12.15

The three officers stood at Clandowey rail station, waiting for the 12.15 to London Waterloo. A day had passed since the capture of Vera Mayhew. After her arrest, Vera had been taken back to Llangarthen Station for further questioning. Like at the house, Vera hadn’t put up much resistance. In fact she had refused a lawyer. Fran and Gethin had been pleased by this. And so they should be. This was a big triumph for a couple of small town cops. Plus, they had prevented the death of the third victim, delivery driver: Simon Barnes, who was now recovering in Clandowey hospital under close surveillance.

Bridge was not so satisfied. Whilst he had technically completed his case, meaning there was no reason for him to stay, something didn’t quite sit well. In her confession, Vera had detailed her reasons albeit motives for killing the three victims. She explained in detail, how all three men had been evil men, responsible for harm to others. That was why she had removed those particular body parts. In her mind, the eyes, mouth and genitalia were tools. Tools that these men had used in the most evil of ways. What was further discomforting was that these were not the only three victims. Vera had a number of bodies buried out in the field and woods surrounding the property. A factor that made Fran very uncomfortable, considering she had traipsed over them not only a few hours ago.

However, he had no choice in the matter. His superiors had decided that due to Vera being in custody and proven guilty, the case, in their minds was closed. Bridge’s presence was required back in London and as quickly as possible. So here stood the three weary officers. Collaboratively, they looked like they had been three rounds with Mohammad Ali. Bridge with his head wound from his run in with Gareth, Gethin with his bandaged hand from his encounter with Rhion and Fran limping along the platform with her ripped coat and twisted ankle.

‘So.’ Bridge said rather awkwardly, clasping his hands together. ‘It’s been an eye opener, that’s for sure.’

Fran smiled, inclining her head in agreement. Gethin looked rather sullen. It seemed to him that they had only just got to know one another and now Bridge was leaving.

‘Are you sure you guys will be alright with this body business?’

Fran rolled her eyes.

‘Honestly Bridge, I think we can handle a few dead bodies. Hell, we should be used to it by now.’

Bridge grinned. A musical tone came on the station speakers, followed by the nasal announcement of the station master, detailing the arrival of the Waterloo train.

‘Well….I guess this is it.’ Bridge said stiffly.

The three of them stood in somewhat awkward silence for a moment. Then without warning, Gethin seized Bridge in a deep hug.

‘Take care Bridge.’

Bridge, somewhat unaccustomed to human interaction, tapped him rather gingerly on the back. He glanced at Fran, who was desperately trying to hide her amusement at the whole situation.

‘You too Gethin.’

Gethin finally released him, as the train pulled up behind the three of them.

‘Travel safe now Bridge.’ Fran said warmly, as the two shook hands.

‘Good luck with the rest of your investigation and call me Nick.’

Fran and Gethin both smiled.

‘See you Nick.’ They both chorused, as the train doors hissed open behind Bridge.

Detective Nicholas Bridge smiled, then stepped forward onto the train. Locating a carriage that was not too crowded, Bridge settled himself down in a window seat and grinned through the glass at Fran and Gethin stood watching him on the platform. There was the whistle of the station master and then the lurch of the train, as it started to move away from the station. They waved goodbye at each other through the glass and soon Fran and Gethin had vanished from view, as the train exited the station and made it’s way away from Clandowey. Bridge sighed and closed his eyes. A frown rippled across his forehead. He felt a sense of loss grip him. It was an odd feeling. Bridge never usually got close to a case. There was a reason he was known for his cold and detached manner. But this case was different. He had strangely grown attached to the bolshy Fran and the naive Gethin. In truth he was forced to admit, he was sad to see them go.

 

Some time later, Bridge woke from a troubling dream. It had involved Vera. In the dream he had been strapped to a metal gurney and Vera stood above him, that same razor sharp knife held aloft in her hand. The last thing he had remembered before waking, was her leaning towards him, the knife growing closer and closer to his unprotected face. He dry washed his face and sat up, shaking his head to try and dispel the horrid dream. Bridge yawned and glanced around. The carriage had filled up a little bit and by the looks of the scenery outside, they were nearing the outskirts of London.

A small boy, sat a few seats down was staring at him intensely. Bridge gave the kid a warm smile but the boy didn’t smile back. Instead, he continued to stare at Bridge, not blinking, his whole concentration seemingly fixed on the dozy detective. There was something odd about the boy that made Bridge shift uncomfortably in his seat. He tried to focus his attention on something else but he could still feel the boy’s eyes upon him. There was something familiar about the boy. Some aspect of his being that Bridge found recognizable. Fortunately, Bridge was saved by the boy’s mother who quickly busied herself, grooming the child’s face, which was plastered with muck.

 

Bridge made his way through Waterloo and into the waiting Taxi, as if on auto pilot. The rush and hum of activity should have been a welcome relief for Bridge. He had escaped the hum drum dullness of the Welsh Valley. However, he sort of missed the simplicity of life on the other side of the border. He had never noticed how hostile people were in London. But now he was back here, Bridge realized it with stark realization.

His sister was waiting for him at his flat. She greeted him with a hug. Up until now, Samantha had been the only person allowed to hug him and even then it was a brief and somewhat stiff encounter. So she was slightly taken aback, when he gave her a strong, lengthy embrace.

‘Everything okay?’ She asked, running a hand through her strawberry blonde hair.

Bridge gave a tired smile.

‘Yeah…just happy to be home.’

 

Bridge didn’t even unpack, as was his normal routine when returning home from a trip but instead dived straight into the shower. It was as he was resting his head against the cool bathroom tiles, letting the hot water pour down upon him, that a thought crossed his mind. He recalled now who the boy reminded him of and why it had been so hard to deduce upon first seeing him. It was in fact two people. The boy looked almost identical to Darren Rhion, be it smaller and without the ear piercing and shaved eyebrow. But the eyes. The eyes were not like his but rather reminded him of someone else and the realization of who, made him shiver despite the warm water. They were Vera’s eyes.

 

Fran breathed out heavily and wiped her sweaty forehead with the back of her arm. She was stood in the middle of the field she had been in not two days ago, whilst trying to track down Simon Barnes’ Van. However, today she was stood here for an entirely different reason. Several open graves stretched before her, the contents of which housed the bones of Vera’s past victims. Fran had been advised to take some leave and rest after her ordeal of the big case but she had protested. She felt a responsibility to see this through to the bitter end. Not just for Bridge but for herself too. It was her duty to find the remaining bodies and put to rest this terrible ordeal once and for all.

Although Vera had been cooperative in terms of informing the officers where she had buried some of the other bodies, she hadn’t revealed how many they were in total and where to find them all. Her coordinates had been vague, more rough guidelines. They had struck gold with the field, finding not one but four of the other deceased victims but from visiting Vera’s living room, Fran knew for certain that there were still more to find. She sighed and straightened up. Her ankle was still sore from her fall and she hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep for some time now.

Fran had suffered freaky nightmares both last night and the night before, almost in tandem with their arrest of Vera Mayhew. It was a reoccurring dream, involving a wild horse. The horse was whining and neighing, jumping around in a frantic manner. As Fran approached, the horse had bolted. Jutting out of the ground, close to where the horse had been stood was a grey hand, extended out into the air, the hand frozen into the shape of a claw, as if trying to grasp the very air. Each night, Fran had woken in a cold sweat and a deeply unsettling feeling that it meant something.

It was as she was stood here, contemplating on the nature of her dreams that something large and brown caught her eye in the screen of trees at the bottom of the field. Before Fran knew what she was doing, she found herself walking as if on auto pilot, towards the line of trees. Ducking under a low branch, Fran emerged into the wooded area and froze on the spot. A wild, brown horse was stood a few feet away from her. It regarded her with large eyes before turning and trotting away. Fran felt her heart beating loudly in her chest. She moved over to where the horse had been standing and knelt down. She couldn’t quite explain it but Fran suddenly had the uncontrollable urge to search the ground. She began digging, her nails dark with soil and mud. Her finger scraped against something hard, She paused and tugged the thing free from the earth. It was a bone and not just any sort of bone. Fran felt a lump form in her throat, as she held the human femur in her outstretched hand.

 

Gethin walked around the Owen’s farm, accompanied by Gareth and his faithful hound. Since the whole debacle with Vera had passed, it was not likely that anyone was going to try causing any more trouble on the Owen’s farm, especially with Rhion out of the equation. However, Gethin had offered to come up and do a perimeter sweep with a couple of officers just in case. Despite Fran, Gethin and Bridge trying their best to keep Gareth’s relationship with Arthur under wraps, it had somehow leaked and become talk of the town. Gareth didn’t see what the big deal was but Maggie and Gethin had both agreed that keeping an eye out was a good idea. Despite it being the 21st century, more remote areas such as this always had a minority who held on to slightly archaic prejudices.

No threats had been made yet but Gethin had overheard some nasty remarks by some of the locals and wanted to make sure nothing would come of it. Besides, since Bridge had returned home and Fran was busy with excavating the bodies, Gethin felt he needed something to keep him busy. Life had grown dull once more and although this may not be the most thrilling of duties, it felt good to be doing something proactive.

Gareth was just describing his plans for this year’s harvest, when Gethin paused by a nearby tree. He was frowning at it with a fierce concentration.

‘You alright there Geth? You look as if you have seen a ghost.’

Gethin moved closer to the tree. A circle had been engraved on the trunk of tree. This wouldn’t have struck Gethin as odd but it was the inner markings of the circle, which gave him cause to investigate. It appeared to represent one of the war medals that had belonged to Arthur Babcock. It was so intricate in its design that even the dates had been etched into it’s hard surface.

‘Did you do this Gareth?’

Gareth sidled up to take a look.

‘I should think not. Have those bloody kids been up to no good again?’

Gethin looked at Gareth, as if he were mad.

‘Why are you looking at me like that?’ Gareth said uncomfortably.

Gethin pointed at the tree.

‘Because this is an exact copy of Arthur’s medal.’

Gareth frowned at the tree.

‘Possibly. He never told me about his time in the war.’

Gethin looked back at the etching, a shiver coursing down his spine. If Gareth hadn’t done this, then who had.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2017]. 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

 

 

 

In The Lion’s Den

There was some debate over how best to approach and potentially apprehend Vera. Gethin wanted to go in gun’s blazing, so as to save the delivery driver in time before it was too late. However, Bridge had wisely pointed out that seeing as they were unable to locate said victim, if they charged in like the light brigade, they  might never find him or Vera. Bridge was of the opinion that it would be a better idea, to leave the cars out of sight and sneak on to the property. By doing this, they would hopefully be able to spy Vera entering her secret lair without raising the alarm. Fran sided with Bridge but agreed with Gethin, in the respect that they shouldn’t take too long, as there was still a chance of saving the delivery man.

Add to the equation that they still hadn’t located the delivery van and the three of them had quite a challenge ahead of them. Fran didn’t want to split up, thinking that it would be best to stick together, considering how dangerous and unpredictable Vera could turn out to be.

‘Be that as it may, it would be a more effective use of our time to spread out, take different points, so as to more effectively tackle the situation.’ Bridge insisted, as the three of them waited in Fran’s car, just round the corner from Vera’s den.

Gethin sighed and sat forward, gripping Fran’s headrest in his arms.

‘Look, the more we sit about trying to come up with a plan, the less time our victim has.’

Fran and Bridge looked at one another. He was right. They couldn’t afford to sit here going over semantics. Not when a man’s life was in danger. Fran drummed her fingers on the steering wheel, mulling it over. Bridge’s leg bounced up and down anxiously.

‘Right. The bottom line is that we need to find this delivery van. So we know for sure he is here.’

‘I would bet my twin brothers on it.’ Gethin said decisively.

‘Nevertheless, Fran is right. We find the van, we have her dead to rights.’ Bridge concluded.

Gethin huffed indignantly.

‘It will all take too long, I’m telling you.’

‘Will you two be quiet a moment, I hadn’t finished.’ Fran snapped sharply.

Gethin sat back rather sheepishly and Bridge cleared his throat.

‘I will go looking for the van.’ She looked across the nearby field. ‘There must be a way around the back of the house. Meanwhile you two flank the house, get in there and try to capture Vera or better yet find out where she is keeping her victim.’

Bridge and Gethin actually looked rather impressed.

‘Fran, that’s brilliant.’ Bridge said, Gethin nodded in agreement in the rear-view mirror.

‘I have my moments.’ Fran said smugly.

Gethin and Fran went to exit the car but Bridge motioned for them to sit still a moment.

‘Bridge we really don’t have time.’ Fran highlighted.

Bridge reached into his deep, overcoat pocket and produced three small walkie talkies. He distributed them out to Fran and Gethin.

‘Stay on channel 1. This way we can keep in contact. I have also linked it up to the patrol car radio, so if any of us run into trouble we can call for backup.’

It was Fran’s turn to look impressed.

‘Good thinking Bridge.’

‘I have my moments.’ Bridge retorted, taking his moment to look smug.

Plan established, the three of them climbed out of the ancient vehicle, clipped on their walkie talkies and set off in their respective directions.

 

Fran slipped through a gap in the fence to the nearby field and cursed, as her farmer’s jacket snagged on a piece of rogue barb wire. Instead of pausing to untangle herself from her predicament, she wrenched it free, tearing a sizable rip in the material. Under normal circumstances she would be upset. It was her favourite winter coat after all. But this was not an everyday situation. So she pressed on, eager to find the vanished vehicle as quickly as possible. At the lower half of the field, Vera’s house came into view to the right. She ducked down instinctively. There was no way from this distance that Vera would be able to see her but Fran didn’t want to take any chances. Luckily the grass in the field was overgrown and combined with her olive green coat, Fran was well camouflaged.

She popped up every now and then to glimpse the house. She had circled round in a wide arc and from her new position,she could see past the rear of the house. No van out the back, as far as she could tell. The field began to slope and Fran had to take care not to slip on the uneven surface. A thick wall of trees stood at the bottom of the slope. Fran paused and followed the tree line to her right. They stretched all the way to where the back of the house lay. Fran wondered. If the back of the house led directly into the woods, then maybe Vera had hidden the van somewhere beyond the trees. Climbing over the fence, taking care to avoid catching any other parts of her clothing on the barb wire, Fran dropped down on the other side and pushed her way through the trees.

 

Meanwhile Bridge and Gethin were making their way cautiously to the front of the house. Gethin had never been in a situation like this before and was entirely reliant upon Bridge for direction. Fortunately, Bridge had seen enough action and been through suitable training to prepare himself for this contingency. As they tiptoed their way along the dirt track road to Vera’s house, Bridge made various hand signals to Gethin, indicating if he should, follow, stay or that they should split up. Gethin suddenly felt like he was a Marine on a tactical assignment and berated himself for not bringing face paint. Although half of Bridge’s hand signals went completely over Gethin’s head, he got enough of the gist to get by.

It was with great care and trepidation that the two police officers approached Vera’s front garden. This had been the last place either of them had seen her and there was the chance that she could still be there, hidden behind one of the overly large and ornate plants. They both entered at different points of the garden, under Bridge’s hand orders. Gethin felt even more like a Marine, as they brushed past the towering plants and foliage of the front garden. Both Gethin and Bridge navigated their respective routes of the garden until eventually they reconvened at the top of the garden path, just a few feet away from the front door. Vera was nowhere to be seen. A factor that was either very good or very bad.

‘You take downstairs and I take upstairs.’ Bridge instructed, in a low barely audible whisper.

Gethin nodded gingerly, swallowing hard. That same fear and panic that he had first felt, when searching Arthur’s house for the first time had taken hold once again. Sensing, Gethin’s nervous state, Bridge rested his hand on the young officer’s shoulder and gave his arm a tight squeeze. It did actually go it’s way to easing some of Gethin’s anxiety. The two of them both took a deep breath, steeling themselves for what was about to come, then crept forward into Vera’s lair.

 

Fran made a sound like a disgruntled bear, as another stray twig slapped her in the face. She was a mess. Her hair resembled that of a crow’s nest and her clothes were so askew, that she looked like she had been pulled backwards through a bush. Which she kind of had, in a manner of speaking. Fran had been stomping through the undergrowth for some time. Due to the natural slope of the land, she had been forced to walk at an odd angle, in order to get closer to the rear of the property. Unfortunately, at one point this had caused her to slip and twist her ankle painfully, forcing her to limp on like a battle weary soldier.

Why had she volunteered for this part of the assault? Gethin was much younger and fitter. Fran now deeply regretted her decision to search for the van. She hadn’t made the decision to pursue this lead out of any sort of noble intention. It was more to shut up Bridge and Gethin’s infernal bickering on what they should do. On a number of occasions, she had thought about turning around or radioing Bridge and Gethin to inform them that she hadn’t found anything. But despite the pain in her ankle, Fran pushed on. They were so close now. How could she possibly give up? Something caught her eye. A glimpse of blue amidst the browns and greens. That looked out of place. Taking care to trace a safe path, Fran made her way towards the mysterious blue thing.

 

Gethin’s heart hammered loudly in his chest, as he searched first the hallway, then the kitchen and finally the living room. Each time he had stepped into a room, his stomach had lurched, as he expected to find a demonic Vera, standing over the delivery driver’s body, a knife raised above her, ready to strike. But every time he passed through a doorway, he was met with an empty room. As he stood in the living room, trying to work out what to do next, Gethin heard a creak from upstairs. He tensed but then forced himself to relax. It was only Bridge checking up there.

Bridge hadn’t had much luck upstairs either, although he did notice that in the bedroom, the doll of the delivery driver had mysteriously disappeared. This was rather unsettling. There were no secret hatches or hidden passages, much to Bridge’s dismay. In the end, he returned downstairs to find Gethin stood aimlessly in the living room. The young officer shot him a hopeful look but Bridge shook his head. The two of them stood for a moment, trying to work out what to do next, then Bridge whispered.

‘I’m going to check the back garden.’ And moved out into the hallway before Gethin had a chance to ask him what he should do.

He was about to radio Fran to see how she was getting on, when he heard a creak from underneath his feet. He looked down at the rug he was stood on and strained his ears to hear better. Again there was another creak. Heart leaping into his throat, Gethin squatted down and threw back the rug. A wooden trap door lay underneath. For the second time, he reached for his walkie talkie to radio Bridge but paused upon hearing another creak. If Vera was down there then maybe there was another way out. If he radioed Bridge, she might overhear and bolt. He glanced round to see if Bridge had returned. He was still outside.

Gripping his torch tightly in his hand, Gethin eased open the trap door and descended into the dark underbelly of the living room. There was a low passage, lit by lights in the wall at various intervals. He made his way cautiously down the tunnel, the torch at the ready in case anyone should pop out suddenly. The low passage led into a small room. Something round and pale hovered in the middle of the room, illuminated by another ceiling light above. Gethin flinched as the object moved. A low moan reached his ears. Despite every urge to turn and run, Gethin raised the torch and pointed it at the floating white ball.

‘Oh, dear god.’ He gasped.

The delivery driver, strapped to a hard back wooden chair stared back at him wild eyed. Gethin had to force down the urge to throw up. The man’s eyelids had been removed and by the looks of things, his upper lip had been sliced off as well. His hands and feet had been restrained and his arm had been hooked up to an IV, which hung from the hook to left of him. Gethin moved forwards to help the poor man and jumped at a loud bang from behind him. The trapdoor had been shut, locking him in with the lidless man.

 

Fran stopped to catch her breath. She had located the source of the blue object. It was a large tarp thrown over the top of something bulky and rectangular shaped. From the gap in the bottom of the tarp, Fran could tell that it was the van. The large rubber wheels poked out the bottom. Once, she had suitably recovered, she moved forwards and with a great effort, dragged the tarp off the stationary vehicle.

‘Got you know you bitch.’ Fran said with a satisfied smile.

 

Bridge heard a loud thud from the inside of the house, followed by Gethin’s crackly voice through his walkie talkie.

‘Bridge, I found the victim. There was a trapdoor in the living room but she’s locked me in.’

Bridge had already started running for the house before Gethin had finished speaking. He burst into the kitchen dived into the hallway just in time to see Vera making a beeline for the front door.

‘Stop.’ He commanded.

Vera paused and turned to face Bridge. She held a long, sharp blade in one hand. There was blood mixed in with the soil and dirt of her gardening clothes. Bridge swallowed hard. What was his plan now? He had no weapon to hand. His hand dropped to where his walkie talkie was clipped. Vera’s eyes flicked to it like a predatory hawk. With the two of them stood either end of the hallway, they resembled a Mexican standoff. Unfortunately, Vera looked in a much favorable position then he did.

