Chasing Smoke

‘Let them go.’

Fran stuck her finger in her ear and twiddled it about, to make sure it wasn’t stuffed with cotton wool.

‘Did I just hear you correct?’

Bridge leant his back against the wall and nodded slowly, his eyes closed. He took a deep breath and tried to assimilate some of the cold and somewhat resolute nature of the police wall into himself. A slightly bemused Fran joined him at the wall and the two stood quiet for a moment, contemplating the development of the case so far.

‘I know they didn’t do it but Dylan is covering for someone, I can tell.’ Fran spoke aloud, blowing the hair out of her face.

It had been rather an exciting morning all in all but now that the adrenaline had passed, she felt beat. She normally felt tired after a long day at the station but this exhaustion was different. The case was lodged at the back of her mind and no matter what she tried to do she couldn’t budge it. But the honest truth was that she didn’t want to budge it. She was just as keen to get to the bottom of this case as Bridge. Granted for different reasons but reasons all the same.

‘I know.’ Bridge said calmly.

Fran looked at him with the most peculiar of expressions.

‘Did Rhys give you something because I thought I was interviewing the dope peddler?’

Bridge smiled ever so slightly but said nothing. Fran honestly didn’t know whether it was a smile of amusement or a smile of acknowledgement. Either way she didn’t want to know.

‘So go on then, what do you know?’

Bridge looked at her blankly.

‘Don’t give me that.’ Fran persisted. ‘I know you got something out of him.’

Bridge shrugged but upon seeing Fran’s pained expression he relented.

Tiredness seemed to have finally caught up to him. Whether it was because he had found a break in the case or just simply because he had been awake on coffee and cigarettes for the last forty eight hours, he did not know.

‘The brothers are connected there’s no doubt about that but we have a larger player on the chessboard and his name is Darren Rhion.’

Fran’s complexion turned to ashen grey and Bridge noticed her lips tighten quickly, like tanned leather in the sun.

‘I’m not surprised.’ She said solemnly.

Bridge’s eyes widened in alarm. It actually made him wince a little from the action, such was his tiredness, it had spread into the very pores of his aching face.

‘You’re not?’

Fran shook her head and shivered, as the cold wall brushed the nape of her neck.

‘He’s been a bad egg from an early age that one. Used to torture cats and explode frogs and as you can imagine, his exploits have only gotten grander and more despicable the older he has got.’

Bridge turned to face her side on and folded his arms, indicating that she continue.

‘Rhys and Dylan are small fry compared to him but as Rhys has probably elaborated, he has a habit of goading people into stuff, manipulating them. Even so, I never would have thought he would be capable of murder.’

Bridge stroked the pitiful dusting of hair on the underside of his chin.

‘Did his parents abuse him or maybe a vindictive older brother?’

‘No, complete opposite. Only child and they doted on him like mad. Never seen such a nice couple his parents. Shame about the mother.’

Bridge frowned.

‘Why what happened to the mother?’

‘Freak accident. Was driving on ice, lost control and crashed into the lake just outside of town. Never made it out alive.’

Bridge stared at the linoleum floor and ran a toe of his boot over the various black scrapes and marks, wondering who the owners were and what stories each marking told.

‘Do you have a copy of that report here in the station?’

Fran looked unsure.

‘Possibly, it was before my time so I’m not entirely sure but if it is anywhere it will be in the archives, why?’

‘Just wondering.’

Fran looked suspicious but took the matter no further. She blew out her cheeks loudly and tapped the heel of her boot against the wall. Bridge gave her a disgruntled sideways glance, as the vibrations shuddered along his spine.

‘So, are we going let these two go then?’ Fran asked at last.

Bridge dry washed his face and heaved a deep sigh.

‘I suppose we should really.’

Bridge and Fran were chatting quietly to one another at her desk over coffee, that they had been forced to make of their own accord, on account of Desk Sergeant Paul being in one of his weekly grumps. Footsteps echoed throughout the lobby, slightly muffled by the office doors, followed by Desk Sergeant Paul grumbling a greeting. They both turned, as the doors opened and a red faced Gethin stepped into the room. Fran felt a chill run through her, as the cold air Gethin brought in with him, swept inside the room. He wore thick gloves and a woolly beanie, his small acorn shaped face reddened from the chilly weather. An awkward silence followed and the three police officers looked at one another. Then, as if to break the ice, Gethin stamped his feet and pulled off his gloves.

