Francesca Thomas glanced sideways at Bridge, who sat in the passenger seat, drumming his fingers excitedly on his knees. They were making their way up the long, snake like road to Farmer Owen’s farm, Fran trying her to best to avoid the lurking potholes and creeping foliage whipping at the windows. She wasn’t normally a particularly careful driver but something about Bridge’s nervous energy put her at unease and she found the best way to cope with it was to focus on her driving. The other and more pressing reason was because her car was slowly falling apart. Although extremely hardy in nature, even the battle tough automobile was starting to show signs of decay and she really couldn’t afford to replace any parts. Her husband Steven use to be a construction worker but due to putting his back out a few years ago, he had been forced to take leave from his job and was struggling to find work since. It was extremely difficult to find employment with Steven’s skill-set that didn’t involve heavy lifting and so Fran was the sole income earner of the household. Needless to say, the journey up to the farmhouse was slow and gradual and the more cautiously Fran drove, the more agitated and impatient Bridge became. Fran didn’t share Bridge’s enthusiasm. She was on good terms with Gareth and Maggie and really didn’t look forward to the prospect of Bridge putting his official cap on, waltzing into their house and asking them several awkward and most likely personal questions.
‘Can you stop that please?’
Bridge paused in the middle of a particularly complicated and energetic finger tapping session and sighed dramatically. Bored, he glanced out the window at a large, yellow field to the right of him and willed the plodding vehicle to go faster. The one time Sergeant Thomas decided to drive safely was ironically the one time he wanted her to drive a tad more daring. Fran gripped tightly onto the wheel, her knuckles whitening. How could such a methodical and highly respected detective be such an annoying prick? She glanced in the rear-view mirror at the empty back seats, wishing that Gethin was here to alleviate the tension between herself and Bridge. It was true, Gethin could be a little irritating with his consistent stream of questions and his pitiful attempts to suck up to Bridge. However, at the same time his honest nature, nativity and awkward sense of humour made Fran feel at ease. She wondered how Gethin was getting along back at the station, left in charge of assembling a sweeper team for the field. It was a lot of pressure for the young officer and she hoped that he hadn’t bitten off more then he could chew. As she pondered the fate of her second in command, the road curved round to the left and the farmhouse came into view over the crest of a hill, a few fields down. Bridge sat up eagerly, recognizing the large house from the photograph on the evidence board. Fran on the other hand, was reluctant to draw any closer to the farm and if it wasn’t for the fear of stalling on the ascending gradient, she would have slowed down even more. The Volvo grew nearer and nearer. Bridge becoming more keen, Fran less so. The chickens and dogs in the courtyard trotted lazily back and forth in front of the car, unintimidated by the ambling hunk of machinery. Bridge sniggered, as the exhaust backfired and a chicken squawked loudly and bolted away. His smile instantly faded when he caught sight of Fran’s disapproving face. The door to the house was open and Gareth sat on the doorstep, puffing on a small pipe.
‘Let me do the talking.’ Fran instructed, ignoring the look of disappointment on Bridge’s face.
Gareth gave them a slight wave, as they both emerged from the run down car.
‘Hmmm…It is almost as if he was expecting us.’ Bridge whispered as he shut his door.
‘Possibly…or maybe he heard us coming up the driveway.’ Fran suggested, trying her best to silence Bridge before coming within earshot of Gareth.
With a heave and a groan, Gareth pulled himself to his feet, using the door-frame for support and removed the pipe from his mouth.
‘So soon again Fran?’
‘Oh you know me Gareth. Can’t keep myself away.’ Fran replied with a warm smile.
Fran had always been good with people. Ever since she was a little girl, she had possessed the ability and confidence to talk and communicate with her fellow classmates. Her rosy cheeks, kind eyes and warm smile never failed to win people over and you could always rely on Fran to make people feel at ease. Of course, there were downsides to this and her generous personality had made her susceptible to bullying. School was an extremely tumultuous time for Fran but it had the effect of toughening her up and coupled with her police training, she began to gain a reputation as a bit of a bad ass. All the locals knew she was lovely but at the same time understood that getting on her wrong side was an extremely bad idea. A shin split halted Fran’s progress and grabbing hold of the car bonnet, she massaged her agonizing ankles. Unfortunately, Bridge used this setback to his advantage and strolled quickly up to the house.
‘Detective Inspector Nicholas Bridge. Gareth was it?’ He inquired, holding out his hand.
