Fran and Bridge stood opposite the coroner, the skeletal remains of the charred body on the metal gurney between them. The coroner was a young woman in her late twenties with strawberry blonde hair and a sharp, angular face. Bridge had been surprised by this. He had expected it to be an stuffy, reclusive man with grey hair and even greyer skin. Not this twenty something girl with tattoos and an ear piercing. Fran didn’t seem to be aware of this or if she was, it hadn’t bothered her in the slightest.
‘How’s Jamie doing, he must be what…five now?’ Fran said casually.
The blonde haired girl smiled as she flicked through a clipboard in her hand, her eyes glancing every now and then at the bag of bones on the trolley.
‘Six.’ Fran repeated, astonished. ‘How quickly they grow up.’
‘Tell me about it. Luckily he is still at that cute stage. I dread to think what the next few years are going to be like.’
‘Eight and nine are the worse. Tantrums and arguments all the time.’ Fran said with a fond look in her eyes.
Bridge couldn’t quite comprehend what was happening. He was under the impression that they had come here to discuss the body but apparently Fran and this coroner girl were more interested in discussing the matter of child rearing. Fran must have picked up on Bridge’s impatience to get on with the case at head, as she cleared her throat suddenly and gestured to the body.
‘So any luck identifying the body?’
The coroner girl puffed out her cheeks exasperatedly.
‘Well it wasn’t easy given that any fingerprints, DNA or hair traces were incinerated by the fire…’
‘Excuse me, sorry to barge in…Ms..?’
Both Daisy and Fran glared at Bridge, so he quickly got back on topic.
‘Wouldn’t you be able to identify him from his dental records, as his teeth are still intact.’
He reached over and pointed at the open jaw. Fran slapped his hand away irritably. Daisy looked somewhat offended.
‘Well if you had let me finish….Mr…?’
‘Bridge. Detective Bridge.’
‘Right well as I was saying…Bridge…really?’
Bridge felt his ears burn red, as Fran hid a smirk behind her hand.
‘What I was going to say was that it was very hard to retrieve any DNA samples, apart from the dental records of the deceased victim.’ She whipped off the top sheet from her clipboard and held it out in her hand.
Bridge moved forward, attempting to eagerly snatch it from her hand but Daisy purposefully redirected it to Fran. Bridge pulled a face like a petulant toddler, as Fran studied the sheet intensely. Bridge tried to sneak a peek but Fran returned it to Daisy before he had a chance.
‘Interesting.’ She commented and the two woman nodded, keeping their secret knowledge between one another.
‘So…..?’ Bridge exclaimed desperately. ‘Who is it?’
‘You said they were similarities to the last body. How similar are we talking?’ Fran asked, ignoring Bridge’s pleads of desperation.
‘That is interesting.’ Daisy said excitedly, moving closer to the body to demonstrate her findings.
Bridge sighed and gave up. It was obvious the two of them had resorted to using power play to reprimand him for his rude behaviour. He didn’t mean to be so blunt. It wasn’t his intention. He just didn’t see the point of small talk and general courtesy. Not when there were much more important things he could be doing with his time. The irony being in doing this, he had actually placed himself in a position further from the information.
‘Like on the previous victim, the killer has performed a castration on the gentile region.’
‘I know how he feels.’ Muttered Bridge quietly.
Fran and Daisy ignored him.
‘On the last victim, the lips and eyelids had also been removed. It’s that the same here?’ Queried Fran, growing intrigued.
Bridge watched the two enviously. He liked these parts of the case most of all. Fran wasn’t supposed to be interested in this stuff. It was his area of expertise. Without it, he was just a Detective with a lot of questions. And god he hated asking people questions.
‘That’s where it becomes tricky. If the killer did remove the lips and eyelids, it is hard to tell because the rest of the flesh burnt off in the fire.’
Fran looked somewhat disheartened at this last statement.
‘However.’ Continued Daisy, noting Fran’s disappointment. ‘It doesn’t look like he was alive when he was set alight.’