‘Bridge, I have found the van. We’ve got her now.’ Came the slightly muffled voice of Fran through Bridge’s walkie talkie.

‘Give it up Mrs. Mayhew. There is no escape from this.’ Bridge stated.

Vera sighed and pointed the knife at Bridge.

‘You think I want to get out of this.’

Bridge held out his hands.

‘Don’t be hasty now. We have the place surrounded.’

Vera laughed. It was cold and cruel.

‘No you don’t.’ She said, calling his bluff.

Bridge tried a different tactic.

‘Just put the knife down and we can talk about this.’

‘Talk about what. You still don’t get it.’

It was Bridge’s turn to laugh but he couldn’t help masking the shakiness of his nerves.

‘There’s nothing to get. You killed these men in cold blood. You’re a serial killer, plain and simple.’

‘No my dear, I saved them. They wanted to be taken from this world.’

Bridge flashed her a cynical look. Maybe if he could keep her talking, Bridge could distract her long enough to…to do what? Gethin was stuck under a trap door and Fran was somewhere at the bottom of a field.

‘And why would these men want to die?’

Vera gave her a very knowing look. Bridge, although certain of her guilt felt a moment of doubt cross his mind. No, he told himself, she was responsible for these crimes. He tore his eyes away from hers. She seemed to have this hypnotic ability.

‘These men’s crimes are far worse. I have cleansed them of their sins.’

Great, Bridge thought to himself. Another raving fanatical. As if there wasn’t enough of them about these days.

‘What crimes are those?’

Vera gave him a sly look.

‘You’re the detective, you tell me.’

Bridge shifted uncomfortably.

‘Nevertheless. You are a murderer Mrs. Mayhew and as such you must answer to the law.’

Bridge was expecting resistance. For her to dash forwards and plunge the knife into his chest or alternatively turn and make a break for freedom. However, Vera did neither. Instead, she did something that took Bridge totally by surprise. She dropped the knife on the floor, the blade clanking loudly on the floorboards.

‘Well…then…are you going to arrest me officer?’ She said, holding out her hands.

Bridge hesitated. This could be a trick. Keeping his eyes on her, he moved cautiously down the hallway. Vera watched him, intrigued, her arms still held out. When Bridge was close enough, he kicked the knife away, and took a step back. Vera gave him one of her even smiles, which only made Bridge more cagey. Bridge pulled out his handcuffs, trying his best not to show that his hands weren’t trembling. He could feel Vera’s unrelenting stare upon him. Finally, after what seemed an age, he managed to whip on the handcuffs, securing them quickly before it was too late.

‘Mrs. Mayhew, I am arresting you for the murder of Arthur Babcock and Darren Rhion. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say may be used against you in a court of law.You have the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police and to have an attorney present during questioning now or in the future. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you before any questioning if you wish.’

Vera sighed heavily.

‘You’re making a mistake.’

‘Yeah well, we will see about that.’ Bridge replied.

He retrieved his walkie talkie and pressed down on the button.

‘Fran, Gethin. I have Vera Mayhew in custody.’

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2017]. 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

 

The Three Musketeers

Fran, Gethin and Bridge sat in tense silence on the drive up to Vera’s house. Although, they would not know 100 percent for certain that Vera was the killer until they arrived, all three of them had that uncanny feeling that she was indeed the culprit. Following behind them was the patrol car, Fran had called upon earlier that morning. 

As they pulled up outside the house, the three of them spotted Vera pottering in her jungle like garden. She was holding a pair of large gardening shears and wore a wide brimmed straw hat on her head. She waved at them cheerily, before returning to her pruning. Apparently, Vera wasn’t unnerved by the sight of the three of them and the rear vanguard of the patrol car. 

Gethin felt a little jolt of satisfaction, as the three of them exited the car. The merry band was back together once again. For a number of years Gethin had struggled to find a sense of belonging. That was why he had acted up so much as a teenager. He had temporarily combated this by joining the police force but even then he hadn’t felt truly at home. He had never had any particular interest in crime. But in the last few weeks, working together with Bridge and Fran, Gethin had finally found purpose and direction, not to mention he was surprisingly good at it. 

‘You ready?’ Bridge asked Gethin. 

The three of them stood in front of Fran’s car, the two uniformed officers waiting patiently a few feet away. Fran gave the two men a disapproving look.

‘I still don’t think Gethin should have come. He is on temporary leave. What sort of example are we setting?’

Gethin rolled his eyes.

‘Come on Fran. You wouldn’t have known to follow up this lead if it wasn’t for my snooping around.’

‘And besides, we took Gethin off the case because of his…assault on Darren Rhion. But now Rhion is out of the picture, there is technically nothing preventing Gethin’s return.’ Bridge chimed in. 

Gethin’s eyes widened in alarm. 

‘What do you mean…Rhion’s out of the picture?’ 

Bridge drew a finger across his throat, which Fran felt was in extremely poor taste. 

‘Really?’ Gethin said, stunned. 

‘Well technically it was eyes, lips and genitals but you get the point.’ Bridge explained. 

Gethin stroked his chin thoughtfully. 

‘Same MO as Arthur?’ 

‘Yep.’ Fran confirmed, feeling that she had already lost a losing argument. 

‘This ties in about Fran’s theory on it being a ritual killing.’ 

Gethin gestured at Vera, who was knelt down in the soil with her back to the visitors. 

‘I don’t know how dream-catchers and wild plants fit into the equation but she is definitely some sort of crotchety witch.’ Gethin whispered, raising his eyebrows dramatically. 

Fran looked sort of smug, at the fact that she had one over on Bridge. Bridge on the other hand, looked highly skeptical. 

‘A witch? You do realize we live in the 21st Century and not in 1632.’ 

‘I’m telling you there is something odd about her. She gives me the creeps.’ 

Fran straightened out her coat and flattened down her hair. 

‘Well, I guess we will soon find out.’ 

Bridge was mesmerized by the array of colours and smells that greeted him, as he stepped into Vera’s garden. Fran and Gethin were already a way ahead, having visited Vera once before but this was all new to Bridge. Either side of him walked the uniform officers, they too entranced by the wild array of plants brushing up against their arms and legs. There was something slightly hypnotic about the garden, like Bridge had just wondered into a strange dream scape.

‘Vera Mayhew?’ 

Vera turned upon hearing her name and cupped a hand against her forehead, to better see Fran and Gethin in the bright afternoon sunlight. 

‘Sergeant Thomas, what brings you to my humble abode today?’ 

Gethin glanced around the lavish garden. There was nothing humble about this place. Fran tried her best to keep an even smile but she couldn’t help hide her serious tone of voice. 

‘Am I to assume that this is not social visit?’ Vera asked sweetly, noting Bridge approaching with the two uniformed officers. 

Bridge eyed the elderly lady cagily. She appeared for all intense and purposes like a regular older woman. Her clothes, although slightly muddied from soil and sweat were almost fashionable and her skin although wrinkled and aged, looked well cared for and maintained. But there was something about her that unnerved Bridge. She felt his eyes upon her and looked directly at him. There it was. Some darkness hidden in her large emerald eyes. It was almost predatory. Like a cat, watching its prey with dangerous intent. 

‘And who is this handsome man?’ Vera said. 

Fran went to introduce him but Bridge stepped forwards, offering a hand. 

‘Detective Nicholas Bridge. You must be Vera Mayhew.’ 

Vera removed a gardening glove and shook his hand. Her grip was limp and cold to the touch. It made the hairs on Bridge’s neck, tingle ever so slightly. 

‘We have a warrant to search your property.’ Gethin blurted out, producing the official piece of paper and showing Vera. 

Vera gave Gethin the most venomous of look and for a moment Bridge thought she was going to lash out at the young man. However, the expression soon vanished and once again the even smile and calm temperament returned on her face.  

‘Well, I guess I have no choice but to comply. I only ask you to be respectful of my belongings. My possessions are very important to me and I don’t want your men chucking stuff around willy nilly.’ 

Bridge noticed it for a second time. A slight fluctuation in her even tone. This woman was playing the part of a kind and polite elderly lady but Bridge could tell this was only a disguise. He may not have a degree of skill talking to people but Bridge had an uncanny ability to study people’s mannerisms and behavioral traits. And what unnerved Bridge the most was that it felt like Vera also had this uncanny ability. When she looked at him, Bridge felt as if she was looking directly into his soul. 

‘Of course Mrs Mayhew, my men will treat your house with the utmost respect.’ 

Whilst Bridge and Fran found a spot in the overgrown garden to chat some more with Vera, Gethin and the two uniformed officers entered the witches’ lair. 

‘You two start down here. I will check upstairs.’ Gethin instructed. 

The two uniformed officers shared glances. Gethin sighed. 

‘Please.’ 

They grunted but moved down the hallway in their respective directions. Gethin mounted the stairs, his Nike trainers causing the carpeted steps to creak loudly under foot. There were a number of abstract paintings dotted along the wall. He glanced at them on his way past. There was something unnerving about the subjects of the paintings. Many of them depicting a shadowy figure in a broad landscape. 

There were more of the strange, vibrant plants dotted here and there along the second floor landing. Intrigued, Gethin ran his finger along one of the leaves and cursed, as it pricked his skin and drew blood. There was nothing particularly strange about the landing itself, bar the tropical plants.

Gethin pushed open a nearby door and found himself in the upstairs bathroom. There was a low ceramic bath with one of those bar supports for the infirm. The bath mat was floral in design and one of the walls had been painted in vibrant shades of greens and blues. It was evident that Vera was a bit of an aged hippy. Gethin caught sight of himself in the mirror above the sink and paused for a moment.  He smiled at his reflection. Not in a ponsey pretentious way, he had alreadtpy been through that stage of his life. It was more a acknowledgment of himself. For the first time in a long while, Gethin felt comfortable in his own skin. 

Gethin’s eyes located a handle situated in the bottom left hand corner of the mirror. He pulled on it and the mirror swung open to reveal a small cabinet inside. Gethin was expecting to find a myriad of bottled pills and prescriptions like at his Nan’s house and to a certain degree that was true. However, as Gethin stepped forward for a closer look, he realized that this wasn’t your average cabinet of bottled medication. He picked up one of the clear bottles and inspected it closely. Scrawled in neat handwriting across the label was words that Gethin couldn’t comprehend. It was Latin. Gethin now regretted skipping on his Latin classes in his younger years. Underneath the Latin name, was a note advising to take twice daily, 6 hours apart. 

Gethin placed the bottle back and ran an eye over the rest of the cabinet. There were different sized and shaped bottles, some with liquid contents, others with pills. Some even with small seeds and berries. All had the same writing etched on the front, a Latin name and a set of instructions. So, not your average medical cabinet then. Gethin extracted his phone from his pocket and took a series of photos, both close ups and mid shots. When he had got a suitable amount of photographic proof to show the others, Gethin put his phone away and moved back onto the landing. 

He tried another door. It led into a large bedroom, the master room by the looks of it. It had that same rustic feel, as the rest of the cottage with its oak bed posts and mahogany furniture. There were no curtains but instead brightly coloured sheets and drapes that were layered upon one another to block out the light. Gethin moved into the room cautiously. There was something intense about the room. The lack of light and crowded furniture was one element but it was more then that. Gethin felt as if he was stepping into the monster’s lair. Like that scene in ‘Silence of The Lambs’, where Jodie Foster steps into Hannibal’s underground domain. 

Like in the downstairs living room there were objects hanging from the ceiling. Gethin squinted, moving forward in the dim light. There was a few dream-catchers which Gethin had half expected but what was different was the other objects. Paper animals. Vera was apparently a fan of origami, amongst other things. Gethin flicked one of them absentmindedly. It was in the shape of a dog. It spun lazily on its string. Something caught Gethin’s eye and he glanced at the big chest of drawers. A row of dolls were lined up along the top. Similar to ones Fran had seen in the downstairs living room on her previous visit. 

He moved forwards and studied them. There were three of them. There was something recognizable about them but Gethin couldn’t quite pinpoint what it was. He also noted that there was space at the end of the row for another one to fit in. Gethin whipped out his phone and took some photos. He also captured some of the hanging dream-catchers and origami figures. He wasn’t entirely sure of their pertinence but maybe the three of them could figure it out together. An incense holder and a pot of incense sticks were placed on one of the low bedside tables. There was also an ornate looking brass lamp with intricate markings and patterns. 

Gethin started by searching through the chest of draws and wardrobe. There was nothing alerting apart from maybe the garish choice of colours. There were a few personal trinkets in the bedside draws and a couple of paperback books and magazines but nothing of notable value. Gethin sighed and sat down on the bed heavily. This was harder then he thought it would be. I mean admittedly all this stuff was weird but there was nothing incriminating that he had unearthed. One of the offices popped his head around the door. 

‘Found anything?’ Gethin asked hopefully. 

The officer shook his head. 

‘Sorry Geth. Just some creepy dolls. She is a weirdo that’s for sure but I don’t think she’s your killer.’ 

Gethin nodded, looking slightly disheartened. The officer drummed his fingertips on the door frame and quickly vacated the area. Gethin fished in his pocket for his phone. As he was retrieving it, his keys slipped out and fell to the floor. Gethin sighed heavily and dropped to his knees to retrieve them. He was about to stand back up, when he noticed something poking out from under the corner of the mattress. He gave it a strong tug. It was the corner of a large hardcover book. Prizing it free, he sat back down on the bed and studied the cover. It was a book of plants. Gethin opened it a random. There were black and white illustrations and various Latin names in fancy handwriting. Some of the pages had post-it notes stuck to the top of them. There were words scribbled on them, the same handwriting as on the bottles. Gethin was just about to take a closer look, when voices made him look up. 

Vera, Fran and Bridge were coming up the stairs. Gethin felt a sudden panic grip him. He didn’t know why but he felt compelled to hide the book from sight, even though they had a warrant to search the property. Hurriedly, he lifted his shirt and stuck the book down the top of his trousers. He dropped his shirt just in time for the three of them to enter the room. 

‘Have you finished yet, I am not accustomed to strange men in my house?’ Vera said brashly. 

Fran looked at Gethin expectantly. It was time to go. Gethin clasped his hands together. 

‘Sorry to intrude Mrs. Mayhew. We will get out of your hair.’ 

As Gethin moved past Vera and out into the hallway, he could feel her penetrating stare burning into his back. Did she know he had the book? How could she? Gethin had stowed it away, far before she had entered the room. However, he couldn’t help the feeling that she somehow knew what he was up to. Ears burning, Gethin made his way quickly down the stairs and out the door. 

It was only when he was back inside Fran’s car, that Gethin was able to relax. The book was still stuffed into the back of his trouser belt. It dug uncomfortably into the small of his back, making sitting a particularly arduous task. But he dare not retrieve the book. Not with Vera standing in the garden not ten feet away. Fran and Bridge said their goodbyes and most likely apologies before rendezvousing with Gethin in the car. They both turned in their seats to face him.

‘So, did you really not find anything?’ Fran asked, looking slightly crestfallen.

‘Can we just drive?’ Gethin said irritatedly.

Bridge and Fran exchanged uncomfortable looks. It was obvious that they thought he was just tetchy because he had turned up nothing solid. If Gethin was being totally honest, that was part of the reason but it was also the sharp edged book digging into his spine.

Desk Sergeant Paul stood up eagerly, as the three musketeers entered the lobby. If the three of them had not been so occupied by their own thoughts, they would have noticed how out of ordinary this was. There was a reason why there was a Desk Sergeant Paul shaped outline in the desk chair. He opened his mouth. Now was his moment. He would outline his importance as an asset. His previous setback had been disappointing but he would not give up that easier. Desk Sergeant Paul had always been the type of person who rolled over. He never saw the importance of fighting for something. If it wasn’t meant to be then it wasn’t meant to be. Well, where had that gotten him? Stuck behind the desk with only his own thoughts for company. This time he would fight his corner, prove his worth.

‘Detective Bridge…I…’

‘Not now.’ The three of them said together and disappeared through the doors to the offices beyond.

Desk Sergeant Paul stood there for a moment in stunned silence. Well, that hadn’t gone particularly well. Maybe he had caught them at a bad time. Yeah, that was probably it. He would try again at a more opportune time. He sat back down and smiled. Well at least he had tried.

Inside the offices, Fran threw her bag down on her desk and sank into her chair with a loud thump. Bridge remained standing, gnawing on the tip of his nail and pacing backwards and forwards, like an energetic school teacher. Gethin reached behind him to extract the book.

‘What are you doing Gethin?’ Bridge asked, catching sight of Gethin, as he paced to and fro.

It was awkward work but eventually Gethin managed to retrieve the stowed away book. Fran was sat like a deflated balloon, her shoulders sagging and her expression melancholy.

‘Well another dead end. And there I was thinking we were on to a winner.’

Gethin sat down at his desk and began to leaf through the book silently, his entire attention focused on the material in front of him. Bridge moved over to peer over his shoulder.

‘What do we now?’ She continued, looking to the heavens for an answer. The heavens in this case being a patch of damp on the ceiling tile above her.

Bridge pointed at the book and the two of them nodded in agreement. Fran sighed and returned to earth.

‘What are you two looking at?’ She said irritatedly.

Neither of them answered, so with a loud huff, she got to her feet and traipsed over to where they were huddled.

‘What is it?’ She asked curiously.

‘A book of plants.’ Gethin said casually.

Fran massaged her eyes with the tips of her fingers and gave a low groan.

‘Gethin dear, we know she has plants. When I last checked that wasn’t a crime.’

Gethin produced his phone and brought up the gallery of photos he had taken.

‘Do either of you know Latin?’

Bridge shrugged.

‘A little but…its rusty to say the least.’

Gethin handed Bridge the phone.

‘What am I looking at?’

‘Whilst I was searching around the house, I found those bottles in the bathroom. Do they strike you as odd?’

Bridge squinted at the photos, trying to make out the neat writing.

‘I’m not 100 percent sure but I think these are some sort of herbal remedies.’

Fran moved closer to Bridge to inspect the phone pictures.

‘Let me take a look at that.’ She said to Gethin, gesturing at the book.

He handed it to her begrudgingly. Fran took the book and flipped through it, glancing from the phone to the book and back to the phone again.

‘Aha.’ She said.

‘What?’ Bridge and Gethin said eagerly.

Fran placed the book down on the table and pointed at one of the diagrams.

‘Recognize the name?’

Bridge frowned and stared at the phone.

‘It’s the same as in the photo.’

‘Exactly.’

‘So Mrs. Mayhew is a herbalist. I can’t say I am surprised. What’s the relevance?’

Fran flipped hastily through the pages.

‘These post-it notes detail herbal remedies that Vera has concocted. Some of them have healing properties, others particular uses…’

She paused, her hand hovering over one post-it note in particular. Gethin couldn’t stand it. The anticipation was killing him.

‘And this one details a recipe for….’

‘For what?’ Gethin persisted desperately.

‘…how too cause paralysis.’

‘Why would Vera need a recipe for paralysis?’

And then the penny dropped. Gethin and Fran looked at each other, the shared understanding needing no verbal action.

‘There’s another thing.’ Bridge said, holding up the phone.

‘Recognize these fellas.’

‘Oh yeah, those creepy ass dolls in the bedroom.’ Gethin said with a shiver.

‘Wait a minute.’ Fran said, grabbing the phone off Bridge and inspecting the screen intensely.

‘No…it can’t be. Surely.’

‘I think you will find it is. Look at the likenesses.’ Bridge advised, moving to the evidence board and holding up the phone by the pinned up pictures of the deceased victims. Gethin’s jaw hit the floor.

‘Voodoo dolls. I told you she was a witch doctor.’

The three of them looked at one another and then began to laugh.

‘We got her the son of a bitch.’ Fran said ecstatically, high fiving Gethin.

Bridge did not look as pleased.

‘Hold your horses guys, we are not out of the woods yet.’

Gethin and Fran looked at him puzzled.

‘You can’t be serious Bridge. The proof is right there.’ Gethin protested.

‘What we have is a strong case. These photos and this book build a strong case but we have no hard evidence.’

‘But…’ Fran began.

‘Plus, Gethin took this from the crime scene without mentioning it to anyone. What is to stop Vera from denying it is even hers.’

Gethin bit his lip gingerly. He hadn’t considered that.

‘There must be something we can do though.’ Fran said desperately. They had it all there in front of them.

Bridge massaged his head, deep in thought.

‘We can definitely push with this. Try and force a confession out of her or at least get her to mess up.’

‘You think that will work?’ Fran asked hopefully.

Bridge screwed up his cheek, as if he were sucking on a sour lemon.

