Gethin’s Holiday

Gethin tried very hard to keep from dozing on the long train destined for London. He had been keen to observe the change of scenery through the wide window beside him. It was all rather new and exciting for the young Welsh lad. Although a Cardiff boy at heart, Gethin had never strayed further then the border. England was a strange and curious place to him. The first part of the journey was nothing new. The hilly, green and somewhat empty landscape of Wales blurring past in a myriad of greens and browns.

As the train crossed over the border however, certain nuances made themselves present to Gethin. The English countryside was far more flat and tidy. All the fields had neat fences and specified grids. Whilst this was true for some of the Welsh countryside, their was something more wild and overgrown about it’s landscape. Even the houses appeared more presentable this side of the river, looking like toy doll houses with their green doors and well kept front gardens.

It reminded Gethin heavily of the Beatrix Potter novels his mother used to read to him when he was a small nipper. There was something quaint and idyllic about the scenery around him. At certain points it seemed almost as if it wasn’t real at all but that Gethin had actually fallen asleep ten minutes ago and had conjured this up in his mind. Yet all the pinching, rubbing of eyes and fidgeting evidenced that it was real, which made it all the more fantastical.

By the time they reached the outskirts of London, Gethin was fading fast. The exhaustion of the previous night had taken a toll both physically and mentally. He should be at home resting, as Bridge had recommended. But instead he was here on a train, travelling to the heart of the rat race. Once again the scenery began to change. The first noticeable difference was the sudden lack of green. The buildings although varied in their design, all shared that same dull grey look. The houses which Gethin had so fondly marvelled over previously had been replaced by towers of drab looking flats and pokey bedsits with poorly maintained gardens and fences.

The more residential and suburban parts of outer London reminded Gethin heavily of Cardiff. It was only when the train delved further into the heart of the city, that the real changes could be witnessed. Massive tower blocks of offices and businesses loomed over him, thrusting up into the misty sky with their steel tips. Gethin craned his neck eagerly to see the tops of the buildings. Back home, there were plenty of impressive hills and mountains but this was different. Gethin had never seen a city on such a scale as this and his eyes flickered around hurriedly trying to take it all in before the train whipped past.

Eventually when the initial elation had past, Gethin began to feel drowsy once more. He was still fascinated by the sprawling city around him but the combined rocking of the train and his fatigued state soon lulled him into a deep sleep.

 

A good forty five minutes had passed before Gethin was roused from his sleep by the rattling of the refreshment trolley. He sat up and rubbed his bleary eyes, his throat was dusty dry and in despite need of something to quench his first. He looked out the window. There were even more towers now and Gethin could make out the swarm of cars and people far below, running around like ants in a maze.

‘Anything of the trolley dear?’

Gethin eyed the various drinks and snacks on the trolley and licked his lips. The old lady pushing the cart gave him a kind smile but also placed a hand on her hip, urging Gethin to hurry up.

‘Got anything to drink?’ He asked croakily.

‘Certainly.’ She gestured to the drinks section of the trolley, which had an assortment of beverages both alcoholic and soft.

Gethin spotted a Hobgoblin, a drink he was partial to on occasion and selected it. He extracted a slightly crumbled five pound note from his pocket and the exchange took place. He held out his hand for the change and almost choked, as he went to take a sip of Hobgoblin.

‘Where’s the rest?’ He said affronted.

‘That’s London prices I’m afraid.’ She said with a shrug.

Gethin pointed out that they weren’t actually in London yet but was drowned out by the rattle of the trolley, as she shuffled away. He smirked and shook his head, as he looked around at the many eyes studying him. Businessmen, couples and families suddenly averted their eyes. One particular gentleman was staring so hard at the newspaper in front of him, that Gethin thought his eyes would burn a whole in the paper.

He took another swig of the Hobgoblin. It was nice enough but it seemed to be tainted somewhat by the extortionate price. He returned his attention to the vista once more. There was something eternally stagnant and grey about the English weather. Wales, Scotland and even Ireland to a certain extent oscillated between heavy downpours and brilliant sunshine. England on the other hand seemed in a permanent state of murky grey, as if unable to decide what it wanted to be or do. Gethin chuckled to himself. That was a perfect analogy for the English funnily enough.

He took another sip of the malty beverage. Gethin had decided that if he did have to fork out an arm and a leg, he might as well savour it. Most of the other passengers read their papers or tapped nosily on their blackberry phones. Gethin, however was much too observed by the sights and sounds. Growing up in the valley he had never seen such architectural grandeur. A kid sat a few rows down from him had his hands and face pressed up against the glass. Despite his exclamations of surprise and delight, the boy’s mum paid him no attention. Instead, she chatted loudly and in the most self involved of ways on her mobile. I know how you feel kid, Gethin thought to himself.