‘It’s colder then a snowman’s carrot out there.’

Bridge and Fran grinned but a trace of the awkward atmosphere lingered in the room. As Gethin moved slowly over to them, Fran got to her feet and clasped her hands together.

‘It’s good to see you Geth.’ She said genuinely.

Gethin was still pretty red in the face, from the lack of warmth or embarrassment Fran was not sure but she suddenly felt she was mothering him and eased off a little.

‘How about a coffee to warm you up?’

Gethin nodded and blew on his hands.

‘Cup of tea would go down a treat.’

‘Right you are, Nicholas do you want anything?’

Bridge almost choked on the gulp of coffee he was swallowing and had the horrible pain in his throat, as he forced it down nevertheless.

‘…no…no…I’m fine…thanks.’

Fran nodded and bustled off to make Gethin a brew. The two men exchanged brief nods, in the manner men do when they have come to a ceasefire of sorts. Bridge took a sharp sip of coffee as Gethin sat down in Fran’s chair and regarded him with an expression lying somewhere between guilt and anger.

‘Did she just call you Nicholas?’ He asked, trying to shrug off his torn emotions.

Bridge smiled.

‘Don’t push it.’

Gethin chuckled but that same pained expression returned a moment later.

‘…look I’m sorry…about…’

Bridge dismissed him with a wave of his hand, spilling a little bit of coffee on his trousers.

‘Honestly mate…it’s forgotten. Let’s just move on and find this son of a bitch.’

Gethin nodded, relaxing a little.

‘So… if its not Dylan and Rhys…’

He glanced at Bridge, who did actually look a little guilty at the mention of his brother’s names.

‘…then who is it?’

A flash of elation flickered in Bridge’s eyes and he jumped to his feet sprightly, springing over to the evidence board like a march hare in spring. He pointed one of his short nailed fingers, a bad habit of his, towards the board. Gethin looked mildly surprised.

‘Really?’

The subject of Bridge’s pointed finger was a photograph taken from a distance of a huge, ape like man, stood at the corner of a street, his large muscular back propped up against a red telephone box.

‘This surprises you?’ Bridge said intrigued.

Gethin shrugged and lent back in his chair.

‘Well kind of, I mean…I knew he was a bit of a nut-case but murder.’

Bridge regarded the photo thoughtfully.

‘That’s exactly what Fran said.’

‘Exactly what I said?’

Bridge and Gethin both jumped a little but Fran didn’t notice, so they quickly pretended it had never happened.

‘I was just saying that Gethin here was slightly surprised at Darren Rhion being a potential suspect.’

‘Yes I thought it was odd I must say.’ Fran agreed, handing Gethin his steaming brew.

The hot mug on his cold hands was bliss for the young officer and he placed the side of it against one cheek, feeling the warm spread of heat flow through his face.

‘So what’s next?’ He said and glanced at the pair of them.

They both smiled determinedly and everyone took a sip of their hot drinks.

Fran sat behind the wheel of her beat up Volvo, drumming her fingers on its frayed leather coating. It was late afternoon and the sky was slowly darkening above her. She shivered and fiddled with the car’s heating dial. The car was a piece of shit and although the central heating did work, it shot out a truly pitiful amount of air. The vehicle was parked a few doors down from the Jones’ house. Fran was waiting for both or at least one of the twins to appear. They had been released without charge but just because they were innocent didn’t mean they weren’t important for the case’s progression. And seeing as they hadn’t been able to track down Darren Rhion, it was the best next option. This wasn’t through lack of thorough police investigation however. Rather because Darren didn’t actually own a home. He had moved out of his parent’s house long ago or rather they had moved, sixty miles in the other direction. As far away from their sadistic child as possible. Now Darren moved from place to place, usually holding up at a friend’s for a couple of months or he’d manipulate a girl into thinking they were the one. There were a number of reasons Darren didn’t stay in one place too long but the main one was paranoia. The combination of drugs he took, both medicinal and illegal had addled his brain so much, he was constantly anxious that the police were hot on his tail.