‘It’s unlikely but we have a good case. Maybe she will slip up.’

They both looked at Gethin. He hadn’t said anything for a long while.

‘Gethin? What do you think?’ Fran said.

Gethin looked up. He had been staring at the edge of the book, turning something over in his mind.

‘How often does that food delivery service go out to Vera and Arthur’s house?’

Fran thought about it.

‘Once, maybe twice a week. I’m pretty sure they bring a few meals to last for several days.’

‘Why, what are you thinking?’

‘I’m thinking I might know who the next victim is. Bridge hand me the phone.

Bridge and Fran waited patiently as Gethin put in his phone call, both studying the relevant evidence for anything else they might be able to use.

‘Yeah thanks.’ Gethin said into the phone, hanging up.

He turned to face Bridge and Fran. They looked up expectantly.

‘Vera’s designated driver was supposed to be back from his shift an hour ago.’

‘Well, maybe he got stuck in traffic.’ Bridge suggested.

Gethin shook his head.

‘Not likely, he also didn’t make an appearance at the house after Vera’s. That was the last one on his route. Plus, he confirmed all deliveries up until Vera’s, as completed.’

The three of them exchanged worried looks.

‘And this third doll bears a remarkable similarity to Vera’s delivery driver. I remember interviewing him.’ 

‘Wait, so that means…she could have him there now.’ Fran said.

Bridge frowned.

‘But there was no delivery van.’ Bridge highlighted.

Gethin moved to the evidence board.

‘Look at the murders she has committed so far. They are pre meditated and calculated. I don’t think she would be so careless as to leave the van lying around. Vera must have moved it before we arrived.’

Bridge glanced at Fran to see what she thought. She was staring at her own phone with a frown.

‘That’s not all. Daisy has just compared the blood reports on both the victims and there are traces of plant extracts in both the victim’s blood.’ She said and glanced up. 

The three of them once again shared a look with one another.

‘Get the car.’ Bridge said in a serious tone to Fran.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2017]. 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

Home Sweet Home

Bridge hung up the phone and placed it gingerly down on the coffee table beside him. A makeshift bandage had been wrapped around his head, to nurse his blow to the base of his skull. He shifted uneasily in the worn, dog eared armchair, the palms of his hands sweaty and ever so slightly trembling. 

‘Fran is on her way.’ He said, forcing a smile that was supposed to come across mild mannered but in fact gave the impression that he had stubbed his toe on the corner of something heavy. 

Gareth was in another frayed armchair opposite him, a double barrelled shotgun pointed directly at Bridge’s chest. Upon discovering an intruder on his land, Gareth had knocked Bridge out and carried him back to the farmhouse. There, he had tended to his head wound but making sure Bridge’s hands were tied, so as to prevent him trying anything whilst his’ back was turned. 

Bridge now massaged his wrists, where the tight rope had rubbed and scratched at his skin. He was relieved that Gareth had removed them for Bridge to make the call but was still dubious about the hostile looking weapon aimed in his direction. 

‘You know…there really is no need for the gun….now that Fran is on her way.’ 

Gareth glared at Bridge and gripped the gun even tighter in his hands. 

‘Let’s get one thing straight Bridge. I don’t like or trust you. You sneak onto my land without permission or so much as a warrant and you expect me to comply with you. After you all but invaded my privacy and broke the law yourself.’ 

Bridge opened his mouth but couldn’t quite generate a strong line of defence. Instead, he eyed both the gun and the man holding it, trying to devise if there was anyway out of this situation. Gareth’s eyes glinted rather dangerously. 

‘Don’t try it. It won’t end well. You are on my property illegally and I can claim self defence but sure go ahead, try and take it from me.’ 

Bridge studied the stubborn farmer deeply. He wasn’t bluffing. Besides, Bridge’s head throbbed severely and his senses and reflexes were all out of whack from the blow to his head.  

‘So?’ Gareth said eventually. ‘Are you going to tell me why the hell you were on my land in the first place?’ 

Bridge hesitated. He needed to play this right. He doubted very much that Gareth would shoot him intentionally but at the same time it was prudent to not say anything that might anger Gareth. It felt odd to be monitoring and considering his words so carefully. Usually, he just said the first thing that came to mind, no matter the consequences. Maybe being held at gunpoint was a good way of Bridge learning the correct ways of polite and appropriate conversation.  

‘Well?’ Gareth grumbled, readjusting his grip on the gun. 

‘….I..wanted to revisit the crime scene…see if there was anything we missed.’

Gareth studied him intensely. Bridge swallowed, trying to keep an even, calm and composed manner. 

‘If that were the case, then why wasn’t Fran with you?’ 

‘We had a disagreement. She is pursuing another lead.’ 

Gareth nodded, but still remained unconvinced. 

‘That doesn’t explain the secrecy. If you just wanted to visit the crime scene, you could have approached me first.’ 

‘Would you have said yes?’ 

Gareth shrugged. 

‘Maybe, maybe not but I don’t believe that was why you were really sneaking about my farm.’ 

Bridge sighed. There was no point in this. Gareth was never going to believe his story. Being totally honest, Bridge couldn’t deny he had partly snuck onto the farm, in the hope of finding Gareth up to something. 

‘Okay….so it is possible…that I had my suspicions about you?’ 

A flash of fierce anger burned in his eyes and Bridge tensed. This was it. He was going to die at the hands of an irate farmer. Not the way he had envisioned going out. 

‘Thank you.’ 

Bridge frowned. What was going on?

‘For what?’ 

‘For being straight with me. I think that is the first time you have not fabricated the truth Detective Bridge.’ 

Then Gareth did something even more surprising. He lowered the gun. 

‘Wait…aren’t you pissed off with me? I just told you that I thought you were the killer.’

Gareth shrugged, reaching for the shotgun again. 

‘I can point it at you again if that’s what you want?’ 

‘No…no….down is good.’ 

Gareth smiled. It was the first time Bridge had seen the man’s face change from that of a permanent frown. However, it wasn’t a particularly comforting smile. More of an evil sneer. Gareth was obviously taking pleasure from tormenting Bridge. 

‘So…Detective…how exactly have you deduced that I am the killer?’ 

Bridge fingered a loose thread of the arm of the chair agitatedly. 

‘Maybe we should wait until Detective Thomas arrives.’ 

Gareth shook his head. 

‘I’m asking you.’ 

Bridge sighed. 

‘You had a grudge with Darren Rhion did you not?’ 

Gareth looked non nonplussed. 

‘If your trying to say we didn’t see eye to eye with each other, then I hold up my hands but I wouldn’t say it was a grudge.’ 

‘You threatened Darren on a number of occasions that if he ever set alight to your fields again, you would kill him. Is that not correct?’ 

Gareth scratched his stubble irritably . 

‘One, that was only to scare him off and two, I would only have done that in self defence. If he tried to bring harm to Maggie or myself.’

Bridge folded his arms.

‘Mr Owens, we know about the love letters.’

‘What…letters?’ Gareth said gruffly but there was a subtle twitch in his cheek and some of the colour had drained from his face.

‘The letters between your wife and Arthur Babcock. The first victim we found on your property. You held grudges against both these men. You can’t tell me this is a coincidence.’

‘The letters aren’t what you think.’ Gareth said defensively.

Bridge leaned forwards, his hands clasped together in front of him.

‘Then what are they? Because to me it looks like you found out about your wife’s affair and went after Arthur. ‘

‘I didn’t kill Arthur or Darren. The letters have nothing to do with it.’

Bridge looked at Gareth, who had grown increasingly shifty all of a sudden. His eyes were trying to communicate something. Some deep secret that he couldn’t force himself to utter.  There was the sound of a car engine from outside and both men looked round at the window with interest. Bridge went to stand but Gareth levelled the gun at him steadily. 

‘You stay there.’ He ordered and rising himself, he moved to the window. Pulling back the curtains, he cursed under his breath.

Fran’s Volvo was not alone. It was accompanied by another patrol car. The roof lights were not flashing nor the siren activated but it was evident that Fran had taken precautionary methods just in case. Gareth thrust an accusatory finger at Bridge. 

‘You told her to bring backup didn’t you?’ 

Bridge looked completely out of the loop, which threw Gareth for the moment. Perhaps he didn’t know. 

‘I…swear that was not my idea…you have to believe me…’ 

Gareth said nothing but continued to stare out the window at the approaching vehicles. 

‘I’m sure it is just a precautionary measure. You know…protocol and all that.’ 

‘Shut up Bridge.’ Gareth said bluntly. 

Fran pulled up just inside the farmhouse courtyard and motioned for the patrol car tailing her to do the same. She did not want to get too close, as to provoke Gareth in anyway. She killed the engine and turned to face Maggie, who was sitting in anxious silence. 

‘You sure you want to go through with this?’ 

Maggie nodded with a brave smile. 

‘He’s my husband and he may not love me in that way but he is still the only one who will listen to me.’ 

Fran nodded and gave her shoulder a squeeze. Maggie took a deep breath and climbed out of the car. It wasn’t a long walk from the courtyard gate to the farmhouse door but it seemed to stretch on for ever. All she could hear was the loud crunch of gravel and small stones under her shoes, as she neared the house. Maggie knew her trepidation was irrational. It was her house and Gareth her husband but the whole situation put her on edge. It wouldn’t have been such an issue if it had not been for the patrol car and the two officers on duty sat inside. Fran was different. She was not only a friend but wore informal clothing, which made everything that tiny bit less official and intimidating. 

As she entered the front garden and began her way up the footpath, she saw the curtains twitch and glimpsed Gareth’s face peering out the window. For some reason, she felt it best to knock, even though she had keys but before she had raised her hand, the door swung open. 

‘Maggie, what are you doing here? Where’s Fran?’ 

‘Calm down Gareth. Everything is going to be fine. Fran is waiting back there. She thought it best to give you some space.’ 

Gareth chewed his lip pensively. He looked like an unsure schoolboy, who had got himself into trouble and didn’t know what to do next. 

‘Can I come in?’

Gareth gave her an odd look. 

‘Yeah….I mean you don’t need to ask…it’s your house too.’ 

Maggie stepped inside, allowing Gareth to close it behind her. Up close, she could see how frightened the man was. He obviously hadn’t expected the cavalry to turn up on his doorstep. 

‘Where’s Detective Bridge?’ She said gently, resting a hand on his shoulder. 

Gareth gestured for Maggie to follow him and the pair made their way into the living room. 

Bridge was still sat in the same armchair, fiddling with the bandage on his head. It itched at his skin terribly and gave him a headache from how tightly it had been wrapped. Maggie didn’t cover her mouth in shock at the sight of Bridge’s bandaged head or do a double take, as is common in most thriller films. Instead, her eyes simply widened somewhat before she gave Gareth a scolding look. Gareth, like a child caught in the act, bowed his head shamefully. 

‘Hi Maggie.’ Bridge said cheerfully. 

Maggie didn’t return the greeting but regarded her husband disapprovingly. 

‘What were you thinking Gareth? Assaulting a police officer like that? Do you know how much trouble you could be in?’ 

Gareth opened his mouth to protest but Bridge interjected quickly. 

‘It is quite alright Mrs. Owen. Your husband was under the impression I was an intruder. I won’t be pressing charges.’ 

Gareth looked relived at Bridge’s words but Maggie appeared even more disappointed by his interjection. 

‘Don’t you start Detective Bridge. A man of your reputation, sneaking around like a criminal. You ought to be ashamed, the pair of you.’ She said harshly, glancing back at her husband, as she did so. 

The two men fell silent, both wavering under Maggie’s stern words and bearing. 

‘Now can you two put an end to this madness, so I can call Fran over to settle this?’ 

Gareth nodded but Bridge perked up. 

‘I appreciate your peacekeeping tactics, Mrs. Owen but your husband is still under suspicion on this case. The love letters…’ 

‘Oh for god’s sake.’ Maggie burst out suddenly, throwing her arms up in the air dramatically. ‘They were between Gareth and Arthur, not me.’ 

‘Maggie don’t…’ Gareth began but Maggie shot him the daggers and he soon fell silent again. 

Bridge looked confused. He looked from Gareth to Maggie to Gareth again. They were waiting awkwardly for the penny to drop. 

‘So ….you mean….that your husband and Mr Babcock…were…were.’ 

‘Were lovers. Yes that it was I mean.’ 

Bridge pursed his lips together thoughtfully. 

‘Well there you have it. I feel like a bit of prat now.’ 

‘You’re not the only one.’ Gareth said. 

The two of them shared a grin. The first time either of them had seen eye to eye on anything. 

‘Well I’m glad you two find it so amusing. Can I call off the cavalry now?’ Maggie said, arms crossed. 

The two men nodded and Maggie huffed out the room. 

It was a quiet drive back to the police station. Bridge had soon dozed off to sleep and Fran was focused on the road and her thoughts.  It had been a morning of surprises. First finding Maggie at the crime scene. Then learning the revelation of Arthur and Gareth’s secret relationship and finally, Gareth’s assault on Bridge. She felt frazzled. It wasn’t even afternoon yet and she was already desperately in need of a third coffee. Fran knew it would most likely send her over the edge and she would spend the rest of the afternoon and evening suffering palpations but at this current moment in time, she really couldn’t give a monkeys. She heard Bridge stir beside her and glanced at him for a moment.

His eyes flickered slowly open and he let out a loud yawn. He sat up and cradled his damaged head.

‘How you feeling?’ Fran asked, returning her attention to the road.

‘Like I have just been beaten over the head with a mallet but apart from that…peachy.’

They both grinned.

‘Well…when I say you only have yourself to blame…’

‘I know…I know. Got enough of that preaching from Mr and Mrs. Owen.’

Fran let the matter drop. Bridge was an idiot. In more ways then one. But even Fran knew when to call it a day.

‘So.’ Bridge said, dry washing his face. ‘Who knew?’

‘Indeed. Was a bit of a turn up for the books.’

‘You mean because they are gay?’

‘No, not at all. I was thinking, more because I have known the Owen’s for years and never realized.’

‘I guess you never really know someone as well as you think you do.’ Bridge said thoughtfully.

Fran took a deep breath and thought how best to phrase her next words. When she had arrived at the farmhouse with Maggie, Fran had been a boiling kettle about to explode. Her so called partner had broken laws both legal and of a personal nature. Not only that but his actions had nearly put himself and Gareth in particularity dangerous positions. This was her town, her people and Bridge had the audacity to traipse in here like some misguided rhino and wreak havoc in the Welsh hills.

She gave him a sideways glance. He was fiddling with the wrapping of his bandage, a section had come loose and he was unsuccessfully trying to pin back into place. Her anger was still there, seething away at the back of her being, like a lurking beast but her prey was weak and she wasn’t cruel enough to kick Bridge, whilst he was down.

‘So…I’ve been thinking.’

Bridge glanced round at Fran’s words and grimaced instantly as a flash of pain struck his head.

‘I know we both have different methods….and approaches to solving this case.’

She stole a glance at Bridge who was watching her blankly. Christ he didn’t make this easy.

‘But considering what just happened in there it might be better for us to work together from now on.’

Bridge nodded, again regretting the decision, as his vision swung about violently.

‘To be fair.’ He responded, as soon as the nausea had dissipated. ‘I did try and contact you, on numerous occasions. ‘ Plus you were the one who left me alone at the county morgue car park.’

Fran opened her mouth to retort but was at a fail at what to say. Whilst it was true that Bridge’s actions had been inexcusable, Fran was also guilty of exhibiting reckless and unprofessional behaviour.

‘I know.’

‘And another thing….you….’

Bridge paused.

‘Wait…what?’

Fran held up her hands, which made Bridge nervous for a moment, as they weren’t on the wheel where they should be.

‘My actions were just as unprofessional. I was just lucky enough not to get hit over the head with a shotgun.’

Bridge looked taken aback.

‘Wow.’

‘What?’ Fran said defensively.

‘Nothing.’ Bridge said quickly.

He may have suffered an injury to the head but he had enough brain cells left to know it was best to leave the matter be. Maintain this moment of peace. For who knows how long it would last?

Despite Fran trying on a number of occasions to convince Bridge he should see a doctor, the stubborn detective would have none of it. She had given up. Fran too, wanted to maintain this moment of peace between her and Bridge. As per usual Desk Sergeant Paul was sat at the waiting room desk. There was something different about the man. Usually, he would be engrossed in the latest newspaper crossword or beating his high score on his tablet Scrabble. Today though, Desk Sergeant Paul was doing neither of these tasks but instead staring forlornly at the desk graffiti scrawled on the table surface.

‘Hey Paul.’ Fran said cheerily.

‘Fran, Detective Bridge….boy am I glad to see you.’

Bridge and Fran exchanged looks.

‘Everything alright Sergeant?’ Bridge said.

Desk Sergeant Paul sighed deeply and leant his chin on his palm.

‘Yeah….I suppose.’

‘If you don’t mind me saying Paul, you seem a tad out of sorts.’

‘Well to be honest with you Fran…I’m bored out of my mind. I have finished all my crosswords, beaten every game and read the whole station library…twice.’

Bridge leant on the side of the desk.

‘Well you know we are a man short…if you would rather get out in the field and do something more dramatic?’

Desk Sergeant Paul suddenly looked alive with interest. He sat up and glanced with pleading eyes from Fran to Bridge and back again. Fran sighed.

‘I think we should probably discuss this first….eh Bridge?’

Bridge shrugged.

‘I don’t really see the problem, with Gethin away we are a man down and it won’t take long to familiarize Desk Sergeant Paul with the details.’

Fran frowned at Bridge and folded his arms.

‘And how’d you figure that?’

‘Desk Sergeant Paul has an ear for these things, don’t you Paul?’

Desk Sergeant Paul blushed suddenly. Fran raised an eyebrow at him and went to open her mouth but a noise behind her made her turn.

Gethin, dressed in civilian clothes stood in the doorway, a small backpack slung casually over one shoulder.

‘Hi.’ He said gingerly.

‘What are you doing here? I thought you were on holiday.’ Fran said, moving forwards and giving him a warm hug.

‘ I was…I mean I am but I’ve got something important to tell you guys. Shall we?’ He gestured at the office doors.

Gethin led the way, accompanied by Fran. Bridge followed behind. Apparently this day was full of surprises. As he passed Desk Sergeant Paul, the man called out.

‘Hey…what about my field assignment?’

‘Yeah…that might need to go on hold for a moment.’ Bridge said and darted out the lobby before Desk Sergeant Paul had a chance to say anything else.

Desk Sergeant Paul’s excitement dissipated and once again he returned to his forlorn state, his chin resting on his palm and an expression of disappointment plastered to his face.

Gethin breathed in deeply, as he entered the dingy police offices. The musty, slightly damp smell was not nauseating but instead comforting to Gethin. He felt like he was home again. This was where he belonged. In a dilapidated government building with sludge like coffee and temperamental central heating. He located his desk and traced a finger over it’s surface, letting it locate the grooves and imperfections he’d come so well to know and love. He perched on the desk and smiled at the two police officers in front of him.

‘It’s good to be back. I tell you something, London. Not all it’s cracked up to be.’

Fran looked to Bridge for confirmation.

‘He actually has a point. ‘ Bridge admitted.

Fran looked genuinely surprised by this but she soon returned to frowning.

‘Why are you here Gethin? I mean…it’s lovely to see you and all but you are supposed to be on leave. In fact I don’t recall it being an option.’

Gethin squirmed uncomfortably under the suspicious stares of his superiors.

‘So when I told you I was going away to London for a few days, to see the sights, that was true but…it also wasn’t the only reason.’

Bridge gave him a sly look.

‘Gethin Jones, what have you been up to?’

Gethin privately felt rather pleased with himself but made a conscious effort to not let that show in front of Fran and Bridge.

‘It just so happened on this trip that I ran into Arthur Babcock’s daughter.’

Fran’s eyebrows raised so high, Gethin was afraid that they were going to climb right of the top of her head.

‘You just happened to bump into her?’

‘So….she put me on to some of Arthur’s old army pals.’

Fran put a hand to her forehead and sighed.

‘You have got to be kidding.’ She muttered moodily.

Bridge who had settled down in a chair by Fran’s desk was not as concerned. In fact, he looked almost on the verge of joyful tears.

‘Unsurprisingly, I didn’t turn up anything major but it did lead me back across the border.’

‘Does this story have an ending anytime soon…or better yet a point?’ Fran said brashly.

‘Bear with me…I’m getting to the good bit.’ Gethin paused, allowing a suitable amount of time for an adequate build up. ‘In Clandowey, there is a food delivery company.’