As the train neared the sprawling and concentrated hub of London, the train began to stop more often and more people bustled on board the already filling shuttle. Gethin had to give up his footrest and bag spot for two serious looking men in dark suits. One carried a leather briefcase and the other wore dark sunglasses. Gethin suddenly felt like Mr Anderson from ‘The Matrix’ and hoped the train would reach Waterloo soon.

When the carriage finally pulled into its final stop, there was a great shuffling and rustling, as everybody tried to depart at the same time. Gethin hung back, preferring not to be squashed by the stampede of feet and barging of luggage.

Unlike most other commuters, who were either too accustomed to the smell or rather displeased by it, Gethin welcomed the foul stench into his nostrils. It was unpleasant yes but Gethin was too thrilled by the novelty of it to let it bother him. It was like when city slickers traveled out of the city. The smell of manure and earth was a new experience for them. A sense to be enveloped.

Suddenly Gethin remembered the importance of his being here and so he fell in behind the stream of bodies heading down the platform. It was a strange mix of travellers. Some marching hurriedly and with purpose. Others slow and casual. They you had your tourists, who like Gethin were studying everything. And finally you had your long distance runners, ducking and weaving their way to the front.

There was some minor difficulty at the barriers. Mainly because Gethin had misplaced his ticket. People bustled and shoved roughly past him, as he turned out his pockets. The ticket warden looked bored and disinterested but sympathy was not an emotion present. Eventually, Gethin retrieved the crumpled orange ticket and smoothed it out. He felt the warden’s judgement, as he jabbed it into the barrier and darted through.

The station itself was less busy than the platform but still abuzz with activity. The smart shoes and wheeled luggage of businessmen and women echoed around the large building. A nearby Burger King beckoned to Gethin, it’s large bright and colourful front tugging at him like an Empire ship. He resisted the urge, remembering the purpose of his assignment. He also recalled how dear the ale had been on the train down and he shuddered to guess the station’s prices.

Glancing around, he caught sight of the large, ornate clock, suspended in the centre of the station. This had been the agreed meeting spot. He moved under it, stuck his hands awkwardly in his pockets and waited for his informant to make an appearance. He looked around as he waited, agitatedly fiddling with a loose thread in his coat pocket. The station was busy with commuters rushing to and fro. Gethin scanned an eye over the crowds and travelers to try and gauge if any of them could be the informant. It was too hard to tell and soon he was lost in the myriad of faces.

Five minutes passed and still no sign of his informant. He began to tap his foot impatiently, his K Swiss trainers echoing against the cool marble. He was just debating whether to give up and leave, when he felt something tug at the hem of his coat. Glancing down, he found himself looking at a chubby child with sandy blonde hair. Gethin smiled and squatted in front of the kid.

‘Hello there.’ He said warmly.

‘Hi.’ The kid said shyly and rubbed one eye with a tiny fist.

‘Are you lost?’ Gethin asked helpfully, looking around to see if there were any flustered or concerned parents to hand.

No one seemed to be looking for the child, which made Gethin slightly nervous.

‘My mummy said you need to come with me.’

Gethin was still looking around, when it dawned on him what the boy had just said.

‘Did your mummy say where?’

The boy nodded decisively and before Gethin had time to react had turned on his heel and disappeared into a thick crowd of Asian tourists.

‘Hey, come back.’

He darted after the fleeing child, barging through the group, receiving a few alarmed responses and disgruntled murmurings, as he emerged out the other side. His hammering heart had a moment of reprieve, as he regained sight of the boy trotting away merrily. Gethin glanced back at the meeting spot and then back to the child once more. He would like to say he was torn between his mission and protecting the boy but there wasn’t even a moment’s hesitation, as he followed after the kid. Mission or not, he had two younger brothers and understood how he would feel if it was his kid.

It didn’t take him long to catch up to the sandy haired boy. Busy as it was and slippery as the young child was, his legs were still little and Gethin was quick on his feet. He reached out a hand ready to hook the boy by the arm but faltered at the last moment. The child had reached a table in front of the Burger King stand and had clambered up a young woman’s legs and settled himself in her lap. Gethin assumed it must be the mother, as she did not seem perturbed in the slightest at the sudden intrusion.

‘Thank god, I was worried he was going to hurt himself.’

The young woman didn’t say anything but gave him a hard searching stare. She was good looking but had a harsh,  almost tough quality to her face. Gethin wasn’t sure if this was due to being a mother or something she had possessed from an early age.

‘Well, I’m glad to see he is safe and sound.’

He was about to turn and leave, when he noticed something odd. The chair opposite the young woman was empty but there was a full Burger King Meal set out on the table in front of it. Gethin looked at the meal, then at the woman. She indicated the empty chair with a nod of her head and the realization finally hit him.

