “Like that scrumpy, you can’t get enough of it.”
At last we reach the Smugglers Rest. Standing alone and barely yards from the cliff edge it is a rambling stone building with a slate roof. Isolated though it is, it appears well frequented as there are several horses tied up outside, a couple of posh carriages and a hansom. I pay Seb’ two shillings which he kisses before putting the coins in his pocket. Head and I jump down while Seb’ climbs into the back of the waggon and starts throwing our bags out over the rails. “That’s that then,” says he as he retakes his seat with the dog cosying up to him. Seb’ clicks the horse on and they trundle away.
After shoving the case files in one of the bags we carry our luggage into the inn, where we encounter more low beams and walls covered with photographs of the area, paintings and general memorabilia. Over a dozen well healed gentry are enjoying meals, drinks and conversation. They greet us amiably as we make our way towards where Betty and Chloe are sat at a round table in front of a tiny latticed window that looks out over the sea.
“At last,” giggles Betty. “We were wondering when you’d turn up.”
“Did you miss us then?” says I.
“No,” she grins through twinkling eyes.
Head bends down and kisses Chloe on the cheek.
“You smell like a rotting apple,” says she.
“You smell of the sea.”
“We went down the steps to the beach and had a paddle. It was wonderful.”
“Wonderful,” choruses Betty. “Oh…, Detective Inspector it is heaven. And our room is huge,” she cries spreading her arms wide. “And it has a four-poster bed that doesn’t squeak.”
“Marvellous,” smiles I, while noting that the wiped clean plates in front of them states they have already eaten and thoroughly enjoyed it along with a bottle of claret.
Dumping the luggage against the wall I take a seat opposite Betty and ask, “Do we need to check in?”
She shakes her head. “All done, Detective Inspector. But if you want food, you’d best order now as they stop taking orders in fifteen minutes.”
I raise a hand to attract the attention of a very young-looking waiter who’s smartly dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and bow tie. He comes right over.
“Good evening, sir and welcome to the Smugglers Rest. How may I serve you?”
Not having seen the menu, but as the Yard are picking up the bill, I order a medium rare sirloin steak with new potatoes and seasonal vegetables along with a pint of bitter, a bottle of claret and a bowl of nuts.
“And you, sir?” says the waiter turning his attention to Head.
“I’ll have the same please, but leave the steak alive.”
“I don’t understand, sir,” says the waiter shooting me a confused look.
“He likes his steak rare,” smiles I. “Can you put everything on our rooms but ensure all alcoholic drinks are invoiced separately.”
“Why’s that?” says Head.
“As you well know the Yard won’t pay for alcoholic drinks, Richard. Tea, coffee and non-alcoholic drinks only.”
“Really! The miserable bastards. You’d think as we’ve come all this way, they might make an exemption and at least pay for our beer.”
“Well they won’t, so get used to it.”
“I still think it’s mean.”
“Ask the girls if they want anything,” says I to get him off the subject.
“We’re alright for now,” smiles Betty.
“That is all for now, thank you,” says I to the waiter.
“Thank you, sir. I will give the chef your orders and then bring your drinks over.”
“Isn’t he lovely?” says Betty as I note her eyes following the waiter as he heads away.
“Just because he’s tall, dark and handsome, well spoken, polite and helpful doesn’t mean he is nice,” says I. “For all you know he could be a nasty piece of work with a tiny winkle.”
“Do I detect a little bit of jealousy, Detective Inspector?” teases Betty.
“Not in the least. As if I would be jealous of a mere boy,” lies I. In truth I am a realising that Betty has captivated every Cornishman she has come into contact with since we arrived, and even now, I can sense the men in the room casting fervent glances her way to the chagrin of the females they are with. Betty is vibrantly friendly and exudes an aura of worldly sophistication and sexuality that demands attention. To the locals she an exotic enigma that they can’t help being drawn to, the moth to the flame. And it doesn’t help matters her wearing that dress. It may be suitable in fashionable London, but it isn’t suitable in the back and beyond, especially as her tits look as if they might pop right out at any second. Time to cool things down a little. “Betty, do you wish to go and change now your luggage has arrived?”
“No thank you, Detective Inspector. Chloe and I both freshened up in our shared bathroom once we’d checked in and been shown our bedrooms. Ours clothes have kept clean and as neither of us smells, despite our walk down to the beach, I see no need to change just now.”
“As you wish,” grates I while contemplating ordering her to go and change. Only Betty isn’t a woman of her time, she is her own person, she believes women should be equal to men, and in truth will never allow any man to dominate her. Besides I adore her just as she is.
“I could stay here for ever,” smiles Chloe through misty eyes.
“So, could I,” says Betty. “What about you, Detective Inspector?”
I shrug, “I haven’t been here long enough to form a true opinion. All appears wonderful, but we are in essence on a working holiday which isn’t reality. Who knows how your feelings about Cornwall may change once you actually live here? What about you, Richard?”
“I agree it’s a beautiful county. The people seem very friendly and the air is invigorating. But in truth I’d be bored to bleedin’ death staying around here. I’m used to the chaos of the big smoke, the madness and the excitement. No, I can’t imagine laying around sucking on a piece of straw while waiting for something exciting to happen, like the local pervert getting caught rogering a sheep.”
The waiter returns with our drinks and places them down on the table, and I note he leans way too far over while doing so in order to take a sneaky gawp down Betty’s cleavage. Worse than that, Betty lifts her eyes to fleetingly meet his as he straightens up and smiles down at her, even worse, neither has noticed that I am flicking admonishing glances from one to the other because they are fixated in mutual admiration of each other.
“I feel a storm brewing,” warns I as the waiter walks away with Betty’s eyes following him. “A storm so violent it may well destroy an awful lot more than just property.”
“Whatever are you going on about, Detective Inspector?” grates Betty.
It would be foolish to go too far with this too early so I opt for the easy way out. “Look behind you, Betty.” She looks behind her out of the window and gives an expressive gasp.
“Oh, my goodness, Detective Inspector! It looks like hell is heading our way.”
Dinner was served during one of the most ferocious storms I have ever witnessed. The wind howled like a demon, rattling the tiles on the roof and hurling clouds of dust and grass at the windows. Thunder boomed so loud it felt as if it was inside the inn, the lighting was so violent it caused more than a few females to scream out as it lit up the bar and shook the window panes. Torrential rain hammered the roof and tortured your hearing for nearly an hour before the storm passed and the setting sun returned, where upon, almost everyone in the inn rushed outside to view the majesty of a shimmering orange orb sinking below the horizon. Marvellous.
After a delicious sweet of chocolate cake washed down with the Claret and a further study of the case files, Betty and I say good night to Head and Chloe. Head throws me a sulky look because he’s not going to get what I’m hoping to get because of Chloe’s bump. Never mind, such is life. Leaving Head to mull over his wine. Betty and I head upstairs to unpack and get ready for bed.
“What do you think, Detective Inspector?” says Betty once we’re inside the bedroom and she’d closed the door.
There’s no gas lighting here and the sweeping room is lit by two large oil lamps, each on its own tiny table. The furniture is quality along with a rug that covers the centre of the oak floor boards. Several landscape watercolours adorn the ochre walls. But most impressive is the four poster that has a deep sprung mattress that promises a good night’s sleep. I give it a test by bouncing my backside up and down on it. “Marvellous,” smiles I patting the embroidered quilt to entice Betty over.
“Sorry, Detective Inspector. You’ve been running around all day long getting all hot and sticky. It’s been absolutely hours since you washed, so I think a bath is in order, don’t you?”
“A bath for two sounds wonderful.”
“One in the bath at a time, it isn’t big enough for two.”
“Really? Why isn’t it big enough for two?”
“Because it isn’t. Now let’s get in the bathroom before, Richard and Chloe do. Grab your towel and follow me.”
Grabbing a big fluffy towel from a rack on the wall I follow Betty out, across the landing and into the bathroom, Betty locks the door behind us. Lit by a pair of wall mounted oil lamps the bathroom is very posh with its porcelain sink, blue flower-patterned flushing toilet bowl and little boat pictures on the wall. There is also a full-sized stand-alone mirror to admire your nakedness in. The only downer is the bath.
“It’s half the size of a decent sized tin bath!” grates I. “If I get in there, I’ll probably get stuck and have to be pulled out by a cart horse.”
Ignoring my outburst Betty bends over, puts the plug in and turns the taps on as it hits me that the bath is plumbed up for hot and cold.
“You’re only allowed two inches of hot water,” says Betty. “According to the hotels information guide; if you hog any more than that others will not get hot water because the boiler can’t cope.”
“Two inches is barely enough to cover your manhood”
“That’s the beauty of a small bath, Detective Inspector. Two inches of hot with an inch or so of cold is more than enough once you get in and the water is pushed up to your belly button. How clever is that? So, stop moaning and get stripped off.”