‘Aha…so it’s a he.’ Bridge announced dramatically.
Fran and Daisy looked at him agitatedly. Feeling like a naughty toddler caught out in class, Bridge glanced at his feet.
‘Continue.’ He said in a small voice.
‘Do you think it could be blood loss from the wounds?’
Daisy tapped her lips, thinking.
‘Possibly but I don’t think it’s likely. I will run some more tests. Get back to you when I know more.’
‘Thank you Daisy and sorry about Bridge…he’s from London.’
Daisy nodded, as if it all made sense and before Bridge could object, Fran had guided him swiftly and efficiently out the doors.
‘What exactly did you mean by ‘he’s from London’?’ Bridge demanded, as they climbed inside Fran’s Volvo, parked in the rear corner of the Clandowey Morgue car psrk
‘Are you kidding me Bridge, after the way you just acted in there.’ Fran threw back.
Fran gave him a extremely cynical look.
‘Okay maybe I was a little bit to the point…’
‘A little bit. You were downright rude is what you were.’ Fran stated, switching the engine on and putting the gear stick into reverse.
‘Well come on. The girl was barely out of college and what so of coroner is called Daisy?’
The car jerked wildly, as Fran slammed her foot on the brake and glared menacingly at Bridge.
‘Daisy happens to be one of the brightest and intelligent forensic specialists this side of the Seven Bridge. She knows more about bodies then you and me put together.’
‘I highly doubt that.’ Bridge said assuredly.
‘Just because she is a little on the young side and god forbid has tattoos, that doesn’t mean she isn’t good at her job.’
‘Okay okay. You made your point. Can we please just leave already?’
Bridge was worried Fran was going to thump him, the shade of red she had turned.
‘You really don’t get people do you? All you see is a puzzle that needs solving.’
‘Well, I am a detective.’ Bridge pointed out.
‘Oh are you? I didn’t hear you mention it. Oh wait yeah I did, like a hundred times.’
‘Well at least I actually do my job instead of chatting about my social calendar with every person we interview.’
Fran looked thunderous now, the veins in her temple right on the verge of exploding.
‘Get out.’ She hissed vehemently.
‘You what?’ Bridge asked flummoxed.
‘I said get out.’
‘Fine.’ Bridge said hotly, climbing out the door and slamming it behind him. Fran put her foot to the floor and roared off, leaving a trail of petrol fumes and a stranded Bridge in the middle of the car park.
‘Great.’ Bridge said. ‘Now what?’
The car park was empty. His ride back to Llangaerten disappearing from view before him.
Gethin’s journey home from London was slightly subdued. On the one hand he felt a sense of accomplishment, as he had spent his time on leave productively and ruled out potential wrong turns and red herrings. However, the revelation that he had traveled all that distance to find out that none of the people he questioned were guilty or linked, left him empty and feeling a sense of defeat.
He did not get off at his usual stop however but stayed on the train for a couple of extra stops. Gethin wasn’t going home. Not yet anyway. He was making a slight detour. As well as housing the county morgue, Clandowey also happened to be the town where the food delivery service Arthur used were based.
Stepping off the train and leaving the station through the side exit, Gethin felt a warm feeling enter his chest. Even though he was not home home, being back on his side of the border made him feel a sense of belonging. Gethin had always found his hometown and county boring to say the least. Whilst it was true that London was full of exciting and varied culture, it was also very busy, smelly and cold. Not in terms of temperature but more in regards to attitude. People were unfriendly to the point of rude. Having now visited the big lights and sights of England’s capital, Gethin suddenly felt a new found appreciation for the wonder of the Welsh valleys.
After taking a moment to breathe in the fresh air and listen to the chirping songs of the birds, Gethin made his way to the bridge that stretched over the river towards Clandowey. The food delivery service was located on the outskirts of town, a fair walk from the train station but Gethin was glad for the chance to stretch his legs. He had been cramped up in a metal carriage all morning with about enough leg space for a small shrew.
