A Cold Case Of Coffee

Bridge paced anxiously back and forth in front of Fran’s desk, pausing every now and then to glance sideways at the piece of evidence on the desk, that had been bugging him all day. Fran and Gethin had just called, both in good spirits. Headway was being made apparently. Bridge had also made progress, although he was not looking particularly forward to sharing it. Next to the small evidence bag there sat the forensic report from the lab. Whilst Fran and Gethin had been visiting Vera’s, Bridge hadn’t been sitting on his thumbs idly but rather had taken the opportunity to follow up on some leads. His gut feeling had been to bring the town youths in for questioning but sensibly he had refrained. Fran could be very persuasive when she needed and quite  honestly Bridge didn’t want to initiate a family dispute.

Instead, he had got the forensics team to analyse the piece of torn tracksuit fragment. It was a long shot and he wasn’t hopeful of it yielding any results. So he had been surprised when the report had come back with DNA hair results lifted from the fibres of the material.  Good news right? Well not really when you considered who the hair belonged to.

‘Want another coffee Inspector?’

Bridge stopped pacing and looked around. Desk Sergeant Paul’s perm wiggled at him from the slightly ajar doors.

‘…yes…please.’

The perm nodded and disappeared again. For the second time that afternoon, Bridge had been taken aback by the desk sergeant’s behaviour. Usually, it would have taken a crane to prise him free from his beloved chair. Today however he was pulling out all the stops: Taking calls, making calls, addressing members of the public in a polite and professional way. Whilst Bridge approved heartily of the man’s change in work ethic, it did make his head hurt a little.

The sound of a car engine outside made him look up suddenly and a feeling of dread rose within him, as he heard the doors to the vehicle’s open and the familiar welsh lilt of Gethin and Vera travel to him through the open window. He danced on the balls of his feet, debating whether to return the evidence to his pocket or not. Footsteps echoed across the lobby floor outside, followed by Desk Sergeant Paul’s cheery greeting. Bridge was reaching out for the shred of tracksuit when the doors burst open and a triumphant Fran and Gethin stepped into the room.

‘We hit the jackpot boyo.’ Gethin chorused throughout the room and proceeded to dump the large bag of letters onto Bridge’s desk.

It was open and a few of the letters slid out onto his desk. Bridge just had time to snatch the evidence bag out of the way and stuffed it hastily into his pocket. The evidence report lay submerged under the bag of letters. The corner of it poked out teasingly and Bridge kept eyeing it now and again. Fran’s eyes hovered momentarily on Bridge’s hand stuffed in his pocket. Bridge’s adam’s apple throbbed rather alarmingly in his throat and for a moment he feared the game was up. Fortunately, he was saved from discovery, as the three were interrupted by Desk Sergeant Paul barging through the doors, carrying a tray of coffee and biscuits. Gethin and Fran exchanged expressions of perplexity, whilst Bridge gave them a look that clearly stated ‘I know right?’ Whistling cheerily to himself, Desk Sergeant Paul placed the tray down on Gethin’s desk, nodded to the three of them and returned to his post at the desk. A moment later they heard the telephone ring and Desk Sergeant Paul answering the phone in a semi professional tone. Gethin let out a snort of laughter.

‘Did you slip something into Paul’s coffee…he seems…different.’

Bridge held up his hands.

‘Honest to god, I have no idea what is going on with him.’

‘Maybe he got some action last night.’ Fran suggested casually.

Bridge and Gethin glanced at her with raised eyebrows.

‘What? Did I hurt your sensibilities fellas?’

Bridge glimpsed Desk Sergeant Paul’s perm through the crack in the door.

‘His perm is looking particularly flamboyant I must say.’

Fran and Gethin eyed him suspiciously.

‘What? I’m a detective…I notice things.’ He said, his cheeks reddening slightly.

‘Yeah…right…’ Gethin said, popping a shortbread finger into his mouth.

Bridge tried to ignore their speculation by examining the bag of letters in front of him.

‘So…what do we have here then?’