I do as I’m told. In no time the water has reached the required depth, Betty tests the heat with her hand, declares it safe and in I get. It is a squash to sit right down, my knees are up to my chin and I can barely move. How the hell I am expected to wash myself I have no idea, but at least the water feels unusually soft and delightfully warm. Rolling up her sleeves Betty sets to washing my face, neck and shoulders with soap on a flannel. After a rinse off she goes for my back, chest and arms.
“Right. Stand up, Detective Inspector.”
I do so and Betty sets to washing the best bits without the flannel. It is heaven.
“What a good little soldier you are,” teases Betty. “Standing to attention like that.”
“I won’t be for long if you keep soaping it up so vigorously.”
“I just want to make sure it’s nice and clean.”
“It’s probably the cleanest knob the worlds ever seen.”
She stops soaping and pulls out the plug, “Right, bob down a bit.”
“So, I can rinse the soap off with cold water. I may like the scent of carbolic soap, Detective Inspector, but I can’t bear the taste of it.”
Not wanting to disobey orders I bob down to receive surprisingly cold water all over my bits, killing my ardour dead, which is good as I was very close to decorating Betty’s hair.
After a dry off I slip the towel around me, grab my clothes and make for the bedroom.
Betty closes the door, “Turn the lamps down, Detective Inspector, but don’t draw the curtains, I want the rising moon to cast it’s light over us while you’re slowly undressing me.”
When Lord ‘Percy’ Bullington, heir apparent to the Bullington Estate in Cornwall, has three attempts on his life the detectives are sent to investigate.
Percy, it transpires, is so detested it seems half of Cornwall want to kill him.
After interviewing him even the detectives want to kill him.
But, has Percy faked the attempted murders just to extort money from the estate to maintain his decadent lifestyle? Or, is there something far more sinister behind it all?
Faced with a daunting number of suspects the detectives find themselves dragged ever deeper into a quagmire of red herrings so fishy, even a kipper would turn up its gills.
Dark secrets, rampant lust and vile goings on are hiding behind the sanctimonious walls of Bullington castle.
How far would the Bullingtons go to keep those secrets?
How far will the detectives go to get answers?
How long before the first body turns up?
Extracts followed by blurb
Jack the Flasher
Betty and I are in bed enjoying our morning cuppa with biscuits. It is bloody freezing and we are wrapped up in our dressing gowns over our nightgowns and both wearing woolly hats, mine is blue and Betty’s is pink. The window is iced up inside and the air is clouded with our breath. I dunk my digestive only to see the wet bit break off and plonk down into my tea just before it reaches my mouth.
“You really are messy sometimes, Detective Inspector,” grates Betty. “You’ve splashed tea on the quilt.”
“Sorry my little vixen. My hand shivered with the cold and wobbled the soggy bit off.”
“We’ll have to stop having tea in bed, Detective Inspector if you keep making a mess.”
“Understood,” says I, placing my cup and saucer down on the bedside cabinet. “How about I try dunking something else instead?”
Betty giggles, but gives me the ‘you’ll be lucky look’. “You stick that in your tea and it’ll get scalded.”
“I didn’t mean stick it my tea.”
“I know that,” she grins. “Anyway, you’ve no time for naughties. You’ll be late for work. It’s nearly eight, Detective Sergeant Head will be here in half an hour.”
“He will indeed,” sighs I. “I best get a move on.” Swinging my legs out of the bed I head for the bathroom. After the usual ablutions I dress and go downstairs to find Betty, still in her nightwear, cooking eggs on the stove. On a plate on the kitchen table sits a two-inch-thick lump of ham beside a plate of doorstop crusty rounds of bread splodged with lumps of near frozen butter.
“The ham’s a bit thick, Detective Inspector,” says Betty shooting me a glance over her shoulder. “I couldn’t cut it any thinner it kept slipping all over the place.”
I tip it on its side, stab a fork into it and go at it with the carving knife. Expertly I slice off a third of it for Betty only for the knife to slip and shoot her piece off the table and on to the floor. Quickly I pick it up, peruse it for any dirty bits, decide it’s fine and drop it on her plate.
“Nearly ready,” she says.
“Lovely,” says I. Feeling guilty I transfer Betty’s ham to my plate and give her mine, but my bit’s too big a swap, slipping the bit that fell onto the floor into my jacket pocket I have another go at what’s left and manage to cut it, more or less, in half. I plonk a piece on each plate just as Betty swings away from the stove and comes over with the frying pan. She dumps two sunny side up eggs on my plate and one onto hers, puts the frying pan down and comes and sits opposite me.
“That ham doesn’t appear so big now you’ve cut it up, Detective Inspector. Have you eaten some of it already?”
She narrows her eyes. “Well tuck in or it’ll get cold.”
We tuck in and just finish when Head raps on the door. I don my coat and bowler, slip my revolver in its holster and am ready to go.
Betty fusses over my tie and gives me a peck on the lips. “Be careful you don’t slip on the icy pavements,” says she, buttoning up my coat. “And keep warm! If it starts to snow heavily like it did last night find some shelter.”
“I will my little hot water bottle.” I hug her to me and then make for the door. Betty sees me out. She and Head exchange pleasantries before Head and I head off towards the end of the road where we intend to catch a tram, if they’re running, followed by more trams and finally the Underground to Hyde Park.
Head’s breath pants out of him like a steam train. “Bloody cold isn’t it, sir?” says he, rubbing his hands together. “I should have worn gloves like Chloe told me to, but I didn’t listen.”
“We rarely do,” says I, feeling my feet slip on the cracking ice. “And I should have put on a stout pair of walking boots instead of shoes, just like Betty advised.”
Head’s entire body goes through a rhythmic spasm of shivering. “It’s-it’s, brass bloody monkeys!” he grates as his teeth chatter.
It certainly is cold. There is a good covering of snow on the rooves where icicles hang down from the eves like shimmering spears in a bright sun that still manages to pierce through the smog that hangs over the houses. Trees and bushes are coated with blue ice and fluffed layers of snow, they appear statuesque and add to the general aura of the season. It is only six days until Christmas Day but shoppers are nowhere to be seen and what little traffic is out on the treacherous icy roads is taking things very cautiously.
“It’s fireside weather, sir,” whines Head.
“I agree with you there, Sergeant. A good book, a glass of Scotch and your nuts roasting on the grate. Wonderful.”
“Wonderful,” sulks Head. “I really didn’t want to leave my bed this morning especially as I’ll bet we’re on nothing more than a wild duck chase.” We come to a halt and face each other. “I mean, sir, what flasher in his right mind is going to get it out in this cold and wag it about. I said to Chloe earlier, I said, Chloe can you imagine some pervert jumping out in front of you and going, ‘Hey, lady what do you think of this?’ Why, it will have shrunk to the size of a peanut it’s that bloody cold and you’d need binoculars to even see it!”
“Exactly.” We walk on and I wait for Head to go on again about the case we are on. He hasn’t stopped moaning about it since Clump instructed us to take it over from the plods who had gotten nowhere with it. Sure enough he starts.
“It’s a bloody disgrace, sir,” he growls, kicking a cat that sidled up to him for a bit of leg brushing. “Two of the Yard’s finest chasing a bloody flashing pervert with a wonky willy when we should be chasing mass murderers and such like.”
“As I have said, Sergeant. We are being made an example of. It is a punishment meted out by the new Commissioner to send a message to every copper in the Met’ that even the finest must tow the line and not think they are above the law.”
“Well it’s bad enough not getting promoted as we should have been, but to be ridiculed like this is tantamount to being mentally castrated.”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” says I as we reach the main road and come to a halt at a tram stop. “Look, Sergeant. We have escaped prosecution for helping ourselves to, shall we say, rewards we weren’t entitled to. We haven’t been demoted or drummed out of the force, but we have to accept promotion is not on the boiler for now and we will have to swallow such crappy cases as this one until the Commissioner feels we have learnt our lesson. That is how it is and the sooner we accept the fact the better we shall be. However, there is a bonus; at least we are not likely to come to too much harm chasing a flasher.”
“Probably not, sir. Even so, the sooner we’re back on cases more suited to our talents the better.”
At last the horse drawn tram skids up and we climb on board and take a seat downstairs, it is virtually empty. Twenty minutes later we get off and take another tram and then the underground. Thirty minutes later we are standing forlorn and miserable in Hyde Park wondering what the hell is the point of us being here.
“There’s barely a soul out, sir,” moans Head. “Even the bloody urchins aren’t about. This is a waste of bloody time.”
“Even so, we should at least do something. Come on.” I lead the way around a snow-covered path and then slip into a bunch of evergreen bushes to hide while keeping an eye out.
Head takes out a hip flash, he takes a long swallow and then kindly passes it to me, I take a short swallow as it is nearly empty.
“That’s better,” says Head retrieving the flask and putting it back in his pocket. “I feel a bit more cheerful now.”
“Good. Look, here comes a pair of nannies…”
“No, Sergeant. Child nannies pushing perambulators.”
“Oh, yes, I see them. Do you think the flasher will go for them?”
“He might. He’s conducted more flashing in Hyde Park than anywhere else.”