By the time he got to the supply shop and attached delivery depot, Gethin was getting out of breath. Although refreshing and much needed exercise, Gethin was still tender from his encounter with Darren Rhion and he had stopped at the entrance to the building to nurse a sharp stitch in his side. He studied the outbuilding, as he regained his strength. The shop itself was a single level storey building with glass fronted windows and doors and large green letters emblazoned on the roof that read ‘Snacks on Tracks’. A front and side car park surrounded the building with an assortment of customer vehicles and large lorries, bearing the same company name on their doors and roofs.
Once recovered, Gethin straightened up, smartened himself up as best he could and made his way across the car park to the shop door. He stopped in front of the door to the shop, catching sight of himself in the glass in front of him. He looked so different. Obviously, the injuries he had sustained were evidence of that but it was more then that. His eyes seem to possess a different quality about them. As if they were suddenly more serious and thoughtful. His face as well looked more haggard. The five o’clock shadow which he normally would have seen to giving him a more rugged and worn look. This case had changed him. In some ways for the better and in others not so much. Either way, Gethin was undergoing some kind of transformation. He just had to find out whether or not it was something he was comfortable with.
Bridge had given up phoning Fran. It was clear that if she wasn’t going to respond to his previous eight texts and three phone calls, then it wasn’t likely she would be picking up her mobile anytime soon. It had taken him a good fifteen minutes to ascertain why she had blown up at him to such a degree. In his mind, he hadn’t done anything particularly unacceptable or untoward. Yet, as time had gone on, Bridge had given the subject more thought and he had begun to see why his actions may have been taken the wrong way. It was strange of late. Bridge didn’t feel that different, his argument with Fran had been evidence of that. However, his realization of other people’s emotions or reasons for doing things was becoming much more apparent of recent. This was both concerning and intriguing for the clinical detective. On the one hand, this insight into human beings and his fellow species gave him an advantage of sorts. If he was savvy, Bridge could use this to his advantage. Maybe it would help in the case when interrogating, no correction, interviewing suspects. But on the other hand, there was the concern that these feelings and intuition were clouding his precise and objectionable judgement. He had to be careful not to allow his feelings get in the way of his methods of deduction.
He shivered, as a cold breeze whipped up in the car around him, sending a plastic bag tumble-weeding across the gravel in front of him. He walked to the edge of the car park and sighed. The road ahead of him was lined on either side by a screen of bushes and trees. No accessible pathway or notable footpath. Plus it was starting to get dark and the road in both directions was unlit.
Bridge was just about to hit the road and start walking into town, despite the lack of pavement and light, when a noise behind made him pause. Daisy, the young tattooed coroner was making her way out of the morgue side entrance. She carried a large box in her arms and was having a bit of difficult getting out the door. Bridge hurried over and held the door.
‘Here, let me help.’
‘Thanks.’ Daisy acknowledged but she made no effort to carry on with the conversation.
Instead, she made her way over to a small purple Ford Fiesta and starting loading her box into the boot.
‘What’s in the box?’ Bridge asked, lingering around by her car.
‘Body parts I stole from the morgue.’ Daisy replied in a dry tone, shutting her boot forcefully.
Bridge nodded with a slight smile at her joke. Seeing that this was a far as Daisy was willing to converse with him, he turned on his heels to hit the road.
Bridge turned. Daisy was lent against the back of her boot, puffing on one of those infernal vape gizmos.
‘She ditched me.’
Daisy nodded, puffing out a large cloud of smoke.
‘Can’t say I blame her. Not much of a people person are you?’
Bridge stuck his hands in his pockets and sighed.
‘It is what it is, I guess.’ He gave her a brief polite smile and turned once again to leave.
‘Come on. I’ll give you a lift.’
Bridge stopped and turned once again.
‘Sorry…I couldn’t have heard you right. I thought you just offered me a lift.’
Daisy raised her eyebrows dramatically, opening her door and sliding in the driver’s seat. Bridge watched her silently, confused at what exactly was going on. He jumped in surprise, as the engine of the car roared into life. Daisy revved it a few times before letting it fall back into a gentle and consistent rumble. The passenger window whirred into life and slid down to allow Bridge a glimpse inside the car.