Gethin rocked back and forwards on the spot, eager to share his findings. Seeing his keenness to divulge, Fran indicated for him to take the lead.

‘When I was searching the house, I came across these in the living room, a whole stack of them piled real neat like. He was obviously in close contact with someone over a long period of time and based upon the fact that they going the effort of handwriting to one another, makes me presume they were reasonably found of each other.’

Bridge nodded contently and glanced at Fran, who was positively beaming.

‘Good work Gethin. Any idea what the subjects of these letters are?”

Gethin shook his head.

‘I figured it best to bring them back here first…you know…contaminating the crime scene and all that jazz.’

Bridge rubbed his fingers together enigmatically.

‘Good thinking. I’m glad you are starting to take police procedures a little more seriously.’

Fran bristled slightly. She couldn’t help feeling it was a slight remark at her competency as Gethin’s superior. She took a sip of her coffee and refrained from making an equally biting retort. Gethin was brimming with pride and all that she would achieve by rising to Bridge’s taunts, would be to remove the attention from Gethin. Confidence was something that the young lad lacked and any chance Fran had to help improve it, was a step forward in her mind. Bridge leaned in for a closer look at one of the letters and studied the neat handwriting intensely. He gave the envelope a sniff and straightened up.

‘…erm….what are you doing?’

Bridge looked up. They were both staring at him, as if he had suggested that they all remove their clothes and danced naked around a fire in Farmer Owen’s field.

‘Checking for perfume…if they are corresponding, whose to say they aren’t love letters?’

‘And are they?’ Fran persisted.

‘Not sure but the slant and colour of the writing does indicate they are of a more personal nature.’

‘It’s a bit of a hunch.’ Gethin said dismissively.

Bridge and Fran both glanced at him somewhat affronted.

‘I guess I should just give you this.’ Bridge reached into his pocket and produced his police i.d, stored in his wallet.

Gethin turned red with embarrassment.

‘No…of course…i didn’t mean.’

Bridge waved a hand dismissively.

‘Right, you just felt it was too much of a long shot, didn’t you?’

Gethin looked highly distressed.

‘That’s enough Bridge.’ Fran demanded, folding her arms sternly.

Bridge pressed his knuckles against the table, wanting to bark back but he eventually buckled under Fran’s stoney stare. Grumbling under his breath, he took a seat behind his desk and removed a pair of see through gloves from his inner coat pocket. Gloved and prepped, he picked up the nearest letter and inspected the writing on front of it. Fran cleared her throat but still Bridge did not look up. She rapped her knuckles loudly on the desk, finally getting his attention.

‘We weren’t finished.’ She said curtly.

Bridge sighed, put down the letter and gave a thin, tight lipped smile.

‘Very well, what else did you find?’

Fran and Gethin moved over to the board and exchanged nods before Gethin picked up the marker pen and scribbled Arthur’s name under his photograph.

‘So first things first, We have a name: Arthur Babcock, recently widowed and has a daughter, who doesn’t live with him anymore.’

‘From talking to Vera, it is apparent that he kept to himself mostly and the only connection the two share is that they both have a food delivery service each week. Vera claimed that the missed food delivery was what made her concerned about his whereabouts.’ Fran added as a side note.

Bridge said nothing and so Gethin took over once more.

‘When looking through the bedroom upstairs, I didn’t find much but what did strike me as odd was that there were no wedding rings in their jewelry box.’

Bridge frowned.

‘Wasn’t there no ring on Arthur’s finger either?’

Gethin nodded eagerly.

‘Exactly, which makes me wonder if the killer took them as some sort of memento.’

‘That or Arthur divorced from his wife and the two separated on bitter terms.’ Fran suggested.

Gethin looked doubtful.

‘No, I don’t think so. The way her things had been left, the attention and care he put into keeping them exactly as they used to be…it just doesn’t seem right that he would discard the rings so callously.’

Fran and Bridge looked impressed.

‘And what about the daughter? Did you glean anything about their relationship?’ Fran inquired.

Gethin blew out his cheeks.