We watch and wait. Will the flasher jump out from his hiding place, open his coat and shout boo? I doubt it. The women pass by unhindered, thick fog descends and in minutes visibility is down to barely fifteen feet.
“This is bollocks,” moans Head. “We may as well bugger off home.”
“Just what I was thinking,” shivers I while slapping my arms around my chest and stamping my feet. “I’ll tell you what, Sergeant. It is too early to sneak off home. What we’ll do is go and re-interview some of the women who have been confronted by the flasher. That way we’ll get to warm up and may even get offered a hot drink or two.”
“Good idea, sir. I’ll need a pee first. This cold doesn’t half set you off.”
“It does,” says I, deciding I best try for one myself in case I don’t make it to the public toilets. Just as I extract my manhood a voice booms through the fog, “Right! Out you come you dirty git.”
Through a gap in the hedge I spy a pair of plods, truncheons drawn, staring straight at me. “I am having a urination!” snaps I. “You will have to wait.”
“We are officers of the law, come out now or we’ll come in and get you.”
“Piss off we’re busy,” growls Head.
“There’s two of ’em Bert!”
“Doin’ it, is they Bill? Right you pair of perverts, out now or we’ll brain ya.”
“We are also police officers,” grates I, shaking the drips off and trying to put my manhood back where it belongs but finding my hands are so cold I can’t seem to keep hold of the stupid thing as it’s shrunk back like a snail’s head into its shell.
“They all say that,” growls Bert. “Now out or we come in.”
We go out to face a pair of old fashioned plods, helmet badges gleaming, thick bushy moustaches speckled with frost and truncheons raised ready to strike.
The one called Bill points at me. “I know you. You’re that famous detective called Jerry Pot.”
“Detective Inspector Gerald Potter, to be precise and this is my colleague, Detective Sergeant Head.”
“Sorry to have to accost you, gentlemen. But you were in a bush together with your whatnots out.”
Head goes for it, “That’s because we’re out on surveillance looking for the flasher and needed to pee because we’re so bloody cold we can’t hold it in!”
“How was we ta know that?” says Bill. “Anyway, just because you’re detectives it don’t mean you can’t be a pair of funnies.”
“Well we aren’t,” snaps Head.
“All right, don’t get nasty about it, it was an easy mistake to make. Anyway, shouldn’t you two be chasing mass murderers instead of hiding out in bushes.”
“It is a long story,” says I. “Now, which way is Upper Brook Street?”
He points across the park, “Walk straight through the fog and you’ll come to an exit, cross over Park Lane and you’re there.”
I thank him, we wish them a merry Christmas and head off. Taking out my notebook I note the house number and check what the plod who originally interviewed a Miss Delphinium Spencer and a Miss Rosebud Spencer had told me earlier when we took over the case. One thing’s for certain, these ‘ladies’ are apparently as nutty as coconuts. But, they recently sent a message to the Yard saying they have some new information about ‘Jack the Flasher’ so we best see them first, plus the plod stated that warming refreshments were gladly given. Presently we arrive at a semi-detached four storey white stone, modern house, with a small frontage surrounded by iron railings and a fancy scrolled gate leading up a short flight of stone steps to a posh black painted door. We climb the slippery steps and I pull the bell chain. The door swings open and we are confronted by a middle-aged, massive bulldog of a woman disguised as a maid.
“Yes! Can I help you?” sneers she, as the warming aroma of fresh baking manages to squeeze past her bulk to tickle our taste buds.
We flash our warrant cards, I introduce us and demand, “We have come to speak with your mistresses.”
“For what reason?”
“For whatever reason it is.”
“What is it then?”
“I do not wish to discuss delicate matters concerning your mistresses on the doorstep, madam. So, perhaps you should just allow us to enter.”
“I can’t stand here letting all the heat out. State your business or go away.”
“Madam, I doubt very much that any heat at all would even dare to try and escape when you are on guard duty even if there was enough room for it to get past.”
She shakes her head. “No one enters this austere establishment while I’m on duty unless they fully state their business.”
“And what if that business is far too personal for a mere servant to hear?”
“I am privy to my mistresses’ deepest secrets. They tell me everything. Now, for the last time; for what reason do you wish to speak to my mistresses?”
“Look, misses,” puts in Head. “The Inspector keeps trying to tell you that it is too personal for a mere servant to hear. Now either you move your fat arse out of the way and let us in or…”
She slams the door in our faces.
“That didn’t quite work, Sergeant,” says I ringing the bell again. The maid’s face appears at the window, she sticks her tongue out and gives us a two-fingered salute.
“Cheeky cow,” grates Head.
“Let us in,” I mouth to bulldog features.
“Clear off,” she mouths back.
I hold up a hand. “Very well,” I mouth. “You win.”
She grins and draws her face back.
“I wouldn’t tell that lump anything,” grates Head. “Nosy cow.”
“Fear not, Sergeant. I do not intend telling her the real reason why we are here.”
The door opens. “Let’s start again,” smirks bulldog. “Can I help you gentlemen?”
I reintroduce us and then say, “We wish to converse with the Spencer sisters on a matter of the utmost importance.”
“We have reason to believe the sisters have secretly been laundering money for Chinese Triad drug smuggling gangs.”
“What!” She lowers her voice, “I don’t believe you, the sisters have never done a bit of laundry work in their entire lives. God forbid they should even wash out their own skiddy drawers let alone wash money.”
“Nevertheless madam, it is imperative we speak to them if only to prove their innocence regarding this matter.”
Narrowing her eyes, she appears thoughtful as she rubs her bristly chin. “Very well. You may enter. But wipe your cruddy feet.”
We enter and she shuts the door. “Wait here,” says she and wobbles off to disappear down a long picture galleried hallway.
We wipe our feet on a coconut mat and then look around. A seriously crafted mahogany staircase curls up towards the bedrooms. Aspidistra plants in colourful pots on white china stands that sit on expensive blue and white shiny tiles all herald the wealth and status that whoever lives in a house like this are bloody lucky sods. The house also has central heating.
“Not short of a few bob,” says Head.
“Indeed not, Sergeant.”
Bulldog returns. “My mistresses will see you right away. Give me your hats and coats.”
We hand her our bowlers and coats which she throws on the floor. “Now follow me.”
We follow her bouncing, wobbly bum down to a door that opens into a very plush parlour where two old birds sit side by side on high backed mahogany chairs with their backs to a roaring fire and their fronts at a huge oval table covered with a heavily embroidered cloth. On that cloth sits a silver cake stand with fancy cakes on it, besides the stand there is a blue patterned porcelain tea service that looks like it’s worth more than my house. The old birds gaze at us studiously through sharp blue bloodshot eyes, they look like twins with their starchy grey hair poking out beneath matching bonnets, one lilac, the other bright yellow, they wear dresses that complement their bonnets. They have thin pinched noses and are heavily wrinkled, in truth they both appear as mad as March hares
Bulldog introduces us and pink bonnet says, “Sit down gentlemen.”
We take seats opposite them and my backside sinks into the luxury of a well-padded seat.
Pink bonnet addresses Bulldog, “Malcom, make a fresh pot of Charley for the policemen and be quick about it.”
“Yes madam,” she snaps and turning away she stomps out like a bad-tempered baby elephant. Obviously she wanted to stay and earwig.
“Nosy fat slug,” sneers lilac bonnet.
“I am Delphinium Spencer,” says pink bonnet. “And this is my twin sister, Rosebud. How may we assist you lovely men?”
“We appreciate, ladies, that you have already been interviewed regarding your, um… unfortunate encounter with the flasher, but if you do not mind we would like to go through it again, and I believe you have some new information for us.”
“We do have new information, Inspector. And we do not mind in the least going over what we have already said,” says Delphinium. “There is nothing we’d like more. Is there dear?”
“No, indeed not,” smiles Rosebud. “Spare not our blushes, Inspector, for we are women of the world. Are we not, dear?”
“We are indeed, Inspector. Rosebud and I have travelled the world. Father was a foreign diplomat you see. We have lived in Africa, India and even South America. We have seen it all, from bare bottomed barbarians to totally nudie natives. We have even seen the Dinka men swinging their big sticks at each other. Fascinating, Inspector. Have you been to Africa to visit the Dinka?”
“I cannot say that I have.”
“And you, Sergeant?”
He shakes his head, “I went to France once.”
“Oh, you won’t find any Dinka there, I’m afraid.”
“Walloping great handsome brutes,” says Rosebud. “Strapping men, all muscles and no clothes. They like to fight each other, don’t you know, Inspector.”
“They do indeed,” smiles Delphinium. “Goodness, they whack the shit out of each other, don’t they dear?”
“They certainly do. Why they swing their whacking great big sticks all over the place. Whacking each other on the head, the back and even the buttocks. Anywhere’s fair game, but they do try and avoid the manhood areas. But it can still be pretty bloody.”
