Detective Inspector Nicholas Bridge looked up from the open case file in front of him and glanced out of the window at the grey, drab tower blocks blurring past. He was sitting in one of the several carriage booths, occupying a busily packed train. The majority of the surrounding seats lay occupied, apart from the two facing Bridge and the one next to him. Travelers chose to stay clear of the booth Bridge occupied, due to his all round hostile demeanor and the grisly material he was studying. A half empty polystyrene cup stood near the edge of the table, its base encircled by a dark ring of coffee. The sandwich bar he had acquired it from had run out of plastic lids and as the train rocked from side to side on the tracks, more of the brown liquid spilt over its lip. Bridge cursed and scooped up the sticky cup. The coffee tasted like rancid dishwater and the three sugars he had added were doing little to improve the taste. The carriage doors hissed open and an extremely flustered woman squeezed into the compartment. Under one arm she cradled a folded down push chair. Holding onto her other hand was a young toddler, who peered around curiously at the multitude of faces surrounding her. Bridge grimaced as he swallowed another gulp of coffee. His mouth tasted of fags. The combination of rollups and cheap coffee, sucking all moisture from his gums and leaving his throat dry and coarse. The struggling mother juggled with the push chair, trying to lift it onto the luggage rack, doing her best to keep an eye on her child, who was wandering off down the carriage aisle. Bridge glanced around at the other passengers, waiting for someone to get up and lend a hand. Not a soul stirred. Two businessmen sat opposite the luggage rack, pretending that the over encumbered woman didn’t exist. Bridge felt his temples bulge with rage and heaved himself out of the seat.
‘Need a hand?’ He offered, giving his best attempt at a warm smile.
‘Thank you.’ The woman said gratefully and allowed Bridge to hoist the push chair over the bar and lower it carefully onto the rack.
Less encumbered, the woman was able to catch up to her daughter and scoop her up before she wandered too far.
Bridge straightened himself up and flattened down his crumpled suit. On his way past the two businessmen, he flapped out his coat, knocking over the nearest man’s coffee cup, who let out a yelp of surprise as the hot liquid covered his lap.
‘Ah mate, sorry about that.’ Bridge apologized insincerely.
‘You bloody idiot. Watch where you’re going.’ He snapped irritably.
Bridge gave the man a hard look, forcing him to fall silent and avert his gaze to his coffee soaked lap. Satisfied, Bridge returned to his seat, the slightest of grins on his face. He gave the mother a polite nod as he squeezed past her and she mouthed the words ‘Thank You’ silently in response. Bridge settled himself back into his seat and returned his attention to the photographs spread out on the open folder.
Bridge sighed and glanced up. What now? The tired looking woman hovered by his table. The young girl clambered up onto one of the seats on the opposite side of the table and stuck her tongue out at Bridge.
‘Sorry.’ She said with an awkward smile. ‘Mind if we sit here?’
‘No, go ahead.’ Bridge replied, instantly regretting his decision to assist the woman.
The tired woman caught sight of one of the photos Bridge was studying. It depicted an elderly man, naked, lying in a grassy field. She threw Bridge the filthiest of looks, grabbed hold of her daughter and went in search of another seat. The little girl waved to Bridge as she was yanked away from the table. Bridge’s face flushed red and he quickly stuffed the photos back in the folder, feeling more eyes on him. He shook his head in dissapprovement at his own unawareness and gazed upon his reflection in the window. He was a young man, in his late twenties with short ginger hair, gelled at the front and dark brown eyes. His face was dotted with light freckles and he had a light dusting of beard hair. Bridge had been trying to grow a beard since his late teens with pitiful results. At twenty seven years of age he still hadn’t been successful and eventually he had to resign himself to the fact that it would take another few years to remedy his patch ridden stubble. As the train began to move further out of London, the carriage around him gradually became quieter and quieter. Bridge was grateful for the silence. It gave him time to think. The only information he had been provided with, was that an elderly man had been found dead with his eyelids, lips and scrotum removed. Bridge glanced out the window at the wide green and yellow fields rolling past, trying to figure out the importance of the killer’s methods. At a guess, he considered that it was possibly ritualistic. Having spent seven years on the force in one of the more dodgy parts of London, he had seen it all. But try as he might he couldn’t wrap his head around the purposes of this particular ritual.
It was dark by the time the train pulled into it’s final destination. Bridge had fallen into a deep sleep and the guard had a hard time waking him up. Eventually he stirred from his slumber and looked up grumpily at the podgy ticket officer.
‘Last stop butt.’
Bridge nodded and dry washed his sleepy face. He peered at the platform on the other side of the glass. It was deserted, illuminated by a solitary overhanging lamp, encircled by several light seeking moths.
‘Where the hell am I?’ He groaned and groggily unfolded himself from the booth.
The train doors rattled open and cold air rushed against his face, watering his eyes. The snug warmness of the carriage was blown away and the chill late evening air surrounded Bridge. He shivered as he made his way along the empty platform, the loud wheels of his travel suitcase echoing across the smooth concrete. A ragged looking homeless man lay asleep on the bench outside the ticket office. As he stepped lightly past the snoring tramp, he caught a whiff of stale beer and urine. Bridge pushed on, eager to reach the exit gate, his only means of escape from the deserted platform.