‘Are you coming or what? I haven’t got all day you know.’
Unless Daisy was a serial killer, which perhaps was a possibility, considering her job description although Bridge didn’t think likely, then she really was offering him a lift. Bridge was willing to take the risk. He climbed in quickly, thankful for the car’s interior warmth.
‘Don’t mention it.’ Daisy said casually and pulled away from the parking space, heading for the exit at the back of the car park.
The two sat in silence for the first five minutes of the journey, their awkwardness rife in the air. Bridge cleared his throat in an attempt to dispel the awkward silence. It didn’t have it’s desired effect.
‘Awfully nice of you to drive me all the way back to Llangaerthen.’
‘I have an aunt who lives there. Was dropping over to see her anyway.’
‘Oh right.’ Bridge said.
The conversation died there again and Bridge started to wonder if maybe he would have been betting walking into town and catching the train. It was as he was contemplating this whilst looking out the window, that he noticed something odd. A tall figure walking along the pavement. He did a double take as they drove past. Daisy noticed his fidgeting and frowned.
‘You alright there?’
Bridge craned his neck round to try and glimpse the man again but they were driving too fast and the figure had already disappeared from view.
‘I thought….but it couldn’t have…’
Daisy drummed her fingertips on the wheel, waiting for him to complete his sentence.
‘It doesn’t matter.’ He said finally. ‘Just looked like someone else I know.’
‘Right.’ Daisy said slowly.
She was starting to wonder if it really was the best idea to give the detective a lift back. He had been so rude and odd in the morgue that she felt no obligation to offer him a ride. Yet there was something intriguing about the eccentric fellow. He was different somehow. A social outcast that’s for certain. But then who was Daisy to judge. She spent most of her days talking to the dead.
The building was not just simply a shop. It housed a sizable restaurant as well. As Gethin made his way around the complex, he couldn’t help but cringe at the blatant methods the business had used to squeeze as much money out of their frail, old customers as possible. The majority of which were packed into the brightly lit restaurant or shuffling aimlessly around the shop floor with neither purpose or pace.
Eventually after much patience and several diversionary tactics, Gethin made his way to the shop counter. A short, stout man with greying hair and a large bristly mustache greeted him merrily. The contrast between this friendly fellow and the sorts Gethin had encountered on his trip to London was sizable and he took a moment to appreciate the bliss of simple life.
‘Can I help you sir?’ He repeated, noticing Gethin had not said anything for a good thirty seconds.
‘Sorry…’ Gethin said, giving the man an equally pleasant smile. ‘My name is Officer Jones. I am investigating a case local to the area.’
The stout man looked taken aback. Gethin was pleased to see this reaction. There was something almost adorable about a small town inquiry. Everyone had such tame sensibilities. Not like London. On the number of occasions he had pulled out his I.D or declared his status, people just nonchalantly rolled their eyes, like it was an everyday occurrence. Gethin eyed the stout man’s name badge. It read Declan.
‘Declan. I know it is a big ask but would it be possible for me to talk to some of the drivers. You would be helping in solving a case and possibly in bringing closure and justice to the victim’s families.
‘I…don’t see why not…of course anything I can do….to help.’ Declan stammered, wringing his wrinkled hands nervously.
‘Then lead the way.’ Gethin said with a warm smile, gesturing towards a door behind Declan, which read ‘Staff Only.’
There was a moment’s deliberation from Declan, as he considered whether or not he should allow Gethin into the staff area. Eventually, though he conceived. Obviously the representation of the law stood in front of him was too powerful to resist and Declan was too much of a gentle soul to demand a warrant. As the stout men lead Gethin through the private door, the young officer felt his own hesitation develop. This was not his area of expertise and although he had become more adept at the methods of investigation since the case had begun, he still felt a degree of trepidation every time he had to act in an official manner.