“It sounds gruesome,” says I, trying to imagine two men going at it totally naked while whacking each other with big sticks. “I should think you ladies were glad to get away from these, um… Dinka men.”
“Good God no, Inspector,” laughs Delphinium. “We love them so much we go back every year for a month or so. Don’t we dear?”
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world. And they adore us too. Don’t they dear?”
“Yes, they do. And it isn’t just because we treat them to things they need to survive.”
“What, like pots and tools?” asks I.
“Good grief, no. Rifles, Inspector. Rifles. They need them to shoot their neighbours before they shoot them.”
“We always buy them a few rifles,” smiles Rosebud. “They are so appreciative they hold a stick fight in our honour.”
Luckily, Malcom comes back in with cups, saucers and a pot of tea on a silver tray which she sets down on the table between Head and I.
“Help yourselves, gentlemen,” says Delphinium. “Malcom, pass the policemen the sugar bowl.”
Malcom goes around to the sisters’ side of the table, picks up the sugar bowl and then brings it around to us. Why Delphinium couldn’t have just pushed it over herself I have no idea.
“Malcom, tell cook to plate up a few sausage rolls and beef patties for the policemen and look quick about it, they are in need of something to heat them up. Now, where has that lazy parlour maid got to?”
“She’s in a cupboard with the gardener, madam.”
“Gardener! Gardener! What’s he doing indoors? He should be outside cutting the grass and pruning the roses.”
“Everywhere’s covered in snow and ice, madam. Gardening’s a no go.”
“Well go and tell the lazy bastard to go and clear it off so we can see the grass.”
“Yes, madam. Anything else?”
“No, thank you, Malcom.”
The Blue Diamond
Head and I have been called out to attend a murder scene in Cow Lane just off Tannery Street. Having taken a cab, we are minutes away.
The cobbled lane consists of early Victorian two-up two-down terraces in reasonable condition with very few holes in the rooves. They have no frontage and open up straight onto the lane and number just twenty houses in all. That’s ten on one side and ten on the other.
The cab pulls up outside Number Five where a plod is standing guard. Getting out of the cab I pay the driver and step up to the plod and realise I have had dealings with the moronic moron in the not so distant past.
“Morning, Inspector. Sergeant,” greets he, with a salute.
“Constable Roberts,” says I. “What’s amiss?”
“It is a female not yet married, sir.”
The man truly is an idiot but at least he can hear what I am saying unlike the last time I encountered him. “Do we have a body, Constable?”
“Yes, sir. You both do.”
I am losing the plot already and it is only just gone eight in the morning. “Not our bodies! snaps I. “A murdered body.”
“Oh, that one. It’s around back in the privy. Do you wish me to show you where it is, sir?”
“If it isn’t too much trouble, Constable,” sighs I.
“No trouble, sir. Please follow me.”
We follow the nutcase to the end terrace, around the back and along a narrow alleyway that is flanked by five feet high wooden fencing and cuts between the backyards of Cow Lane and the similar terraces from Pig Avenue. On entering through the back gate for Number Five, which is hanging from its hinges, we find Constable Jones standing guard.
After exchanging greetings, I take a quick reconnoitre of the narrow yard. It runs from a small vegetable patch full of weeds for about fifteen feet onto brick paving a further twenty feet up to the kitchen door. Butted on to the terrace is the single storey outhouse with its coal house, privy and shed. The privy isn’t on the sewer system so the waste has to be taken away by the shit collectors. There is a four feet high rotting picket fence separating this yard from the neighbours. We all step up to the open door of the privy. Sat on the hole cut into the wooden seat with his trousers and drawers around his ankles is a big man in a grubby vest with a carving knife stuck in his chest. His head is right back to display his stubbled neck while mallet fists cover his private area. It is a grisly sight, but what is even worse is the stink and the bluebottles buzzing around.
Holding his nose Head bravely steps forwards, grabs hold of the victim’s mop of grey hair and pulls his head up. A fifty odd year-old face with a boxer’s nose and sagging bristly cheeks stares back at me through bloodshot, accusing blue eyes, yet strangely there is a smile on his face.
I look at Roberts. “You best go back out front, Constable. The meat waggon will be here shortly along with forensics. When they arrive show them around here.”
“You won’t get a waggon around back, sir.”
“Really? Never mind have them leave it on the lane. Off you go.” Before I kill you, I grate to myself.
“The man’s got a brain of solid bone,” grates Head once Roberts had gone. “But at least he no longer has trouble hearing us.”
“He had his ears cleaned out,” puts in Jones.
“What with, a blow pipe?” grins Head. “Did they stick it in one ear and then blow the wax straight out the other?”
“No, they used a syringe.”
“Who cares,” says I. “Let us forget Roberts’ earholes and go back to the matter in hand.”
“Well, suicide it ain’t,” says Head.
I shake my head. “Killing someone is one thing. But in broad daylight while they’re having a shit really pans the depths of depravity.”
“It’s crap,” agrees Head. “Still, at least he died with a smile on his face so he must have been having a good one.”
“Looking at the size of his gut Sergeant, I’d say the man probably struggled to pass his waste until the killer scared him so much it loosened his bowels and brought that smile to his lips.”
“A two-edged sword then, sir,” says Jones.
“Indeed. Who found the body?”
“The victim’s wife, sir. Mrs Edna Dunn. She’s inside being comforted by a neighbour.”
“We shall take a quick look up the alleyway and then go and interview her. You best remain here Constable until the others arrive.”
“Very good, sir. But do you mind if I stand away from the stink and the flies.”
“I would say it is imperative, Constable.”
Head and I go out the gate and take a look around. The amount of footprints on the dusty ground tell me that the alleyway is well frequented, but there are signs of larger prints riding over the rest, going in and coming out of the yard. If they are the footprints of our killer then he is either a small man with big feet or a large man with big feet or somewhere in between. We trail off around to the front of the house to find Roberts standing to attention in front of the door.
“We shall interview this Edna Dunn, Constable,” says I.
“Do you wish me to come in with you, sir?”
“No. Keep watch on the meat waggon once the forensics have arrived and gone around back. Make sure no one drives off with that waggon without my express permission.”
“Very good, sir.”
I knock on the door. Presently it is opened by a shrew-faced little old woman in a flower-patterned dress.
“We don’t want it!” spits she and goes to slam the door but I put my foot against it.
“Madam, we are police officers. Are you Mrs Edna Dunn?”
“No. I is ’er neighbour. Mrs Ethel Spall.”
“Kindly show us to Mrs Dunn, we wish to speak to her.”
“The murder of her husband.”
“Oh! You ain’t come about the burglary then?”
“We know nothing much about anything at the moment, madam. So kindly let us in before my Sergeant arrests you for obstruction.”
“All right don’t get blousy. Follow me.”
We follow her down a narrow bare-floored hallway with pealing rose-patterned papered walls and into a very small parlour, where sat on a rocking chair in front of a blackened range is another small woman in a grey dress and whitish apron nursing a glass of brown liquid that has a drunken wasp swimming around in it.
“Coppers come ta see ya,” says Ethel plonking herself down on the only other chair in the room ensuring that Head and I have to remain standing.
“Is it about the burglary?” asks Edna to no one in particular.
“No, madam. It is about your husband’s murder.”
She fixes me with watery eyes and I imagine she has been crying.
“Bloody typical! I gets burgled three days back when I was out. The bastards wrecked the place. They turned out me draws, ripped up me floorboards and emptied me biscuits from the tin all over the floor. Not a single bloody copper comes to see me. But ’im,” she stabs a finger towards the small window that looks out on the yard, “that useless lump, he goes and gets ’imself murdered an’ you lot are around like flies on a turd.”
Obviously, the woman hadn’t been crying except possibly for herself. Now that she is without a provider she may well be facing financial problems and the threat of the workhouse.
“Here,” she says brightening up. “As ’e’s been murdered will I get any compensation?”
“Quite possibly, madam. There are charitable funds available for those who find themselves in difficult positions because of someone else’s criminal act.”
“What’s that mean in English?”
“You will get to bury him for free and may be entitled to a pay-out.”
“Cor, you lucky cow,” puts in Ethel. “I wish someone would kill my ol’ man so I can get a few bob.”
“No doubt he feels the same about you,” grates Head which sees Ethel drop her eyes and shut up.
“Now, Mrs Dunn,” says I. “Apparently you found the body. Is that correct?”
She nods and then takes a long swallow of her drink, taking the wasp with it.
“Can you take me through the events? What happened leading up to your discovery of the body?”
“Well, Bert went off for a clear out about six just after breakfast like he always does. I was clearing up the plates an’ makin’ more tea. About an hour later I thought he best ’urry up or ’e’ll be late for work.”
I am incredulous. “An entire hour went by before you began to worry what was taking him so long?”
“I weren’t bloody worried about the ol’ bastard. He can take forever to push it out, can Bert. He’d sit on the pan all bloody day if he could while looking through the newspaper cuttings pretending he could read. Useless bastard! Anyway, I thought ’e’d probably dropped off as usual. I went out to tell ’im to get ’is finger out of ’is arse an’ that’s when I saw ’im sat there with a dirty great knife stuck in ’im.”