So far Fran had seen neither sign of the twins and she had to counter the hot air blasting her face, which admittedly kept her warm but made her sleepy, with a big flask of coffee she had on the passenger seat next to her. A big issue with this was needing the toilet but if Fran left the car for too long, she was worried the twins would promptly appear and disappear and the trail would go cold. To distract herself from her aching bladder, she searched around in her handbag and retrieved the still warm Subway, she had acquired on the way over. Her stomach rumbled with anticipation and delight and she unfurled the wrapping. She had just taken a large and satisfying bite, sweet chilli sauce dripping between her fingers, when the door to the Jones’ house opened and the dastardly duo shot out the door. They were moving fast and Fran knew why. A moment later their mother appeared on the doorstep, adorned in bobbly dressing gown and fluffy slippers, brandishing a rolling pin threateningly. Fran had never seen the twins move faster and she had seen Dylan set a record lap time at the four hundred metres at school. The two jumped in the car, Rhys at the helm, Dylan never drove, he preferred letting others pick up the slack, and sped off as Angharad raced towards them and launched the rolling pin at the car window. It glanced off it, as Rhys put his foot to the floor and the pair shot away.

The immediacy of what had happened before her eyes, slightly dazed the munching Fran, who caught unawares, spilt sweet chili sauce down her embroided scarf. In any other circumstance she would have been distraught, as it was a birthday present from Steven but at this moment in time, her main objective was driving away in front of her. She threw the half eaten subway down on the passenger seat beside her and booted the car into life. Part of her was half expecting the old thing to conk out but luck was on her side, on maybe it was pure determination, as she pulled quickly away from the kerb. Dylan and Rhys had already disappeared around the corner and Fran feared for a moment that she had lost them but as she turned the corner herself, she saw them at the end of the road. She sped up, trying to close the gap between them. Quick as a flash however they were gone again, pulling out onto the main road in a cloud of dirty smoke. Fran groaned and put her foot down. This was going to be very touch and go.

Although Fran’s tail of the runaway twins had been rather dramatic and thrilling at the start, it had soon become less exhilarating as time had gone on. Fran wasn’t complaining however, at least now she could follow them at a distance, without fear that they might zoom away over the hills. It wasn’t because Fran lacked confidence with high octane situations, in her early days as a police officer she had dealt with a fair few dangerous situations. It her amused Fran how Bridge had been when he had first arrived, making assumptions that it was so unheard of for crimes to happen out here in the valleys. Whilst it was true that murder was highly unusual in these parts, other crimes such as theft, vandalism, fights, crashes and drug taking were surprisingly rather high. But as Gethin had once so adequately put it ‘Well, there’s nothing much else to do in the countryside.’ Fran had indeed dealt with a few escalating incidents and in a manner befitting her rank and she would do again without hesitation. It was more that if it could be avoided, she wouldn’t have any objections, that was all.

After four or five stops at various dwellings, bedsits and flats, Dylan and Rhys finally made a elongated stop at ‘Fish and Ships’. As Fran pulled up on the opposite side of the road, in front of ‘Gwen’s Pens’, the local stationery shop, she noticed Dylan and Rhys wore big grins, as they jumped out the car. Fran surmised it was probably something to do with the brief stopovers they had made around town. She could book them right now if she really wanted to but that wasn’t the main purpose of her tailing. They had been in there a while now, most likely feeding their munchies with all the battered goodness they could cram in. Fran’s stomach grumbled like a disgruntled monster, as various customers walked past, the smell of the wholesome fish and chips wafting through her car window enticingly. She glanced at her half eaten mess of a subway, which was spread artistically over the passenger seat beside her. A bit of escaped ham, hung off the seat limply. Fran cursed at the discarded sandwich and then cursed at the the two welsh lads sat inside the cosy fish and ships shop. Finally, she cursed Bridge and Gethin, who were no doubt tucked up warm in the station, pouring over their various duties with access to toilet breaks and hot drinks. She crossed her legs and drummed her fingers on the steering wheel.

