Maggie Owen sat perched on the edge of the waiting room chair, wringing the strap of her handbag agitatedly. Desk Sergeant Paul sat behind the desk, nibbling on the end of a pencil and studying a newspaper crossword. It was very quiet. Only the occasional sound of pencil on paper, as he scribbled in a messy answer. Maggie glanced at her watch and sighed.
‘Not long now.’ Paul reassured with a warm smile.
Maggie nodded silently, not trusting herself to talk, for fear of throwing up. Her half eaten jacket potato lay heavy in her stomach, making her feel bloated and gassy. She felt the urge to pass wind rise suddenly but held it in. Even if it was a silent one, the smell would give her away and she didn’t want to subject anyone to that. Even Paul, who was doing a terrible job at a small talk. As if reading her mind, Paul pushed the newspaper to one side and looked over at her.
‘Terrible business this isn’t it?’
It was not a particularly comforting thing to say but Maggie was just grateful for the distraction from her own thoughts.
‘Must have hit you pretty guys pretty hard, being up on your land and all?’ He said and rested his elbow on the desk.
‘It was a bit of shock but nothing we can’t handle.’ Maggie replied, trying to steer the conversation in another direction.
Paul nodded and drummed his fingers on the desk, thinking of something, anything to say.
‘You still…’ He began but was drowned out, as the doors to the office opened and Fran materialized, looking rather flustered.
‘Maggie, lovely to see you. I hope I haven’t kept you waiting long.’
Fran’s bubbly and easy going announcement instantly relieved some of Maggie’s nerves. Fran had such a way with people. Really made them feel at ease. Not like Paul. He was god awful at chit chat.
‘You ready to go in?’ Fran asked, noticing how far forwards Maggie was sitting.
‘Yes, lead the way.’
Fran led Maggie through the double doors and over to her desk. Open folders littered the surface of the table and realizing her sudden unprofessionalism, Fran hurriedly stacked them up and shoved them to one side.
‘Sorry about that. We are totally snowed under at the moment.’
‘Don’t worry, I understand. Me and Gareth can never keep the farmhouse clean for longer then five minutes.’ Maggie replied and glanced around for a chair to sit in.
‘Oh, I’m sorry Maggie.’ Fran sighed, palming her forehead. ‘Here, use this one.’ She instructed, wheeling Gethin’s chair over to face the desk.
Desk marginally clearer and Maggie seated, Fran sat down on the other side of the desk and flicked the hair out of her eye.
‘Budget cuts. One day I will actually have my own office with more then one chair.’
Maggie smiled nervously.
‘At least I hope.’ Fran added.
Maggie swallowed and glanced around the empty office. She caught sight of Paul at the front desk, who was now speaking on the phone. Fran watched her silently. Their eyes locked and Maggie gestured around the office.
‘Must be nice to finally be your own boss.’
It was an odd thing to say thought Fran, not the subject itself but why Maggie had mentioned it at all. Maggie’s fist were clenched tightly together in her lap. Slightly nervous behaviour Fran could understand but this was plain odd for Maggie and she refused to keep eye contact with her for more then a couple of seconds.
‘It comes with its perks. Speaking of which can I offer you anything to drink? Coffee or tea?’
She went to signal Paul’s attention but was cut short as Maggie cleared her throat.
‘No…no…not for me thanks.’
Her tender belly squirmed at the mere thought of caffeine and milk.
Fran nodded with an even smile. Maggie was definitely acting strange. Fran knew the townsfolk well and if there was one thing that she knew above all else was that Maggie always said yes to a cup of tea. The realization that she had said said something wrong flickered across Maggie’s face and she knocked the heels of her shoes together anxiously. Paul looked up, a vacant, dozy expression on his face.
‘You say something Fran?’
‘Make us a coffee will you boyo.’ Fran called across the room, not taking her eyes off Maggie.
‘Right you are Chief.’ Paul said and gave a big stretch before detaching himself from his seat and sidling off to make a pot.
There was a Paul shaped outline ingrained into the leather of the help desk chair, indicating the man’s attachment to the government owned property.
‘So….’ Fran said slowly after a while. ‘I’m sure you know why you are here?’
Maggie nodded firmly. Her face was extremely pale and Fran detected a couple of sweat beads atop her forehead.
‘Just routine enquiry of course. I know its a bit of a pain and you will probably have to repeat some of what Gareth said but we have to make each statement official. I’m sure you understand?’
But Maggie wasn’t listening. Instead her eyes were focused on a spot just above Fran’s head.
Maggie. Are you alright?’
Fran lent forwards and placed a hand on Maggie’s. She flinched at first, startled and then relaxed slightly.
‘Yes…Yes…sorry. I’m feeling a bit under the weather to tell the truth. Bad tea this morning. Think our milk was on the turn.