“Was the door open or did you open it?”
“It was open. Bert always sat there with the door open to let out the stink. He believed a man could get gassed if the door was shut.”
“Did you see anyone about? Any strangers? Anyone at all?”
She shakes her head and is so nonchalant I am wondering if she killed her husband.
“Do you know if anyone had a grudge against your husband?” asks Head as he takes notes. At least I hope he’s taking notes and not merely doodling to pass the time.
Edna screws up her nose and takes another drink before answering. “His mother hated ’is guts but she died a year or so back. Other than that, I can’t think of no one who actually hated him or ’ad a grudge against ’im except for me.”
“Ol’ Joe Simpson ’ated ’im,” puts in Ethel.
“For what reason?” says I.
“Bert gave Joe’s ol’ woman one a few times around the back of Joe’s chicken hut down the allotment.”
“I never knew that!” gasps Edna sitting bolt upright. “The dirty rotten bastard. Fancy doin’ it with that scabby ol’ bag.”
“She weren’t scabby back then. Besides it was before you an’ Bert was married,” says Ethel. “Well before.”
“How long were you and Bert married, Mrs Dunn?”
“About five years.”
“Where might I find this Joe Simpson?”
“In the ground at St Mary’s,” cackles Ethel as she throws Head a ‘stuff you’ look.
I am losing the plot again. “Do either of you know anyone living who may have had a grudge against Bert?”
They both shake their heads and I change tack. “Mrs Dunn, had you seen the knife used to kill your husband before now?”
“No. But can I ’ave it once you’ve done as I could use a good carving knife.”
“No. It is evidence. Now, how much was your husband worth?”
“I told you, he was useless which means he wasn’t worth piss all. Now he’s less than worthless ’aving got ’imself murdered.”
“Was his life insured? Be warned, madam, we shall check up on your answer, so do not lie.”
“Edna don’t tell lies,” puts in Ethel, giving me the evil eye.
“Insured?” scoffs Edna. “He weren’t insured. I ain’t insured. Nothing’s bloody insured. We ain’t got nothing and unless I get compensation or a new man bloody quick I’ll be chucked out and end up on the streets back on the game.”
‘Good luck with that,’ grates I to myself. “How many children do you have and where are they?”
“Him an’ me didn’t ’ave any together. I got three from me previous marriage but I don’t know where they are. He had several from his previous marriages, but how many I don’t know. I know he’s got a son in prison and another in Australia. He’s also got the little elfin one who’s in the circus.”
“Elfin one? What do you mean elfin one?”
“She means the dwarf one,” butts in Ethel. “Billy Dunn is ’is name an’ he’s working for Billy Star’s Circus over on Blackheath, but he don’t come around here.”
“Thank you, Mrs Spall. Anyone else you can think of Mrs Dunn?”
“Bert’s got a girl called Sally. She comes around now an’ again.” She points to a photograph on the mantel piece. “That’s her in that photo with Bert.”
I take a look. The girl is pretty with light long hair that is probably blond. She appears to be quite tall and slender. “May I borrow this photograph, Mrs Dunn?”
“Borrow it? Keep the bloody thing so long as you leave the frame behind.”
I take the photograph from its frame and slip it into my pocket.
“She’s alright is Sally,” says Ethel.
“Yeah,” smiles Edna in reflection. “Always brings me an’ Bert something when she comes around like a bottle of something so we can get sloshed and drown our miseries.”
“Can you give me her full name? Is she married?”
“Sally Ann Dunn an’ she ain’t been married yet.”
“She oughta get hitched soon or she’ll get left on the bleedin’ shelf,” moans Ethel.
“I told her that,” says Edna. “I said…”
“Madam, my Sergeant and I haven’t got all day to listen to your claptrap. Where might I find this Sally?”
She screws up her face again. “Don’t know where she lives but she works in a pub.”
“I think it’s called the Twisted Neck. Or was it the Breakers Neck?”
Head shoots me a look of alarm which I return.
“I know what it was called,” cries Ethel. “It’s called…”
“The Neck Breakers Arms!” cuts in Head.
“That’s it,” smiles Edna.
I do not smile and neither does Head.
My thoughts are interrupted by a loud banging on the door.
“That’ll be the lads,” says Head and goes off to answer the door. I hear him speaking to Roberts and then he returns. “Roberts has sent them all around the back, sir.”
“At least he got that bit right. We shall speak to you further Mrs Dunn before we leave and keep you informed of any progress.”
“You won’t,” sulks she. “Bert was a nobody. Once you’ve taken your pictures an’ nosed about a bit you’ll all piss off never to be seen again. It’ll be in the papers for a bit an’ that will be that. Meanwhile…”
“Oh. One more thing,” says I, to shut up her ramblings. “Where did Bert work?”
“On the docks for MacFarlane and Sons the chandlers.”
She shrugs. “Odd jobs. Cleaning. He didn’t ’ave any skills like I said…”
“He was useless,” cuts in Head.
We leave via the back door to find the photographer has already set up his tripod and is taking photographs of Bert. Dr Shelley, bag in hand, stands patiently to one side and accompanying him are two forensics. All are dressed in civilian attire. Constable Jones is down by the gate while several faces, mostly urchins are nosing over the back fence by obviously standing on the backs of other urchins.
Shelley turns his head as we approach. “Good morning, Gerald,” says he. “And to you, Richard.”
We shake hands. “What are your thoughts, Doctor?”
“Difficult. I may know more once I have investigated, but I doubt it. Whoever did this was probably in and out very quickly and subsequently has left nothing of any worth behind which might help with your investigations.”
“They obviously came in the back gate Doctor and took the victim by surprise, lunged the knife in and just left without, quite possibly, anyone seeing him or them.”
“Um…” ums he. “I assume this Bert Dunn was a creature of habit and his killer knew he would be on the pan at such a time.”
“Which means it was someone he knew or someone who was well informed about Bert’s habits.”
The photographer moves away to take a panoramic view all around the yard, probably following on down the alley and then out front. The two forensic officers begin searching the area while Shelley moves in to examine the body.
Head and I, as always, are transfixed watching the good Doctor go about his business. Setting his bag down on the ground he opens it, extracts a large magnifying glass and scans it all over the knife’s handle. He tuts a bit and frowns markedly. “No prints,” says he, more to himself than anyone else. “Wiped clean.” Going back to his bag he takes out a rolled-up piece of leather which he unrolls on the ground to use as a table top. Taking out a pair of tweezers he scans the knife handle again and then picks away at it with the tweezers. Straightening up he turns to us. “A few strands of cotton. After stabbing the victim, the killer wiped the handle clean with a cotton cloth leaving a few strands behind. This is someone, Gerald, who appreciates that although fingerprint evidence in itself won’t be used in court to convict him it could still add weight towards a conviction.”
Setting down the tweezers he starts to scan all over the body with his magnifying glass. Splaying out Bert’s hands he scrupulously studies them for a while before setting down the magnifying glass. Taking out a notebook and pen, again from his bag, he straightens right up and writes down his notes.
“I confirm that our assassin thrust the knife in with considerable force. They would have had to stand side on to ensure the knife was tilted side on to ensure it went through the ribcage and into the heart.” He demonstrates by clenching his hand around his pen and bending his elbow to bring his forearm back to his chest and then ramming it towards the body, stopping abruptly before the point end pierces the body. “Death would have been instantaneous. The victim shows no signs of trauma and no signs he put up any kind of a fight. In short, he did not know what hit him. I will know more once I have done an autopsy.”
“So, no clues there then?” says I.
“Not necessarily. Something small with pointed edges has left an indelible mark in his left palm. Something that he was fiercely gripping on to. It may be nothing but I recommend we at least try to find out what it was.”
“By…?” puzzles I.
“By emptying the bucket of shit he’s sat over and searching through it to see if our victim dropped anything into it.”
“No idea, Gerald.”
“Do you want him loaded up?”
“Not yet. Allow the officers time to search the area while I ponder over the scene.”
“That would be nice.”
Jack the Flasher
As a punishment the Detectives are assigned to the task of bringing a flasher to justice.
Bitterly cold weather with lots of snow, eccentric upper-class witnesses, a wooden leg, a Davy Crocket hat and Bobby’s balls all play a part in a madcap tale that is both confusing and frustrating for our intrepid duo.
Who exactly is the Flasher? Where is he hiding out and is someone sheltering him?
Is anyone telling the truth about anything at all to try and cover up the fact that the Flasher may well be an aristocrat?
As the case drags on Potter reasons that murder could well be next on the menu after the sausage rolls and mince pies.
Even worse, and with only a few days left to the big day, Potter must ensure he not only remembers to buy Betty a Christmas present but makes certain it’s a present, for once, she will truly love.
The Blue Diamond
A search through a bucket of poo at a murder scene reveals something that no one expected to turn up, initially leading the Detectives to believe the murder was a ‘Don’t mess with me’ message. But as more bodies mount up in this bizarre case their initial theory is questioned.
