The first thing that Gethin noted as strange was that the lights in Arthur’s living room window were on. Instead of heading straight for the front door, he crept over to the window, in the hope of catching someone in the act. In the act of what, Gethin wasn’t sure. Whereas Fran had been provided with tall, lush greenery from which to hide behind, Gethin had nothing but dead plants and weeds, that offered no cover but simply crunched underfoot. A factor that hindered progress if anything. As Gethin neared the orange lit glow of the window, he contemplated how ironic his and Fran’s positions were. On the one hand, Fran was in a beautiful garden full of life and colour but she was scared shitless of everything in it and the woman who owned the house. Gethin on the other hand, was in what can only be described as one of the bleakest and colourless front gardens in existence and yet he had no fear of it or what lay in the house. Intrigue certainly, a level of nervous excitement to be sneaking into a victim’s house perhaps but not trepidation. And yet Gethin knew which garden he would favour in the Chelsea Flower Show.
At the window, he peered in through the dusty glass. It was hard to make out from the combined sunlight and murky pane but it appeared to be a small and minimalistic living room. There was a frayed red armchair, discoloured and worn, it’s fluffy innards poking out of the arms and headrest. A small television was set up in front of the armchair. Gethin was surprised to notice it was fairly modern. A few years old but a smart TV nonetheless. He had expected to be confronted with an antique TV set, covered in a layer of dust. A tall lamp, a wall hanging mirror and a DVD stand made up the remaining space. There were a few miscellaneous objects sat atop the fireplace but Gethin could not make them out from here. He tried the window, for some reason wanting to slip in like a cat burglar. It might have something to do with the fact that he watched all four Mission Impossibles the night before. Much to his dismay it was locked, so he turned his attention to the front door.
The doormat drew Gethin’s attention first. It had a novelty message etched upon it which read: Intruders will be shot, survivors will be shot again. Gethin chuckled and wiped his shoes. They weren’t particularly dirty, he just felt like doing it. The front door was locked.
He hadn’t planned for this. There was a 50/50 percent that the door would be locked or unlocked but for some reason Gethin had assumed that it would be open. Now what? Remembering where his mum used to leave her keys for him when they only had one set, Gethin began investigating the area around the door for a hidden key spot. The doormat yield no results, as did the underside of a flowerpot. Grasping at straws, he tried running his fingers over the top of the door.
‘Ouch.’ He exclaimed, as he received nothing but a splinter for his troubles.
Sucking his thumb, he sighed and moved around the side of the house to see if there was another way to get in. The rear garden was enclosed by a fence, which had a door set into it secured by a heavy padlock and a couple of rusted bolts. He gave the lock a half hearted tug, just in the off chance it was loose. Not the case. Gethin judged the height of it. It wasn’t that tall. He looked around for something to stand on but there was only a pile of loose bricks and a wheeless barrow. Not a problem. Gethin had done high jump at school and hurdles. Surely this was no different. He backed away from the door and did a few necessary stretches, as he still felt stiff from the uncomfortable car journey. Fran’s passenger seat was pushed right up and had become stuck that way. A factor that Gethin only discovered once they had set off. Then, taking a deep breath, he darted towards the fence and launched himself off the ground.
Gethin didn’t so much as land in the garden, as spectacularly spin through the air and hit the hard ground with a heavy thump and a dull groan. He had misstimed his jump and in his haste to heave himself over before he slipped back down, he had overbalanced, snagged his trouser leg on a protruding nail and toppled ungracefully into the garden. For a moment he just lay there, his legs twisted uncomfortably beneath him and his face pressed unglamorously into the grass. He was listening for movement. It was highly irrational. The place had to be empty, as the occupant was lying on a shelf in the llangaerthen morgue currently but Gethin had just banged his head against the ground, he clearly wasn’t thinking straight.
Eventually, after much deliberation, Gethin rose up off the ground and brushed himself down. His face was scrunched in an expression of disgust and a moment later, he spat grass from his mouth. He glanced around the garden. It was marginally better looked after then the front, a number of the bushes and trees had been recently trimmed back. The grass was also slightly shorter. However it wasn’t particularly colourful and the plants that were dotted about didn’t contain the most attractive flowers. It was evident that Arthur hadn’t been a gardener. A gazebo and a shed sat at the rear of the garden.