‘You’re…’

She nodded subtly and took a large slurp from her Coke, her eyes still fixed on the standing Gethin. The sandy haired boy, pointed a pudgy finger at Gethin and giggled excitedly. Gethin his ears turning a slight shade of pink, pulled out the chair and sat down. His stomach rumbled, as his eyed the meal in front of him.

‘Eat.’ She instructed sternly. ‘It must have been a long journey for you.’

Gethin eyed the food suspiciously for a moment before relenting and taking a large, mouthful of the quarter pounder. He could feel the greasy goodness dribble down his chin. The three of them sat in silence for a moment, as Gethin made progress through his meal. The sandy haired boy was trying to do contortionist acts on his mother’s lap, which she did not look best pleased about.

Eventually, Gethin managed to tear himself away from the artery clogging meal and wiped at his chin with a paper napkin.

‘So…’ He began awkwardly.

The young mother raised her eyebrows but didn’t say anything. It was clearly evident she was not going to make this easy for him.

‘I see informants these days are getting younger and younger.’ He gestured to the young boy, who stuck his tongue out in response.

His mother smiled slightly at Gethin’s attempt to break the ice but remained silent. Gethin cleared his throat and straightened out his coat in an effort to appear more professional.

‘You said on the phone that you and your father hadn’t spoke for a number of years.’

The young woman opposite slurped through the straw nosily, sipping up the residue of the coke syrup. Gethin had to wander if this was deliberately intended to throw him off. He cleared his throat again and shifted slightly in the uncomfortable, plastic backed chair.

‘Sarah…may I call you Sarah?’

She gave him a brief and curt nod. Gethin continued.

‘I realize this must be difficult for you. I understand that you and your father didn’t see eye to eye.’

Sarah snorted loudly.

‘Biggest understatement of the century.’ She remarked bitterly.

Gethin gave her a sympathetic smile.

‘Do you know, he didn’t visit me once whilst I was in the hospital with Alex.’ She commented, brushing the hair out of her son’s eyes as she spoke.

Gethin thought about the folder on Sarah’s father that he had in his backpack. He wondered how long it would take Fran to discover it. Or Bridge for that matter. Not that it mattered. Gethin knew his off the clock antics would not go unnoticed.

‘Are we alright to discuss this in front of…Alex.’ Gethin said awkwardly.

Sarah regarded the young boy fondly, who was having great amounts of fun rolling around her legs on the floor.

‘He knows about his grandfather. Besides, I decided to be honest with him from day one. There are enough lies and secrets in this family already.’

Gethin raised an inquisitive eyebrow.

‘Such as?’

‘I hardly think that it is any of your business.’ Sarah said frostily.

Gethin fingered a peeling corner of his bandaged hand agitatedly.

‘Apologies. I am just trying to get a sense of what Arthur was like as a man. You are the only person I have met so far who knows anything more about him then his home meal delivery preference.’

‘I wouldn’t be so sure about that.’

‘Oh?’

‘Arthur wasn’t exactly the paternal type. My mother practically raised me alone.’

‘Was that due to your father’s time spent in the army?’

‘Not just that. Even when he was here, he was never really present…it’s hard to explain.’ She trailed off, her brow furrowed prominently.

‘I know what you mean.’

She shot him a sharp glare.

‘Do you? Or is that something you people say to keep me talking?’

Gethin allowed himself a smile.

‘Whilst you are probably right about that…I do know where you’re coming from. My dad walked out when I was four.’

‘Lucky.’

Gethin felt himself prickle slightly.

‘At least you didn’t have to put up with one for 10 more years.’

She faltered, seeing Gethin’s clenched jaw.

‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to infer…’

Gethin relaxed.

‘Don’t worry, you are probably right. I don’t know much about my father either but I am sure he is not about to win any father of the year awards any time soon.’

The two of them laughed a little. Gethin could feel the tension easing somewhat. If he could exploit their connection on this topic, then he might be able to get somewhere. He could feel a certain amount of irony at the fact that the only good thing his own father had done was to assist in getting information out of a witness. And without even realizing.

‘So are you going to ask me then?’

Gethin looked up at Sarah perplexed.

‘Um…ask you what?’

‘If I did it.’

Gethin opened his mouth once or twice before answering, so thrown off course by her question. This what not how it was supposed to go.

‘Why would I ask that?’

‘Well because we hated each other and I am his only close family and because that is what policeman always do in interviews.’

Gethin took a while to respond before he finally said.

‘Did you do it?’

Sarah laughed. She was a serious looking woman but her smile was warm when it did grace her face upon occasion.