What are the killer’s motives? Simply revenge or a brutal attempt to cover up something far more sinister? One fact is certain; they have a seriously warped killer on their hands.
From a backyard privy to a circus, on to Tower Bridge and everywhere in between, the Detectives find themselves in a race against time to prevent even more killings. But the main witnesses keep disappearing; are they hiding out in fear of their lives or have they already been murdered?
The detectives quickly have a suspect but no real evidence to bring him to justice.
Extracts followed by blurb
Fish Bone Alley
I am Detective Inspector Gerald Potter, known by the criminal fraternity as Jerry Pot. It is 1896 and a fine morning here in the slums of London. I am weaving my way towards the notorious Fish Bone Alley, where I am to meet Detective Sergeant Richard Head, while ignoring the stench, interminable din and endless ‘pure’ collectors scooping up buckets of steaming dung from the filthy cobbles.
I spy the Sergeant talking to a prostitute outside of Cheap Skates Emporium. Already there’s several prostitutes hanging around, one’s even hanging out of a third-storey window by her neck.
“Good morning, Sergeant,” says I, stepping up.
“Morning, sir. I’ve just been talking to Flo here. That’s her gran hanging about up there.”
Flo smiles at me, displaying surprisingly white teeth, all four of them.
“You want anything me duck. I’m offering five minutes, then get five more for free.”
“Not just now, thank you. I’m on duty.
“What about my Nan then, you buggers goin’ to investigate her
murder or what?”
“We are Scotland Yard; if it is murder we shall investigate, but if it is suicide we shall leave it to the plods.”
Her eyes narrow, “It was murder alright! You come and see.”
I check my fob-watch. Ten-thirty. “We are on an important case of stolen jewels and our chief won’t be too happy if we deviate from our task just to investigate some dead old trollop.”
Flo scowls at me, “She weren’t just any ol’ trollop, ya know! She’s slept with aristocrats ’as my Nan.”
“Come on then,” relents I. “An hour or so won’t matter much.”
Flo leads the way, we keep on the pavement to avoid being flattened by the chaotic traffic, while risking being urinated on from above, until we reach the third terrace along where we enter and climb the stairs, stepping over drunks, drug addicts and homeless urchins. At the top of the landing there is a small crowd in front of the dead woman’s bedsit, they move back as we come closer and we step into the room to find it has been ransacked.
“There she is!” yells Flo pointing to the window. “That’s my Nan.”
“The inspector can see that,” grates Head as we step over the rope that’s tied to an iron bedstead while the other end is, of course, noosed around the victim’s neck. At the window we stick our heads out and look down at the victim. She is naked apart from a pair of woolen drawers. Her neck is well stretched, her face is twisted up from her death throws but apart from that she doesn’t appear too bad, really.
“What is her name?” asks I of Flo.
“How old is she?”
“I dunno. Fiftyish? Sixtyish?”
“I know,” yells someone from the small crowd who have edged their way into the room for a better view.
“Come forward that person who yelled out,” orders I.
An old crone hobbles in on her cane and snarls, “She’s sixty-two. I know because I’m her muvva. And as her muvva, I claim everything she owns.”
“Clear off you ol’ cow,” snaps Flo. “The only thing you ever gave birth to had four legs and grunted.”
“Let’s get them all out, Sergeant” orders I, and except for Flo we push the crowd out and Head slams the door shut.
“Right, Sergeant. Let’s haul her up.”
Leaning out the window we grab a sticky armpit each and start hauling the victim inside.
“She’s nice and floppy, sir,” comments Head. “Couldn’t have been dead much more than an hour.”
Suddenly Mable’s drawers slip down her long legs, flip off her bony feet and float zigzag down to the pavement below where an urchin leaps up and grabs them before anyone else can.
“Oi!” I yell. “Bring those up here. They are evidence.”
“Piss off, copper,” he yells back before sticking two fingers up and running off while sniffing at Mable’s crotch.
Finally, we have Mable in the room laid out on her back on the bare floor boards and I loosen the rope around her neck, then to our horror her toothless mouth jerks open and there appears to be something lodged in her throat. I stick two fingers down her gaping orifice and extract a diamond ring. Holding it close to the light from the window I can see it is both stylish and expensive.
“It’s a ring!” cries out Flo. “Can I ’ave it?”
“No. It is evidence,” snaps I. “Now, tell me what you know.”
“Um… About what?”
I wave an impatient arm around the room. “About this. The place is a mess. Someone or ones have been through the place searching, no doubt, for this ring.” Mable’s clothes lay torn and ripped by the bed and it is obvious she has been strip searched. “But, when they couldn’t find the ring,” I hold it up for a more dramatic effect, “they decided to send a ‘don’t cross us’ message by hanging Mable out to dry. So, Flo, you better start talking.”
She appears frightened and merely shrugs.
Head growls, “You better start talking Flo or it’s down the yard for you.”
“We don’t need to go down the yard no more, Dick. We can use this place now Nan don’t need it anymore.”
“No. No,” I snap. “What the Sergeant is saying is; start telling us what you know or you’ll be arrested.”
With a heavy sigh, she goes and sits down on the messed-up bed. “Alright. Alright. A pair of heavies stomped up the stairs an hour or so back. They were real bruisers. Nan was on her way to work and had just stepped out the room as I was coming up the stairs to meet her when the bruisers shoved me out the way and go for her. Nan tried to nip back inside but it was too late, they shoved her in the room, went in after her, and slammed the door behind them, then all hell breaks loose; Nan screams, there’s lots of shouting, banging and thumping, lots of noise like things being thrown about and such. Then suddenly everything goes quiet for a bit, then there’s these horrible screams echoing up the stairs and I figure the bruisers have just flung Nan out the window and she’s landed on the pavement. I rush downstairs and outside where I see everyone’s looking up, so I look up to see my Nan swinging about.”
“What then?” asks Head.
“I rushed back in and up the stairs, but by the time I get there the bruisers had gone.”
“Why didn’t you send someone for the local plods?” asks I.
“I was goin’ meself when I bumped into Dick. I mean Sergeant Head.”
“But Mable’s been hanging around for an hour or so,” I remonstrate. “You should have left earlier.”
“I had a couple of customers to see to. A girl ’as got to earn a living, Inspector. Life don’t stop just because someone’s been murdered, ya know.”
“Obviously not,” grates I. “Anyway, Sergeant, I spied a pair of uniformed plods coming up the alley when we were hauling Mable up, go and fetch them, we’ll hand this over to them for now.”
“Right away, sir,” says he and leaves.
While he’s gone I search the room for evidence, but find nothing of interest except for a photograph in a frame, I ask Flo, “Who are these five females in this photo?”
She points, “That’s Nan, next to her is Ethel me ma, then it’s me, I was about eight then, then that’s me sister Beryl and next to her is Betty, she’d be about fifteen then and she’s me ma’s younger sister.”
“When was this taken?”
“About twenty years back I reckon.”
“I shall need the photo,” says I, taking it from its frame. “I’ll return it later.”
“Make sure you do,” she frowns. “It’s precious.” Suddenly she goes and gazes lovingly down at her gran and starts to sob, “I never knew my Nan had a belly-button,” she laments. “Guess I never knew her at all, really.”
Head returns with the plods. He introduces them as Sergeant Thomson and Constable Jones.
I tell them all I know, give them their orders and not to touch the body until they have informed forensics. I also inform them that I have the ring in my possession. I would have pocketed it but Flo witnessed my finding it. “We shall return once we have seen to other important business,” says I.
Head and I head downstairs, out into the street and set off further down Fish Bone Alley.
“Now, Sergeant, did you get the photographs?”
“In this envelope, sir.”
He hands me the envelope then swears as he steps into something squelchy. “Bloody horses!”
“Do not despair, Sergeant. We’ll be rid of them in a few years or so. We’ll all be on bicycles or riding around in horseless carriages. The air will be cleaner and the roads safer.”
Hundreds of urchins are running about playing games, such as jump the piles of dollop, throw dollop at strangers, bat and dollop, or catch the dollop as it falls before anyone else gets it.
At last we’re outside the Pawnbrokers. Proprietor: Bray Waunepcy, [I quickly solve the anagram in the name]. We enter the dark, smelly shop to a distinct sound of chopping. The place is crammed from floor to ceiling with all manner of rubbish. You can purchase anything from a chastity belt for horses to an expensive second-hand glass eye, cheaper if it’s the wrong colour and even cheaper if it’s cracked.
Waunepcy’s behind his junked-up counter; a shrivelled up, rat-faced old fence with a stinking grey beard down to his stomach.
“Well, well,” he drawls. “Inspector Jerry Pot and Sergeant Dick Head, no less. To what do I owe the honour?”
Head sweeps a load of junk and a headless cat off the counter and taking out the four-inch square photographs I begin showing them one by one to Waunepcy. “Fenced any of these?”