Gethin moved towards the conservatory that by the looks of things had been recently extended on to the original building. A small section of patio surrounded it and in one corner lay a pile of chopped wood and an electric buzzsaw. Gethin realized suddenly why his garden lacked attention. He was more interested in power tools then planting seeds. He moved to the conservatory doors and tried the handle hopefully. Locked. He gave the other one a yank for the hell of it, expecting to meet resistance but was startled when the door swung open. The key was still in on the other side, so he presumed it must have slipped Arthur’s mind.
He slipped inside, closing the door behind him. Two recliner sun chairs occupied the bulk of the space, separated by a low coffee table with a few car magazines and a dog earred paperback. The sight struck Gethin as odd. He thought that Gethin lived alone. Storing this to one side of his brain for the moment, Gethin moved from the conservatory into the living room. It was still dingy but the light glow cast from the conservatory windows gave him a better view of the room as a whole.
It was a very lifeless room. The wallpaper was white going grey and the furniture was dark brown and green and devoid of any patterns. There weren’t many indicators that someone had occupied this space, apart from a half drunken cup of coffee and a pair of old slippers, which were so tattered they were barely held together at the seams.
Gethin moved over to the coffee mug, which stood on a tall, circular shaped table, raised on three gnarled legs. Several dark mug rings adorned it’s surface. Gethin didn’t know why he felt the need to reach out and clasp it. It was presumably cold. There was no sign of a struggle evident in the room. The fact that the coffee mug hadn’t been knocked over by the attacker struck Gethin as peculiar and he could only imagine that the victim must have known the killer. It was with a deep sense of stomach churning dread that Gethin recoiled his hand suddenly. The coffee was still warm. He held his breath and listened hard. There was either somebody still here who had made themselves a coffee or they had not long left. Neither prospect thrilled Gethin.
All throughout the week Gethin had been abuzz with a deep exhilaration over the murder case. This was something new and exciting. He had gone to bed, imagining himself as Dirty Harry. But now an actual moment of drama had arisen and Gethin didn’t feel like Dirty Harry. He felt like he had done during his first encounter with the school bully aged 9: scared and weak.
For a moment he just stood there, rooted to the spot, his watery eyes somehow drawn to the ceiling. He didn’t know what to do. Something like this had never happened before. There was a creak from the hallway stairs and Gethin frantically tried to unhook his baton from his belt. His hands shook violently and slicked with wet, the weapon slipped from his grip and hit the floor. The house, Gethin would later discover, was built on a gradient and as such the floor sloped ever so slightly from right to left.
Gethin watched on helplessly as the baton began to roll across the floor. The hollow, almost mechanical sound it made seemed to reverberate around both the room and the inside of Gethin’s head. His eyes were glued to the doorway, terrible visions of a masked intruder entering the room, a bloodied knife in one hand. Gethin noticed the baton’s trajectory too late and watched helplessly as it rolled out of sight under a tall, old fashioned cabinet. He swallowed hard, the sensation in his throat much the same as when a awkward shaped piece of food hasn’t been chewed enough.
Gethin then did something very strange but sensible for the first time that day, he removed his shoes. Setting them down next to the slippers, he crept across the room to where the cabinet stood, his eyes flitting continually from the cabinet in front of him to the open doorway. The house lay silent. He knelt down and tried to retrieve the baton by hooking his arm underneath it, so as to keep his attention on the doorway for possible threats. But it was too far from his grasp and his fingers brushed it unsuccessfully. This left him in a predicament. Either he crawl under the cabinet, which meant he could retrieve the baton but left a window of exposure to attack or he could leave it and take his chances unarmed. In the end he chose the first option, he would rather risk it to rearm himself for further danger.
The space between the cabinet and floor was extremely dusty and it took all of Gethin’s effort to stop himself from sneezing. Cobwebs and all manner of dead insect and arachnid littered the floor. There were also a few pens and what looked like a very yellowed and faded Tesco receipt. Progress was slow and the gap was tight, which meant that Gethin’s shoulders scraped uncomfortably along the bottom of the cabinet. The fast paced thuds of his heartbeat pounded loudly in his ears. It seemed an illogical part of the human design. All it did was play its part in drowning out other sounds, such as possible threats planning to sneak up on him.
The baton lay at the very back of the cabinet, pressed up against the wall. Gethin reached out his arm, a complicated maneuver in such a tight space and grabbed hold of it. A creak of a floorboard upstairs sent the fear in his brain into overload and his body jolted in a spasm of alarm. His head jerked upwards and smacked painfully into the bottom of the cabinet. His collision had disturbed a stack of envelopes sat atop the cabinet and they rained down upon him, as he crawled backwards from underneath the cabinet like some sort of confused lizard. Slipping and sliding on the sea of envelopes, he clumsily got to his feet and brandished his baton at the open door in a trembling hand.