‘No…someone else beat me to that one I am afraid. Believe me I thought about it enough times.’

She gripped the paper napkin into a small ball in her hand. Gethin felt a shiver shudder through his spine.

‘Did he ever….?’

Sarah shook her head quickly.

‘No…but my mother wasn’t so lucky.’

Gethin sat back in his chair, momentarily stunned. So their poor innocent victim was a wife beater. No wondered he had ended up murdered. He eyed Sarah for a moment. She looked capable of it. She had admitted first hand that there was no love lost between the two of them. But that didn’t explain the ritualistic method of murder. Whilst Sarah had motive, this wasn’t a crime of passion but a cold and calculated execution. The person who had done this had experience. The crime scene was evidence of that.

‘Do you know anyone who would have wished your father harm?’

Sarah scoffed.

‘No…my dad…the bastard… was very good at keeping up appearances. Besides he was popular with both his army pals and his work colleagues. It was only me and mum, who knew him for what he really was.’

Gethin shot a sideways glance at Alex, who was gnawing on the corner of a picture book. Sarah’s hardened expression returned once more.

‘I expect you think I am a bad mother. For exposing my son to this sort of stuff and swearing in front of him.’

Gethin shook his head but she went on unheeded.

‘Well…my way of parenting may be unorthodox but it works and at least when he grows up, he won’t have to find out the hard way.’

‘I agree.’ Gethin said.

‘You know people judge you for…wait what?’

Gethin shrugged.

‘I actually think your right. People shouldn’t hide stuff from their kids.’

Sarah looked slightly taken aback but her face had softened somewhat. Gethin took the opportunity to push further.

‘Do you know if Arthur had any contact with any of his army friends after he came back.’

Sarah frowned, thinking hard.

‘I remember there was a get together for one of the guys from his unit who passed away but apart from that…I don’t think so.’

‘Did he ever fall out with any of them?’

‘Not to my knowledge.’ Sarah replied with a blank frankness.

Gethin chewed his lip thoughtfully. He studied her face hard, searching to see if there were any signs that she was hiding. But either she was too skilled an actress or she genuinely didn’t know anything because Gethin couldn’t discern anything. He was wondering where to go next with his questioning, when something tucked away in the recess of his mind clicked on suddenly.

‘Do you recall cancelling one of your father’s home delivery meals on the night of his murder?’

Sarah looked completely bemused at the question.

‘I didn’t even know he ordered them in the first place.’

Gethin nodded, his brain whirring madly.He thought back to the hidden note in Arthur’s house. So if Sarah didn’t cancel the meal then that begged the question of who did? He needed to speak to the home food delivery service.

© [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales], [2016]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to [Daniel Ashby] and [Ashby Tales] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Chasing Smoke

‘Let them go.’

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

‘Did I just hear you correct?’

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

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

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

‘I know.’ Bridge said calmly.

Fran looked at him with the most peculiar of expressions.

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

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

‘So go on then, what do you know?’

Bridge looked at her blankly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘You’re not?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bridge frowned.

‘Why what happened to the mother?’

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

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

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

Fran looked unsure.

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

‘Just wondering.’

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

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

Bridge dry washed his face and heaved a deep sigh.

‘I suppose we should really.’

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

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

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

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

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

‘How about a coffee to warm you up?’

Gethin nodded and blew on his hands.

‘Cup of tea would go down a treat.’

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

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

‘…no…no…I’m fine…thanks.’

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

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

Bridge smiled.

‘Don’t push it.’

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

‘…look I’m sorry…about…’

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

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

Gethin nodded, relaxing a little.

‘So… if its not Dylan and Rhys…’

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

‘…then who is it?’

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

‘Really?’

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

‘This surprises you?’ Bridge said intrigued.

Gethin shrugged and lent back in his chair.

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

Bridge regarded the photo thoughtfully.

‘That’s exactly what Fran said.’

‘Exactly what I said?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Evening Rhys.’

‘ello Fran, what you doing here?’

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

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

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

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

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

‘Come off it Fran, I know your game.’

Fran said nothing, her mouth was suddenly desert dry.

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

Fran gave him a stern glare.

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

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

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

It was Fran’s turn to sneer evilly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twins

Fran drove slowly through the narrow back roads of Llangaerthern, her eyes still not adjusted to the early morning mist that lay low over the sleepy town, its ghostly tendrils licking at the car windows. She was on the prowl for a certain tracksuit clad youth but so far she had had no success. Most people assumed Dylan wouldn’t be awake at such at time in the morning, that like the majority of teenagers his age, he would still be dead to the world but Fran knew otherwise. A couple of months back, hit by a sudden bout of insomnia, she had left the house early and gone for a drive. Usually she would have been content to simply make herself a cup of tea and leaf through the morning paper but on this occasion, she needed to escape the claustrophobic confines of the house. She and Steven had had a belter of an argument the previous night, which revolved around the house being a complete shit tip when she had returned home from work that evening. As with most arguments, the more they went on at each other, the more underlying issues rose to the surface and soon the two were throwing bitter repressed insults at one another, like some heated tennis match of emotions. In the end they had both gone to bed or rather Fran had. Steven had been relocated to the sofa with the dog for company.