‘Not…really. Her bedroom had been emptied. Posters had been taken down, belongings packed away.’

Bridge leaned back in his chair and formed his fingers into a tent.

‘They could explain a great deal.’

Fran and Gethin glanced at him quizzically. Bridge formed a gun with his fingers and pointed at the photograph of Arthur.

‘Wife’s belongings are untouched, immaculately honoring her life. Daughter’s on the other hand are discarded without any hesitation. What does it tell us?’

‘That they did not like one another.’ Fran completed with a satisfied nod of the head.

Gethin added the information to the board.

‘Anything else?’ Bridge said, sitting up eagerly.

He was now listening with rapt attention and Gethin felt slightly hot behind the ears, a combined mixture of exhilaration and pressure rising inside of him. The various evidence collated swirled around in his head in a jumbled blur, making it near impossible to compartmentalize the material into its relevant boxes. This was not helped by Bridge’s and Fran’s expectant faces.

‘Take your time Geth.’ Fran said with a reassuring smile.

Gethin gave a brave smile and focused hard, trying to concentrate on what to say next. Bridge played with the hem of his gloves impatiently.

‘…medicine…’ Gethin finally blurted out.

‘Medicine?’ Fran said, trying to reinforce tones of encouragement.

Information labels rose to the forefront of Gethin’s mind and he seized them urgently.

‘…interesting mixture of drugs in his bathroom…sleeping, anti depressants and strong painkillers to name but a few.’

Bridge mulled over the information but didn’t looked particularly interested.

‘Indicates his state of mind but doesn’t really prove anything. Postmortem didn’t show any trace of drugs in his system.’

Gethin looked deflated and disappointed, so Fran took over once more.

‘Didn’t you say something about military photos Geth?’

The light in Gethin’s eyes returned once more, as a second wind hit him.

‘…Yes…I found some old army photographs. A younger Arthur with his company.’

Bridge looked unimpressed further.

‘Don’t you think there could be a military link here. A possible long standing grudge.’

Bridge looked doubtful but hurriedly changed his mind upon seeing the insistent look in Fran’s eyes.

‘…of course…yes…maybe we could see if he kept in touch with any of them after the war.’

Gethin positively beamed at Bridge’s response and Fran looked contented for the first time in the conversation so far.

‘Plus, I found this.’ Gethin dropped the notepad adorned with the decoded delivery message on the desk.

Bridge pulled his chair up to the desk and studied it minutely. Then, quite miraculously, a wide smile crept across Bridge’s face.

‘Do you know what this means?’

Fran and Gethin both looked blank.

‘It means that the killer, whoever he or she is, cancelled the order, meaning that….’

‘They would have had to phone the delivery company.’ Fran finished, coming up to speed.

The three of them grinned at one another, like three schoolchildren let loose in a sweet shop. Gethin hastily added it to the fast filling evidence board. When the relevant information had been added, the three of them stood back and admired the mounting evidence in front of them. Fran took a sip of coffee, which was fast turning lukewarm and regarded the current evidence before turning to face Bridge again.

‘Vera is….different to what I expected.’

Gethin frowned.

‘You mean she isn’t an old hag who kidnaps children and cooks them in a pot?’

‘Well if she is, she certainly is doing a good job of hiding it.’

Bridge crossed one leg over the other and indicated for her to continue.

‘At first she seemed like…a sweet and albeit kind natured older lady. She has a elegance to her, in the way she dresses and despite her age, she looks after her appearance and body.’

Gethin scratched his head, his brow furrowed in a deep frown.

‘Not meaning to sound rude Fran…but are you sure you got the right house…I mean this is Crazy Vera we are talking about.’

Fran studied the black and white photograph of the younger Vera. It was hard to tell because of the lack of colour but her eyes definitely seemed darker.

‘Let me ask you this Geth, have you actually ever seen her and when I mean see, I mean talk to her?’

‘Well….no…but…’

‘So you don’t actually know what she is like?’

‘Yeah…but…’

‘Vera Mayhew may have one time or another been ‘a crazy old hag’ as you so beautifully put it but the woman I met today is none of those things.’