‘Wait that isn’t the same one that delivers to Vera and our recently deceased Mr. Babcock.’ Bridge queried.

Fran shot him a look, which translated as something along the lines of ‘Don’t encourage him.’

‘The very same.’ Gethin continued, waving his bandaged hand around energetically. ‘So I talked to the driver there, who was their designated delivery man.’

‘And?’ Fran said curiously. She was angry with Gethin but she couldn’t help but be intrigued by his findings.

‘He claimed that a woman rung up on the day of the murder to cancel the delivery.’

‘Right, the note you found when exploring the house.’ Bridge said eagerly.

Gethin pointed at Bridge with a decisive finger.

‘That’s the one. And according to the driver, the woman who phoned sounded old and somewhat posh.’

Bridge and Fran frowned at one another. Gethin leaned back on the desk and smiled, as he watched the two officers work it out. After a moment’s silence, they too began to smile. Then Bridge and Fran opened their mouths and said at the same time. ‘Vera.’

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2017]. 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

M

Fran turned her phone off on the journey home to Llangaerthen. It was the only way should could silence the incessant beeps and rings, that were most definitely an irate Bridge trying to get hold of her. Christ, even when he wasn’t with her, Bridge could still be the most infuriating of characters. The sky was gradually growing darker, as she reached the outskirts of Llangaerthan and she flipped on the car’s central heating to ward off the chill night air pervading the lumbering vehicle.

She slowed, as the police station came into view. The lobby lights were on, which most likely meant Desk Sergeant Paul was busy manning the fort. In other words, ignoring the phone and playing scrabble on his tablet. Fran had a moment’s guilt and deliberation. What she should really do is park up, go in and use the phone to call Bridge. Then have a look over the forensics report and straighten this messy case out once and for all.

A car’s horn jerked her suddenly back into the present and she glanced in the rear view mirror to be met with harsh headlights and an irate looking driver. Realizing, she was stopped in the middle of the road, Fran pulled away and left the police station in a cloud of dust.

As she got home and climbed up the cracked and weed infested stone steps, Fran couldn’t help but thank the impatient driver outside the police station. Her whole body ached to such a severe degree, that Fran was worried she was about to break entirely and crumble into a pile of dusty bones. The case could wait, she had decided. There were more important things she needed to see to. In particular, a hot bath and a generously sized glass of wine.

As ever she was greeted inside the door by her excitable Labrador, who danced around giddily, jumping up and down, as if he hadn’t seen her for an eternity. To be honest, with the hours Fran had been pulling of late, the house had felt more like a glorified Bed and Breakfast then her humble abode. Despite her fatigued state, she paid ample attention to the big dog. There was something comforting about a living animal’s presence. Human contact was pleasurable and rewarding in certain respects but homo-sapiens tended to be unnecessarily complicated. There was something simple and easy going about the company of an animal, that it was seldom difficult to find with people.

Fran noticed that something was different about the house, as she made her way through to the living room but she wasn’t quite sure what it was. She paused in the hallway to remove her work boots and heard the familiar sounds of her husband Steven swearing at the television. However, as she staggered through the living door, Fran was greeted with an entirely different scene to the one she had expected. Whilst Steven was in his usual spot on the sofa, glued to his latest video game, the living room and adjoining kitchen itself looked drastically different. The pile of washing up had vanished to be replaced with an empty sink and spotless counter. Even the floor had been vacuumed, resembling the original colour it had once been.

‘Hi Honey.’ Steven said joyfully, pausing his game and climbing to his feet with a groan.

‘Hey.’ Fran replied, still recoiling from the immaculately clean living room and kitchen.

‘Cup of tea?’ Steven offered, appearing next to her with a steaming mug of tea.

‘Thanks.’

Fran took the tea gratefully, cupping it in her hands to help warm them up. She moved to the sofa and sat down heavily. Steven joined her, Fran assuming to jump straight back into his game.

‘How was your day?’

‘Long, as per usual but productive. We may have made some headway on the case.’

‘Really? That’s good right.’

‘Yeah, I suppose.’

She eyed Steven with a look of curiosity. First he had cleaned the house and now he was asking her about her day. This was strange behaviour indeed.

‘Why are you looking at me like that?’ Steven said with a grin.

‘I…don’t know….you just seem…very cheerful is all.’

‘Well I didn’t realize that was a crime officer.’

Fran slapped his arm playfully.

‘Of course not. I was just wondering why so chipper this evening. Anything interesting happen today?’

Steven shrugged.

‘Nothing in particular. Just woke up on the right side of bed this morning I guess.’

Fran smiled, relaxing all of a sudden. On another night she may have persisted with the matter further but this evening she was just happy that Steven was clearly in a good mood.

‘Thank you.’ She said, resting her head atop his shoulder.

‘For what?’

‘Cleaning the house, putting up with me and my ways and for this blessed mug of tea you have brought me.’

Steven grinned.

‘Anything for you my dear.’

The two of them sat there for a moment, enjoying the silent but peaceful company of one another before Fran remembered her tea. She sat up and took a large gulp.

‘Argh, that’s the ticket.’

She gestured at the television.

‘What’s this one then?’

‘Uncharted 4.’

‘Any good?’

‘You bet. Wanna go?’

Fran chewed on her cheek for a moment.

‘Yeah, why the hell not? What are the controls?’

Fran was awoken early the next morning by her energetic Labrador bounding up the stairs and shoving his large head into her pillow. She groaned and sat up, shaking out her messy bed hair. She glanced to her left, half expecting to see a dozing Steven, half hidden under the blankets. To her surprise however, the mattress was unoccupied, the crumpled sheets and bunched up duvet and slight depression, the only indication someone had been there previously. Fran yawned and rolled over onto her other side. The bedside clock showed the time as nearly eleven. Shit. She had slept in late. No doubt Bridge would be on the war path once she made an appearance at work. Part of her wanted to remain in bed and doze for another hour. It was so warm and comforting and the world outside was bitter and cold. Unfortunately, Fran knew this wasn’t an option afforded to her and so with a deep sigh, she staggered out of bed. 

Steven wasn’t laid out on the sofa playing his video console, as Fran had suspected but was instead sat up at the kitchen table. He was studying a collection of papers, which he had set out on the table in front of him. 

‘Morning.’ He said, smiling at Fran’s disheveled and sleepy state. ‘There’s coffee in the pot.’ 

Fran nodded gratefully and got herself a mug, pulling out a chair and collapsing into it beside Steven. The two sat in silence for a while, Fran waiting for the caffeine to hit her system, Steven consulting his documentation. It was on her second mug, it was going to be that sort of day, that Fran felt ready for conversation. 

‘You shouldn’t of let me sleep in so late.’ 

Steven paused for a moment and rested his hand atop hers. It was warm and reassuring. 

‘You needed it. You have been working hard of late.’ 

Fran gave his hand a squeeze and nodded. 

‘Even so. I shouldn’t have slept in as long as I did.’ 

‘I’m sure they can handle the situation for a few hours without your supervision.’ 

Fran sighed deeply. 

‘I wouldn’t be to sure of that.’ 

Steven didn’t say anything. He had returned his attention to the documents. Fran frowned. There were photos mixed in with the other pieces of paper. A stack of folded letters were piled on one corner of the table. 

‘Steven. Is that my case file?’ 

Steven looked up guilty and pursed his lips. 

‘I thought I might have a look at it….you know….a fresh pair of eyes.’ 

Fran gave him a disapproving look. 

‘I could get into serious trouble for that.’ 

‘You’re right.’ Steven agreed and began to put the various documents away but Fran held out her hand. 

‘Find anything?’ 

Steven paused and scratched his chin thoughtfully. 

‘Possibly. There is something about these letters that doesn’t sit well.’ 

Fran dragged her chair closer to Steven, so they could scan over the paperwork together. 

‘How so?’ 

Steven sat back and folded his arms. 

‘Well for all intense and purposes most of the evidence at the moment points towards Maggie as being the prime suspect or involved to a certain degree. Right?’ 

Fran nodded, watching Steven’s mind tick over with fascination. 

‘It doesn’t make sense.’ 

‘What doesn’t?’ 

‘The letters.’ He picked one up and unfolded it. 

‘If Maggie had a relationship with Arthur then the assumption would be that Gareth is the killer.’ 

‘I guess so.’ 

‘Then why is Darren Rhion dead. If it was a crime of passion, then why was Darren murdered?’

Fran rubbed her eyes. It was still far too early for her brain to keep up yet. 

‘Maybe Rhion discovered who the killer was and so Gareth took him out of the equation.’ 

Steven nodded but didn’t look entirely convinced by that theory. 

‘Possibly but both these murders are ritualistic. They are cold, calculated and precise. Does that really sound like a jealous husband to you?’ 

‘No.’ Fran admitted. 

‘Plus, we have known Gareth and Maggie for years. Not once have they mentioned this Arthur character. Hell, you didn’t even know him until last week.’ 

‘So…what are you saying?’ 

Steven mulled over his thoughts for a moment. 

‘I just find it all a little too convenient. The letters being found so easily, almost as if they were left there deliberately. Plus, if Gareth was the killer then they did a poor job of disposing the body, considering it was found on their property.’

‘I must admit that Gareth seemed genuinely shocked by the discovery of the body.’

She ran her finger around the ring of her coffee mug.

‘So where do we go from here?’

Steven blew out his cheeks exasperatedly.

‘Couldn’t tell you but I definitely think that there is more to this then meets the eye. Maybe you missed something at the house. Another clue perhaps.’  

‘You think I should go back to Arthur’s house?’ 

‘I do but what do I know…I’m no expert.’ 

Fran smiled and put her arms around his chest, pulling him into a deep bear hug.

‘Steven Thomas, you are full of surprises and I love it.’ 

Bridge had given up on trying to reach Fran. He had returned to the station to look over everything, including the new report on Darren Rhion. His intention was to wait there until Fran eventually turned up. However after a few hours, it looked unlikely she was going to make an appearance. He had half a mind to go to her house and give  her an earful. Only problem was he didn’t actually know where she lived. He could ask Desk Sergeant Paul but then that would ultimately end up with him sticking his nose in and that was the last thing Bridge wanted at the moment. 

It was an odd sensation sitting alone in the police offices. He worked quietly by the light of the desk lamp, occasionally making a trip to the kitchen for a refill of coffee or tea. Bridge had done this countless times back at his station in London but due to the building being so big and always well lit, as well as the constant activity outside on the streets, Bridge had always felt some form of human presence nearby. This was different. He had Desk Sergeant Paul to hand but there wasn’t exactly the most thrilling of conversations to be had with him. For the first time in a long while, Bridge felt lonely. 

The next day he rose later then planned but it was still early enough that the roads outside were only just becoming busier. He prepared himself for an awkward morning with Fran, as he made his way into the station lobby. However, Fran had still not dropped by, according to Desk Sergeant Paul. 

‘Everything alright between you two?’ Desk Sergeant Paul asked, giving Bridge the eyebrow. 

‘Of course. I expect she is working from home today. Long day yesterday.’ Bridge replied, attempting to act as casual as he could. 

‘Right you are.’ An unconvinced Desk Sergeant Paul said with a slight nod. 

Bridge made tracks before the situation became any more horrendously uncomfortable for the two of them. If Fran had decided to avoid him and hide at home, that was her business but Bridge had work to do. He was still keen to pursue the lead regarding Gareth and Maggie Owen. The letters although not concrete were the best trail he had and he didn’t want to wait around and do nothing until another body turned up. 

With no lift, Bridge had to rely on public transport. The bus journey out of town was pleasant enough, even if it did seem to take forever. On the plus side he had plenty of leg and seat room. A luxury not afforded to commuters in the heart of London. The bus could only take him so far. Alighting at the bottom of the hill to the farm, Bridge made his way up the steep track. There was a strong smell of manure on the breeze. Bridge liked that he associated it with the countryside but couldn’t help feel slightly nauseated by it. Unfortunately, it reminded him of vomit, which in turn reminded him of his past university days. 

Halfway up the hill, Bridge began to struggle, his lungs and legs protesting at the steep incline. He felt incredibly unfit. Not overweight but the opposite. He was rag and bones, a diet of coffee and ready meals leaving him with a weak and skinny build. That was the problem with the police force. Everyone started out at the peak of their physical prowess but soon the lack of sleep, time spent behind a desk and lack of any sort of yearly fitness test ruined all the hard work that had been put in.  

Bridge didn’t head in the usual way over the cattle grille and into the farm courtyard but instead, veered off the main track and climbed into the first of several fields encircling the farmhouse. He recalled their first visit to the Owen’s farm. Bridge and Gareth hadn’t got off to the best of starts and he was pretty certain that without Fran, he wouldn’t be welcome. Not that sneaking into their property was any better but Bridge had never been very good, at doing what he was told. 

He had to cross two more fields, navigate an overgrown and unstable wooded area and climb over several fences before he reached the field in which they had first found Arthur’s body. By the time Bridge got there, his jacket was covered in fern and twigs, his skin was littered with pin pricks and white bumps from catching it on holly and stinging nettles. He had given up on any hope of keeping his shoes clean, as they were now caked in a layer of mud and leaves. 

He sighed, taking a moment to catch his breath and watched the morning sun peeking through the drifting clouds moving lazily above the field. He should be tired and irritable but there was something exhilarating about his trek up here. He hadn’t felt this sense of escapism and freedom since he was young boy and his mother and father had taken him out of the city for the summer holidays. 

He was just thinking what a lovely day it was turning out to be, when he heard a twig snap behind him, followed by a mechanical click. He tried to spin around in time but was beaten to it, as something blunt and hard hit him square in the temple. Bridge crumpled to the floor, his vision swimming. A pair of dark, green wellies were the last things he saw before everything turned to black and he passed out of consciousness. 

Fran knew she should have gone to the station to try and convince Bridge that it would be a better use of their time returning to Arthur’s house, instead of pursuing the Owen’s. However, she really didn’t have the energy in her to start an argument, especially this early since rising. Besides, if she knew Bridge at all, Fran expected him to go ahead of his own prerogative and surely it would be a more sensible use of their time to split up and hit two birds with one stone. Or that was what Fran told herself anyway, to avoid having to actually deal with Bridge.

As she approached Arthur’s small run down house, she couldn’t help her attention being drawn to Vera’s overly colourful front garden. Vera was nowhere in sight. The curtains were closed and no visible sign of life from within. There was something nagging Fran concerning Vera. Perhaps she should pay her visit after looking around Arthur’s house once more.

Fran slammed the brakes on suddenly, as she nearly collided with a large 4×4 parked in the middle of the path. She took a deep breath and loosened her tight grip on the steering wheel. She should have been keeping an eye on the path ahead of her. Not that she had expected a jeep to be parked there. Both Vera and Arthur owned no vehicles, hence why they shared the same food delivery service. Was it something to do with that, which was bothering her? Possibly. Turning off her engine, Fran climbed out of her rust bucket Volvo and wandered over to the stationary jeep.

There was something familiar about this particular jeep. Fran had seen it somewhere before but she couldn’t place where. She peered in the dusty window. The interior was empty. There was an assortment of gardening related tools on the seat and a bobble head of a dancing farmer on the dashboard. She stepped back from the hulking vehicle and glanced around. There was nowhere else around. Feeling her hairs prickle slightly on her neck, Fran moved towards Arthur’s house, trying to focus on the real reason she was here. As she reached the front door however, she hesitated. The police caution tape was still up but something red was caught on it. Fran took a closer look. It was soft woolen cloth, possibly from a scarf or jumper. It could have belonged to one of the three of them or perhaps a scene of crime officer. But Fran doubted anyone would be that careless.

Despite not wanting to appear paranoid and a chicken, Fran got out her phone and dialed Bridge’s number. No answer. She cursed and tried again. Still no answer. She left a answerphone stressing the importance of her discovery and sent off a quick text to cover all basis. Fran waited for a minute. There was a creak from inside the house. Fran felt a shiver course down her spine. Pull yourself together she told herself. It was only the house buffeted by the wind. Fran had to make a decision now otherwise she was just going to stand on the doorstep all day long. Finally, she put in a call to the station and told Desk Sergeant Paul to keep trying Bridge and send up a couple of officers for her own backup.

Then she popped the phone back into her pocket, took a deep breath and opened the door. Fran was going against protocol doing this. Even Desk Sergeant Paul, the most unprofessional of policeman had advised her to hang fire until backup arrived. But Fran was keen to get in the house and look around before more bodies clogged up the crime scene.

The house smelt fusty and dust mites hung on the air, illuminated by the morning sunlight filtering through the glass surface of the front door. Her foot connected with a small tennis ball that rolled away down the hallway. She bent down to retrieve it and almost toppled backwards in shock, as a woman burst into the hallway and darted away from Fran. She was heading for the kitchen, which led out into the back garden.

Body tensing, Fran extracted a walking cane from the nearby umbrella stand and moved cautiously down the hallway. The sheer brightness of the large white kitchen contrasted heavily with the dim hallway and it took her eyes a few moments to acclimatize to the new room. The rear kitchen door was open and there was a distant scrabbling and scurrying noise from the garden. 

Gripping the cane to steel herself, Fran stepped out into the neat back garden. She was confronted with an extremely peculiar sight. The woman who had startled Fran in the house was at the foot of the garden. She was attempting rather unsuccessfully, to clamber over the garden fence. To the woman’s dismay, she neither had the height nor strength to pull off the task as intended. 

As Fran neared the fleeing woman, her eyes widened in surprise, as she recognized who it was. 

‘Maggie?’

The woman froze, mid scrabble and turned reluctantly to face Fran. There was no doubt about it. Maggie Owen, the nervous farmer’s wife stood before Fran. Her knees were muddy from her sorrowful attempts to scale the fence and there was a layer of gunk under her nails, where she had scraped against the fence. 

‘Hi Fran.’ Maggie said awkwardly. 

Fran sat in stunned silence at the kitchen table, the mug of tea Maggie had made, lay untouched and losing heat by the second. It was clearly evident that Fran was still in the process of absorbing what Maggie had relayed to her. Fran was a notorious tea addict and the fact that she hadn’t even touched her brew, was evidence of her shock at Maggie’s news.

‘Say something.’ Maggie pleaded anxiously, pacing up and down behind the kitchen counter. 

Fran’s mouth was dry and her hands clammy. 

‘How….long?’ She finally managed in a hoarse whisper. 

‘Five years, give or take.’

‘Five years!’ Fran repeated, astounded. 

Maggie shrugged awkwardly. 

‘You saw the letters. It wasn’t just a summer’s romance.’

‘I know but still…five years.’

There were both silent for a moment. Fran frowning hard out the window and Maggie returning to her jaguar like pacing. 

‘Did you always know?’ Fran queried, wrenching her gaze from a Robin, bobbing about on the garden paving slabs. 

‘No, of course not.’ Maggie scoffed loudly. ‘I mean I had my suspicions but…’

‘And the M. Why M?’ Fran interjected quickly.

‘Oh that. Yeah well…Gareth’s middle name is Mark and they needed a code of sorts so as to avoid detection.’

Fran nodded slowly and sat back. When she had caught Maggie trying to sneak out of Arthur’s garden, she had discovered Maggie had come here to find the love letters. Putting two and two together she had thought she had finally got it all figured out. Maggie was having an affair with Arthur. So it took Fran by shock, when Maggie revealed that it was actually her husband Gareth who was having the affair with Arthur. 

‘But why keep it a secret all this time…I mean it’s not like homosexuality is frowned upon in the same way. Arthur and Gareth could have come forward.’ 

Maggie sighed heavily and pulled out one of the kitchen stools, sitting for the first time since the pair had entered the kitchen. 

‘Look, Arthur is an ex army man and Gareth is a fifty year old man, who comes from a traditional family of farmers.’ 

‘So, you think they would have felt ashamed.’ 

Maggie rubbed her arms, her method of trying to relax herself. 

‘Partly but it was more to do with their age. They are both from a generation where the concept is alien. I think they were just coming to terms with themselves, as well as each other.’ 

Fran let that sink in a moment. She had never considered that. The length of time this relationship had been going on. Perhaps they had been working to help bring it to light over the course of a few years. 

‘And you just let them get on with it? I can’t believe you just took a back row seat during the whole duration.’ 

Maggie sighed. She looked suddenly aged in that moment. Her wrinkled skin and tired eyes showing evidence of great strain. 

‘It’s complicated.’ 

‘You’re telling me.’ Fran said, shaking her head. ‘Sorry.’ She followed up, catching Maggie’s expression. 

