Detective Inspector Nicholas Bridge looked down at the naked corpse with a keen eye. He had never seen anything quite like it before. Fran and Gethin exchanged raised eyebrows, as Bridge crouched down and inspected the body, like a fascinated child studying bugs under a rock. The three officers of the law stood in a small, brightly lit, white tiled room, huddled round a metal table. The back wall of the room was comprised of several rows of large, heavy draws, each one with a name tag in the center. The naked body Fran and Gethin discovered at the farm lay on the table in front of them, a thin sheet draped over the lower half of his body. Bridge straightened up and drummed his fingers on his chin thoughtfully. Fran and Gethin observed his odd routine silently, trying to understand what he had gleaned from the decaying corpse that they clearly hadn’t.
‘So, any thoughts?’ Fran asked, her loud voice bouncing off the walls of the empty, still room.
Bridge held up his finger, silencing her and leaned over the body, studying the dead man’s face intensely. A red flush of anger flooded Fran’s cheeks and she opened her mouth to give him an earful but stopped herself when she noticed what Bridge was doing. He had removed a small flashlight from his coat pocket and was investigating the inside of the man’s mouth. After shining the torch around for a bit, he returned the flashlight to his pocket and stood up. Gethin and Fran waited silently, judging from the detective’s deep frown, that he had discovered something pertaining to the case.
‘Well I’m stumped.’ He announced and shrugged his shoulders resignedly.
Fran and Gethin said nothing, unable to absorb Bridge’s response. Eventually, a taken aback Fran found her voice and inquired.
‘I beg your pardon?’
‘I said I’m stumped.’
‘I heard what you said detective, however we were under the impression that this was your field of expertise.’
Bridge scratched his stubble and glanced down at the pale corpse. It was starting to turn a nasty shade of blue, made worse by the overhead fluorescent light.
‘Well obviously I have a few theories that I am keen to pursue but it is a most unusual case.’
Gethin groaned, dreading the prospect of having to spend even more time preventing Fran and Bridge from ripping each other’s head off.
‘Don’t be so disheartened. This is great news.’ Bridge exclaimed excitedly.
‘It is?’ Gethin asked puzzled, unable to understand how being one step behind was a good thing.
Fran also didn’t follow Bridge’s way of thinking and looked at him skeptically.
‘Don’t you see. Whoever did this has introduced a whole new element to murder as we know it?’ He smiled manically, unable to contain his puppy like excitement.
‘And that’s a good thing?’ Fran questioned, double checking Bridge didn’t have a screw loose.
‘If we find out what happened to this man, we will be the first to discover a new breed of killer. Just think of it, local sergeant and police officer solve bizarre new murder case. It will do wonders to your careers, not to mention put Llangaerthan on the map. ‘
Fran sighed, shook her head and left the room, not bowled over by Bridge’s speech. Gethin, on the other hand perked up, brightening at the prospect of gaining some recognition. He imagined the look on his mum’s face upon receiving his promotion. She would be so proud.
‘Did I say something wrong?’ Bridge asked Gethin, bemused by Fran’s dramatic exit.
It was a perfectly rousing speech in his mind. Who wouldn’t want to be assigned to a case as interesting and mysterious as this one?
‘I think she just needed some fresh air, you know dead body and all.’ Gethin suggested, becoming very interested in his shoes all of sudden.
A delighted Bridge rubbed his hands together enigmatically and made for the door, looking very pleased with himself. He slapped Gethin heartily on the back as he passed.
‘Come on son. We’ve got work to do.’
Gethin watched on as the eager detective swept out the room, trying to figure out if the man was more annoying when he was excited then when he was unimpressed. He settled on the fact that Bridge was annoying whatever mood he seemed to be in and closed the door on his way out.