It was getting dark and a drizzly shower of rain was peppering the windscreen in front of her. The door to the chippie’ opened and the two partners in crime emerged. They were both rubbing their bellies with great satisfaction and were waddling to their car, as if they were both expecting. Fran powered her car into life and gave the window a clean with her wipers. Dylan climbed into the passenger but Rhys paused at his door and looked straight over to where Fran was seated. Despite being in a darkened car, shield by a watery windscreen, she froze where she sat. He crossed the road and waddled closer towards her. She tried to force herself to slide down in her seat but found immobility had taken hold. Rhys stopped in front of her car and for a moment, Fran feared the game was up. Then a second later, a hooded clad figure rolled into view. The two exchanged low words and Fran watched, mouth open as she went unnoticed. Something was exchanged between hands but too fast for Fran to notice what and soon after, the hooded youth left. It was then that Rhys met eyes with her. Fran almost wet herself there and then. At first Rhys looked shocked but then an intrigued smile spread across his face. He moved around to the driver’s window and tapped on the glass. Fran ignored him at first, hoping that if she continued to do so, the problem would just go away. Unfortunately, the leering face of the young man remained in her peripheries. Regrettably, she wound down the window and forced a smile.

‘Evening Rhys.’

‘ello Fran, what you doing here?’

‘Oh you know…just debating whether or not to cook or give in and have a takeaway.’

Rhys peered over her at the discarded remains of the subway sandwich and nodded.

‘Right…so its just a coincidence that I happened to find you here after our interview sessions this morning?’

He smiled a particularly nasty smile and Fran glimpsed a bit of mushy pea stuck in between his teeth.  She swallowed and her even smile twitched ever so slightly.

‘I…don’t know what you’re talking about.’

‘Come off it Fran, I know your game.’

Fran said nothing, her mouth was suddenly desert dry.

‘Well maybe I should give my older brother a call and see what he thinks.’

Fran gave him a stern glare.

‘You sure you want to that Rhys? Because I’m sure your mother would be interested to know you spent this morning in a jail cell.

Rhys’ face suddenly paled considerably and the smug expression of self-satisfaction quickly left his face.

‘You haven’t got the balls Fran. Gethin will come down on you like a shit ton of bricks.’

It was Fran’s turn to sneer evilly.

‘Actually Rhys, your brother is well aware of the situation and he’s had enough of protecting you too.’

‘Bullshit.’ Retorted Rhys but the confidence had wavered in his voice and there was a flicker of uncertainty in his challenging stare.

Fran waited for Rhys to make his next move, her hands clenched tightly on the steering wheel in front of her. Rhys chewed the inside of his cheek and a flash of anger shot through his face, turning his skin scarlet with rage. He slammed his hand down on the roof of Fran’s car, which made her jump in surprise.

‘Good luck keeping up with us then…bitch.’

Fran couldn’t quite comprehend the insult Rhys had just thrown at her or the swift kick he delivered to the bumper of her car, as he sped over the road. In all her years as both a police officer and a member of the local community, she had never heard anyone so blatantly threaten her. Even when the twins were younger and in the height of their criminal activities, they had always known when they were pushing things too far and stopped before they got in real trouble. So it still hadn’t sunk in when the two had revved their little racer boy car, the enlarged exhaust filling the street with dirty fumes. By the time she had processed the information and prepared to pull away, the two were already speeding away around the corner. Fran cursed and tried to pull away from the curb quickly, not checking her mirrors and almost wiping out the local pizza delivery boy, who zoomed past, blasting his horn in angry protest. She hit the brakes and clutched onto the wheel, like an eagle with a mouse in its talons. Her heart was racing and fresh sweat clung to her neck and the back of her legs. She took a moment to compose herself before pulling away again, this time taking extra care with the mirrors. The road ahead was empty and she sped up, a mounting fear of having lost them growing inside of her.