The next morning, after a fretful night sleep, Fran simply hated going to bed on an argument, she had crept out the house, shushing the dog on her way out and gone for a drive to clear her head.  As one would expect, the town was quiet, the only noise disturbing the early morning birdsong was the bin-men on their early morning collection. You can imagine her surprise then, when she spotted none other then Dylan hurrying along the pavement. At first she thought she was imagining things, due to her fatigued state but when he glanced over his shoulder to cross the road, there were no doubts left in her mind. It was definitely Dylan. Intrigued by the earliness of his ascent, she followed after him, making sure to keep a safe distance, so as not to arose suspicion. There was something shifty in the way Dylan slunk down the street, his hands were thrust deep into his jumper pockets, his hood was pulled up over his head and he kept glancing around and behind him anxiously. Fran had to trundle the car and risked losing him twice, such was her effort to remain undetected.

Eventually Dylan arrived at his destination, a poky little flat above what was previously a local bookshop. Fran pulled up slowly to the kerb, the wheels of her Volvo crunching on the loose gravel of the road edge. She killed the engine and watched, as he looked both ways up the street and behind him. Although Fran wasn’t clearly visible in the low light of the early morning, she still instinctively ducked down when he looked her way. When she re-emerged a few seconds later, there was no sign of Dylan. She hoped that he had gone inside and up to the flat because otherwise it would be the end to her investigation. It was a chilly November morning and she had donned mittens and a woolly hat,in an effort to dispel the biting cold that seemed to cut straight through to the bone. The fan’s had been set to warm which helped somewhat but she wished she had a hot drink to warm her cockles. What sort of a stakeout was it without a decent supply of coffee and tea?

Fifteen minutes later,Dylan emerged and after a quick scan around, he was off again, pounding the tarmac with his recent birthday present, a pair of bright orange adidas trainers. Real subtle, Fran chuckled to herself, powering the metal beast into life and drifting away from the kerb.

Fran counted four other houses Dylan visited before his last stop, the all but abandoned car park round the back of the local chippie ‘Fish and Ships.’ The owner was a retired sailor with a penchant for puns. It was no use driving down there, as Dylan would spot her a mile off, so she parked up, and followed on foot. Pressing herself up against the wall of the chippie, she slid along it, much in the same style a cartoon inmate slides against a prison wall, attempting to avoid hounding spotlights. Peeking round the corner, she discovered what she expected to see. Dylan was handing a small plastic bag, similar to the evidence bags back at headquarters, to a lanky hard faced boy Fran recognized but couldn’t put a name to a face. The boy in question handed over some money in response and the two were about to depart, when Fran emerged guns blazing. It wasn’t as dramatic as Fran recalled. Dylan had been given a warning and had both the baggie and the money confiscated. Fran had tried to pressure him into coughing up the name of his supplier but he had not buckled, even under threat of punishment. In the end she had let him go. He wasn’t carrying enough to warrant an arrest and beside it wasn’t really doing anyone any harm. She patrolled the streets for a couple of weeks but Dylan wasn’t stupid and he chose to lay low. Eventually Fran relented and turned her attention to more important matters, such as the trouble up at the Owens.

 

It was a bit of a long shot, chasing a suspect who had most likely altered his distribution routine but she wasn’t so keen on the idea of turning up at his house and giving Dylan’s mother a heart attack she could do without. Not till they were a 100% certain anyway.

Fran was just beginning to give up hope, when she saw none other then Dylan sitting on a swing in the small play park just round the corner from the Llangaerthan Primary School. Even from a distance she could tell he was smoking, the large plume of smoke that encircled his head was far denser then the wispy mist that surrounded the town. Whether it was a roll-up, cigarette or something funkier she did not know but it didn’t really matter. It paled in comparison to significant evidence at the scene of the crime.