He studies the first one. “A diamond tiara. Nice.”
I flick through the photographs, he shakes his head releasing dust and dead fleas from his beard.
“Diamond necklace,” he salivates, “with matching earrings. Gold snuffbox.” He goes through all the photos. “I ain’t seen any of that gear, governor,” squawks Waunepcy. “Honest I ain’t. Nor ’ave I ’eard anything.”
Strangely, I believe him. “Come on, Sergeant, let’s go.”
“Hang on a minute,” demands Head. “Look at what’s on that manikin, sir.”
I follow his pointing finger and there in a junked-up corner is a headless manikin wearing Mable’s drawers. “That was quick,” says I. “Sergeant, bag those drawers.”
“Um… Have you a bag, sir?”
“No. Waunepcy, have you got an old bag we can use?”
“She’s upstairs having a kip. Help ya self.”
Sometimes I despair of the human race, “Just stuff the drawers in your pocket, Sergeant, and let us get on.”
“Oi! You going to pay for them goods?” demands Waunepcy.
“No. They are stolen items, think yourself lucky we don’t arrest you.”
Back out in the street I ask, “Sergeant, who at the palace gave you these photographs?”
“A tubby butler called Jeeves. He was waiting for me at the gates.”
I scratch at the fleas beneath my hat, confusion reigns. “We should have had these a week ago when the jewels were first reported stolen so we knew exactly what we were searching for.” Something is very wrong about all this. I extract the ring from my pocket. “One of the photos matched this ring, Sergeant. The question is; why on earth would it turn up in the gob of an old prostitute?”
“She stole it?” offers Head. “But from whom?”
“From someone she was hiding the jewels for; someone very important and very rich.”
He shrugs. “What, like the Queen?”
“No!” I remonstrate. “She is beyond reproach. But that Edward, he’s always short of readies. I reason we could be looking at an inside job. An insurance fiddle.”
Head is aghast, “What! By the royals?”
A lump of flying dollop suddenly knocks Head’s bowler off. “Bloody kids,” he swears, bending down to retrieve it, only he comes up also holding something disgusting. “Look, sir. A severed member!”
Gingerly I take the long grey object from him and hold it up to the light to peruse it. “It’s just a rotten sausage. Someone must have dropped it.”
An urchin jumps forward holding out a battered top-hat. “Got any eats, mister?”
“Good timing,” says I and drops the slimy sausage into his hat.
“Cor, thanks mister, you’re a real gent,” beams the urchin before running off with his prize.
“You’re too kind, sir,” offers Head.
“It’s my nature, Sergeant. Now, let’s go to the palace and re-review the scene of the crime. But first I must stop off at home.”
Presently, having left the cesspit of the slum behind, I enter my home while Head waits outside because he smells.
“You’re home early, Detective Inspector?” quizzes my wife. “Anything wrong Detective Inspector?”
“I have come to pick something up,” I tell her before going into the parlour and rummaging through the sideboard where I keep interesting articles and such. “Got it. Just what I need.”
My wife sees me out. “What time do you want dinner, Detective Inspector?”
“What is it?”
“Beef balls in mash.”
“Lovely. Say, dinner time.”
Head and I catch a Hackney and shortly we’re at the palace’s servants’ entrance, where a suited jobsworth shows us up to the stately room where the alleged crime took place. “According to the palace spokesman,” I reiterate, “someone sneaked into the palace grounds, shinned up a drainpipe and onto the balcony, jemmied open the French doors, picked the safe and then made off with the jewels.”
We go out onto the balcony and look down. “That’s one heck of a climb, Sergeant,” I muse.
“Yes, sir. Must have been a monkey. Or someone from a circus.”
“Just one problem,” I muse some more, “there isn’t actually a drainpipe up to this balcony.”
“Christ! How the hell did we miss that one?”
“Simple, this being about royalty we simply believed what we were told and didn’t investigate properly.”
We go back into the room where the jobsworth is waiting.
“Everything to your satisfaction, officers?” asks he snottily.
“No, it isn’t,” I counter, meeting his pompous stare with glowering menace. “Apparently, this Lady Apple-Pip, was staying in this room and was downstairs at the ball. When she finally came up she found the safe open and all her jewellery gone.”
“That is correct,” returned jobsworth. “But you know all this.”
“True. Tell me, who exactly is this Lady Apple-Pip?”
“I cannot answer that.”
I pace the room because my right leg’s gone stiff. Taking out the article from inside my coat I wave it in his face. “I believe this Lady Apple-Pip is also known as Lady Marmalade, Lady Bird and several other ladies. In this article, it tells of several other similar robberies all over the country while listing the various insurance companies that have paid out accordingly. No one questions it because we are dealing with the aristocracy. Only, my investigations lead me to believe Lady Apple-Pip is not only not a lady, she is in-fact a high-class piece of pastry who hails from Fish Bone Alley and whose real name is Betty Barns!”
“Very clever,” sneers jobsworth. “So, what now?”
“I shall expose myself and arrest her.”
“You cannot. The establishment will crucify you rather than accept a royal exposure.”
“Even so, I shall blow this case wide open and the press shall have a field day.”
While clapping kid-gloved hands together the lady herself enters the room and glares at me. “Oh, so clever, Inspector. Shame you have no evidence.”
I gawp at her. In truth, she is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. And so hot her eyes could melt ice-cream, one kiss would burn your lips off and her heaving, barely covered bosom has such a deep cleavage you feel you could drop a round of bread into it and it would be toast in seconds.
I stroll over to her safe, which I noticed earlier wasn’t fully closed, and swinging open the door reveals a pile of jewellery. “I dare say,” I say daringly, “those jewels will match the photographs I have in my pocket. Am I correct?”
“So, what?” She laughs a scornful laugh. “I am untouchable. Ask Bertie if you don’t believe me.”
“Betty, I believe you about Bertie. For that is the essence of your scam, you deliberately select aristocrats that are cash poor and get them to collude with you, they get your services, plus a social disease, for free and you all make a tidy sum. Everyone’s happy except for the insurance companies. As to you being untouchable, I’d say you’ve been more touched than Michelangelo’s David.”
“Perhaps. So, Inspector Potter, how did you come up with all this?”
I show her the ring. “Recognise this?”
“You know I do. Where did you find it?”
“Inside your mother’s mouth just after I released the rope from her neck. The rope that a pair of thugs, no doubt employed by you, put there just before they tossed her out of the window.”
She flops down onto a sofa and buries her head in her hands. “They weren’t supposed to kill her,” she sobs, “just scare her into handing over the ring.”
“Tell me all, Betty,” demands I unmoved by her tears as she gazes up wet eyed at me.
“Mum was supposed to hold on to the jewels for me. I mean, who on earth would think of looking for them in that dump. I paid her well, but when my men brought them back to me the ring was missing. I knew right away that mum had stolen it. Now she’s dead because of it. Will you arrest me now you know everything?”
She looks so lovely in her sadness I am starting to wilt and contemplate giving her a big hug. “No, I cannot. Instead I will dictate a letter. You will write it on headed paper and it will be addressed to the insurance company you intended to defraud. Afterwards I and my rusty Sergeant shall take the letter and deliver it by hand while you pack your bags and leave my patch never to return. Agreed?”
She shrugs with indifference. “Agreed.”
“Also, I want the names of Mable’s killers and where I can find them. They shall not escape justice.”
“Very well,” she sighs. “I believe they have gone to hide out in the Gut. Bill Stringer and his brother Rob are the ones you want.”
“Good,” says I. “Just one more thing, Sergeant, give Betty her mother’s drawers.”
We leave to the sound of Betty weeping uncontrollably into Mable’s drawers and catch a Hackney to the insurance company. We’ll pick up the killers later.
“So,” muses Head. “She gets away with it?”
“Of course. She’s an associate of the prince. Never mind, Sergeant, we shall be able to collect the reward from the insurance company for returning the jewels. One hundred pounds no less. That’s eighty percent for me and twenty percent for you.”
“How much is that in money?”
“Cor, lovely. Thanks, gov. You’re a gent.”
“I know,” says I. “I know.”
Just to remind you, I am the famous Victorian detective, D.I. Gerald Potter, I am enjoying tea in bed, while dunking biscuits with my lovely wife, Betty. She’s not so famous.
“Do you have to go in today, Detective Inspector?” she asks.
“Yes, there has been another brutal murder and I have to meet D.S. Head in Pickle Lane by ten.”
“Do you require any more intercourse before you go, Detective Inspector?” she asks in hope.
I shake my head. “Twice in one night is enough, thank you my dear. Now I must get a move on or I shall be late.”
After a good clear out, wash, shave and dress, and a hearty breakfast of something unrecognisable, I am ready to leave.
Betty sees me to the door. “What time will you be back, Detective Inspector?” she quizzes, kneeling down to fuss over my fly buttons because I hadn’t done them up in order.
“Sometime later,” I muse.