‘Believe me, I hated him with a passion when I first found out. So much so that I threatened to expose their relationship…’ 

Maggie paused, her gaze wandering to the window. She contemplated the sky outside thoughtfully. 

‘But the funny thing about the whole situation is that I never stopped loving Gareth and I don’t think he ever stopped loving me. When I saw how happy they were together, I couldn’t bring myself to expose them. I can’t really explain it very well.’ 

Fran took a sip of tea for liquid strength more then anything. 

‘So why come back here to get the letters and why run when I found you. Those are not the actions of an innocent woman.’ 

Maggie groaned in frustration. 

‘To save Gareth. Arthur is gone and I wanted to prevent their relationship getting out. All it would result it is more pain for Gareth, where nothing could be gained by revealing the truth.’ 

Fran mused on this for a moment. It did make sense, in a messed up sort of way. Not to mention that there was still the matter of Rhion’s death. It was possible that it was a revenge killing for the arson attacks but Fran wasn’t entirely convinced by that. She had known Maggie for several years and although a little bit out there, she found it highly doubtful that she was the culprit. 

‘You will have to come down to the station to answer some questions. Routine procedure of course.’ 

Maggie looked taken aback. 

‘You don’t think I am the killer do you?’ 

Fran flashed a smile. 

‘Honestly…no but I wouldn’t be a very good cop if I took every one by their word.’

Maggie nodded understandably. 

‘Fair enough…I have nothing to hide.’ 

Fran gave her a cynical look. 

‘Nothing else…that is.’ Maggie further explained. 

‘Good.’ 

Fran reached for her tea but was interrupted by the low hum of her mobile in her pocket. She sighed and whipped it out. Any hopes of actually finishing this cup of tea were fading fast. It was Bridge. She was very tempted to decline the call, adding it to the long list of unanswered ones collated from yesterday and this morning. However, she chose instead to accept it. Pillock or no pillock, Bridge was her colleague and it was her duty to inform him of this break in the case. 

‘Hello Bridge.’ She said shortly. ‘Wait…what…slow down.’ She shot Maggie a nervous glance, who sat up curiously. 

‘Okay…calm down…we will straighten this out…don’t do anything stupid…I’m on my way now.’ 

She hung up and hurriedly got to her feet. 

‘What’s up?’ Maggie asked. 

‘We need to get to your farm now.’ 

Fran threw on her coat and quickly rushed into the hallway.

‘Why….Fran what’s going on?’ 

‘Your husband caught Bridge trespassing on his land.’ Fran called over her shoulder, throwing open the main door. 

Maggie grew very pale all of a sudden. She snatched her keys off the kitchen counter and made after the departing Fran. 

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2017]. 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


A Bridge Over Troubled Water

Fran and Bridge stood opposite the coroner, the skeletal remains of the charred body on the metal gurney between them. The coroner was a young woman in her late twenties with strawberry blonde hair and a sharp, angular face. Bridge had been surprised by this. He had expected it to be an stuffy, reclusive man with grey hair and even greyer skin. Not this twenty something girl with tattoos and an ear piercing. Fran didn’t seem to be aware of this or if she was, it hadn’t bothered her in the slightest.

‘How’s Jamie doing, he must be what…five now?’ Fran said casually.

The blonde haired girl smiled as she flicked through a clipboard in her hand, her eyes glancing every now and then at the bag of bones on the trolley.

‘Six actually.’

‘Six.’ Fran repeated, astonished. ‘How quickly they grow up.’

‘Tell me about it. Luckily he is still at that cute stage. I dread to think what the next few years are going to be like.’

‘Eight and nine are the worse. Tantrums and arguments all the time.’ Fran said with a fond look in her eyes.

Bridge couldn’t quite comprehend what was happening. He was under the impression that they had come here to discuss the body but apparently Fran and this coroner girl were more interested in discussing the matter of child rearing. Fran must have picked up on Bridge’s impatience to get on with the case at head, as she cleared her throat suddenly and gestured to the body.

‘So any luck identifying the body?’

The coroner girl puffed out her cheeks exasperatedly.

‘Well it wasn’t easy given that any fingerprints, DNA or hair traces were incinerated by the fire…’

‘Excuse me, sorry to barge in…Ms..?’

‘Daisy.’

‘Daisy..right…really…Daisy?’

Both Daisy and Fran glared at Bridge, so he quickly got back on topic.

‘Wouldn’t you be able to identify him from his dental records, as his teeth are still intact.’

He reached over and pointed at the open jaw. Fran slapped his hand away irritably. Daisy looked somewhat offended.

‘Well if you had let me finish….Mr…?’

‘Bridge. Detective Bridge.’

‘Right well as I was saying…Bridge…really?’

Bridge felt his ears burn red, as Fran hid a smirk behind her hand.

‘What I was going to say was that it was very hard to retrieve any DNA samples, apart from the dental records of the deceased victim.’ She whipped off the top sheet from her clipboard and held it out in her hand.

Bridge moved forward, attempting to eagerly snatch it from her hand but Daisy purposefully redirected it to Fran. Bridge pulled a face like a petulant toddler, as Fran studied the sheet intensely. Bridge tried to sneak a peek but Fran returned it to Daisy before he had a chance.

‘Interesting.’ She commented and the two woman nodded, keeping their secret knowledge between one another.

‘So…..?’ Bridge exclaimed desperately. ‘Who is it?’

‘You said they were similarities to the last body. How similar are we talking?’ Fran asked, ignoring Bridge’s pleads of desperation.

‘That is interesting.’ Daisy said excitedly, moving closer to the body to demonstrate her findings.

Bridge sighed and gave up. It was obvious the two of them had resorted to using power play to reprimand him for his rude behaviour. He didn’t mean to be so blunt. It wasn’t his intention. He just didn’t see the point of small talk and general courtesy. Not when there were much more important things he could be doing with his time. The irony being in doing this, he had actually placed himself in a position further from the information.

‘Like on the previous victim, the killer has performed a castration on the gentile region.’

‘I know how he feels.’ Muttered Bridge quietly.

Fran and Daisy ignored him.

‘On the last victim, the lips and eyelids had also been removed. It’s that the same here?’ Queried Fran, growing intrigued.

Bridge watched the two enviously. He liked these parts of the case most of all. Fran wasn’t supposed to be interested in this stuff. It was his area of expertise. Without it, he was just a Detective with a lot of questions. And god he hated asking people questions.

‘That’s where it becomes tricky. If the killer did remove the lips and eyelids, it is hard to tell because the rest of the flesh burnt off in the fire.’

Fran looked somewhat disheartened at this last statement.

‘However.’ Continued Daisy, noting Fran’s disappointment. ‘It doesn’t look like he was alive when he was set alight.’

‘Aha…so it’s a he.’ Bridge announced dramatically.

Fran and Daisy looked at him agitatedly. Feeling like a naughty toddler caught out in class, Bridge glanced at his feet.

‘Continue.’ He said in a small voice.

‘Do you think it could be blood loss from the wounds?’

Daisy tapped her lips, thinking.

‘Possibly but I don’t think it’s likely. I will run some more tests. Get back to you when I know more.’

‘Thank you Daisy and sorry about Bridge…he’s from London.’

Daisy nodded, as if it all made sense and before Bridge could object, Fran had guided him swiftly and efficiently out the doors.

 

‘What exactly did you mean by ‘he’s from London’?’ Bridge demanded, as they climbed inside Fran’s Volvo, parked in the rear corner of the Clandowey Morgue car psrk

‘Are you kidding me Bridge, after the way you just acted in there.’ Fran threw back.

‘What?’

Fran gave him a extremely cynical look.

‘Okay maybe I was a little bit to the point…’

‘A little bit. You were downright rude is what you were.’ Fran stated, switching the engine on and putting the gear stick into reverse.

‘Well come on. The girl was barely out of college and what so of coroner is called Daisy?’

The car jerked wildly, as Fran slammed her foot on the brake and glared menacingly at Bridge.

‘Daisy happens to be one of the brightest and intelligent forensic specialists this side of the Seven Bridge. She knows more about bodies then you and me put together.’

‘I highly doubt that.’ Bridge said assuredly.

‘Just because she is a little on the young side and god forbid has tattoos, that doesn’t mean she isn’t good at her job.’

‘Okay okay. You made your point. Can we please just leave already?’

Bridge was worried Fran was going to thump him, the shade of red she had turned.

‘You really don’t get people do you? All you see is a puzzle that needs solving.’

‘Well, I am a detective.’ Bridge pointed out.

‘Oh are you? I didn’t hear you mention it. Oh wait yeah I did, like a hundred times.’

‘Well at least I actually do my job instead of chatting about my social calendar with every person we interview.’

Fran looked thunderous now, the veins in her temple right on the verge of exploding.

‘Get out.’ She hissed vehemently.

‘You what?’ Bridge asked flummoxed.

‘I said get out.’

‘Fine.’ Bridge said hotly, climbing out the door and slamming it behind him. Fran put her foot to the floor and roared off, leaving a trail of petrol fumes and a stranded Bridge in the middle of the car park.

‘Great.’ Bridge said. ‘Now what?’

The car park was empty. His ride back to Llangaerten disappearing from view before him.

 

Gethin’s journey home from London was slightly subdued. On the one hand he felt a sense of accomplishment, as he had spent his time on leave productively and ruled out potential wrong turns and red herrings. However, the revelation that he had traveled all that distance to find out that none of the people he questioned were guilty or linked, left him empty and feeling a sense of defeat.

He did not get off at his usual stop however but stayed on the train for a couple of extra stops. Gethin wasn’t going home. Not yet anyway. He was making a slight detour. As well as housing the county morgue, Clandowey also happened to be the town where the food delivery service Arthur used were based.

Stepping off the train and leaving the station through the side exit, Gethin felt a warm feeling enter his chest. Even though he was not home home, being back on his side of the border made him feel a sense of belonging. Gethin had always found his hometown and county boring to say the least. Whilst it was true that London was full of exciting and varied culture, it was also very busy, smelly and cold. Not in terms of temperature but more in regards to attitude. People were unfriendly to the point of rude. Having now visited the big lights and sights of England’s capital, Gethin suddenly felt a new found appreciation for the wonder of the Welsh valleys.

After taking a moment to breathe in the fresh air and listen to the chirping songs of the birds, Gethin made his way to the bridge that stretched over the river towards Clandowey. The food delivery service was located on the outskirts of town, a fair walk from the train station but Gethin was glad for the chance to stretch his legs. He had been cramped up in a metal carriage all morning with about enough leg space for a small shrew.

By the time he got to the supply shop and attached delivery depot, Gethin was getting out of breath. Although refreshing and much needed exercise, Gethin was still tender from his encounter with Darren Rhion and he had stopped at the entrance to the building to nurse a sharp stitch in his side. He studied the outbuilding, as he regained his strength. The shop itself was a single level storey building with glass fronted windows and doors and large green letters emblazoned on the roof that read ‘Snacks on Tracks’. A front and side car park surrounded the building with an assortment of customer vehicles and large lorries, bearing the same company name on their doors and roofs.

Once recovered, Gethin straightened up, smartened himself up as best he could and made his way across the car park to the shop door. He stopped in front of the door to the shop, catching sight of himself in the glass in front of him. He looked so different. Obviously, the injuries he had sustained were evidence of that but it was more then that. His eyes seem to possess a different quality about them. As if they were suddenly more serious and thoughtful. His face as well looked more haggard. The five o’clock shadow which he normally would have seen to giving him a more rugged and worn look. This case had changed him. In some ways for the better and in others not so much. Either way, Gethin was undergoing some kind of transformation. He just had to find out whether or not it was something he was comfortable with.

 

Bridge had given up phoning Fran. It was clear that if she wasn’t going to respond to his previous eight texts and three phone calls, then it wasn’t likely she would be picking up her mobile anytime soon. It had taken him a good fifteen minutes to ascertain why she had blown up at him to such a degree. In his mind, he hadn’t done anything particularly unacceptable or untoward. Yet, as time had gone on, Bridge had given the subject more thought and he had begun to see why his actions may have been taken the wrong way. It was strange of late. Bridge didn’t feel that different, his argument with Fran had been evidence of that. However, his realization of other people’s emotions or reasons for doing things was becoming much more apparent of recent. This was both concerning and intriguing for the clinical detective. On the one hand, this insight into human beings and his fellow species gave him an advantage of sorts. If he was savvy, Bridge could use this to his advantage. Maybe it would help in the case when interrogating, no correction, interviewing suspects. But on the other hand, there was the concern that these feelings and intuition were clouding his precise and objectionable judgement. He had to be careful not to allow his feelings get in the way of his methods of deduction.

He shivered, as a cold breeze whipped up in the car around him, sending a plastic bag tumble-weeding across the gravel in front of him. He walked to the edge of the car park and sighed. The road ahead of him was lined on either side by a screen of bushes and trees. No accessible pathway or notable footpath. Plus it was starting to get dark and the road in both directions was unlit.

Bridge was just about to hit the road and start walking into town, despite the lack of pavement and light, when a noise behind made him pause. Daisy, the young tattooed coroner was making her way out of the morgue side entrance. She carried a large box in her arms and was having a bit of difficult getting out the door. Bridge hurried over and held the door.

‘Here, let me help.’

‘Thanks.’ Daisy acknowledged but she made no effort to carry on with the conversation.

Instead, she made her way over to a small purple Ford Fiesta and starting loading her box into the boot.

‘What’s in the box?’ Bridge asked, lingering around by her car.

‘Body parts I stole from the morgue.’ Daisy replied in a dry tone, shutting her boot forcefully.

Bridge nodded with a slight smile at her joke. Seeing that this was a far as Daisy was willing to converse with him, he turned on his heels to hit the road.

‘Where’s Fran?’

Bridge turned. Daisy was lent against the back of her boot, puffing on one of those infernal vape gizmos.

‘She ditched me.’

Daisy nodded, puffing out a large cloud of smoke.

‘Can’t say I blame her. Not much of a people person are you?’

Bridge stuck his hands in his pockets and sighed.

‘It is what it is, I guess.’ He gave her a brief polite smile and turned once again to leave.

‘Come on. I’ll give you a lift.’

Bridge stopped and turned once again.

‘Sorry…I couldn’t have heard you right. I thought you just offered me a lift.’

Daisy raised her eyebrows dramatically, opening her door and sliding in the driver’s seat. Bridge watched her silently, confused at what exactly was going on. He jumped in surprise, as the engine of the car roared into life. Daisy revved it a few times before letting it fall back into a gentle and consistent rumble. The passenger window whirred into life and slid down to allow Bridge a glimpse inside the car.

‘Are you coming or what? I haven’t got all day you know.’

Unless Daisy was a serial killer, which perhaps was a possibility, considering her job description although Bridge didn’t think likely, then she really was offering him a lift. Bridge was willing to take the risk. He climbed in quickly, thankful for the car’s interior warmth.

‘Thanks.’

‘Don’t mention it.’ Daisy said casually and pulled away from the parking space, heading for the exit at the back of the car park.

 

The two sat in silence for the first five minutes of the journey, their awkwardness rife in the air. Bridge cleared his throat in an attempt to dispel the awkward silence. It didn’t have it’s desired effect.

‘Awfully nice of you to drive me all the way back to Llangaerthen.’

Daisy shrugged.

‘I have an aunt who lives there. Was dropping over to see her anyway.’

‘Oh right.’ Bridge said.

The conversation died there again and Bridge started to wonder if maybe he would have been betting walking into town and catching the train. It was as he was contemplating this whilst looking out the window, that he noticed something odd. A tall figure walking along the pavement. He did a double take as they drove past. Daisy noticed his fidgeting and frowned.

‘You alright there?’

Bridge craned his neck round to try and glimpse the man again but they were driving too fast and the figure had already disappeared from view.

‘I thought….but it couldn’t have…’

Daisy drummed her fingertips on the wheel, waiting for him to complete his sentence.

‘It doesn’t matter.’ He said finally. ‘Just looked like someone else I know.’

‘Right.’ Daisy said slowly.

She was starting to wonder if it really was the best idea to give the detective a lift back. He had been so rude and odd in the morgue that she felt no obligation to offer him a ride. Yet there was something intriguing about the eccentric fellow. He was different somehow. A social outcast that’s for certain. But then who was Daisy to judge. She spent most of her days talking to the dead.

 

The building was not just simply a shop. It housed a sizable restaurant as well. As Gethin made his way around the complex, he couldn’t help but cringe at the blatant methods the business had used to squeeze as much money out of their frail, old customers as possible. The majority of which were packed into the brightly lit restaurant or shuffling aimlessly around the shop floor with neither purpose or pace.

Eventually after much patience and several diversionary tactics, Gethin made his way to the shop counter. A short, stout man with greying hair and a large bristly mustache greeted him merrily. The contrast between this friendly fellow and the sorts Gethin had encountered on his trip to London was sizable and he took a moment to appreciate the bliss of simple life.

‘Can I help you sir?’ He repeated, noticing Gethin had not said anything for a good thirty seconds.

‘Sorry…’ Gethin said, giving the man an equally pleasant smile. ‘My name is Officer Jones. I am investigating a case local to the area.’

The stout man looked taken aback. Gethin was pleased to see this reaction. There was something almost adorable about a small town inquiry. Everyone had such tame sensibilities. Not like London. On the number of occasions he had pulled out his I.D or declared his status, people just nonchalantly rolled their eyes, like it was an everyday occurrence.  Gethin eyed the stout man’s name badge. It read Declan.

‘Declan. I know it is a big ask but would it be possible for me to talk to some of the drivers. You would be helping in solving a case and possibly in bringing closure and justice to the victim’s families.

‘I…don’t see why not…of course anything I can do….to help.’ Declan stammered, wringing his wrinkled hands nervously.

‘Then lead the way.’ Gethin said with a warm smile, gesturing towards a door behind Declan, which read ‘Staff Only.’

There was a moment’s deliberation from Declan, as he considered whether or not he should allow Gethin into the staff area. Eventually, though he conceived. Obviously the representation of the law stood in front of him was too powerful to resist and Declan was too much of a gentle soul to demand a warrant. As the stout men lead Gethin through the private door, the young officer felt his own hesitation develop. This was not his area of expertise and although he had become more adept at the methods of investigation since the case had begun, he still felt a degree of trepidation every time he had to act in an official manner.

 

Had it been Gethin, Bridge and Daisy had passed on their way out of Clandowey or was it just his mind playing tricks on him. It certainly shouldn’t be. According to Fran, the lad had used his time on leave to visit London for a few days. Surely it was just a look a like. What reason would Gethin have for visiting Clandowey anyway? Unless he knew something that he and Fran didn’t.

‘Penny for your thoughts.’ Daisy said, breaking Bridge from his train of thought.

Bridge sighed and scratched the rough skin underneath his collar irritatingly.

‘This case. It is proving more tricky then I first anticipated.’

‘Thought it would be a simple closed book affair in a backwater country town did you?’

Bridge bristled defensively.

‘I’m joking. Besides, I thought you liked this sort of thing. The thrill of the chase and all that.’

‘Well….yes…but this isn’t as much of a chase as more of a pitiful attempt to stay in the race at all.’

Daisy smirked.

‘I was being serious.’ Bridge said with a confused side glance.

‘I know.’

Bridge grumbled like a disgruntled bear and returned to looking out the window. Daisy rolled her eyes. Why were men such drama queens? Always making such a big song and dance about everything.

‘It’s Darren Rhion.’ She said, breaking the silence once more.

Bridge looked at her in stunned surprise.

‘What?’

‘The body in the morgue. It’s Rhion.’ Daisy repeated.

Blimey. Did she have to spell everything out for this guy.

‘But….why…tell me?’

‘Does that really matter?’

Bridge took a moment.

‘I guess not…it’s just…’

‘Look Fran was right when she said you were a rude and brash individual…’

‘Fran said that.’ Bridge cut in, looking taken aback and slightly hurt all of a sudden.

‘But I can tell that you are at your core…a semi decent bloke.’ Daisy carried on, unheeded.

‘Thank you.’ Bridge said, looking pleased with himself.

‘I said semi decent Bridge. Let’s not go getting cocky now.’ Daisy stressed with a stern glance.

But Bridge couldn’t help smiling. Not only did this mean that his theory on Rhion not being the killer was right but also that neither Gethin or his brothers had been harmed. He should have felt bad for late deceased Rhion but his sociopath tendencies made that incredibly hard, not to mention the fact that Rhion wasn’t the nicest of people to begin. Bridge relaxed back into his seat and closed his eyes. Maybe today wasn’t such a bad day after all.

