Fish Bone Alley book 3 coming soon…
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Extracts followed by synopses
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 synopses
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.
Synopses – 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.