We say goodbye and off I set. It is a warm cloudy day and I
enjoy the walk until I reach the stink and chaos of the slums where I am immediately accosted by a shrivelled up, toothless old hag with one eye who offers me a penny bag of horse dollop, “For ya roses, lovey.”
Momentarily distracted I fail to see a shoeshine urchin trying to polish my shoes as I walk and I trip over him.
“That’ll be a copper, copper,” demands the urchin.
“Clear off,” squawks the hag. “I saw ’im first.”
I stand up and straighten up my bowler. “I am here to investigate another brutal murder,” I grate. “Clear off the both of you before I arrest you.”
The urchin runs off but the hag stands her ground. “I ’ave information about the murders,” she offers. “For a quid or two.”
“What is it?” demands I.
“Everyone who got murdered, isn’t really dead.”
Ignoring the psychotic psychopath, I walk on down Fish Bone Alley before turning into Pickle Lane, coming to a halt outside Bob Pickles’ pickle shop. Head is waiting for me.
“Morning, sir,” he says with a yawn.
“Morning Sergeant. You seem tired.”
“Sorry, sir. I was drunk and unconscious all night and didn’t get any sleep. My wife left me.”
“Never mind, Sergeant. Console yourself that you will never have to gaze upon her ugly features, ever again.”
“Actually, I was out celebrating the fact.”
“Good,” says I. “Let’s get to it.”
We enter the shop and are immediately assaulted by a powerful stench of vinegar. Jars of various pickled stuff are everywhere, while a short, greasy-haired woman behind the counter, stares cross-eyed at us.
I introduce myself and Head to her.
“You took your bloody time, you buggers,” she snarls. “He’s been reported dead for two days and he’s starting to stink the place out.”
I demand to be shown the corpse. Stepping around huge jars of God knows what on the floor we follow the smelly lump into the processing room. Several urchins are peeling rotten onions and poking them into jars, then adding vinegar half way up before topping the jar up with urine, it’s cheaper. Mid-room the headless body of a big bellied man in a suit is laid out on its back.
“Do you know where his head is?” is the first question I ask.
“No, I don’t,” she grates. “I came down the other morning and found him like this. Headless!”
“Who is he?” asks Head.
“Why, my husband of course.”
“How do you know that if he hasn’t got a head?”
“Because he’s wearing his best suit.”
“Why is his penis hanging out of his trousers?” asks I.
“Oh, I took it out just to make sure it really was him,” she smiles.
“Well you might have put it back!” I remonstrate.
She looks confused. “I hadn’t thought of that.”
Head and I bob down to peruse the body. “Severe trauma around the neck,” I observe. “Other than that, he appears untouched.”
“What do you make of his what-not?” asks Head.
“Um, it’s very small and spotty,” I muse.
“That’s what I was thinking,” agrees Head.
I go through the body’s pockets and oddly find nothing at all. We stand up. “That’s all we require for now,” I tell the woman. “We may call back later.”
She is incredulous, “That’s it? What am I supposed to do with him now? He’s ruining production.”
“Do not fear, good lady. I have all in hand. Police photographers will arrive shortly.”
“Do they want my picture?” she asks patting at her greasy hair.
“No, the body’s. Then they will take it away to the morgue.”
Back outside in the fresh smoggy air a party of gentry, hankies over mouths, stop in front of the shop.
Blurb – Fish Bone Alley – Book 1: Series of Short Stories
Fish Bone Alley
Mable Barns, a common prostitute is thrown from a three-story terrace window wearing nothing except for a pair of woolen drawers and left hanging for all to see. Already close by investigating a jewel heist, Detectives Potter and Head are reluctant at first to detour and investigate the death of ‘just any old trollop’, deeming the search for Lady Apple-Pips stolen jewels to be far more important. However, they quickly realise that Mable’s murder may not be as simplistic as it seems.
From the slums of Victorian London to the very echelons of high society the detectives begin to realise that very little is as it seems.Who murdered Mable and why? And who exactly is this Lady Apple-Pip? Who stole her jewels and is the theft in some way related to Mable’s murder. Even more important how does Mable’s drawers manage to change hands an incredible five times throughout the story?
Fast paced and wickedly funny this short story introduces the Fish Bone Alley series.
Who is behind the brutal murders of a better class of slum dweller? Why decapitate their victims before leaving their bodies where they can easily be found?
Their latest case takes the detectives to a pickle shop in Pickle Lane where the owner; Bob Pickle is laid out on his back in the production room dressed in his best suit but minus his head. Mrs Pickle seems more concerned about production than her husband’s death. Is she just callous or does she have something to hide?
From a pickle shop to an oversubscribed morgue over seen by the shifty Fred Hackman to an insurance broker. Potter and Head look for some kind of link between all three. With the only clue being Bob Pickles penis; can their unconventional tactics unravel the case or will they lose their heads over it?
Travelling down to Essex by train to investigate the theft of a priceless painting from a stately home, the detectives find themselves having to contend with a murder until they can pass it on to the local police force once the train stops at, Man in the Tree Station.
Continuing on to their original destination the detectives arrive at Hervington House to find it is crumbling and neglected. Lady Hervington is also neglected by her absent husband but she herself is anything but crumbling.
Potter suspects that the missing painting is nothing more than an attempt to defraud the insurance company as anyone can see the Hervington’s are desperate for money. However, Potter soon challenges his initial theory; is there a link between the murder on the train, the missing painting and the mysterious Lord Hervington who just happens to be C. I. Clumps old school chum?
If Potter and Head can avoid Lady Hervington’s attempts to relieve them of their trousers they just might find out.
A severed penis is sent to Scotland Yard in a velvet jewellery box with a short note, setting the detectives on to one of the most bizarre cases they have ever had to investigate.
When a second severed penis is sent to Potters own home he realises that someone so dangerous and so demented is playing a warped game of psychological chess with him that may be putting his life as well as Betty’s in serious danger.
Exactly who is Dr Archibald Johnson the temporary pathologist at the station’s mortuary? Where has Owen ‘Limping’ Lesley, the assistant mortician, disappeared too?
Potter finds himself facing one of the most formidable foes he has ever come across and has to tread very carefully if he wants to come out of this in one piece.
The Fox Hole Inn
Potter and Head become stranded because of heavy snow and seek sanctuary in a village inn where a murder has taken place. Exactly who is the victim? Who killed him and how did they manage to avoid being seen leaving the scene when there was only one way out, straight past a bar full of people? What is the upper-class Miss Foley up to and why is she escorted by a private detective and the formidable Miss Spencer?
Hampered by too much alcohol the detectives find the task of interviewing so many suspects daunting. The killer could be anyone from the too friendly landlord to his God-fearing daughter or even one or more of the very eccentric locals. The weather continues to deteriorate so whatever else happens the detectives are set to remain at the inn, with a killer amongst them and a boy who won’t stop picking his nose, for at least several more days.
Prostitutes flying out of windows and their pimps jumping in front of moving trains or stampeding horses to commit suicide? Is there some kind of sickness spreading through the slums or is something else much more sinister behind it all?
Potter and Head find themselves drawn into the world of the supernatural. Could someone be orchestrating the mass suicides? Is it possible to have such incredible powers to be able to control minds to such an extent you can make anyone do anything you want them too? Is Count Hugo Strange nothing more than a great showman or a hypnotist of the highest order? And just how Great is the Great Marco when it comes to telling fortunes?
Have the detectives at last come up against their nemesis or has their nemesis come up against his? Nearly as important will Head at last get to make love to someone for free.
The Gut is so infamous even the police won’t venture down there with less than ten armed officers. So why have Potter and Head been virtually blackmailed to go down there without backup along with explicit orders to either arrest or annihilate the brutal Phantom Gang? The gang have been operating outside the Gut for months with apparent impunity, robbing, murdering and even torturing their wealthy victims. Are the detectives being purposely sent to their deaths by the corrupt Commissioner Jenkins and is C. I. Clump also in on a conspiracy to get rid of Potter and Head?
Hopelessly outnumbered and out gunned the detectives have no other option but to enlist their own reinforcements in the shape of Mick ‘The Mauler’ O’Reilly. Recently released from prison Mick is the ultimate assassin, but is he so cavalier he could get them all killed?
Is this the end for our intrepid detectives or will Mick come up with a plan to save the day? Or is he too busy catching up on six years of sexual deprivation to even care?
The Neck Breakers Arms
The detectives find themselves investigating the brutal murders of two French sailors. Were they killed to cover up a smuggling operation or is there something far more sinister behind it all?
Crossing swords with the violent landlord of The Neck Breakers Arms, Potter and Head come close to losing their lives. While getting seriously drunk with the French captain of the Sea Voyager brings them even closer to death.
Just how trustworthy is the sycophant Sergeant Blackmore and why do the urchins detest the man so much?
Potter also finds himself in serious conflict with a Chief Constable who is determined to drum Potter out of the force while ensuring he will never work in public office ever again, except as a toilet attendant. Facing the end of his career and financial ruin Potter has no other option than to go on the rob, while aware that if he is caught he faces years gazing through bars.