 

Gethin readjusted himself in the low, frayed waiting room chair and glanced at the clock. It was nearly ten to five. He had been sitting here for nearly an hour now. This was nobody’s fault but his own. After showing him to the back office, Declan had consulted the ancient desktop to ascertain which driver had been assigned to Arthur’s delivery the day of the murder. The driver was a man named Simon Barnes. Now it was just a simple matter of talking to Mr Barnes and seeing if he could recall the women he spoke to on the phone. Problem was Barnes was out on delivery. Declan had advised that Gethin could come back at a more appropriate time to save hanging around. Although Gethin had appreciated the gesture, he had not come all this way to be turned around at the last minute.

So here he sat, in a stuffy waiting room with only a stack of well thumbed magazines for company. Every now and then a driver came in to help him or herself to a cup of tea or a drink of water but for the most part Gethin was alone. He was almost drifting off when finally to his great relief Simon Barnes entered the room, bringing with him a gush of cold, refreshing air.

‘Simon Barnes.’ Gethin said, getting to his hands and holding out his hand.

He knew it was Barnes without any introduction. Declan had advised that he was hard to miss, considering he was the only driver with hetechromia. This condition meant Barnes had one blue eye and one green. Much like the famous music artist David Bowie.

‘Yes.’ Barnes said cageliliy, not shaking his hand.

He looked skittish, like a wild horse about to run from an approaching human.

‘My name is Officer Jones. I am following up on a case.’ He held up his I.D.

He was beginning to get good at this. Maybe he should talk to Fran about the possibility of a promotion. He scoffed at the thought. That was the last thing Fran needed. It wasn’t like she had enough on her plate already. Noting Barnes discomfort, Gethin gave a reassuring smile.

‘Don’t worry it’s nothing serious. I just want to ask you a few questions about one of your customers: Mr Arthur Babcock.’

Barnes thought for a moment. He was an extremely tall man with a broad chest and deep, heavyset features. The little hair he had took the form of a ginger goatee, which he scratched absentmindedly as he thought. Gethin would have found the man intimidating if it had not been for the way he talked and held himself. It reminded him instantly of an overgrown child, confused and nervous.

‘Come and sit down. You must be tired from your routes.’

Barnes looked hesitant but eventually allowed himself to be led over to one of the waiting room chairs. The chair groaned under his substantial weight.

‘Did you know Arthur well?’

The giant Barnes shrugged, his broad shoulders pulled back to attention.

‘Sort of. He kept to himself mostly. We didn’t chat with each other much. He is not as talkative as some of the other ones.’

There was something odd about the way Barnes said ‘others’ but Gethin couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was.

‘So you heard about what happened to him then?’ Gethin continued.

He was trying to stay focused on his line of questioning but it was hard to concentrate. Barnes’ different coloured eyes were absorbing and he felt his gaze drawn to them every time the man spoke.

‘A terrible crime indeed.’ Barnes said morosely, bowing his head in what appeared to be respect for the deceased victim.

It was very hard for Gethin to get a read on Barnes. He was a strange mixture between an overgrown child and a gentle Buddha with the appearance of a Hell’s Angel’s gang member thrown in just to confuse the situation more.

‘Before the incident involving Arthur took place, a phone call was made to you, do you remember?’

Barnes nodded slowly, his lower lip jutting out, as he concentrated on remembering.

‘Good. Now I know it was a while ago and I am sure you have received hundreds of calls since…but can you remember who you spoke to?’

Barnes closed his eyes and a deep frown crested his Neanderthal forehead.

‘I….remember speaking….to a woman…’ He said finally.

Gethin inched closer, growing excited. This was it. He just needed a bit more to go on.

‘Did she give a name?’

‘No…’

Gethin sighed.

‘Wait…she said she was…Arthur’s daughter.’ He opened his eyes, looking pleased all of a sudden.

Gethin didn’t share his enthusiasm. The killer had obviously made this bit up to conceal their identity and shift the police’s attention. Which had worked out perfectly, Gethin brooded.

‘Did I do good?’ Barnes said hopefully.

Gethin gave him an encouraging nod.

‘You’re doing very good Simon. Now this woman, what sort of a voice did she have? Was it old, young, did it have an accent of any sort?’

Barnes frowned so hard this time, that it was hard for Gethin to make out his eyes under his mammoth eyebrows.

‘Older I think….maybe middle aged or even a little older…argh it’s so hard to remember.’ He cursed, massaging his massive egg like head.

‘It’s okay…I know it’s hard…’

Barnes nodded, sweat forming on his cheeks and temples.

‘She had a strange accent…like she was posh or well to do like…’

Gethin racked his brains, thinking of the suspects and witnesses they had interviewed. One particular witness sprang to mind.

‘Sorry…I can’t remember anything else.’

Barnes looked crestfallen, like he had just witnessed his favourite puppy being run over. Gethin reached out a hand and gave Barnes’ shoulder a tight squeeze.

‘You have done really well Simon. In fact I think you may have helped a lot.’

‘Really.’ Barnes said surprised, his face lighting up suddenly.

Gethin left it at that. It was obvious that Barnes didn’t know anything else. Even so, he did check with Declan on Barnes’ whereabouts of the night of the murder. Barnes had a alibi. He was out on deliveries most of the night. Gethin hadn’t thought Barnes was involved but he had to be thorough just in case.

As he left the food delivery depot and headed back in town, Gethin felt a sense of elation take hold of him. He hadn’t cracked the case yet. A rough description from a simpleton adult wasn’t nearly enough to prove anything. However, there was one thing that Barnes had mentioned that could put them that step closer to unveiling the truth. The killer’s accent. Now it was only a matter of trying to convince Fran and Bridge to hear him out. He just hoped he wasn’t too late before the killer struck again.

 

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2017]. 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

 

The List

Bridge woke to the sounds of banging and shouting. Under any normal circumstance he would have consider this a common occurrence, however the bright light shining through the gap in the curtains made Bridge sit up and pay attention. He rubbed his bleary eyes and groaned, as he extracted himself from the duvet covers and tiptoed gingerly over to the window. It took him three attempts to peer out the curtains, the first gave him too much of a headache and the second was far too bright for him to discern anything but blinding light.

‘Bridge, get up you lazy sack of manure.’

Bridge did not need to look out the window to confirm the visitor. He could recognize the dulcet tones of Sergeant Francesca Thomas anywhere. Pulling on some trousers, Bridge hefted up the rusty window and stuck his head out into the cool morning air.

‘Morning Fran, how are you on this lovely brisk morning?’

Fran’s stout frame sidled into view and placed her arms very pointedly on her hips.

‘Well, let me see. I am cold, tired and just been lumped with some more bad news concerning our ongoing case.’

Bridge’s eyes, although barely open, seemed to regain some semblance of attentiveness.

‘What sort of bad news?’

‘It’s better I show you then tell you, if you catch my drift.’

Bridge swallowed.

‘I’ll be down in a minute.’ He said and disappeared quickly from view.

As he hurriedly ran about searching for his various clothing, Bridge tried to focus his mind on what could have possibly happened to Darren Rhion. Yet try as he might, his head was a foggy blur. Respected detective or not, Bridge could not function without coffee. Not with the lack of sleep he had received the night before. It had been a noisy night at the pub. Some local boy’s birthday or some other such nonsense. This had been the main reason for Bridge’s late rising. That and the fact that shouting and banging outside his window was normally linked to the local youth’s late night antics.

By the time Bridge had gotten himself cleaned, dressed and somewhat half presentable, Fran had relocated to inside her car, the engine ticking over and her finger tapping irritably on the side of the wheel. She almost took Bridge’s leg off, putting her foot to the pedal before he had properly entered the passenger’s seat.

‘Could have waited till I got in the car.’ He said irritably.

‘Drink that coffee it will help.’ Fran replied, gesturing to a takeaway cup in the armrest.

Bridge opened his mouth to protest at Fran’s gruff behaviour but changed his mind. Instead he picked up the coffee cup and cradled it gratefully in his hands. It wasn’t particularly nice coffee but Bridge did not think it would be wise to highlight this qualm with Fran. Not with her current temperament anyway. Besides, the caffeine was slowly helping to cope with the crushing fatigue he felt.

When Bridge had cottoned on to the fact that they were not going to the station and rather heading out of town instead, he cleared his throat.

‘Are you planning to fill me in on where we are going at any point?’

‘You’ll see.’ She said bluntly.

Bridge sighed and stared out the window. He was obviously not going to get any answers any time soon. There was something familiar about the route Fran was taking. If he had been more knowledgeable about the area, he may have been able to hazard a guess. Unfortunately, the majority of the time Bridge had spent on the outskirts and back roads of Llangaerthen, it had been at night.

The smoke was the first thing Bridge noticed. It had drifted over from a field hidden by a low set of hills. He shot a quizzical look at Fran but she remained stoically silent.

‘Can you give me a clue at least?’

Silence. Bridge huffed and squinted at the faraway smoke. He tried to recall the last few nights. A lot had happened. But by the far the most memorable moment had been the burning field. He tented his fingers and bit his lip.

‘Is it to do with the field from the other night?’

Still Fran said nothing and pretended to concentrate on the road in front of her. But Bridge knew her well enough to tell she was deliberately ignoring him.

‘I’ve got it…you’ve found something at the crime scene. A piece of evidence.’

Fran glanced at him but remained silent, her expression blank.

‘No, that’s not it. The fire would have died down by now.’

He sat back, looking puzzled and a tad irritated. Then it hit him like a cannonball to the gut.

‘It’s a different fire…which means…’

He looked at Fran ashen faced. Her expression was grim. Bridge swallowed hard and refocused his attention on the trail of smoke, a tight knot forming in his stomach.

 

The area had been cornered off already by the time they finally arrived. Bridge was half expecting to discover the arson had occurred in a different field and so was surprised when the realization dawned it was the same field as before.

‘It’s the same field.’ He announced to Fran.

She nodded in response and parked the car as close to the field gate as possible. This turned out to not be very near at all, considering there were two fire engines and a patrol car in front of them. As they unfurled themselves out of the vehicle and approached the police caution tape, Bridge noticed something different from last time. There was no ambulance at the scene. This was either a very good thing or a very bad thing. No ambulance meant no wounded people which was good. Unless of course they were dead, which was not so good.

Ducking under the tape, Bridge recognized the young officer from the other night. Bridge felt his skin flush red with embarrassment, as he replayed the awkward situation from that night. The young officer smirked and gave a friendly smile, as Bridge passed. Fran raised an eyebrow but Bridge said nothing and hurried his step.

As they stepped into the field, he realized with a sickening lurch in his stomach that it was the latter of the two. This was mainly brought to his attention by the rancid smell of burning flesh filling his nostrils. The smell got much worse as Bridge and Fran neared the tree at its centre. Bridge felt his stomach lurch horribly but it wasn’t due to the rotting smell of flesh. He had been around enough dead bodies in all manner of grisly cases to stave off any sense of nausea. The butterflies in his belly came more from the thought of who the burned body belonged to. It was a weird sensation to feel concern over the welfare of another human being. Bridge had always had the ability to detach himself from the victims he investigated. Yet the merest possibility of it being one of Gethin’s brothers or worse yet Gethin himself, made Bridge feel utterly terrible.

There were a couple of SOCO officers in their signature white overalls inspecting the crime scene but apart from that the area was empty. It was obvious that many of the younger and more inexperienced officers assigned to the area had stayed back, not able to stomach the sight and smells of the crime scene. As they approached the blackened tree, Bridge could discern a red and white skeleton slumped against the trunk of the tree, its mouth slung open in an eerie laugh. Since having been burnt twice, there wasn’t much of the tree left standing and most of the high top branches and foliage had fallen off and lay scattered around the field.

Bridge and Fran halted a little way away from the body and watched the SOCO officers for a moment, as they huddled around the blackened bones and half dead tree.

‘Who is it?’ Bridge said darkly.

‘Not sure yet. It will need to go back to the morgue for further inspection.’

Bridge nodded solemnly.

‘I’m sure its not…’ He trailed off, noticing Fran’s ashen face and not quite knowing how to finish that sentence anyway.

‘Fran, we found something.’ One of the SOCO officers said, retrieving something from the ground and rising to his feet.

Bridge and Fran eyed one another before moving forwards to inspect the discovery.

‘What is that?’ Fran queried, holding up the small evidence bag in front of her.

‘Looks like a stud earring.’ Bridge suggested.

Fran squinted then gave Bridge a suspicious glance.

‘How do you know so much about men’s jewelry?’

Bridge flushed red with embarrassment for a moment and he quickly changed the topic.

‘Who do you think it belongs to?’

Fran chewed on the inside of her cheek, thinking.

‘Doesn’t Darren Rhion have one of these?’

‘Yeah and half the youth population of Llangarthen.’

Fran handed the evidence bag back to the SOCO officer and folded her arms.

‘Again, you seem to know a lot about men’s fashion. Something you’re not telling me Bridge?’

Bridge massaged his eyebrow anxiously.

‘My…sister makes her own jewelry.’

‘Right.’ Fran said slowly, not looking convinced at all but not pursuing the matter any further.

‘Do you think it’s Rhion?’ Fran suggested.

‘I hope so.’ Bridge answered but hurried on, as he noticed Fran’s outraged expression. ‘I mean rather then someone more important…I mean its terrible either way but…’

Fran held up her hand to stop him from rambling.

‘Bridge…it’s fine. I know what you meant.’

Bridge relaxed and turned his attention back to the smoking body.

‘Guess we will soon find out either way.’ He said grimly and turned around to head back to the car.

Fran watched him go. She felt exactly the same way which wasn’t unusual. What was unusual was that Bridge felt the same way too. He seemed to be changing. The Bridge she was looking at now was a far shot away from the one who had arrived just over a week ago. She turned her attention back to the scene in front of her. He wasn’t the only one who had changed.

 

Gethin glanced from the creased piece of paper in his hand to the grey block of buildings looming over him. There was a light misting of rain that flecked his pale Caucasian skin and made him shiver a little. There were the sounds of children playing in the nearby park, their shouts, laughter and screams competing for the most noise. Challenging them were the loud barks of dogs and cars backfiring, as gangs of kids zipped around the estate, blaring deep bass music out of their windows.

This was the last name on Gethin’s list. The others he had crossed out in thick black felt pen. He flipped up his collar to keep his neck warm and crossed the road to where the chewing gum infested concrete steps led up to the stony faced block of flats. One of the boy racers, honked at him loudly, as he made his way briskly over the road. Gethin ignored him and the insults they shouted out the window in their wake.

Mounting the steps, he felt the muscles in his legs begin to stiffen. It had been a very long day, most of which Gethin had spent either on public transport or on foot, travelling to the next person of interest on his list. He assumed it must be late, not that there was any definitive way of knowing, as the sky had remained a permanent grey since he had arrived that morning. Since his meeting, Gethin had repeatedly hit dead ends and brick walls. After talking to Arthur’s daughter, he had decided to look up his own army pals. This had proved more difficult then he had expected. A handful had passed away and a few others had moved abroad, making it impossible to contact them. The few he had managed to speak to only had good things to say about their old comrade in arms. Either his behaviour had been much less sadistic in the forces or his buddies were covering for him. Whichever one it was, he had got nowhere and he was expecting more of the same with his last visit.

Caught up in his own thoughts, Gethin nearly trod in an unpleasantly large pile of dog feces in one corner of the stairs. He wrinkled his nose in disgust and sidled past the horrid sight, continuing up to the third level, where his last hope of finding anything concrete on the killer lay.  According to the last veteran he had visited, Ex – Lieutenant David Barnes lived at number 45. It was the third door down. Gethin didn’t need to read the numbers on the door to know this was the one. It was the only door on the whole level that was immaculately maintained. The paint wasn’t peeling or cracked like the others but complete and well preserved. It was also the only flat with flowerbeds lining the windows. Gethin pulled to a halt outside the door, straightened out his collar and cleared his throat. He pushed down on the doorbell and heard the sharp ring echo through the flat.

No answer. Down below on the estate, a group of kids were riding their bikes around in a large circle. From Gethin’s position on the balcony, they looked like hungry sharks circling for the kill. He let out a sigh and went for a loud rap on the wood of the door instead. Still no answer. He was considering packing it in, when a ruffling noise to the right of him made him turn.

A man in his late fifties/early sixties was moving towards him. It was hard for Gethin to determine an exact age, due to the fact that the man was in very good shape for his age. He also moved with a litheness and ease of a prowling cat. As the man got nearer however, his age became more apparent due to the creased forehead of wrinkles and slight jowls underneath his chin. He eyed Gethin suspiciously as he approached.

‘Whatever it is you’ve got to sell, I’m not interested.’ He said gruffly, pulling his keys out of his pocket and moving in front of the door with his back to Gethin.

‘Lieutenant David Barnes.’

Barnes was halfway inside the door, when he stopped and turned to face Gethin, a hostile look on his face.

‘Who wants to know?’

‘My name is Officer Gethin Jones. I am investigating a case related to one of your former war associates.’

‘Officer.’ Barnes replied with a raised eyebrow. ‘You got any I.D?’

This would have proven tricky, seeing as Gethin had been placed on leave and his I.D. temporarily confiscated. Luckily, the young officer had had the foresight to plan for this. Just before he had departed for London, Gethin had enlisted the help of his younger brothers to retrieve the I.D. It hadn’t been particularly hard to accomplish. There were a plethora of ways to get pass Desk Sergeant Paul, be that a distraction in the form of an semi attractive female or even simply calling him out on a certain crossword answer. Once this had been achieved it was a simple matter of sneaking into the evidence room and locating his confiscated I.D. In any high tech or remotely modern police station this would have proven tricky, as a door code would bar the way. Fortunately, the code on the door had never worked. Members of the public did not attempt any break in, as they assumed it would be locked. Only officers of the law knew the truth and thus they avoided any circumstances of burglary. Until now.

Gethin produced his I.D and held it for Barnes to inspect. The ageing Lieutenant gave it a long hard look before returning his attention to Gethin.

‘How come you are not in uniform son?’

Gethin had been prepared for this as well. He had encountered the same kind of hostility and questioning from the previous contacts on the list. This was why he had stolen back his I.D. Dylan had suggested a fake one instead, to avoid having to sneak into the station but Gethin had objected. These men were highly trained and sharp witted. Everything he said and did needed to read from the book. Appear kosher, so as to avoid a shut door in the face.

‘Due to the nature of the case, my superior Detective Nicholas Bridge has sent me to ask you a few questions. We have a list of known associates with the victim and rather then spend a lot of time working through them together, we decided it best to split up duties, so as to most effectively conserve our time.’

Barnes eyed him warily for a moment. Gethin was worried that it had come across too rehearsed. It had been his speech of the day. Memorized over and over again on the train journey down. However it seemed to do the trick, as Barnes nodded. He moved inside his flat but didn’t shut the door in behind him.

‘I suppose you will be wanting tea. I will put the kettle on.’

Gethin assumed that was an invitation to come in, so without waiting any longer to find out, he brushed his shoes off on the door mat and stepped inside the dinky flat.

 

Gethin readjusted himself in the squeaky wooden chair and took a sip of the mud coloured builders tea. Barnes was stood in the corner of the room, looking out the window at the traffic streaming past on the main road, opposite the council estate.

‘Me and Arthur had our differences but I never would have wished for him to go like that.’

It was the first time Barnes had spoken since Gethin had revealed the nature of his former colleague’s death.

‘The other members of your squadron had nothing but praise for Arthur. What was he like as a soldier?’

Barnes moved away from the window and placed his mug down on the table beside Gethin. It echoed loudly through the flat. Gethin felt like he was sitting in a ghost apartment. The living room, if it could be called that, consisted of a couple of hard back chairs and a plain unadorned table, a roll out mattress, a half empty bookshelf and a slightly medieval TV set. The only thing that had struck Gethin as odd was a modern looking games console. It looked rather out of place against the minimalist furniture. The kitchen wasn’t much better. Cooker, kettle, bin and a small table pushed against one wall. Everything of use resided there, yet the place lacked any semblance of homeliness. It was very hard to gauge what sort of a man Barnes was, when his flat gave no hints or clues about his lifestyle or interests.

‘Arthur had balls. Not the most cunning or strategic of men. But I have never seen a man with such defiance or gall in a fight.’

Gethin sighed. This was the same answer he had gotten from every other member of Arthur’s team he had managed to visit. Yet there was something different. When the others had spoken of Arthur’s bravery or bullheadedness, it had been in a tone of adoration for the man. Barnes was different. He agreed with the assessment but his tone was clinical, sterile almost, as if he was merely stating a fact. Gethin took a sip of his tea and swilled the liquid around in his mouth, contemplating.