Gareth said nothing and chose to puff on his pipe, as opposed to shaking Bridge’s outstretched hand. From the moment Bridge had stepped out of the car, Gareth had caught an air of self righteousness in the smartly dressed man. His suspicions had been confirmed when Bridge had introduced himself, sounding like a lawyer/estate agent. It was the highly rehearsed and monotone speech which made everything Bridge spoke sound impersonal and cold.
‘Want a cup of tea Fran? I’ve just put the kettle on.’ Gareth asked, deliberately ignoring Bridge’s question.
‘Yes that would be…’ Fran began.
‘Mr Owen. We have a few questions we would like to ask you?’ Bridge cut in.
Gareth took a sharp intake of breath, waiting for Fran to blow her lid. Instead, she calmly took Bridge by the arm and led him away from the house.
‘Stick the kettle on Gareth. We will be with you in a minute.’
‘…errr sure thing Fran.’ Gareth stammered.
Bridge had no idea how much trouble he was in. A calm and collected Fran was far more dangerous and unpredictable then an angry one.
‘What on earth do you think you’re doing.’ She hissed, glaring at Bridge with dark eyes.
‘Interviewing the suspect.’ Bridge defended, feeling a little intimidated by the short’s woman’s ferocity.
‘And you think it is alright to interrupt me whilst I’m talking and make me look stupid.’
Bridge swallowed hard, at a loss for words.
‘Besides the idea is to put him at ease, not storm in like the S.S and demand answers.’
Bridge could feel the heat of Fran’s words and was on the verge of arguing back when a sudden thought prevented a harshly worded response.
‘You’re right Sergeant. It was rude of me to interrupt you and I apologize for my behaviour.’
Fran’s eyes narrowed. Bridge’s expression was one of complete sincerity but she wasn’t buying it for a second.
‘What do you want Bridge?’
‘Just give me five minutes alone with Gareth. That’s all I ask.’
Fran put her face in her hands.
‘You can’t be serious?’ She mumbled through the gaps in her fingers.
‘Please, I will make sure I am considerate. Just give me a chance. I haven’t interviewed anyone in a long time.’
‘But surely you had to interview people back in London.’
‘Well…yes but not on as interesting case as this one.’ Bridge said slowly, neglecting to highlight that his partner back home had done all the talking.
Fran went to protest but a loud ringing noise beat her to the punch. Sighing, she pulled out her mobile and glanced at the display. It was Gethin. She glanced back at Bridge who was silently pleading to her. Her eyes flickered down to the phone. She should really answer, it could be important.
‘Okay. But don’t cock it up, otherwise it is my reputation on the line.’ She relented.
‘Thank you, thank you. You can rely on me.’ Bridge exclaimed, over the moon and rushed off towards the house.
He tripped over the doorstep and stumbled inside the hallway.
Fran watched on in disbelief and answered the phone.
‘What?’ She demanded bluntly.
‘….Hello Fran. Everything alright?’
Gethin sat in front of his desk, doodling at the bottom of a small notepad with a list of names at the top. There was a moment of silence, as he pondered how best to proceed with the telephone conversation.
‘Do you wanna talk about it?’
‘No Gethin I’m fine.’ Fran sighed.
She was evidently not fine but couldn’t muster the energy to moan about it. Besides, it was not professional conduct, even if it was tempting to punch Bridge straight in the face.
‘Any reason you are calling me?’ She said casually, puffing out her cheeks.
‘Oh right yes.’ Gethin replied, suddenly remembering the reason he had phoned and sat up quickly.
He traced the rubber end of pencil down the line of names.
‘I have managed to rustle together fifteen volunteers.’ Gethin said proudly.
‘For what?’ Fran said, only half listening.
Her attention was distracted by the sight of Bridge and Gareth through the kitchen window. Gareth had his back to Bridge, most likely preparing the tea whilst Bridge stood by the kitchen sink, scribbling in his leather notebook.
‘The sweeper team for the field.’ Gethin mumbled, his mouth stuffed with sour sweets.
‘Ah yes. Good job Gethin. I will let Bridge know.’
‘Yeah. Got a few officers from Clandowey coming over and the rest are locals.’
A shout made Fran look over at the house and she was horrified to discern Gareth waving his hands wildly in front of Bridge through the kitchen window.
‘I’m gonna have to go now Gethin. We will speak later.’
‘Okay, should I get on with anything in the meantime?’