Had it been Gethin, Bridge and Daisy had passed on their way out of Clandowey or was it just his mind playing tricks on him. It certainly shouldn’t be. According to Fran, the lad had used his time on leave to visit London for a few days. Surely it was just a look a like. What reason would Gethin have for visiting Clandowey anyway? Unless he knew something that he and Fran didn’t.
‘Penny for your thoughts.’ Daisy said, breaking Bridge from his train of thought.
Bridge sighed and scratched the rough skin underneath his collar irritatingly.
‘This case. It is proving more tricky then I first anticipated.’
‘Thought it would be a simple closed book affair in a backwater country town did you?’
Bridge bristled defensively.
‘I’m joking. Besides, I thought you liked this sort of thing. The thrill of the chase and all that.’
‘Well….yes…but this isn’t as much of a chase as more of a pitiful attempt to stay in the race at all.’
‘I was being serious.’ Bridge said with a confused side glance.
Bridge grumbled like a disgruntled bear and returned to looking out the window. Daisy rolled her eyes. Why were men such drama queens? Always making such a big song and dance about everything.
‘It’s Darren Rhion.’ She said, breaking the silence once more.
Bridge looked at her in stunned surprise.
‘The body in the morgue. It’s Rhion.’ Daisy repeated.
Blimey. Did she have to spell everything out for this guy.
‘Does that really matter?’
Bridge took a moment.
‘I guess not…it’s just…’
‘Look Fran was right when she said you were a rude and brash individual…’
‘Fran said that.’ Bridge cut in, looking taken aback and slightly hurt all of a sudden.
‘But I can tell that you are at your core…a semi decent bloke.’ Daisy carried on, unheeded.
‘Thank you.’ Bridge said, looking pleased with himself.
‘I said semi decent Bridge. Let’s not go getting cocky now.’ Daisy stressed with a stern glance.
But Bridge couldn’t help smiling. Not only did this mean that his theory on Rhion not being the killer was right but also that neither Gethin or his brothers had been harmed. He should have felt bad for late deceased Rhion but his sociopath tendencies made that incredibly hard, not to mention the fact that Rhion wasn’t the nicest of people to begin. Bridge relaxed back into his seat and closed his eyes. Maybe today wasn’t such a bad day after all.
Gethin readjusted himself in the low, frayed waiting room chair and glanced at the clock. It was nearly ten to five. He had been sitting here for nearly an hour now. This was nobody’s fault but his own. After showing him to the back office, Declan had consulted the ancient desktop to ascertain which driver had been assigned to Arthur’s delivery the day of the murder. The driver was a man named Simon Barnes. Now it was just a simple matter of talking to Mr Barnes and seeing if he could recall the women he spoke to on the phone. Problem was Barnes was out on delivery. Declan had advised that Gethin could come back at a more appropriate time to save hanging around. Although Gethin had appreciated the gesture, he had not come all this way to be turned around at the last minute.
So here he sat, in a stuffy waiting room with only a stack of well thumbed magazines for company. Every now and then a driver came in to help him or herself to a cup of tea or a drink of water but for the most part Gethin was alone. He was almost drifting off when finally to his great relief Simon Barnes entered the room, bringing with him a gush of cold, refreshing air.
‘Simon Barnes.’ Gethin said, getting to his hands and holding out his hand.
He knew it was Barnes without any introduction. Declan had advised that he was hard to miss, considering he was the only driver with hetechromia. This condition meant Barnes had one blue eye and one green. Much like the famous music artist David Bowie.
‘Yes.’ Barnes said cageliliy, not shaking his hand.
He looked skittish, like a wild horse about to run from an approaching human.
‘My name is Officer Jones. I am following up on a case.’ He held up his I.D.
He was beginning to get good at this. Maybe he should talk to Fran about the possibility of a promotion. He scoffed at the thought. That was the last thing Fran needed. It wasn’t like she had enough on her plate already. Noting Barnes discomfort, Gethin gave a reassuring smile.
