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


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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maria

Maria sat at the small dressing room table staring with a blank expression at the empty notebook that lay open in front of her. She was an immensely beautiful woman with long wavy auburn hair that reached down to her shoulders. Her eyes were a mesmerizing green with a feline quality about them. She had large sumptuous red lips and a warm enveloping smile. She wore a short silky black dressing gown with a red and golden dragon embroided on the back. She sat with her legs crossed which were bare and lightly tanned. Her skin was delicately smooth and soft to touch. Her chestnut brown hair hung untidily in front of her. She picked up the hairbrush next to the open book and began to comb her hair, staring out the window absent mindlessly as she did so. The sharp shrill sound of the doorbell ringing brought her back to reality. She got up hurriedly, stuffing the notebook and brush into the open draw and slammed it shut. She stopped suddenly catching sight of herself in the mirror; she examined her appearance for a few seconds, brushed her hair back with her hand and hugged her dressing gown closer round her body. Satisfied with her appearance she rushed to the stairs and flew down them quickly. She reached the door as the bell rung again, this time more prolonged.

‘I’m coming, I’m coming’.

She undid the lock and threw open the door. She screamed and was thrown backwards inside the house crashing into the kitchen door and sliding to the floor in a crumpled heap. She lay still. Blood seeped through her dressing gown and down her long slender legs. A tall broad man stepped inside the house closing the door behind him. He was dressed in a black suit with a green tie and corresponding bright green trainers. On top of his suit the man wore a long trench coat that reached to his knees. He wore a pair of thick black leather gloves which were gripped tightly around a sawn-off shotgun. He wore a pair of black aviators so his eyes were hidden and the bottom half of his face was concealed by a red bandana. On top of his head sat a dusty brown cowboy hat. He stood motionless in the hallway for half a minute before he spoke two words in a deep Scottish accent.

‘Nice house’.

He walked over to Maria, his green trainers moving soundlessly across the wooden floorboards. There was blood smeared down the kitchen door. Maria’s head was bent forward and her legs were sprawled out in an awkward position.

‘The names Tom, nice to meet you ma’am’ the man said aloud peering at the notice board on the wall next to him.

The cork board was covered in sketches of birds and the occasional one of a black cat.

‘There very good’ he said. ‘You have a natural talent for drawing’.

Silence. He walked over to Maria and stood still watching her intently.

‘Not much of a talker are you?’

He took of his glasses to reveal a pair of beady pallid blue eyes. He retrieved a cloth from his pocket with his available hand and began to clean his glasses meticulously, his eyes still focused on Maria. He sighed deeply

‘What a shame eh, you were one of the pretty ones’. He returned the cloth to his pocket and repositioned his glasses. ‘Well it’s been lovely talking to you doll but I have things to do so if you would excuse me’ he announced tapping his hat.

He walked to the bottom of the stairs and stopped. The black cat from the drawings sat watching Tom from the second step its head resting on one side.

‘Hello Mr Cat’ he said calmly holding out his hand.

The cat swiped at Tom furiously catching the back of his hand and drawing blood.

‘You son of a bitch’ he cried aloud as the cat hissed loudly and bolted up the stairs.

He dug his unscathed hand into his pocket and produced a silk handkerchief with the initials TK sown in the corner. He wrapped the handkerchief around his wounded hand and proceeded up the stairs after the cat.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2014]. 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 Necklace

She had to find the necklace before it was too late. If it fell into the wrong hands then all hell would break loose. Jane returned to the King’s Arms to retrace her steps and was horrified to discover that the place was swarming with Metropolitan Police. Seeing the police cars and ambulances parked along the curb she carried on ahead, not stopping for fear of being approached by one of the young uniforms. Once she had turned off the street into one of the residential side roads she found a free parking spot and squeezed her banged up Volvo into the tight gap. Jane caught sight of herself in the rearview mirror and took a deep breath. Her bottom lip quivered ever so slightly, the rouge lipstick was smeared and her mascara had run. She quickly and efficiently removed her make up, paranoid that her disheveled appearance might attract unwanted attention.

As she climbed out of the beaten up vehicle she felt naked without her slap on. Her confidence that had already taken a beating was beginning to crumble, revealing the shy and nervous creature beneath. A chill breeze surfaced, scooping up an empty crisp packet and rolling it across the fag-encrusted pavement. Jane shivered in her thin cardigan and skinny jeans and cursed herself for choosing fashionable clothing over sensible. A piece of discarded chewing gum attached itself to the bottom of her converse, slipping in between the grooves. On any other day Jane would have been distraught as she took great pride in keeping her footwear immaculately clean but not today. Her mind was too preoccupied with her current predicament.