It soon dawned on Gethin that nobody was coming and he eventually slackened his baton wielding arm. He was still on edge and would be until he searched the rest of the house but at least the threat had gone away for the moment. He glanced down at the messy pile of envelopes spread out across the floor and frowned. They all had neat writing scribbled on the front in red pen. Intrigued, he returned his baton to his belt and stooped to retrieve the nearest one. It was addressed to Arthur. According to the the envelope his surname was Babcock. Automatically, he turned it over in his hands and slid his finger under the seam. He was in the process of sliding the letter out when he paused. Something about this didn’t feel right. This was personal, it was evident from the slanted handwritten words on the front. He resealed it and slid it into his pocket for later. Besides, the house still wasn’t secure and so he retrieved the baton once more, this time not dropping it and moved to the doorway.
Before he entered the hallway, Gethin paused and gave the room one last scan. Arthur’s various war medals were lined up along the mantelpiece. He inspected each one in turn. Some were from the Falklands, others from the Korean War, there were even a few from Afghanistan. For the second time that day, Gethin used his brain and noted down the points of interest in the room in his notepad.
The stairs were not an enjoyable experience for the inexperienced police officer. Even without shoes, the carpeted steps creaked underfoot and any element of surprise had gone out the window. Having said that, any surprise had gone when he had nearly upended a cabinet with his head. Now, the sensible thing would have been to go fetch Fran but his fear was dwarfed by the overwhelming embarrassment that would occur if he was being paranoid.
He began with the bathroom, partly because he really needed a wee. In the mirrored cabinet fixed to the wall above the sink, he discovered a number of questionable pills, including sleeping, anti depressants and steroids. Gethin noted it down, as it seemed relevant.
The first bedroom was small and oddly shaped, as it was located next to the bathroom, which meant that one of the walls was set further back then the door. A single bed was pressed up against the far wall. The bed sheets were immaculately presented. It looked fresh and untouched. The walls were bare but blue tack and white square outlines indicated that at one time the spaces had been coveredd in posters and art. The rest of the room was empty and bare.
The second bedroom, presumably Arthur’s, was larger and played host to a huge Queens sized bed. The bedsheets were neat and orderly but a horrible mud brown in colour, making Gethin wonder if they were army issued. A couple of Andy McNab books were stacked on the left hand bed sized table. The other bedside table was empty but in the draws, Gethin discovered two photo frames face down. He extracted them and studied the subjects of the photo. The first one showed a much younger and much more alive looking Arthur, stood next to a pretty woman in a white dress. He wore his army uniform, a few medals emblazoned on his breast. The second showed Arthur, a little older, cradling a baby in his arms. A happy family by all accounts.
A dressing table was pushed up against the opposite wall to the bed. Two small mirrors and a larger central one, reflected Gethin’s movements. He frowned at a malignant spot on his chin and sat down on the dressing table stool. This appeared to be the only piece of furniture in the entire house that showed any real semblance of character. Gethin assumed that due to the various makeup products, hairbrushes and overfilling jewellery box, that the dressing table must have belonged to his wife. It wasn’t clear if she had passed away or they had separated but based on the fact that everything on the desk was untouched, leaned towards the idea that she may have passed.
Gethin took a sneaky look inside the jewellery box and was surprised and a little perplexed, to not find either his or her wedding rings. Gethin was sure it wasn’t around Arthur’s finger when they had discovered his body.
Gethin considered checking the attic for all of thirty seconds before returning downstairs. The house seemed quiet now and beside, old buildings did often make strange noises. Acquiring a bin bag from the kitchen, whilst pausing to run an eye over Arthur’s old army photos, Gethin moved back to the living room and scooped up all the scattered letters. Fran would want to see these.
It was on his way out that Gethin paused and double checked the home phone in the hallway. A small notepad with a recently torn sheaf of paper and blunt pencil sat next to the receiver. Gethin held the notepad aloft in the light and could just make out the slight imprint of the previous message. Remembering a trick he had seen on one of his mum’s detective dramas, Gethin started colouring in the pad with the accompanying pencil. The words from the previous sheaf appeared in white letters amidst the sea of grey. The message read: Food delivery, Thursday, 1.30pm. Gethin took a photo on his phone and exited the house, the bag of letters slung over one shoulder.
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