Fran dropped down into second gear to deal with the steep hill incline that was providing a challenge in her outdated and rustic Volvo. It was fully dark now and despite knowing the roads around here like the back of her hand, Fran hadn’t managed to find Dylan and Rhys. She had gone though all the emotions: the guilt of having lost them, the anger at Rhys’ behaviour, the determination to make amends and find them and finally the disappointment of losing the chase. But most of all, more then anything else, Fran felt embarrassment. How on earth was she going to live this down? This is just what she needed, another round of ammo in Bridge’s arsenal, so he could go ahead and prove her wrong. She could picture his smug face now and the sympathetic but ultimately unconvincing speech about how it was an easy mistake to make and he would take it from here. The very idea of it made her sick to her gut and it was why she had continued to drive around in circles for the last hour, deluding herself into thinking she would find them round the next corner, denying the real reason, that she was avoiding returning to the station and facing the humiliation of failure. She glanced at her phone. The display read 2 missed phone calls and 3 messages. They were all from Gethin and Bridge naturally, no doubt wondering where the hell she had gotten to.

An orange glow in the distance, a few fields away on the horizon drew Fran’s attention and at first she was puzzled, as the sun had already gone down several hours ago. After a few more hills, corners and long stretches of dipped road, a smoky, bonfire smell drifted through her window. She wondered who on earth would be burning stuff at this time let alone day. Fireworks night had long since passed. Perhaps it was a local farmer getting rid of excess wood.

Unfortunately, it was far worse then Fran could have ever had imagined. As she rounded the corner, Fran almost drove straight into the back of Dylan and Rhys’ car, which was parked in the dead centre of the lane. Well abandoned was more the appropriate terminology. Both the driver door and the passenger door were wide ajar and the brake lights were still on, casting a red glow over the tarmac road behind them. A great cloud of foggy smoke streamed into the lane from a field to the right of Fran, the gate of which had been forced open and discarded into the nearby hedge.

Fran tried to peer into the field but the combination of smokescreen and lack of light, prevented her from glimpsing anything of importance. She coughed once or twice and flipped open the glove compartment. After thirty seconds of sifting through the heap of CD’S, empty fag packets and assortment of sunglasses, she extracted a monkey fist and gripped it tightly in her fist. Like Gethin, Fran owned her regular issue police baton but she always felt more prepared with the monkey fist. It was light, easy to use and effective. The baton did do a good job at incapacitating crooks but it was also cumbersome and awkward to wield. Covering her mouth with a scarf, and extracting a small torch from her handbag, Fran exited the car and made her way cautiously into the field.

Fran was hit by a wall of heat and the heavy cloud of smoke stung her eyes, making them weep at the corners. The fire had been started in the middle of the field but had since spread quickly, engulfing the grass around, turning it into a blackened, crisp landscape. As Fran drew closer, she realized that a large hay bale was at the centre of the burning inferno. She retreated to a far corner of the field, where the smoke and heat was less overpowering and pulled out her phone to ring the emergency services. This needed to be dealt with sharpish before the fire could spread any further. Her finger hovered for a moment over the dialing pad, as she swore she heard someone shouting from nearby. She scanned the field again but all that drew her attention was the billowing hay bale and the surrounding scorch marks. Fran punched in the first two numbers and was about to add the third when a definite shout made her look up. It was coming from the far side of the hay bale. Pocketing the phone, she gripped the monkey fist extra tight and headed back towards the heart of the field.

As Fran neared the hay bale once more, she could hear two familiar voices, although their collective tone was strife with panic. Fran broke into a light job, her balance slightly unsteady, as her feet kept slipping on the uneven farming tracks of the field beneath her. She broke through a dense path of smoke, wafting it out of her face and skidded to a clumsy halt. The scene before her was both shocking and plain bizarre. Both Dylan and Rhys were sat up against the foot of a tree, both struggling desperately against a thick rope that had been secured around their waists. They look terrified and for good reason. The fiery hay bale was quite a way off but it had been burning a while and since then the flames had crept nearer and nearer to the captive twins.

‘Help us.’ Screamed Rhys helplessly, whilst Dylan bucked and twisted, trying to wrench himself free.

Time seemed to be speeding up for Fran and she felt like everything was running away from her the longer she stood there. Eventually, she withdrew her phone a second time and made two phone calls. One to the fire department and the other to Bridge and Gethin back at the station. Then taking a deep breath, which was difficult considering the smoke, she set about trying to free Dylan and Rhys from their tree imprisonment.

© [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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One thought on “Chasing Smoke

  1. Great chapter it has left me full of suspense. Just a couple of extra words typed in here and there but apart from these well written.

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