‘You were his superior right?’ He eventually asked.

Barnes nodded matter of factly.

‘Did Arthur have any problems taking orders? What was your working relationship like?’

Barnes frowned, folding his arms across his chest defensively.

‘Why do you say that?’

Gethin took a punt.

‘Some of the other guys said you two didn’t always see eye to eye.’

Barnes shot him a sharp look. None of the others actually had said this but he needed more to work with.

‘It’s true that me and Arthur weren’t best of pals.’

Gethin felt his body relax, as the punt paid off.

‘Arthur was a good soldier but the man thought he was a walking one man army.’

‘How so?’

‘He had issues taking orders and his attitude was…lacking to say the least.’

‘Did you ever feel like he undermined your authority at all?’ Gethin egged on.

Barnes glared.

‘Is this a fucking therapy session?’ He spat bluntly.

‘No…of course not.’ Gethin stammered. ‘I just want to find out what sort of a man Arthur Babcock was.’

‘In other words you want to know if I killed him or not.’ Barnes retorted, looking angry. ‘Well, I didn’t. Arthur was a pain in the arse but there are far more people I would much rather seen done harm to. I can assure you that.’

Gethin gave him a scrutinizing look, trying to decide whether he was telling the truth or not. It was very hard to tell. Barnes’ poker face was on point.

‘Is there anyone else you can think of, who would want to do Arthur harm?’

Arthur stroked his stubble, contemplating. Eventually, he shook his head.

‘No, the men loved Arthur. Looked up to like an idol. If I’m being honest, I was a little bit jealous of the bloke.’

‘Jealous?’ Gethin said intrigued.

‘I was the commanding officer and for the most part the men did as I commanded. But secretly they all favoured Arthur. Especially since he ignored my orders repeatedly.’

Gethin steeled himself for the hardest part. This was normally where the interview tended to go south.

‘Mr. Barnes. Where were you on the night of Tuesday 14th January?’

Barnes smiled ruefully.

‘I was wondering when you were going to ask that. Probably assume because I live alone that I have no alibi.’

‘Well…do you?’ Gethin said frankly.

‘I do as a matter of fact. I was at my AA meeting. You can check with my sponsor if you must.’

‘AA?’

Barnes nodded. Gethin studied him hard. He seemed genuine enough.

‘Fair enough.’ He said, rising to his feet. ‘I appreciate you sparing the time for me Mr. Barnes.’

Barnes rose as well and held out a hand.

‘I hope you find the bugger who did it. Like I said, Arthur was a bullheaded prick but he was part of my team and it is a loss to us all.’

Gethin shook his hand and left the near empty flat. As he made his way down the concrete steps, taking care to avoid the present left by the dog, Gethin felt the tiredness of the day wash over him. Like the air pressed from a balloon, Gethin felt deflated. He had been travelling all day and talking for a good few hours, yet he felt as if he had gotten no further in solving the case. If the aim of the day had been to establish who wasn’t the killer, then Gethin would have passed with flying colours. But that wasn’t much of a consolation when there was a killer roaming the Welsh valleys.

The one tiny shred of hope Gethin now clung to was that something would turn up from visiting the home delivery service. If they could determine who cancelled the meal, even if it was a vague description, they would be one step closer to solving the case. Gethin had to stay positive. Because god knows Bridge and Fran needed help if they had any hope of catching the killer.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2017]. 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A New Lead

Her initial reaction was to wrinkle her nose. There was a musty damp smell and the carpet looked like it had seen better years. One of the walls was covered in messy graffiti and the mirror on the opposite side had a large crack running through it. The ceiling light which was barely even functioning was shadeless and hung naked from a long black cable. Although everything urged her to move quickly through the house, she took her time. There could be hidden threats or enemies lurking around the corner.

The living room wasn’t much better. A faded and sagging sofa sat in one corner, its fluffy innards exposed in the half light. There was odd bits of clothing draped over the armrests or scattered over the floor. The shouting drifted towards Fran once more and she moved out of the living room, emerging into a cramped and cluttered kitchen.

Fran would have been more disgusted and appalled by the mountain of mould growing on the dishes in the sink, had she not spotted the commotion in the garden. It took her eyes a few moments to adjust to the bizarre scene in front of her. It appeared that Gethin was grappling with some sort of skinny creature, who had latched onto his back. There was no sign of Rhion from here, so Fran moved hastily through the kitchen, circumventing the leaning tower of dishes on her way past.

The garden would have been a relief from the cesspit of a kitchen, if it had not been for the smell of coppery blood that suddenly filled Fran’s nostrils. The struggle started to make more sense, as Fran hurried over. Rhion was pinned to the floor by Gethin, his face and clothes covered in dark, red blood. Gethin was hunched over him, trying to deliver more blows to the felled Rhion, whilst fighting off the attacker on his back.

It was only when Fran got closer to the scene that she realized that what she had taken to be a young boy wrapped around Gethin was in actual fact a skeletal woman. Fran had seen enough. She stormed forwards, seized the blonde Gollum from Gethin’s back and hurled her to the ground. The girl tried to get back up but Fran pushed her over with a hefty shove.

Next she grabbed hold of one of Gethin’s arms, twisted it up behind his back and forced him off the blooded Rhion, who was coughing up some of his recently dislodged teeth.

‘Gerroff Fran.’ Gethin roared, trying to squirm his way out of her vice like grip.

‘Only if you promise to stop.’

Gethin said nothing and so Fran applied a bit more pressure.

‘Okay okay.’ He cried out suddenly and swore several times, as Fran let him go.

The skinny blonde girl spat next to Fran’s foot and gave her the finger. Fran ignored it and turned her attention to Gethin.

‘You alright?’

Gethin nodded but he was still red faced and breathing heavily. His knuckles were stained with Rhion’s blood. Fran looked at the downed Rhion. He had taken a beating but he would live.

‘Why don’t you sit a moment.’ She suggested to Gethin.

‘I’m fine.’ Muttered Gethin.

‘You’re not fine Geth…look at him.’

As if on queue, Rhion let out an eerie and rather unsettling laugh. The sight was extremely garish, made worse by his toothless smile and manic eyed expression.

‘You punch like a girl.’ Rhion croaked and spat out some bloodied phlegm on the grass.

Gethin went in for another go but Fran shoved him back with a hand.

‘Don’t make this any worse then it already is.’ She said in a severe tone.

‘Listen to your mum Geth.’ Rhion chirped up.

‘Shut your face Darren.’

The blonde skinny girl was getting to her feet.

‘Where are you going?’ Fran demanded.

‘Need my fags.’ She retorted moodily.

Fran caught her by her chicken arm.

‘Get off me pig.’

Fran dug around in her pocket and brought out the packet of cigarettes she had picked up for Steven earlier.

‘Here take this but you aren’t going anywhere without my say so.’

The skinny girl took the packet resignedly. It was clearly evident that she had been planning to take something a little more stronger. She moved over and knelt beside Rhion, offering him one of the cigarettes. All the while Rhion maintained his evil smirk at Gethin, who appeared to be growing redder by the second. Noting Gethin’s bloodied hand starting to quiver, Fran led to him to one side and spoke very quietly.

‘Fran…I don’t know what to..’ Gethin mumbled out.

Fran waved her hand dismissively.

‘Don’t focus on that now. We will deal with that later. More importantly, I need you to do something for me.’

‘Yes of course…anything.’

Fran dug out her phone and handed it to Gethin.

‘Give Bridge and your brothers a ring. Tell them to come to us, so we can take these two pillocks in for questioning.’

Gethin nodded rather sheepishly and turned to head back to the house.

‘And Gethin?’

Gethin paused and twisted round.

‘Clean yourself up.’ She said with a kind smile. All the kindness in her smile couldn’t hide the concern that was clearly apparent in her eyes.

 

The three police officers waited in silence back at the station. The occasional rev of an engine or bark of a dog was the only thing to break the prolonged silence. Gethin was asleep on the office sofa, his bandaged hand hanging limply over the edge. Bridge was sifting his way through the love letters found at the victim’s house. Fran was nursing a cup of tea, staring at a scuff mark on the floor with a vacant expression. She felt like she should be doing something useful but her brain was frazzled. Glancing over at Bridge, she wondered how he did it. The ability to close off the world around him and focus entirely on the case in hand.

‘What are we going to do about Geth?’

Bridge didn’t look up at first, he was clearly too enraptured in the letter he was holding. Fran glanced sideways at the dozing Gethin. Not long after the incident at Gethin’s hideout, Bridge and the twins had turned up. Darren Rhion and his femme fatale had been taken in for questioning. Unfortunately, due to Gethin’s hasty behaviour, they weren’t able to keep him for long. Rhion had pretty much threatened a lawsuit for physical abuse and soon after he was released. They were able to hold onto the girl a little longer but it only backfired, when she cooberated his whereabouts and provided him an alibi.

Bridge wasn’t convinced and suggested they bring in the other lad for questioning. Personally, Fran didn’t see the point. Even if they did track down the lad before Rhion got there first, it would be a lot of time and effort over a very thin lead. Plus, after what Gethin did, it probably wouldn’t be the wisest move. At least not straight away anyway. So using her best negotiation techniques, she had convinced him to focus on following the evidence trail.This was just as well really because Bridge’s people skills were about a good as a faulty tumble dryer.

‘I think we are going to have to stick him on temporary leave.’

Bridge did actually look up at this. Apparently his blackened and cold heart was melting somewhat.

‘I’ve been thinking the same thing.’ He admitted. ‘We don’t want to add fuel to the fire.’

Fran gave him a scornful look.

‘Sorry, that was in poor taste.’ Bridge said with a guilty expression.

They both looked over at the sleeping Gethin. After the two suspects had been released, Fran had dropped the twins off at home. Considering Gethin’s bloodied and dishevelled state, it had been decided that it would be best to keep him at the station overnight. After a quick shower and clean up, the brothers had been given the task of concocting an alibi for theirs and Gethin’s whereabouts. It wasn’t a particularly arduous task. They had become accustomed to lying on a regular basis. Whilst it was common knowledge that their mum would soon cotton on to it, she would more then likely not want to hear the truth.

So the boys had regaled an elaborate story about Gethin catching them drag racing around town. Hence why he would be late home tonight or not at all. According to them it had set him back on what was a busy day of investigating. Angharad was suspicious but after discussing it with Fran and Gethin on the phone, she eventually accepted it. It was just as well because Gethin needed both time to cool off and sleep. Add a concerned mother into the equation and they wouldn’t hear the end of it. Fran opened her mouth to discuss the young lad’s fate, when Bridge sprung to his feet and moved over to the evidence board with an intense conviction.

‘I wonder.’ He muttered to himself.

‘What?’ Fran said, stifling a yawn.

She had experienced quite enough excitement for one day and really wasn’t interested in what Bridge had to say. He swivelled round to face her, his long coat tails swishing dramatically in his wake.

‘Darren Rhion isn’t the killer.’

Fran sighed and ran her hand through her hair agitatedly. She fixed him with a tired expression.

‘We’ve been over this. Rhion is responsible. We just need a piece of incriminating evidence to pin him down.’

‘If you are so convinced it is Rhion, why did you let him go?’ Bridge coughed pettily.

Fran pulled a face and sighed. They were going in circles.

‘You know why. Because of Rocky Balboa over there.’

But Bridge didn’t seem to be listening, he was too caught up in his out of the box theory.

‘What if Maggie is the culprit?’

Fran couldn’t help but laugh. She looked at the pile of takeaway coffee cups strewn across Bridge’s desk.

‘Just run with it for a minute.’

Fran nodded resignedly. It was easier to agree and let him wear himself out then argue.

‘All the letters have the same initial as a signature. The letter M. From looking at the evidence board, it is clear that the only person with M as an initial is Maggie.’

Fran looked at him closely. There were deep bags, underlying heavily bloodshot eyes. His face was stubbly and unshaven and she was pretty sure he was wearing the same shirt a third time in a row.

‘Bridge, when did you last sleep?’

Bridge shrugged and scratched the back of his head.

‘It’s not important.’

Fran got to her feet and clasped her hands together.

‘It really is.’

‘Maggie has motive.’ Bridge insisted.

‘How? What motive?’

Bridge looked determined to get his point across.

‘Okay, so when you talked to Maggie you said she was acting oddly, evasive even?’

‘Yes but she was probably just nervous.’

‘Or hiding something.’

‘Hiding what?’

‘A secret romance with our deceased victim for instance.’

Fran snorted in disbelief.

‘Listen to me Bridge, you need to sleep.’

‘Poppycock.’

For a split second Fran thought she was dreaming. Who on earth in this day and age said poppycock?

‘Seeing as we can’t take any further action with Rhion, can we at least look into it?’

Fran puffed out her cheeks.

‘If it will shut you up…I guess we can look into it.’

Bridge fist pumped the air and made ready to depart.

‘What are you doing?’ Fran said, outraged.

‘I thought you just said…’

Fran brandished a meaty fist at Bridge.

‘I swear to Odin, Bridge, if you say another word.’

Although keen to press on with the investigation, Bridge could see he was on thin nice. He recognized the importance of staying on Fran’s good side. She had the car and the means of reaching the Owens’ farm to question Maggie regarding the letters. Fran had slumped back in her chair and was looking extremely tetchy. Bridge took the opportunity to nip out for a rollup and leave a wide enough berth.

 

Gethin woke early with a considerable amount of pain and discomfort. Cradling his bandaged fist, he sat up on the sofa and attempted to stretch out his crumpled spine. Looking around the dim office, which was gradually growing lighter in the early morning light, he caught sight of Bridge.

He was hunched over a desk, typing away rapidly on a small notebook laptop. At some point in the night, he had cleared a section of the office floor and placed an array of papers in a circle pattern. He paused, mid type, got to his feet and sat down in the middle of the paper circle. He was clearly engrossed in his work because he hadn’t notice Gethin stir.

Massaging his throbbing hand, Gethin rose to his feet and groaned. He hadn’t felt this bad since his younger years of drinking and pub scraps.

‘Morning Gethin,’ Bridge said cheerfully, without looking round.

Gethin shuffled over to where Bridge sat and ran a cursory eye over the piece of paper.

‘Why are you so chipper?’ He croaked.

Everything hurt Gethin both physically and mentally. Although Gethin had done much of the beating, he had discovered that Rhion’s face was actually rather hard. In addition to this, the teeth that he had managed to knock out had chipped and cut his knuckles. Bridge jumped sprightly to his feet and was about to outlay his fantastic theory, when he realized his folly.

‘It’s not important.’ He mumbled into his collar and darted quickly back to his laptop.

Gethin crouched down and inspected one of the unfolded pieces of paper.

‘You’ve been studying the love letters.’ He said curiously.

‘Mmhm.’ Bridge muttered, typing loudly to drown out further questioning.

Gethin scanned the neat handwriting. Here and there, Bridge had highlighted and underlined key words and phrases.

‘Found anything relevant?’

‘Not really.’ Bridge shrugged.

Gethin gave him a sardonic look. Bridge continued to pretend he wasn’t there.

‘Whose M?’ Gethin enquired, noticing the emphasis of red circles around the letter at the bottom of the page.

Again Bridge ignored him, his typing taking on a frantic and hurried nature. Gethin winced as he got to his feet and moved over to where Bridge was sat. His shoulders were tightly bunched and his attitude uncomfortable.

‘Is this because you think I will be angry if you tell me you’re not pursuing Darren Rhion?’

‘No.’ Laughed Bridge nervously. Gethin gave him a look of pure scepticism. Bridge crumbled all too easily.

‘Maybe…I just thought…that…well seeing as…’

Gethin smiled at the blabbering Bridge. A devious part of him wanted to draw out his suffering. Eventually though, it just became too painful and so he held up a hand to silence him.

‘Bridge, shut up.’

Bridge was taken aback by Gethin’s words.

He knew they were more familiar in the countryside but Bridge was still his superior. He was about to say as much but Gethin got there first.

‘I don’t mind Bridge.’

‘Yeah but the reason I…wait what?’

‘I said I don’t mind.’

Gethin although in mass amounts of pain produced a calm smile. The truth was he felt calm. I mean sure Gethin was in considerable discomfort. Who wouldn’t be after nearly breaking their hand. Yet at the same time he had expended a great deal of anger and frustration. Whilst not entirely happy about Rhion walking out the door scot free, it was a consolation that he had got to pummel Rhion’s stupid face in.

‘But I thought.’

‘Look I know Rhion isn’t the murderer. The bloke can hardly string two sentences together let alone commit a planned and precise murder.’

Bridge slapped the table in triumph.

‘That’s what I said but did Fran believe me, did she f…’

He faltered, as Fran entered the room with a tray of coffee and biscuits.

‘Morning Fran.’ He said, kicking Gethin in the shin, who was chuckling to himself.

Fran brought over the tray and frowned at the two men in front of her.

‘You two seem in good spirits.’ She said, handing Gethin a mug of coffee.

‘Bridge has a theory on the eye gouger.’

Fran sighed.

‘Yes, I am quite aware of Bridge’s crackpot theory. Please tell him to stop wasting his time.

‘Actually, I think I will hear him out first.’

Fran nearly dropped her tray in surprise.

‘Thank you Gethin.’ Bridge said smugly and retrieved his coffee.

Fran glared at the enthusiastic Bridge, who proceeded to explain his Maggie Owen theory. It wasn’t that she was infuriated by the theory itself but rather that he was discussing case material with Gethin. Especially, since the two of them had sat up most of the night, discussing how best to approach Gethin. Well she had talked. Bridge on the other hand had merely nodded and grunted. It was obvious now Fran reflected on it. Bridge hadn’t been listening at all. The only reason she had let it slide was because she had been so shattered from the previous day’s events.

Still,  she had thought that the man surely couldn’t be as ignorant to disregard her concerns entirely. Yet here he was, blabbering away, as if nothing had occurred the previous night.

‘So that’s when I came to the conclusion that this could be a revenge killing.’

Bridge paused, noticing that Fran was acting rather bizarrely. She was clearing her throat unnaturally loudly and making weird spasms with her head.

‘You alright there Sergeant Thomas. Had a bit too much coffee have you?’

Fran sighed heavily and shot Bridge the daggers.

‘Detective Bridge, may I have a word with you outside?’

It wasn’t a question as much as a demand.

‘What’s going on?’ Gethin interjected, noticing the menacing growl of Fran’s voice.

Fran and Bridge glanced at one another helplessly, at a loss for words. Then Bridge did something quite unexpected.’

‘I’m afraid I have some bad news.’

His tone was serious all of a sudden.

‘What? Has someone died or something?’

Bridge and Fran both looked uncomfortable. Gethin pulled a face of having put his foot in it.

‘Oh god they did, didn’t they?’

Bridge shook his head and took a deep breath.

‘Me and Fran have come to a decision that because of certain events, it would be best if you took a little bit of time off.’

Bridge winced and even Fran took a step back, mentally preparing themselves for a shitstorm. However, the storm of shit never arrived.

‘No worries. I was thinking of taking a few days off. Might go away somewhere nice.’

Gethin wasn’t sure what he found more amusing, the expressions on Bridge and Fran’s faces, or the fact that he had one up on them.

‘And…your not…upset about this?’

Gethin shrugged and massaged his hand.

‘Look I know I overstepped the mark last night.’

He held up his damaged hand.

‘And besides, it’s not like I can do much with this.’

Bridge nodded understandably and took a sip of coffee. There was a moment’s silence. No one knew what to do, as they had all  been expecting a lengthy and serious conversation.

‘Must nip to the loo.’ Gethin announced and made tracks quickly.

Fran and Bridge glanced at each other awkwardly.

‘Well that was a turn up for the books.’ Bridge commented.

‘Yes…it was.’ Fran replied, her eyes narrowing.

Gethin was never this logical and sensible. Fran suspected foul play afoot.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2016]. 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.

Around The Bend

‘Any luck?’

Gethin glanced over at Bridge, who was peering at him over a large book. Gethin shook his head and put the phone down.

‘Won’t even go to voice mail, just cuts off after dialling for ages.’

Bridge nodded grimly and returned his attention to the book in front of him. It was a large blue covered volume with a large illustrated dream catcher on the front of it. Stacked in a neat pile on the table next to him were an assortment of titles. Gethin titled his head to one side and studied some of the lettering. One was entitled ‘Shamanism and connection with the spirits’ and another ‘Witchcraft for beginners’.

‘Found anything useful?’

Bridge drummed his fingers on the binding of the book in his hands and pondered his new found knowledge.