‘Question is.’ Bridge began and pushed back his chair and got to his feet. ‘What do you make of her? Because I’m not sensing she is all smiles and laughs.’

Fran looked torn.

‘There is….something….a little sinister about her.’

‘Go on.’ Bridge insisted, moving in to study the floor plan of Arthur’s house.

‘I don’t know what exactly…it was more of a feeling…the way she behaved.’

‘I’m going to need a little more then conjecture and speculation.’

Fran resisted the urge to throw her coffee mug at his head.

‘Well for one thing she kept changing the topic of conversation, answering questions with other questions…almost as if she was avoiding uncomfortable or difficult lines of inquiry.’

‘So you think she is guilty?’

‘…I think she is hiding something. Whether she killed him or not, that’s another thing.’

Bridge stroked the side of his face, musing.

‘If she killed him then why did she call the police? If he was a hermit then it would have benefited her to keep it under her hat.’

‘What if its a double bluff, hiding in plain sight?’ Gethin suggested, pulling on his earlobe thoughtfully.

‘That’s a good point.’ Fran agreed.

The three of them pondered this for a moment before Fran resumed her report.

‘There were a couple of unusual things about her house.’

‘Such as?’ Bridge queried.

‘Well for one, her entire ceiling is covered in dream catchers.’

‘Dream-what?’ Gethin said perplexed.

‘Dream catchers.’ Bridge repeated. ‘Native American in origin, they are said to filter out the bad dreams in their net like design, so as to allow only happy dreams to enter the dreamer.’

Fran and Gethin looked at him, as if he had just quoted shakespeare. Bridge sighed.

‘I specialized in ritual crimes back in London, so yes, I know a lot about shamanism.’

‘Do you think it could be linked to the ritualistic style of the killing?’ Fran asked, glancing at the photographs of the various wounds on Arthur’s body.

Bridge’s face scrunched into one of discomfort, as if he had just bit into a particularly tart lemon.

‘…it’s possible…but the purpose of dream catchers is to heal the subject not inflict further damage. It wouldn’t make sense for Vera to use them.’

‘But it does indicate that she has an interest in that area, wouldn’t you say?’ Fran pressed on, not really understanding why she so desperately needed confirmation from the pompous detective before her.

‘I suppose.’ Bridge murmured but again he wore that look of dismissal that only served to eat away at Fran just that bit more.

Her husband had once commented that she had anger issues. She had replied by throwing a spatula covered in pancake batter at the back of his head.

‘Then there’s the dolls.’

Bridge looked intrigued once more, eliciting a smug look from Fran.

‘Dolls?’

‘Yeah, a whole line of them on the mantelpiece, real creepy like.’ She held back the bit about recognizing something about them.Best not to share that until further investigation was carried out.

‘So what, you think she is a believer of voodoo?’ Bridge questioned.

‘Perhaps or maybe she just really like dolls. The point is there is something slightly odd about the place…and her. She is too sweet, the type of sweet that corrodes the teeth if left to its own devices.’

Bridge moved back over to the table and began inspecting the letter again, certain in his mind that nothing further needed to be discussed. Fran’s face glowed red and she felt her fingertips twitch ever so slightly.

‘It’s something to consider though?’ She insisted.

Bridge made an unimpressed noise and Fran closed in for the kill but her progress was impeded by a Gethin.

‘What I think the inspector is trying to say…albeit not very successfully…’

Bridge was whistling unconcernedly to himself, his attention now focused on carefully extracting the letter from the envelope. Fran eyed him dangerously from over Gethin’s shoulder.

‘…is that perhaps we should focus on the hard evidence presented to us…you know…before jumping to any conclusions.’