Bridge hopped from foot to foot impatiently, as the automatic back door took an age to slowly shudder open. The door led out to a long, downward sloping ramp that curved round into a large car park, populated by only three or four cars at most. The small building Bridge had just left, served as the local morgue, attached to the back of the much larger Clandowey Hospital. Although the body had been technically found in Llangaerthan, the town owned no morgue, so they were forced to ship it over to Clandowey instead. Bridge had presumed that the journey from Llangaerthan would have been a little more relaxing, due to Fran being somewhat older and more experienced. Alas, it was not the case as Bridge had soon discovered after five minutes of being in the car. The beat up Volvo was so battered and ancient that Bridge feared breakdown every time the exhaust pipe let out a loud bang, when dealing with the steep Welsh hills. On top of this, Fran had a continual bad habit of getting distracted by things either inside or outside the car. On a few occasions, Bridge had genuinely thought that they were about to career right over the edge of one of the hill roads. Bridge didn’t know what was worse, Gethin’s reckless, brake neck driving or Fran’s unreliable car and her tendency to become distracted.
‘What’s the plan now boss?’
Bridge returned to the present and looked round at the wet-eared police officer. Fran was leaning against the window of her beat up Volvo, smoking a straight and looking generally unimpressed by everyone and everything in a fifty yard radius. The temperature had dropped since the morning and Bridge buttoned up his coat, fending off the slight chill.
‘As long as its alright with your sergeant, I guess the next course of action is to return to headquarters and put together a brief.’
‘A brief?’ Gethin said, rubbing the back of his ear.
He was becoming increasingly fed up with Bridge’s technical jargon. It was interesting at first to learn the new lingo of the homicide world but now it just felt like Bridge was showing off with it. What was more annoying about the fact that Bridge was clearly very egotistical was the fact that most of the time he was right.
‘You know, to establish all the facts, pool together our collective resources and work out the next best step.’ Bridge explained in a very condescending manner.
‘Oh that brief, yeah I know exactly what you’re on about.’
Bridge blatantly knew this was a lie but let the matter rest, as he was more concerned with getting on with the case in hand. The duo made their way over to Fran to tell her the good news.
The mood of the company of three was solemn, as they made their way through the winding hills towards the sleeping town of Llangaerthan. Their morning of glorious sunshine had been replaced by an overcast, drizzly afternoon, reflecting the downbeat attitude of the journeyers. Bridge had been over the moon in the mortuary but as soon as he had climbed into the car, his enthusiasm had waned considerably. Both Fran and Gethin didn’t seem to share the same zest at the proposal of a new case and after several attempts to rouse their spirits, Bridge had given up and fallen silent. Fran was unusually focused on the road ahead, using it as a good excuse to be as unresponsive as humanly possible to Bridge. She could not revel in the idea that there was a killer on the loose and the possibility of more murders on the horizon. Bridge’s morbid fascination with the case actually made her feel a little sick to her stomach and it took all her willpower and professionalism to conceal her feelings from him. Gethin sat in the back, feeling generally uncomfortable and tense at the deep silence frequenting the interior of the beat up Volvo. It was so deathly silent that all he could hear was the loud car engine and the occasional burst from the exhaust. At first he had been hugely grateful for the lack of bickering and inane babble between the two stubborn parties. However, after a while the lack of noise had gotten on his nerves and he had tried to remedy the situation by making small talk. Unfortunately, the attempt at conversation had failed miserably and all that was left in its place was an awkward silence.
It was a relief to get back to the police station and all three of them exited the car a little too quickly and eagerly. Noting their low spirits, Bridge suggested more coffee to perk them up and Gethin began scuttling away towards the kitchen.
‘No no, I will make it this time.’ Bridge insisted.
Gethin glanced at Fran with a lost look in his eye and she nodded her head, agreeing to the unusual shift in police hierarchy. Bridge left Gethin and Fran to mull over their trip to the morgue, glad for the excuse to escape for ten minutes and allow himself space to think. The other reason was that he couldn’t bear to drink another weakly made disaster from Gethin. He scanned the cupboards and was disappointed with the sparsity of decent coffee. Back home, he had become accustomed to the expensive taste of Columbian coffee beans and even had his own hand cranked grinder for the authentic coffee experience. Eventually he had to resign himself to a lesser refined way of preparing coffee. At least they had a cafetiere he thought to himself.
When he returned to the conference room carrying a large tray of coffee related paraphernalia, Fran and Gethin glanced up suddenly, guilty expressions plastered to their faces.
‘What did I miss?’ Bridge questioned, placing down the tray on the unused desk.
‘Erm…just stuff about the case.’ Fran replied, lifting herself off the edge of the desk and clasping her hands together.