A narrow road stood before him. Tall trees and bushes faced him from across the thin stretch of tarmac. A lamppost stood nearby, flickering on and off intermittently. Bridge stood under the light and placed his suitcase on the ground. It was eerily silent, only the buzz of the light above him and the whistle of the wind disturbing the night. Bridge sighed, exhaling a stream of frosty air and hugged his overcoat closer to him. He looked around in disdain at the desolate road and massaged the bridge of his nose, trying to alleviate his thumping headache. What the bloody hell are you doing here Nick? After five minutes, Bridge stamped his feet to restore some heat and glanced at his wristwatch. The time read 10.55pm. Before he had left the CID Headquaters in London, Bridge’s supervisor had told him that an officer would be waiting with a car at the railway station when he arrived. He glanced up and down the road, looking for lights and honing in for the sound of a car engine. No such luck.
Fifteen minutes later and still no sign of a car. Bridge was sitting on the suitcase, puffing on a thin rollup. He had checked his phone several times, hoping to get enough signal, so he would be able to phone his supervisor and give him the good news. However due to being stuck in the arse end of nowhere, he hadn’t had any luck getting even the remotest hint of signal.
‘Fuck’s sake’ he stuttered, through chattering teeth.
He stole a glance at his mobile before he went to return it to his pocket and was suddenly surprised to find he had signal. Hastily, he navigated through contacts and put in a call to headquarters. The phone was ringing when the sound of a car engine broke through the night air and a moment later, a pair of headlights appeared at the foot of the road. Bridge hung up, as a white Ford Fiesta with luminous green and blue markings pulled up in front of him. A young, slightly dopey looking kid climbed out of the car.
‘Inspector Bridge?’ He asked and moved onto the pavement beside him.
‘Yes that’s me.’ Bridge replied sharply, angered at the tardiness of the boy beside him.
‘I’m Gethin.’ He explained and held out his hand.
‘You’re fifteen minutes late.’ Bridge highlighted, ignoring Gethin’s outstretched hand.
‘Yeah sorry about that. I must have dozed off and not realized the time.’ He admitted guiltily.
Bridge said nothing. He felt the silence did a good enough job of expressing his unhappiness at the situation.
‘I’ll stick this in the boot.’ Gethin finally said, sensing the unspoken hostility.
Bridge got into the passenger seat and waited as Gethin put his luggage in the boot.
‘Sorted.’ Gethin said satisfied and slid into the driver’s seat next to him. He started up the car and pulled away from the curb.
Bridge clung onto the door handle as the compact police vehicle wound its way along the winding Welsh roads. Gethin drove recklessly fast, zipping around the sharp single track corners with no concern for possible vehicles hidden from view. Bridge closed his eyes, in an attempt to calm his all but shattered nerves.
‘Shouldn’t we slow down a little?’
‘Don’t worry. I grew up learning to drive tractors on these roads.’ Gethin reassured.
Bridge nodded silently, not feeling at all comforted and glanced out the window at the dark rolling fields and shadowy hills. He narrowed his eyes, trying to discern the surrounding landscape but the lack of light and Gethin’s driving made it near impossible to gain his bearings. As they rounded a corner a large sign was illuminated and Bridge glimpsed the name of the area before they whizzed past. Llangaerthan. After another fifteen minutes of driving, the tall hedges and fields either side of them gave way to a set of neat little houses and cottages. Even in the poor light, Bridge could appreciate the quaint dwellings. A few corners later and they found themselves moving down a small high street. Local shops, pubs and businesses lined either side of the road, occasionally interrupted by a corner shop or chain supermarket. They turned left at a mini roundabout and passed a large stone fountain. The town was deathly quiet, its emptiness only challenged by the odd lone walker with their dog. Bridge’s eyes scanned the deserted streets, searching for signs of life and upon finding none, shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He was used to throngs of nightclubbers, early morning road workers and the constant drone of traffic whatever the hour of day, fighting for room on the rubbish infested streets of London. He didn’t know how to handle the lack of activity and felt like he was passing through a ghost town.
‘Here we are.’ Gethin announced, pulling up in front of a large pub. Two black, stone dragons stood either side of the doorway.
‘I thought we were going to the station?’ Bridge asked perplexed and stared out the window at the darkened windows of the drinking hole.
‘You kidding? Nobody is in. Its almost half one. I will pick you up in the morning at eight 0’clock and take you to the station.’
Bridge frowned and produced a small notebook from his overcoat pocket. He flicked through a few pages and traced down his notes with a finger.
‘Not meaning to contradict you son. But it says here that upon arriving I am to meet a Police Sergeant Thomas at the station for debriefing.’
‘Yes that’s Francesca. She will be at home by now.’
‘Well can’t you phone her?’
Gethin shook his head dismissively.
‘Unless its an emergency, she will see you tomorrow. Plus I don’t want to be the one to wake Francesca at this time. I won’t hear the end of it.’
Bridge sighed and massaged his temples.
‘So…what I am supposed to do in the mean time?’
‘Your best bet is to get some kip. John’s got a room setup for you upstairs.’
Bridge peered out the window at the pub doors, his shoulders sagging.
Bridge lay on the small, single bed in the box room above the pub. He was absolutely shattered, every muscle and bone in his body ached dully but try as he might, sleep would not come. His feet stuck out of the bottom of the bed and the heavy blanket wrapped around him was doing little to alleviate the harsh morning chill. His mind was still preoccupied with the case in hand and he was half tempted to sneak down to the station and break in, just to put his mind at rest. He rolled over on to his side and readjusted his position, so as to avoid the many awkward springs, digging into his spine. He closed his eyes, in a bid to bring about sleep more effectively. The sheer silence was the main issue. No car engines, sirens or road sweepers. The only noise breaking the deep quiet was the early morning birds chirping cheerily to one another. It was totally alien to Bridge and he wasn’t sure how to handle it.
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