Fran very much doubted this was the case, Maggie and Gareth being farmers and all but she let the matter rest. It was apparent that Maggie was going to need gentle coercion.
‘So…’ Fran said again.
She reached for her notebook and pen but paused and then retracted her hand. Maggie was uncomfortable enough as it was. Fran’s scribblings would just have the effect of making her more disorientated and unwilling to cooperate.
‘When you’re ready and I mean when you’re ready…describe the events of the night and morning of the incident as you best remember them.’
Maggie took a deep breath and forced her left leg to stop shaking.
‘Me and Gareth were in bed early that night. As you know his day starts at five and I had been helping out at the village hall from six.’
Fran nodded knowingly. She had been there that morning, aiding with some of the cooking and baking for the scouts and brownie clubs.
‘I think it must have been around eleven that we were both woken by the dog.’
Fran’s eyes hovered on her notebook.
‘Eleven you say. Are you certain about that?’
Maggie thought hard, her lip chewed between her teeth. Fran’s heartbeats began to quicken.
‘Yes…it was definitely eleven.’
Fran moved her chair closer to the desk.
‘When I spoke to Gareth he said it wasn’t until midnight that the dog started barking.’
Maggie swallowed hard, her dry lips apart.
‘Come to think of it, it may have been twelve. I get so muddled these days. What with all different medications the doctors have got me on.’
It was a good recovery even, Fran had to admit. To push it further would be just unreasonable and insincere.
Fran nodded understandably and waited patiently for Maggie to continue.
‘Well naturally the dog was making a royal racket. Bounding about like nobody’s business.’
Fran smiled. She could imagine the young Labrador now. Jumping up and down, yelping, pawing at Gareth’s trousers. She had always had a soft spot for dogs. Their loyalty and undying love for humans comforted and impressed her.
‘Then Gareth told me to put the kettle on whilst he checked the yard.’
Fran almost did a double take, so shocked was she at Maggie’s words.
‘Sorry.’ She said with a slight confounded laugh. ‘Did you say Gareth went out that night?’
Maggie looked very uncomfortable all of a sudden, as if she had trodden something unpleasant.
‘Maggie?’ Fran insisted, ordering her to obey by folding her arms.
Maggie bit her lip nervously and glanced through the double doors towards the reception area. Paul was yet to return. She lent forwards over the desk and said in a very low voice.
‘I have to tell you something about me and Gareth but you must promise to keep it a secret. Between you and me.’
It was Fran’s turn to shift uncomfortably in her chair.
‘Maggie you know I can’t do that. If it something important linked to the case, which judging by your expression, I would hazard a yes, it is my duty to inform my colleagues.’
Maggie looked torn.
‘The best I can do is forestall it coming to light for a bit, you know for old times sake.’ Fran offered helpfully.
A few years back, Fran’s late dog Colin had fallen ill and Gareth and Maggie had looked after him, nursed him back to health. As such Fran felt in their debt, as she and that dog had a very tight bond. If anyone were to ask Fran which death impacted the most she would have chosen the dog. Her mum had also died but they didn’t entirely see eye to eye and although she was affected by the death, she had found it more surreal then sombre. Maggie licked her lips, then threw caution to the wind and opened her mouth to spill the dirt. Unfortunately Paul the desk sergeant had chosen that precise moment to walk into the office, Fran’s mug in hand. It had ‘World’s best Sarge’ written on the side.
‘Here you are. One coffee as reques…’ He fell short, realizing that he walked in on a private conversation.
Maggie had blushed pink with embarrassment and Fran just sat there scowling at him.
‘…I’ll…leave you two girls to it.’ He laughed nervously and backed quickly out of the office, closing the doors behind him.
At least he did that Fran thought. Not that it was much use now. Maggie’s mouth was tightly shut and her eyes transfixed fixedly on the door. Fran was about to attempt to carefully repair the damage, when the doors burst open and in walked a water drenched Bridge and Gethin. Bridge grinned broadly but Gethin appeared serious for once. A tiny vein burst in Fran’s forehead. Gethin tried to tap Bridge on the shoulder upon sight of the two women: one furious, the other terrified. Bridge however, ignored this and strode broadly across the room, his newly acquired wellies squelching loudly on the linoleum floor. From his pocket he produced the evidence bag with the piece of tracksuit from this morning and dropped it on the desk in front of Fran.
‘That Sergeant Francesca Thomas is your first clue to solving this case.’
Fran’s jaw was clenched, her teeth grinding harshly against one another.
‘Officer Gethin, will you kindly escort Mrs. Owen out of the premises please.’
Both Gethin and Maggie scurried away hurriedly, well aware of what was to come next.
Bridge watched them leave blankly then turned his attention back to Fran.
‘What was all that about then?’
Desk Sergeant Paul looked up from his crossword as a loud yell followed by a dull thump reverberated through the office doors. Silence followed. He smiled and scribbled in his next answer.
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