She reached the corner of the road and peered round the side of one of the houses. Another car had pulled up outside the pub. It wasn’t a patrol car like the others but the two men that climbed out of the vehicle had an air of self-importance about them. Must be detectives Jane thought to herself. Her dark eyes scanned the street, searching for a possible route inside the building. Barriers had been set up along the pavement to prevent nosy members of the public getting too close to the pub. Crowds huddled around these barriers, eager to see some action. Jane blew at a stray ginger curl dangling in front of her eye that was immediately replaced by another. As much as she loved her fiery frizz of hair it did get it the way. Jane didn’t complain about her hair much. It was the one part of her body that she truly felt comfortable with. It gave her confidence and she attributed much of her male attention to the fact that redheads were desperately sought after at the moment. Her eyes hovered on the group of hopeful spectators and a plan began to form in her head.

She was just about to push off from the wall when a large hairy, arm appeared around her neck and yanked her backwards. She screamed and kicked out as she was pushed roughly into the back of a dark van. A sack was shoved onto her head and something sharp pierced the flesh of her neck. Jane stopped struggling and fell limp. Slowly she drifted out of consciousness.

Detective Dylan Barnes glanced at the shattered window and then down at the broken glass scattered across the pavement and sighed. He knew it was going to be a messy one and unfortunately for Barnes the messier the case the more complicated. He overheard voices and turned his attention to his partner Sergeant Patricia Simms. She was questioning one of the uniforms posted outside the pub doors. The young uniform looked unwilling to cooperate at first but Simms aggressive almost masculine behavior quickly made him change his mind. Barnes liked Simms. She was dedicated, quick to learn and spunky. He had been dubious at first working with a female partner, his prejudices getting the better of him. But he soon learnt that Simms was a far better police offer then many of her other colleagues. Before Simms had been assigned to Barnes’s detail he had had a run of bad partners. Either too dim or too lazy to do any decent police work.

‘Uniform says that it’s a right bloodbath in there. Possibly gang related.’ Simms said appearing at Barnes’s side.

Despite Simms’ impressive abilities as a cop Barnes couldn’t stand her overtly masculine bearing and attitude. She never wore skirts. Always opting for the smart trousers and jackets instead, Her hair was short and spiky which made her look boyish and she adamantly refused to wear heels.

‘Great just what we need. Another bleeding gang war on our hands.’ Barnes groaned and dry washed his three-day-old stubble.

He was in desperate need of a good cup of tea with plenty of sugar. Shooting pains plagued his back due to another night asleep in the downstairs armchair. It could hardly even be called a night as he had only managed three hours before he was roused from his slumber by the ever demanding telephone.

‘Lead the way sergeant.’ He said, ushering Simms to the pub doors with an outstretched hand.

Simms looked slightly irritated by Barnes’s gesture but made her way inside without protest.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2014]. 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.

Migraine

I wake to the sound of hammer banging on metal and curse the builders through the thin walls of the hallway. Half asleep, only a slither of my eyelids apart, I wrench myself from beneath the moss like rug and poke my head out of the hallway window. I glare at the two men who are trying to manoeuver a metal table up a set of narrow stairs. An innate desire to ball all my rage out the window at them rises within me but I refrain. In the same way I get rudely awaken by early morning builders, I stay up late into the night watching TV and listening to music.

I return to bed, cursing the fact that despite all my efforts I seem to constantly remain in a nocturnal like routine. This wouldn’t be so bad but for some reason the larger majority of the human population have decided that a nine to five work routine is more appropriate then say night work or being a student. The sensible thing to do now would be to make myself a cup of tea and force myself to stay awake so as to switch to a more daylight efficient routine. However I soon find I am back in bed, quickly dozing once more.

When I wake three hours later, after several snoozes of the alarm I am groggy and fuzzy. The early morning disturbance has resulted in me oversleeping and now I feel lethargic and grumpy. Getting out of bed is an insurmountable task. My muscles ache with a sharp acute pain and my head weighs like a cannon ball. To add salt to the wounds, it is bitterly cold outside the warm confines of the duvet and I frantically pull on my slippers and thrown on my dressing gown to stave off the chill.

The worst part of my morning is opening the living room window for the cat. I pull up the blinds, always forgetting the harsh sunlight on the other side and receive a flash of pain to the head as my recompense. It only gets worse as I push open the window. A wall of noise assaults me through the gap, accompanied by the sub zero February gales. It’s all too much, a cacophony of whines assail me from the Sainsbury’s car park, consisting of barking dogs, tantruming toddlers and reversing cars.