‘Don’t worry it’s nothing serious. I just want to ask you a few questions about one of your customers: Mr Arthur Babcock.’
Barnes thought for a moment. He was an extremely tall man with a broad chest and deep, heavyset features. The little hair he had took the form of a ginger goatee, which he scratched absentmindedly as he thought. Gethin would have found the man intimidating if it had not been for the way he talked and held himself. It reminded him instantly of an overgrown child, confused and nervous.
‘Come and sit down. You must be tired from your routes.’
Barnes looked hesitant but eventually allowed himself to be led over to one of the waiting room chairs. The chair groaned under his substantial weight.
‘Did you know Arthur well?’
The giant Barnes shrugged, his broad shoulders pulled back to attention.
‘Sort of. He kept to himself mostly. We didn’t chat with each other much. He is not as talkative as some of the other ones.’
There was something odd about the way Barnes said ‘others’ but Gethin couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was.
‘So you heard about what happened to him then?’ Gethin continued.
He was trying to stay focused on his line of questioning but it was hard to concentrate. Barnes’ different coloured eyes were absorbing and he felt his gaze drawn to them every time the man spoke.
‘A terrible crime indeed.’ Barnes said morosely, bowing his head in what appeared to be respect for the deceased victim.
It was very hard for Gethin to get a read on Barnes. He was a strange mixture between an overgrown child and a gentle Buddha with the appearance of a Hell’s Angel’s gang member thrown in just to confuse the situation more.
‘Before the incident involving Arthur took place, a phone call was made to you, do you remember?’
Barnes nodded slowly, his lower lip jutting out, as he concentrated on remembering.
‘Good. Now I know it was a while ago and I am sure you have received hundreds of calls since…but can you remember who you spoke to?’
Barnes closed his eyes and a deep frown crested his Neanderthal forehead.
‘I….remember speaking….to a woman…’ He said finally.
Gethin inched closer, growing excited. This was it. He just needed a bit more to go on.
‘Did she give a name?’
‘Wait…she said she was…Arthur’s daughter.’ He opened his eyes, looking pleased all of a sudden.
Gethin didn’t share his enthusiasm. The killer had obviously made this bit up to conceal their identity and shift the police’s attention. Which had worked out perfectly, Gethin brooded.
‘Did I do good?’ Barnes said hopefully.
Gethin gave him an encouraging nod.
‘You’re doing very good Simon. Now this woman, what sort of a voice did she have? Was it old, young, did it have an accent of any sort?’
Barnes frowned so hard this time, that it was hard for Gethin to make out his eyes under his mammoth eyebrows.
‘Older I think….maybe middle aged or even a little older…argh it’s so hard to remember.’ He cursed, massaging his massive egg like head.
‘It’s okay…I know it’s hard…’
Barnes nodded, sweat forming on his cheeks and temples.
‘She had a strange accent…like she was posh or well to do like…’
Gethin racked his brains, thinking of the suspects and witnesses they had interviewed. One particular witness sprang to mind.
‘Sorry…I can’t remember anything else.’
Barnes looked crestfallen, like he had just witnessed his favourite puppy being run over. Gethin reached out a hand and gave Barnes’ shoulder a tight squeeze.
‘You have done really well Simon. In fact I think you may have helped a lot.’
‘Really.’ Barnes said surprised, his face lighting up suddenly.
Gethin left it at that. It was obvious that Barnes didn’t know anything else. Even so, he did check with Declan on Barnes’ whereabouts of the night of the murder. Barnes had a alibi. He was out on deliveries most of the night. Gethin hadn’t thought Barnes was involved but he had to be thorough just in case.
As he left the food delivery depot and headed back in town, Gethin felt a sense of elation take hold of him. He hadn’t cracked the case yet. A rough description from a simpleton adult wasn’t nearly enough to prove anything. However, there was one thing that Barnes had mentioned that could put them that step closer to unveiling the truth. The killer’s accent. Now it was only a matter of trying to convince Fran and Bridge to hear him out. He just hoped he wasn’t too late before the killer struck again.
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