Fran took a deep breath and looked at the young officer before her. He had grown a great deal in the last few weeks. Despite his slightly troubled, early adolescence years, he seemed to be maturing more and more by the day. She suddenly felt a sense of role reversal going on, whereby she was hotheaded and reactionary and he was the calming, diffusing element. It was somewhat hard to process. She nodded slowly and placed a appreciative hand on his shoulder. This touching moment went unnoticed by Bridge, as all his attention was hooked upon the letter held between his hands. Putting down their coffee mugs that were slowly losing all sense of heat, they gathered round him to see what all the fuss was about. Bridge was correct, it was a love letter. A number of factors gave it away, the handwriting, the tone and not to mention the colour of the ink, a vibrant red. It was signed simply ‘M’ at the bottom of the page.

‘Who do you think that is then?’ Gethin asked, racking his own brain for any m’s he might know.

‘Fran you know the town quite well, any ideas?’ Bridge posed.

Fran blew out her cheeks dramatically.

‘Its not a problem of finding a person with the initial ‘M’, there are quite a few I can think of, off the top of my head. Its more a case of eliminating the unlikely ones.’

‘Any chance you can do that?’

‘Oh yes that’s fine, not a problem, I will just work out all the people with the forename or surname beginning with ‘M’ and determine whether they could be the writer or not.’

‘If you could, that would be great.’ Bridge replied, not picking up on the high levels of sarcasm in her voice.

Gethin wheeled her away from the desk before she had time to lunge for Bridge’s throat, in the process dislodging the forensics report to the floor. Bridge, whose attention was focused solely on the letter in front of him, didn’t notice. Gethin retrieved it and gave it a cursory glance. It was his turn to flush red with anger.

‘Bridge, what’s this?’ He growled through clenched teeth.

‘Hmmm?’ Bridge said absentmindedly.

He suddenly grew very pale, when he noticed what Gethin was holding. He didn’t so much say words, as stammer a series of unintelligible noises of discomfort. Fran peered over Gethin’s shoulder and shot Bridge an expression that quite simply stated ‘you’re in for it now.’

‘Exactly when were you going to tell me you had found my brother’s DNA on a piece of evidence.’

Bridge looked positively guilty, as he mumbled a pitiful response.

‘…I…there never seemed to be a right time.’

‘Yeah, well how would you like it if I did the same thing to you?’ Gethin demanded furiously.

‘…I don’t have a brother.’

Gethin answered by scrunching up the report into a ball and launching it at Bridge’s quivering lip. Then he proceeded to storm out the room, cursing loudly as he went. There was a loud bang and a surprised ‘well I never’ from Desk Sergeant Paul, then a deep, heavy silence. Bridge sat still, winded from the experience. Fran pulled up a chair and sat down softly. The two said nothing to one another for a moment, both staring solemnly into space. Then Fran said quietly.

‘Call them both in for questioning, Dylan and Rhys. You did the right thing. Now see it through.’

And with that, she got up and followed in Gethin’s wake, out of the doors and exchanged farewells with Desk Sergeant Paul. Bridge sat motionless for a moment, not totally understanding what had just transpired. Then doing away with procrastination, he sat forwards and picked another letter at random from the large pile and began to read.

An hour or so later, Desk Sergeant Paul poked his head around the door. It was dark outside and the room was bathed in shadow, just illuminated by the spill of an outside streetlamp. Bridge was snoring loudly in his chair, that was what had drawn Desk Sergeant Paul’s attention in the first place. He tiptoed over and was about to rouse the inspector from his slumber,when he noticed the coffee tray and the three, stone cold coffees. He was almost half tempted to tip the tray right over Bridge’s head. That would wake him up. Instead, he resorted to slamming the doors on his way out. That was the last time he made anyone coffee in this place. Bridge snorted unattractively and woke up with a groggy expression. He dry washed his face and looked around with dopey eyes. When did it get so dark? He reached for his coffee and even took a sip before realizing his folly and gagged on the cold contents swirling in his cheeks. Desk Sergeant Paul stifled a laugh, as he heard Bridge’s noise of displeasure.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2015]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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2 thoughts on “A Cold Case Of Coffee

  1. Great reading again…… the paragraph starting “whilst I was searching” doesn’t make sense(end of sentence third line down) you’ve still got me thinking I’m hooked

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