Fran wrapped herself up in as many layers as possible, so as to make her less easily identifiable. There was good reason for this. If Dylan was up to no good, he would bolt in an instance and Fran wasn’t built for speed. Surprisingly effective over a short distance but judging the age and fitness difference, Dylan would soon outrun her, even caught unawares. As she climbed out of the car and turned to lock the door behind her, she realized her hands were trembling. Here she was, a woman her age trembling like a little girl. But she couldn’t help it. Nervous excitement had seized hold of her and was refusing to let go. She had never experienced such thrill and adrenaline. Her career although fairly long in its run, consisted mainly of keeping the boy racers in check, confiscating kids with illegal substances, finding lost animals and occasionally if she was really lucky, giving a talk at the primary school. This however was a whole another kettle of fish. Here she was on the verge of apprehending their potential killer, although she highly doubted it was Dylan, and it was all a bit overwhelming. She took a deep breath, trying to focus on the task in hand and locked the door successfully this time. Then she proceeded to cross the road towards the play-park, her camouflaged body enveloped by the swirling mists.

Dylan rocked slowly back and forth on the creaky swings, scraping his Adidas trainers across the soft tarmac of the play park floor. He was puffing on a long roll-up that was considerably fatter at one end. He almost choked on a lungful of the fragrant smoke, when he noticed a large bundle of clothes emerge from the mists and hobble towards him. Instinctively, he hid the roll-up behind his back and wafted as much of the smoke away from his face as possible. The bundle drew closer and Dylan, upon realizing they were approaching him, regrettably chucked the roll-up as far away from him as possible. His eyes were hazy and so he struggled at first to discern who lay beneath the impenetrable fortress of clothes. When recognition did finally dawn on the spaced out Dylan it was too late and his attempt to flee was thwarted by Fran’s leg, which she stuck out unexpectedly.

 

Bridge had had less success in acquiring the other terrible twin. With no indication where the lad might be, he did the only logical thing he could think of and went to Gethin’s house. Not that he went in. That would have been a highly foolish endeavor. Especially with a still livid Gethin somewhere inside. Instead, he had settled to wait outside, a little way down the road. Fran would have laughed at the measures he had gone to conceal his identity. Whereas she had opted for a little more extra clothing, Bridge had taken it to a whole another level. Perhaps it was his over active imagination or more likely the case, that he had grown up wanting to follow in the footsteps of his favorite literary creation ‘Sherlock Holmes’. Either way the once clean Detective Inspector was now slumped in a doorway, wearing what appeared to be a grubby stained hoodie and grimy jeans. He had his hood pulled over his head and had what looked like dirt on his face. A half full bottle of vodka was clasped in a finger-less glove held hand. All that was missing was the mangy dog. To be perfectly honest Bridge had actually considered acquiring a dog to add to his cover but he couldn’t justify it. What would he do with the animal afterwards? They would certainly not let him bring it to the pub, that’s for sure.

The hours dragged by and Bridge grew more and more despondent that the younger brother was unlikely to make an appearance. Fran had called him twice already. Once to tell him she had brought Dylan in for questioning and he was currently stewing in one of the many empty cells and another to check if he was planning to make an appearance at any point in the day. He was just beginning to wonder himself, when the front door opened and Rhys emerged onto the doorstep, blinking groggily. Bridge staggered to his feet, shielding his eyes from the bright sunlight that was attempting desperately to break through and dispel the pervading morning mist.

‘Oi bumder, pick up your phone you git.’ Rhys spoke into his mobile, as he walked down the street.

He didn’t return it to his pocket however. Instead he swiped on it expertly for a few minutes before tinny, grimy bass started to pound from the small speaker on its back. Bridge crossed the road and proceeded to tail him, first at a distance but then he began to close the gap between them, eager to collar him before he got too far. Rhys didn’t hear Bridge approaching but he was alerted by the presence of another due to the smell. Bridge not only wanted to look the part but also smell the part too. After a while, Rhys just couldn’t stand the smell any longer.

‘You following me you old tramp.’ He shouted curtly, gnashing on some chewing gum with added vigor.

‘Spare some change?’ Bridge said gruffly and held out one of his gloved hands expectantly.

‘Piss off.’

‘Well in that case, would you mind accompanying me down to the station son?’

Rhys looked totally flabbergasted for a couple of seconds, his dull brain grinding like an old mechanical machine trying to whir itself into life. The understanding dawned and he turned on his heels and bounded away down the pavement. Bridge sighed, why did he have to get the difficult one? And set after the fleeing culprit, drawing many strange glances from passers by.

It took Bridge roughly seven minutes to apprehend Rhys, carried out by a near perfect rugby tackle to the ground over on the college campus. Despite being the younger of the two men, Rhys’ diet consisted of KFC and Maccy D’s and his idea of exercise was lifting dumbbells whilst still lying in bed.

‘Hey, that homeless man is attacking that boy.’ A college student shouted, upon seeing the two tussle on the ground.

‘I’m a police officer.’ Bridge protested but his disguise was so convincing, that soon a mob had gathered to try and break the two apart.