‘Well from what I have read so far, it seems that they are of Native American origin and their main purpose is to catch bad spirits and dreams.’

‘Like a filter that gets rid of the negative ones.’

‘Yeah sort of.’ Bridge replied with an awkward tilt of the head.

Recently Gethin had been surprising him with his quick deductions. Since the fiasco with his brothers, Gethin had put his head down and cracked on with his work. Bridge should have been pleased by this notion, as this meant they were reading off the same page. Yet at the same time, he couldn’t help but feel Gethin was stealing some of the limelight. Bridge was intently egocentric. Curse of being an only child.

‘So do you think these dream catchers are linked at all? Maybe it is part of the ritual…you know to cleanse the victim’s of their negative energy.’ Gethin asked, gesticulating wildly with his hands.

Bridge looked doubtful.

‘To be honest I wouldn’t connect those two. I mean don’t get me wrong, it’s an interesting idea but I think it’s rather a hobby or obsession of hers.’

Gethin’s eyes flickered to the book in Bridge’s hands and noticed his fingers tighten ever so slightly at its edges. He knew Bridge was lying through his teeth. He felt the urge to say as much but he refrained. Probably best not to provoke his superior. Besides Bridge could have his petty victory shot. Gethin knew he was on to something.

Sensing the bitter tension between the, Gethin rose to his feet and clapped his hands together briskly.

‘Fancy a cuppa?’

Bridge gave a mumbled no and returned his attention to the book. Gethin rolled his eyes and slumped off to the lobby. Exiting out into the foyer, he breathed a sigh of relief and stretched out his arms and legs, omitting a loud moan.

Desk Sergeant Paul, who was dozing under his daily Sudoku, didn’t stir and continued to snore in the most attractive of ways.

Feeling mischievous, Gethin crept up stealthily until he was stood in front of the desk. Then suddenly he brought down his hands on the desk with a terrific bang.

Desk Sergeant Paul choked on a snore and woke in alarm. Due to the tilt of his chair and slumped position, he jumped and fell backwards, the newspaper flying up into the air in his wake. Quick as a flash, Gethin was through the doors to the break room before Desk Sergeant Paul had time to recover himself. As Gethin pottered around the break room, grinning to himself, he could hear Desk Sergeant Paul cursing profusely.

He took his time, not wanting to reappear too early with such a big grin still plastered to his face. Eventually, when he did remerge, he was surprised at what was waiting for him in the lobby. A grim faced Bridge was stood at the desk. Gethin’s hand shook ever so slightly and some coffee splattered the linoleum floor, to join the other dubious stains collected there. His loss of confidence lay in the fact that he presumed his joke had gone horribly wrong.

‘Gonna have to put that on hold.’ Bridge instructed, gesturing at Gethin’s coffee mug.

Gethin placed the mug carefully down on the counter, for fear of more spillage and took a moment of respite. He caught sight of Desk Sergeant Paul. He was on the phone and stern faced.

‘What’s going on?’

Bridge and Desk Sergeant Paul glanced at one another apprehensively.

‘You may want to sit down for this’. Bridge advised, taking Gethin by the arm and leading him over to a chair.

Gethin now looked ashen faced, as his concern at a practical joke gone wrong had quickly developed into something apparently far more serious.

‘I’d rather stand’. Gethin said with a brave smile.

‘Very well.’ Bridge said and slipped his hands awkwardly into his pockets.

‘There was an incident out by the Esso garage.’

Gethin nodded mutely, unable to offer any more input.

‘Your brothers were involved.’

Despite his reservations to sit down, Gethin did in fact perch on the edge of the plastic chair.

‘Now don’t worry, there fine, just a little shook up is all.’

Gethin nodded, holding back the nausea. It was more his mum he was worried about than anything else. Gethin was use to his brothers getting in trouble, as was his mum. Difference was, she still couldn’t cope very well with it.

‘Now don’t go off the handle or anything but I don’t think Darren Rhion took too kindly that they grassed him up.’

Gethin shot him a sudden look, which was a combination of anger and disbelief.

‘What do you mean grassed him up?’

Bridge felt hot behind the ears all of a sudden and he grasped for a response hurriedly but his brain failed him woefully.

‘Bridge.’ Gethin growled, clenching the underside of his chair, the plastic tightening under his grip.

‘…didn’t…Fran tell you?’

Gethin shot him a look that said plain as day, ‘no’.

‘What did Darren do?’

Bridge shuffled his feet awkwardly.

‘It’s not important what he did.’

‘Tell me Bridge.’

Bridge swallowed rather hard.

‘He may have tied them to a tree and set the surrounding field on fire.’

Before Bridge had time to go on, Gethin was already on his feet and heading for the door. Bridge promptly followed and disappeared out the door behind him. Desk Sergeant Paul, who was massaging his back from the fall looked up and announced rather grumpily.

‘Oh, I’m fine by the way.’

 

Gethin and Bridge were mostly silent on the car journey out of town. Gethin was a pale shade of grey, his knuckles whitened from his tight grip on the steering wheel. Bridge was deep in thought about Darren Rhion. Part of it lay with the annoyance of possibly missing him by being just a fraction too late. Strangely though Bridge had grown prone to pangs of guilt of late. Despite being certain that he held no conscience, Bridge apparently was more sympathetic then he gave himself credit for.

There was a part of him, that was only a slither mind, which felt somewhat relieved. If Fran had turned up any earlier she would have encountered a volatile Darren Rhion. He was not of the mind that Fran was incapable of defending herself. More that their chances would have faired a lot better with three people instead of one.

The prolonged silence was suddenly broken by a loud, harsh siren. Gethin pulled over into a nearby layby, as a bright red fire engine zipped past., making Gethin’s small car wobble in it’s wake. Gethin and Bridge exchanged looks.

‘I’m sure they are fine.’ Bridge reassured but his eyes said otherwise.

Gethin said nothing and pulled out of the layby and continued down the road.

 

After a series of twists and turns, that usually would have thrown Bridge around in his seat, they began to see red and blue flashing lights over in the next valley. Under any other circumstance, Bridge would have been relieved for the more gentle drive. However, he had too much on his mind to relax. The reason for Gethin’s careful driving was because he was incredibly anxious.

Granted, when he found his brothers and made sure they were alright, those feelings of nausea would be replaced by anger. Cop or no cop, Gethin would be paying a visit to Rhion. For the meantime however, he was more concerned with making sure his brothers were safe.

As they neared the light beacons, smoke began to creep up to them from the road ahead. It wasn’t nearly as thick or dense as when Fran had arrived but it was a big fire and had spread quickly. Rounding the corner, the smoke ahead of them took on a distinctly red hue, with a tint of blue. Bridge was reminded heavily of that scene from ‘The Silence of The Lambs’ where Agent Starling had descended into Hannibal Lector’s cell.

Due to the narrow shape of the road ahead and the queue of police cars and fire engines, Gethin was forced to stop. There were firemen stood between the vehicles further ahead, their luminous jackets glowing in the night. Gethin and Bridge made their way up the road, sidling between the vehicles. A police cordon had been set up and a shivering policeman was stood in front of it. He stiffened upon seeing Bridge, not noting any sign of police dress code.

He went to raise his hand but noticed Gethin all of a sudden and relaxed as they approached, the officer lifted up the tape, gesturing them under. Gethin did so without hesitation but Bridge paused for a moment.

‘What’s your name son?’

The officer looked round at him slightly startled. His nose and cheeks were a bright red and he looked even more of a baby then Gethin.

‘Officer Cope.’

‘And can you explain to me why you didn’t check to see our identification?’

A slightly taken aback Cope looked to Gethin, unsure how to respond.

Gethin sighed.

‘Come on Bridge, do we really have to do this now. There are more important things.’

Bridge huffed loudly.

‘I don’t think either of you realize how essential this most basic of training is. What could stop the perpetrator from donning a convincing police disguise and walking straight past?’

Gethin rolled his eyes.

‘That’s a bit bloody elaborate , don’t you think?’

‘We are talking about a person who is methodical, precise and highly intelligent. So yes it is the definition of elaborate.’ Finishing his preach of a speech, he turned his attention to Cope once more.

‘So I ask you again. Why didn’t you ask for credentials?’

‘Well…me and Gethin both did police training together.’

Bridge felt the wind slacken from his prideful sails. He looked to Gethin for clarification, who nodded. Bridge cleared his throat.

‘Very well then.’ And went to duck under the tape.

Cope dropped it, barring Bridge’s way.

‘Having said that sir, I know Gethin but I don’t know you.’ He straightened up professionally. ‘Can I see some credentials sir?’

Bridge flushed red and searched his pockets for his I.D. Gethin smiled to himself, as Bridge fumbled for his badge. When he finally produced it, Cope inspected it carefully before letting Bridge under the cordon. He walked straight past Gethin’s smug face.

The fire had nearly extinguished but there were still a few firemen hosing down some of the smaller flame points. They found Fran at the top of the field, her hands deep in her pockets. She stood with her back to them, watching the dwindling fires slowly being put out. Dylan and Rhys were sat in the back of a nearby ambulance, swatting away the hovering medics.

Gethin and Bridge parted ways. Gethin towards the back of the ambulance, whilst Bridge moved over to talk to Fran.

 

‘Get off me mun, I’m fine.’ Dylan shrugged off a medic, who was attempting to inspect the rope welts on his wrists. She glanced at Gethin, who gestured for her to lay off for the moment. She relented and went off to busy herself with another task. When she was out of earshot, Dylan gave Gethin a wink.

‘I think I’m well in there bro.’

Gethin refused to crack a smile. Instead he moved forwards and carried out a rather rough and thorough examination of his brothers. Usually, he would have refrained from grappling with the terrible twins. But today he was not going to be dismissed. Eventually, when he had established they were okay, he stood back and folded his arms. Apart from a few scratches and the rope marks, they appeared unhurt.

Dylan look unconcerned and seemed more interested in the medic, who was fastidiously ignoring him. Rhys was quiet and huddled in one corner, his head bowed in his lap.

‘So…you guys going to tell me what happened?’

Rhys said nothing and Dylan shrugged non commitmently.

‘Right…so you just happened to end up tied to a tree in a burning field.’

Dylan got up and brushed past Gethin, slapping him heartily on the shoulder.

‘No worries Geth, we both just got a little toasty is all.’

Gethin shoved him hard in the chest and said in a serious tone.

‘Tell me, who did this?’

For the first time in many years, Gethin looked like a force to be reckoned with. Rhys retreated further inside the safety of the ambulance, whilst Dylan glanced every direction but Gethin. However, enough had been said and demonstrated in their evasive behaviour.

‘It was Rhion, wasn’t it?’

Dylan met his stare and the looked spelled it out clear as a day.

‘Right.’ Gethin said decisively and went to turn on the spot.

‘Don’t do anything stupid, you don’t want to go sticking your nose in the wrong places.’ Dylan said, catching him by the arm and shooting with a warning stare.

Gethin studied him closely and the grim expression startled him somewhat. He nodded and squeezed his brother’s arm before moving away.

 

Bridge cursed, as he took his first step into the field and his nice, shiny shoes were sucked down into the mud. Fran didn’t even look around at his exclamation. She was staring blankly at the blackened tree. Bridge drew his tobacco tin out of his pocket and pulled out two pre rolled smokes. He offered one to Fran, who took it without hesitation.

Fran initially flinched at the flame of Gethin’s lighter before relaxing once more. She took a deep intake of the rollup and breathed out slow and deeply. Her hands were steady and despite appearing a little shaky, she seemed more exhausted then anything.

‘I think I could actually fall asleep standing up.’

Bridge smiled to himself and took a puff on his own rollup.

‘If I was just here a little bit sooner.’ Fran berated herself.

Bridge glanced sideways at her.

‘You mustn’t think like that. Just be grateful that you got here in time to rescue Dylan and Rhys.’

Fran shrugged and threw away the remaining half of her rollup. She had inhaled enough smoke for one day.

‘Doesn’t it annoy you though? To have something in the palm of your hand, for it to only slip away at the last moment.’

Bridge shook his head with a knowing smile.

‘What?’ Fran said hotly.

‘You have been hanging around me too much. OCD doesn’t suit you Sergeant Thomas.’

Fran acknowledged the remark but she failed to see the funny side of it. It was all very well and good for Bridge to laugh at. To him it was just another case. An interesting puzzle not yet completed at the corners. But to Fran it meant a great deal. These victims, witnesses and suspects were all people she knew.

‘Maybe we are going about this the wrong way.’

Fran looked round at Bridge, who was stroking his chin. It looked almost comical with the lack of facial hair he had.

‘What do you mean?’

‘It just doesn’t make sense to me. The first murder we saw was cold and calculated. Heavily planned and precisely executed. Whereas this…’ He trailed off. ‘Well, it just fails to correlate.’

Fran frowned. She was finding it hard to concentrate. The scenario she had just witnessed kept fighting to take over her thoughts entirely.

‘But Rhys confirmed to seeing Rhion in that field and to the discrepancy of his whereabouts on the night in question.’

Bridge went to interrupt but Fran powered on. Plus, it would make sense that Rhion would do this. Surely, it’s a revenge attack for blabbing to us.’

Bridge nodded but didn’t look particularly happy about it.

‘I know, you’re probably right. I’ve just got this feeling.’

Fran was taken aback.

‘It’s unlike you to go on hunches. I thought you were all about the evidence ?’

Bridge grinned in acknowledgement.

‘What can I say. Must be this country air getting to me.’

A series of loud shouts made the pair of them look around. There was a screech of tyres and a small car zipped off down the lane. Bridge and Fran trudged their way back to the road, where they encountered a seething Dylan and a worried Rhys.

‘What’s going on boys?’ Fran queried.

‘Geth’s go rogue. I think he has gone to find Darren Rhion. We’ve got to stop him.’ Rhys explained desperately.

‘Come on, we will take my car.’

Fran and Bridge hurried off to her car.

‘What do you two think your doing?’ Bridge snapped at the twins, who were following close behind.

‘We’re coming with you.’

‘Out of the question.’

Seeing the standoff which was about to ensue, Fran interjected.

‘Fine, get in the back and stay there.’

‘Fran, I must protest.’

‘Just get in the car Bridge, we don’t have time for this.’

So forceful was her tone that Bridge obeyed and the four of them climbed in, keen to catch up with Gethin.

 

Gethin sped around the winding Welsh roads, his previous slow and measured driving having gone promptly out the window. The only thing that stopped him from losing control was the sheer determination to reach his destination. Rhys and Dylan were correct in their assumption. Gethin was out for blood. Darren Rhion’s blood to be precise. He swerved round a corner and had to scrape his car along the hedge to the left, in order to avoid a car coming the other way. The driver gave a sharp blast of his horn but it soon faded out of earshot, as Gethin zipped off once again.

So many different thoughts competed for space in his head, the latter of which throbbed painfully with the effort. Most of his mind was set on pursing, capturing and dishing out the necessary punishment to Darren Rhion. However, a small portion, although not enough to dissuade him entirely, did fret upon the repercussions of what he was about to do. Then there was the most difficult issue of them all, Gethin’s mum. If he didn’t do anything she would still blame him. Unfortunately, he was too driven by revenge and so putting his foot to the floor, Gethin zoomed away into the night.

 

Fran drove as fast as she could, which surprised Bridge somewhat. He was used to her painstakingly slow journeys but tonight she was zipping around the corners like a bat out of hell. However, unlike Gethin’s reckless driving, Fran was highly controlled and skilled in her manoeuvring. Bridge was continually surprised by Fran’s hidden talents, this being yet another string to her bow. Despite being slightly excited by the more thrilling journey to their destination, Bridge couldn’t help feeling apprehensive. He had seen how Gethin had reacted back at the office, not to mention his occasional tendency to lose control of his temper. Bridge glanced sideways at Fran to gauge her state of mind. If she was concerned at all, Fran was concealing it well. The truth was she was equally as anxious but at this moment she needed to focus all her attention on driving to the best of her ability. It felt weird to be driving in this manner, having been many years without a cause to execute her police trained manoeuvring. Apprehension had been tantamount before she had entered the car. However, she had remembered it surprisingly well.

 

Gethin slowed as he entered Llangaerthan. Rhion was a slippery fish, never in one place too long. Now that he didn’t live at home, there were a multitude of places he could be bunkered down at. Gethin knew that he only had one shot of finding Rhion in time. If it wasn’t the first place he looked, then Gethin wouldn’t have time to chase other hotspots around town. By that time Fran and Bridge would have caught him up and any chance of personal revenge would soon be scrapped. Turning left, he took an estimated guess and headed to the other end of town, where the large Co-Op was located.

Bridge and Fran were encountering their own set of issues. Mainly that of being stuck behind a country bus. Fran drummed her fingertips on the wheel agitatedly, whilst Bridge tried to crane his neck to see a gap past. Rhys stuck his head out of the passenger window and bellowed at the back of the bus.

‘Move out the way you fat arsed pillock.’

‘Get inside.’ Bridge barked at him.

Dylan pulled Rhys back into the car but couldn’t help omitting a grin. Bridge sighed and leant back his head. A small frown rippled across his forehead.

‘Fran?’

‘Hmm.’ Fran said distractedly.

Her attention was fixed raptly on the bus in front of her.

‘How are you we going to find Darren Rhion?’

Fran looked round at him puzzled.

‘Well we just…’ She trailed off, realizing the problem.

How on earth were they meant to find him if they had no idea where he was staying? Bridge twisted round in his seat.

‘Don’t suppose you guys know where your mate could be?’

Rhys and Dylan discussed the matter between them. After low murmurings and a series of hand gestures, Dylan turned to Bridge.

‘There are several places he could be in all honesty.’

‘Bollocks.’ Bridge exclaimed.

Both Rhys and Dylan were surprised by Bridge’s outburst. Even Fran was taken aback. Bridge paid it no heed and sat back in his chair, trying to figure out how best to solve their current predicament.

‘Why don’t you pop your siren on Fran. It is official police business.’ Rhys suggested.

Fran glanced at the dormant piece of police equipment, that was stuffed in the side door compartment. It had been so long since its last use, that it had actually gathered a thin layer of dust. Fran was unsure it still even worked.

‘No point. Even if I did, this lane is still narrow to allow me past.’

Dylan slapped the back of Bridge’s headrest in frustration. Eventually, a gap did appear and Fran was able to squeeze past the bus and shoot off into the night.

By the time they reached Llangaerthan, they were well behind schedule. The bus had set them back quite considerably. Fran pulled up near the fountain and kept the engine ticking over, as the three men jumped out the car. To any normal bystander, it probably looked like they were planning to pull off a bank heist. The reality was that they were really planning to execute a four man manhunt. They had previously made an agreement that they should split up, in a better effort to collar the elusive Rhion. Each person had their own location to inspect. Dylan had been assigned the playground, Rhys: the chippy and Bridge: Darren’s mother’s house. Fran on the other hand had decided to go down to the Co Op. The house sat opposite the store was the lad’s chillout zone and the prime location Rhion was likely to be.

There was only a handful of cars parked in the co op parking lot. It was a late Sunday evening and the store had closed several hours ago. It didn’t take Fran long to find Gethin’s car. Not only was it parked diagonally across two bays but the driver’s door had been flung open and the engine was still running.

Fran parked up quickly, doing a slightly better then a slapdash Gethin but also keen to reach the house as soon as possible. As she approached the main road that led out of town, Fran could see that the front door to the house opposite was ajar. She hopped from foot to foot pensively, glancing desperately up and down the road, looking for a gap to sprint across.

Finally the traffic faltered and she made her move. A wall of sounds hit her as she reached the foot of the front garden. Loud bassy dubstep pounded out of an upstairs window but it wasn’t the music disturbance Fran was worried about. High pitched screams and deep shouts could be heard from inside. A couple of houses down, a neighbour’s dog had joined in with the commotion.

Slipping her car keys into her hand, Fran cautiously approached the open door. There was a sound of something being smashed and a moment later, a spotty looking kid with baggy trakkies and a white baseball cap tore out of the house. Fran tensed herself, fearing he might try and jump her but instead the kid came to a sudden halt, a look of pure fear in his eyes.

‘He’s going to kill him. You have to do something.’ He implored, his hands shaking uncontrollably.

Fran took a deep breath, trying to still her own nerves.

‘Wait here.’ She ordered with such authority, that the kid wouldn’t dare so no, for fear of her reckoning.

She knew this should be the point where she called backup but by the time that happened it could be too late. Readying herself she stepped over the doorstep and into the dank corridor.

© [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.

 

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.