I retreat to the darkness and safety of the kitchen. Even the cat thinks twice before disappearing through the window gap, her eyes puffy and her ears pricked up high. The bubbling of the kettle and the clink of the cups in my hand grates on my ears and I cut of the boiling of the water as quickly as possible, to nurse my throbbing cranium.

It is far too bright and cold in the living room but I force myself to sit in my armchair anyway. Slowly, the pain lessens, aided in full by the steaming cup of tea in my hand. However, as I grow more accustom to the world inside and out, a deep hunger grips me and I feel my neglected stomach rumble in protest.

I search the kitchen desperately for some form of sustenance but realize with a sinking sensation that there is nothing salvageable for consummation. Grumbling, I dress quickly and sloppily, beyond caring that I am not wearing any socks and the jumper I am wearing has several curry stains emblazoned upon it.

Sainsbury’s is almost too much too bear and I hastily make a beeline for my pre decided breakfast choice, pain au chocolat’s. I am confronted by my three worse things on this journey: lots of people, loud noises and far too bright displays. A loud bang explodes in my head, as a Sainsbury’s worker throws a crate on the floor absent-mindedly. The rattle of trolley wheels and clang of shopping baskets against shelves follow me around like a bad curse and I speed up, eager to grab what I need and get out as soon as possible. I jump and nearly drop my purchase when the all powerful intercom announcement trembles around the store from an undisclosed location. Sweating, I make a dash for the self-service machine, narrowly avoiding two intersecting trolleys and nearly collide with a curious toddler who is wandering away from his father straight into my path. The self-service machine is slow and when it does finally accept my money it insists I take my change in a highly aggressive and persistent manner. I rush through the automatic doors and power walk to my courtyard. I see the cat by my window and hurry towards her, sensing an ally amongst the chaos.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2014]. 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.

Monday Morning

My heavily bloodshot eyes, like discoloured whites accidentally left on a sixty-degree wash, slowly open and wince at the morning sunlight peeking from under the blinds. The severity of the glare is intruding, as if the sun is a police searchlight locating a runaway convict. The mattress is lumpy and bits of the frame prod at my chest and legs like gnarled twigs and branches poking up from beneath the undergrowth. My arm aches and throbs from a night spent asleep on my side awkwardly and as I go to sit up I feel like an overburdened ship, struggling to retract its submerged anchor. To my great annoyance the cat’s litter tray has been upturned and its contents strewn all over the carpet. They lie dotted about like tiny white stars on a clear night. Taking care to avoid embedding pieces of the night sky into my feet, I head down stairs, accompanied by a hungry cat, who in recent weeks has developed an appetite rather akin to that of a lion then a kitten. As I wait for the kettle to boil, I absentmindedly run a hand through my short hair, which bristles to the touch like a defensive hedgehog approached by an unknown presence.

The kitchen around me is in a dire state of affairs, plates, pots and pans all stacked precariously in the sink. Extracting a culinary item without dismantling the whole pile is a dangerous game like a tense player removing a risky block in a game of jenga. The hobs resemble my eyes, crusty, dried and filled at the corners with some source of unknown gunk. Pouring the tea, I shiver in my shirt and boxers, my skinny, bony legs trembling like a farmyard chicken hopping about in early spring. My feet aren’t much better, the toes of which are so pale and devoid of colour they resemble frozen, oven cut chips. I scoop up my mug quickly, curling my fingers around its large ear shaped handle and hasten out of the dark, reeking room.

Climbing the steps is like ascending from a dank, dungeon and I fix on the upstairs skylight as my source of salvation. Lifting the duvet I get a hot whoosh of air like a pair of great bellows has just been blown into my face. I pull the covers right over myself and indulge in its warm belly. My prominent nose protrudes through the thin layer of material, like a jagged rock rising up out of a raging sea. My hairy feet stick out of the bottom of the duvet, the cracked nails of which resemble overly decayed gravestones, yellowing at the edges. I elbow my way out from underneath the covers, my long orangutan arms flailing around wildly. I sit up and scratch my bushy beard, it is extremely itchy and wild like an overgrown birds nest yet the hairs are dark and smooth like a panthers sleek coat. I take a sip of tea and glance around my messy bedroom. There are random piles of discarded clothes lay strewn about the floor like shed snake skins wilting in the sun. I take another sip of tea and wince as the hot liquid slips in the dried cracks on my lips, in the same way wet leather contracts in the sun.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2014]. 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.