Finally Bridge managed to cuff Rhys’ hands together before he was wrenched backwards by two of the larger college kids. He managed to extract his police identification but not before the two kids, two girls from the college rugby team had dealt him a couple of tough blows to the gut. They were very apologetic, which Bridge would have appreciated if he hadn’t been so keen to get away from the lot of them.

 

Fran was throwing paper balls at the bin, unsuccessful in the majority of attempts, when a loud commotion from the lobby made her look up from her important work. She got to her feet and peeked her head round the door.

‘Get your filthy hands off me, I ain’t done nothing wrong.’

Rhys was grappling with what seemed to be a scruffy looking homeless man. It was only when he spoke, that Fran made the connection and she had to force a hand to her mouth to conceal her amusement.

‘You are a suspect in our investigation, not to mention resisting arrest.’

With the aid of Desk Sergeant Paul, who looked less then pleased to lend a hand, they manhandled Rhys through a metal door that led to the four cells the Llangaerthen Police Station currently housed. Kicking and screaming, Rhys was forced inside a vacant cell and both Desk Sergeant Paul and Bridge heaved a collective sigh of relief, at having put a sheet of metal between them and the protesting adolescent. They returned to the lobby to find an amused Fran loitering around the desk.

‘Like the look.’ She commented and winked at Desk Sergeant Paul, who looked as though he was about to pass out from the six minutes of exertion. But then again he did have an unnatural habit of sweating profusely.

Bridge ignored her and muttered something about grabbing a shower before disappearing through another door which led to the washrooms.

 

Gethin kicked at a dandelion head but not in his customary fashion of having nothing better to do but instead out of a deep anger. He was stood at the top of a field in the middle of nowhere. Gethin had chosen this location in particular because he had spent the last minute or so, yelling and swearing at the top of his lungs. Irritated did not truly convey how the young officer felt. His skin itched with the annoyance, so much so, that he had actually scratched his arms and chest red, such was his frustration. It wasn’t simply rage at his brother’s apprehension. It was rage at everybody. Fran, Bridge, Dylan, Rhys. They all caused him such insurmountable grief. He just wanted them to all shut up and leave him alone. Granted, the yelling had helped.

Eventually, he stopped attacking the flowers, it wasn’t their fault at the end of the day and sat down in the grass. It was still wet but Gethin didn’t care. He didn’t care about anything anymore. Well that was a lie. Gethin cared about his little brothers or more accurately his mum. That woman had been through enough already to suffer dealing with any more anguish.

As he sat there, his bum becoming steadily more damp, he tried to wrap his head around it all. Dylan and Rhys were a handful, there was no denying that. It had soon become apparent, when they had set fire to Farmer Owen’s hay bales, that they had a taste for petty arson but murder? That was a whole another level, not to mention the fact that the MO just didn’t add up. Even if they had gone so far as to kill a man, the two twerps didn’t own the capacity to execute such a staged and rehearsed killing. Arthur’s Babcock’s murder was methodical, clearly carried out by someone with skill and experience. Which made Gethin wonder why Fran had gone ahead with it. Bridge he could understand, just. He was a no nonsense detective, too engrossed in the facts and enlivened by the chase to see sense but Fran? Surely she knew this quite simply did not add up. Puffing his cheeks out loudly, he hugged his knees tight to his chest and watched the orange sun rise gradually over the horizon.

 

Back at the station Bridge and Fran were discussing how best to proceed with their interviews.

‘I think i should interview Dylan.’ Bridge suggested and when he didn’t justify why Fran opposed the motion.

‘To be honest I think i should interview Dylan.’

Bridge looked slightly disgruntled.

‘Why?’

Fran looked a little angered.

‘uh uh, you tell me first?’

Bridge flapped his coat out.

‘Well personally I think I should take the lead on this, seeing as I identified the piece of tracksuit.’

‘Give over, the forensics team made the identification and if we are going to get into specifics, it was actually Gethin who found the piece of tracksuit.’ Fran replied forcefully.

Bridge looked affronted but said nothing. He didn’t have a leg to stand on and he knew it.

‘Besides, I brought Dylan in, it is only right that I interview him.’

Bridge opened his mouth to protest but Fran powered on before he had a chance.

‘And I actually know the brothers. I have dealt with these two before, especially Dylan. If we want any chance of getting them to cough up, I know how.’

Begrudgingly Bridge nodded his head in mute acceptance. The two got to their feet and inhaled a collective deep breath.

‘Remember, we need to make both brothers think the other one is banged to rights.’

Fran nodded firmly, trying to psyche herself up for what was to come. Although she was taking the lead with the interviews, she had neglected to admit to Bridge that her stomach was aflutter with butterflies.

‘Good luck.’ She said and held out her hand.