‘So?’ Bridge persisted, picking up a bourbon biscuit and removing its top layer.
Fran and Gethin looked at one another helplessly, appealing to each other with panicked eyes.
‘We…were….discussing an idea that Gethin came up.’ Fran finally stammered.
‘We were?’ Both Gethin and Bridge asked surprised.
‘Yes…don’t you remember. You were saying how you thought that maybe the murder was possibly…’ Fran glanced up at the ceiling, racking her brains for an appropriate and believable explanation.
Bridge sipped his coffee and waited patiently, amused by Fran’s attempt to scrabble a clearly fake response. He wondered what gold she was going to produce.
‘Ritualistic.’ She eventually exclaimed, unable to hide her smug satisfaction.
Bridge swallowed a large gulp of coffee and winced as the still hot liquid burnt the edges of his throat. Where on earth had Gethin draw that conclusion from. He glanced at the young, naive boy, unable to fathom how Gethin, of all people, had produced that theory. Gethin stared back at him blankly and it suddenly clicked in Bridge’s mind. It wasn’t Gethin’s theory at all. It was Fran’s. Gethin clearly had no idea what Fran had just said. Bridge shifted his gaze to Fran, taken aback by her theory. Had he underestimated her ability or had she perhaps sneaked a glance at his notepad when he was not looking? No, not possible. Bridge had kept it in his pocket all morning. Even so, he checked his pocket quickly and his fingers brushed its leather spine. Bugger, the old cow must have jumped to the same conclusion as himself.
‘Its an interesting theory but the injuries inflicted on the victim aren’t part of any established rituals.’
‘As far as you know.’ Fran fired back.
‘Well I’m not wanting to blow my own horn or anything but I have worked on several ritual related cases and in all my years of research and evidence gathering I have never come across any thing of this nature.’
‘Well , maybe what we are seeing is a new strain of ritual killing.’
Bridge and Fran whipped their heads round in Gethin’s direction, astounded by the young’s man’s insightful input. Gethin reveled in succeeding in putting down two superiors in one foul sweep. Bridge frowned hard at him and for a split second Gethin thought Bridge was angry about the entire affair.
‘You may be on to something there.’ He said slowly, growing intrigued at the confused looking boy before him.
Perhaps he wasn’t as naive and unobservant as he had first presumed. Gethin relaxed, relieved that he was being praised as opposed to getting told off.
‘I think it is about time we established an evidence board.’ Bridge said, turning his attention to Fran.
‘…Right, of course. Seems like a good idea.’ She replied hesitantly.
‘You do know what an evidence board is right?’
‘Yes I know what a blooming evidence board is. Give me some credit would you?’ Fran pretended defensively.
‘Of course. Sorry, how silly of me.’ Bridge mumbled sheepishly.
Whilst Gethin went in search of a whiteboard/corkboard, Bridge and Fran began compiling and organizing their material on the case on Fran’s desk. Once Gethin had returned with a rather, battered looking whiteboard and a handful of marker pens, they begun laying out the corresponding information on it’s blank surface. Fran and Gethin did most of the hard work of blue-tacking the photographs and scribbling down all the names and descriptions, whilst Bridge directed them from behind. After several small arguments between Fran and Bridge over the arrangement of the material and the changing of dried out marker pans, the three of them stood back and admired their handiwork. In the board’s centre, they had pinned a photograph of the deceased victim, his pale, slightly green skin appearing even more spooky through the camera’s lens. Bridge folded his arms, impressed with the board before him. It was not up to usual standards of interactive projectors but it would have to do.
‘Right.’ He announced clapping his hands together and strolling over to the board. He studied the various photographs and words attentively before spinning round to face Fran and Gethin. ‘Our victim.’ He continued, tapping the central photograph with his finger. ‘You don’t mind if I take the floor with this one?’ He paused, addressing Fran.
‘No, no. Go ahead detective.’ Fran said casually, interested to discover if Bridge lived up to his reputation.
‘Our victim. Male, late sixties with grey hair. Name and eye colour unknown. Found on Owen’s farm yesterday morning.’ He stopped to catch his breath and tapped a connecting photograph in the top left hand corner. It was a black and white photograph of Owen’s farmhouse. ‘Coroner indicated that time of death was approximately between midnight and 3am. Is that correct?’ He consulted Fran.