Gethin was met with silence and he glanced at his phone, realizing Fran had ended the call. He placed the phone down on the desk and drummed his fingertips on his chin, wondering what to do next.
‘Right.’ He said eventually and alighted from the chair.
Fran put one foot on the doorstep, as the front door swung open and Bridge stumbled backwards, muttering a feeble apology. The edge of his loafer slipped on the step and he staggered into Fran. He let out a shriek of surprise and spun round.
‘Help.’ He whispered with desperate eyes.
Fran glanced over his shoulder in time to see a flustered, red faced Gareth emerge, an expression of utter contempt on his face.
‘This numbskull just accused me of murder.’ He spat, pointing the end of his pipe at Bridge accusingly.
Fran maneuvered herself in front of Bridge, using her stocky frame to prevent him from Gareth’s wrath.
‘I’m sure Inspector Bridge didn’t mean to imply that you murdered anyone.’ She said placatingly, glaring at Bridge over her shoulder.
Gareth gripped hold of his farmer’s vest collar and exhaled deeply, restraining himself.
‘Fran. I appreciate that you have a job to do but I will not talk to this imbecile.’
Fran nodded understandably and turned to face Bridge, who stood rather sheepishly, watching the exchange between the two locals. She gestured to the car with a vigorous nod of her head. Bridge nodded meekly and trotted over to the stationery vehicle with his tail between his legs.
‘Come on Gareth. How about that cup of tea?’ She said gently, coercing him back inside the house.
Fran lowered herself into Gareth’s sagging settee, perching on the very edge so as not to be enveloped whole. Loud bangs and slams emanated from the kitchen, as Gareth angrily prepared the tea. Fran was about to get up and offer a hand when there was a series of clinks and clanks, as Gareth searched the cupboards for clean mugs. Head shoved deep inside, Gareth muttered bitterly, shoving items aside agitatedly. Fran decided it was best not not to intervene and glanced around the large living room. She had been inside the house three or four times over the years and in that time, the place had remained pretty much the same. A few of the house cats looked a little older and pudgier and there was an empty space where Richard’s bed use to be. Fran felt her heart sink, as she glanced at the dust covered, stoney patch of floor. Richard had been Gareth’s faithful hound, a shaggy sheepdog who use to follow him around all day, obediently herding sheep and cattle for his master. One day, Richard had the misfortune of being accidentally trampled by the panicked creatures. Luckily, he had survived but was unable to continue his work as a sheepdog for fear of being crushed underfoot again. So Richard the sheepdog had retired at an unusually young age and over the years had become older, lazier and fat. Fran loved the old dog who grew more lethargic and grumpy each time she visited. He had an extremely gentle side however and always made an effort to give Fran affection and attention whenever she was around. A year ago Richard had passed away, which had hit Gareth particularly hard. Despite having numerous other dogs on the farm, none of them possessed the close and trusted connection like Richard had.
‘Here we go.’ Gareth announced, handing Fran a steaming mug.
‘Thanks.’ Fran said warmly and took a tentative sip.
Gareth sat down in a worn, flowery patterned armchair beside the fireplace and silently nursed his own mug of tea. Fran cleared her throat and shifted awkwardly on the settee.
‘Maggie not around?’
‘No, she went into town to pick up a few supplies.’ Gareth answered with a forced smile.
Fran nodded understandably and took another sip of tea. The grandfather clock in the hallway chimed loudly, signifying that it had just turned two. A few polite smiles and scratches of the head served to reinforce the sudden silence following the clock’s chime. Fran jumped in surprise, nearly spilling her tea as something furry brushed the underside of her arm. Looking down, she was met with two large green eyes. They belonged to Alfie, one of Gareth’s many cats. Fran didn’t normally mind cats and was usually more then happy to give them fuss. Alfie, being the exception however. He was an extremely smelly cat with mangy fur and a gammy eye. Worse of all he had a bad tendency to dribble on people. Fran tried to shimmy across the sofa, away from the foul smelling beast but Alfie was persistent and wriggled underneath her arm and lay sprawled over her legs.
‘He likes you.’ Gareth said cheerily.
Fran relented and forced herself to stroke the creature’s mangy fur, eyeing the bead of saliva forming in the corner of his mouth. Every impulse in her body wanted to fling Alfie off her legs and avoid a soaking but she could feel Gareth watching her and so allowed the drooling kitty to remain in his place.
‘Any more trouble with those kids?’ Fran asked, trying to distract herself from the line of dribble inching ever closer to her trouser leg.