Fran nodded her head silently.
‘So that means our killer must have dumped the body in the field after he had finished with our victim.’ Bridge continued, tapping a photograph underneath the one of Owen’s farm.
It depicted the large field where Fran and Gethin had found the body. Although the image was slightly blurred, Fran felt her stomach flip as she remembered wading through the grass and finding the mutilated body for the first time.
‘I would like to get a search team out there and comb the whole field for any possible evidence we might have missed.’ Bridge stated.
‘You’d be lucky. We are already understaffed as it. Where do you think we are going to find the spare hands?’ Fran asked, becoming tired of Bridge’s ever growing demands.
‘Could we not put a call out to the surrounding stations or maybe hire some volunteers.’
‘I will see what I can do.’ Gethin said, wanting to show his eagerness.
Fran raised her eyes in mild surprise. Gethin had been acting very weird since Bridge had arrived. Always eager to assist and being generally more helpful. She never experienced this usually. Most of the time, it would be an effort to even convince him to bring her coffee in the morning but then again she was only ever willing to drink Gethin’s coffee in times of crisis and stress.
‘Good man.’ Bridge praised Gethin before returning his attention to the board. ‘The victim’s eyes, lips and scrotum were taken.’ Pointing at three close ups of the referenced body areas. ‘…and from seeing the body close up and from referring the coroner’s report, it is apparent that the man died from the excessive blood loss from these wounds.’
‘You’re saying the victim was still alive when the killer removed his body parts.’ Fran said, feeling bile rise within her throat.
‘I believe so. There are no other external or internal injuries listed in the report, so unless the victim fell dead of his own accord beforehand, then what we have here is an execution.’
Gethin whistled loudly and Fran looked very pale all of sudden. Bridge stopped, catching sight of their horrified expressions. He had forgotten how morbid and macabre the case was, as he had become so desensitized to crimes of this nature. They were a daily occurrence for him and Bridge had to remind himself that neither Fran or Gethin had ever experienced anything like this before.
‘Shall we take a break?’ He suggested.
Fran lent on the edge of Gethin’s table and collected her thoughts. It was all just part of the job she reminded herself. Like it or not, this is what she had signed up for and she had a duty as an officer of the law to carry out the task to the best of her ability.
‘No, its alright. We can’t just close our eyes and pretend this hasn’t happened. We owe to the victim and his family, whoever they may be.’
Bridge was impressed by Fran’s determination and for the second time that day, felt he had underestimated the proud sergeant.
‘Why specifically eyes, mouth and scrotum?’ Gethin asked, wondering why no one had mentioned it earlier.
‘I’m not entirely sure but one theory I do have is that the killer has taken them as trophies.’
‘Like a trademark?’ Fran added.
‘Exactly.’ Bridge answered pleased. It felt like they were eventually reading from the same page.
‘I believe the killer chose eyes, mouth and scrotum for a specific reason. Think about it. Remove a man’s eyelids, he is forced to watch as his voice is taken away and his ability to copulate is stolen from him, i.e. mouth and scrotum removed. It is a symbolic castration. Both psychological and physical. Our killer is making a point. Possibly the man is being punished for something he said or an act he committed and the killer is making him watch as he takes away his ability to do either. In any case, the killer is sending us a message.’ Bridge reeled of the last sentence and placed his hips proudly on his side.
‘Or the killer is using the various body parts as some sort of ritual practice, maybe they hold some useful properties and uses.’ Fran interjected.
‘Look, forget the ritual stuff okay.’ Bridge said with a huff.
‘I thought in an investigation like this, all possible lines of inquires should be pursued.’
‘So surely this should be up there on the board too.’
Bridge’s shoulders sagged. She had a point. He shouldn’t dismiss the theory entirely, even if it was wrong.
‘Go on then.’ He relented.
Fran rushed excitedly to the board and scribbled the theory down on a blank space. After she had finished, Fran returned to her perch on Gethin’s table, feeling empowered by her moment in the limelight.
‘So what’s the plan next chief?’ Gethin asked Bridge, scanning the board for answers.
Bridge rapped a photograph in the bottom left corner of the board. It showed a much younger Farmer Owen, when he still had hair.
‘Interview with our first witness.’
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