‘No no, haven’t heard a peep.’
A few months back, a gang of local kids had snuck onto Gareth’s farm and killed a few chickens and set several hay bails on fire. Fran, knowing exactly each and everyone of them had visited their parents and miraculously the arsonist attacks had ceased. Unfortunately, a week later the kids had turned their attention to the town itself and decided it would more amusing to zip around the streets in the early hours of the morning, breaking the peaceful night air with their loud car exhausts and shrill horns. Fran could and occasionally would stick them in the cells for the night but they would just wreak havoc again once they were out. There was nothing much Fran could do apart from slap them on the wrist and send them on their way. At the end of the day they were troublesome youths and eventually they would learn to grow out of it.
‘Now I know Inspector Bridge upset you. Believe me I understand how blunt and arrogant that man can be.’
Gareth smirked and ruffled the head of a nearby Labrador who had wandered over for some attention.
‘But there are a few questions I do need to ask you. Nothing serious. Just need to eliminate a few lines of inquiries.’
Gareth chewed his lip, still unconvinced.
‘I promise I will go easy on you.’
Gareth glanced down at the Labrador, who was watching him with large brown eyes, panting loudly.
‘Well I guess you have always been good to me over the years. Helped me and Maggie out during the tough times.’
‘Thank you.’ Fran said relieved and shifted under the cat, feeling her legs going num.
Alfie looked up at her incredulously and dug his nails into Fran’s leg as punishment for moving. Fran shrieked in surprise and forced an even smile when Gareth eyed her curiously.
‘So. Describe the morning when you found the body. Run us through the events up to just before you called us?’
‘Well I got up as five as per usual. Fed the chickens and cleaned out the pig pens. Then I was checking the top fields just to make sure none of those kids had come back when I saw it.’
‘Yes.’ Gareth confirmed.
‘Then what did you do?’
‘…um afterwards I came back here and told Maggie. Thank god I did as well. She was the one who suggested we phone the station.’
Fran nodded and gave him a reassuring smile.
‘Must have been a nasty shock?’
Gareth nodded silently and glanced at his cloudy tea. He was an incredibly hardy and tough man. You had to be to work such long hours on a farm. Most things unfazed him. He had pulled stillborn calfs out of dying horses and been nearly crushed by one of his own hay bails. The latter resulting in him being airlifted to a nearby hospital. However, even this had made Gareth’s stomach flip and as he recalled the day in his head, he paled slightly.
‘And what about the night before, did you notice anything out of the ordinary?’ Fran said, changing the subject.
‘No not really.’ Gareth frowned. ‘Apart from Rory here.’ He added and stroked the Labrador’s back.
‘Why, what was up with Rory?’
‘Must have been about midnight the night before, he started going off on one. His bloody barking woke me and Maggie up.’
‘Did something spook him perhaps?’
‘Maybe but we get so many foxes and the like round here, its not unusual for Rory to start up, when he senses another animal nearby.’
Fran nodded and removed her own notepad and pen from her coat.
‘Do you think that is important?’
‘Possibly. I’m not quite sure yet.’ Fran replied, scribbling a few notes down in an untidy scrawl. ‘Anything else?’
‘Not that I can think of, sorry.’
‘And I am assuming you were with Maggie all night?’
‘Yes that’s right.’
Fran made another note and flipped her pad close.
‘Well, I think that will do for now.’ She said, returning the pen and pad to her pocket.
With great effort, she lifted Alfie on her lap and placed the cat gently on the settee. Alfie yawned and stretched out on one of the pillows, falling instantly asleep.
‘Now we will need Maggie to pop down to the station at some point. Just routine inquiry. Also if its alright with you, have a team search the field for anything we might have missed.’
‘As long as its before this years harvest, I have no problems with that.’ Gareth said helpfully, also climbing to his feet.
‘Pleasure as always.’ Fran stated and held out her hand.
Gareth shook it and showed her towards the door.
‘And sorry about Inspector Bridge. He is new here.’ Fran added as she stepped outside.
‘That’s alright Fran. You take care you hear. Good luck with the investigation, I hope you catch the son of a bitch.’
‘Thanks Gareth, I hope so too.’
The two bid farewell and Gareth closed the door. Fran let out a relived sigh and made her way over towards the car. Before opening the car door, she glanced down at her trousers and sighed. A damp patch sat on her left thigh. A parting gift from Alfie. It was obviously going to be one of those days.
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