Bridge shook her hand firmly. It felt clammy and wet. Bridge thought about commenting on the fact but he eventually decided against it. Fran did have a good point. It was the most logical plan.

 

Fran gripped the door handle to the interrogation room tightly and took a deep breath. She could do this. Granted, it had been a long time since she had actually had to formally question anyone but she was just a little rusty, that was all. From the other side of the door came the sounds of thumping, Dylan most probably kicking one of the table legs in protest. Bridge was already in the other interrogation room, Fran had glimpsed him moments before, striding confidently through the door and speaking in a commanding tone to Rhys, who had started going off at him as soon as he entered the room. This had only served to reinforce Fran’s timidness to proceed. She peeked through the small window in the door and was greeted with Dylan flipping her the finger. Cheeky lit git she thought, her hand tightening on the handle. That was better. She needed to treat this like any other occasion when she encountered Dylan, to assume her motherly nature and embarrass the young boy. Feeling a little more confident, not a lot but enough, she took a moment and then pushed open the door to face the music.

She was expecting a torrent of abuse to be flung at her, as she entered the room but she was surprised to find she was met with silence. Dylan had stopped kicking the chair and was watching Fran with his Damien stare. She wasn’t phased by it, as many others would be. Fran had seen that look before, several times, when Dylan was younger. For a while people had taken to calling him the omen child, as whenever he was angry with someone he would fix them with this deathlike stare. Fran pulled out her chair and sat down. A recording machine was setup on the table, and a half empty packet of cigarettes, which belonged to Dylan. Fran could smell the lingering effects of one and she glanced at both the packet and Dylan disapprovingly. He gave a broad smile, which coupled with his burning stare, reminded Fran of the end scene of ‘Psycho’, where Anthony Perkins is leering evilly at the camera. Ignoring his attempts to put her off, Fran placed a folder on the table in front of her, opened it and began to read. Dylan was not expecting this and he struggled to maintain his cool, as Fran sat patiently opposite him, leafing through the folder casually. In a bid to seek petty revenge, he reached for his pack of smokes and was taken aback for a second time when Fran’s hand slammed down on his.

‘What the bloody hell mun?’ He exclaimed and withdrew his hand quickly.

Fran picked up the pack of half crushed cigarettes and regarded them for a moment. Then she did something which totally threw Dylan. She lit one up. He watched, mouth hung open in dazed surprise, as she drew in deep tokes of the death stick. Then, without a word she leant across the table and pushed a button on the side of the recording machine. There was a loud and frankly irritating buzz for a couple of seconds before Fran announced.

‘Interview 1 with suspect Dylan Jones, led by Sergeant Francesca Thomas of the Llangaerthen constabulary. The time is 11.00am and the date is the 18th January 2014.’

She paused and glanced over at Dylan, who looked so bemused at the strangeness of how the interview was conducted, to the point that his head appeared as if it was about to pop straight off.

‘Mr Jones, where were you on the night of Tuesday 14th January 2014?’

Dylan, who had been momentarily distracted by Fran’s odd behaviour, composed himself once more and said nothing.

‘Let it be known for the records that I am holding up evidence item 2423 for Mr. Jones to see.’

Dylan leant forwards to see what she was holding and the look of determined resilience faltered for a second in his eyes.

‘Do you recognize this Mr. Jones?’

‘I’ve never seen that before in my life.’

Fran took one last hit of the cigarette and crushed it underfoot, adding particular gusto as she stamped it out. Dylan didn’t flinch but secretly he felt slightly intimidated by Fran’s off the chain behaviour.

‘I am also handing Mr. Jones a copy of the forensics report for evidence item 2423.’

She slid it across the table at Dylan, who ignored it initially and sat there with his arms crossed.

‘The report in question identifies that a hair sample of Mr. Jones was found on evidence item 2423: the torn fragment of tracksuit.’

Dylan flashed her a dangerous look before scrutinizing the report in front of him. It did not look good. The evidence was there as plain as day. He swallowed, his large Adam’s apple undulating under his skin. Fran studied the young lad’s face from across the table.

‘This item of evidence was found in one of Farmer Owens’ fields.’

Dylan shrugged.

‘The same field in which the body of Arthur Babcock was discovered.’

Again Dylan said nothing. Fran could see the colour had drained quickly from his face and despite his unwillingness to cooperate, she felt sorry for him.

‘Dylan.’

The more informal nature of Fran’s tone got his attention.

‘Do you understand the gravity of the situation? Evidence that links directly to you was discovered at the scene of a murder. You have got to help me out here Dylan, otherwise I am forced to assume the worst.’

Then Dylan said the dreaded words that Fran never wanted to hear.

‘I ain’t saying nothing till I get a lawyer.’

‘Dylan I implore you to see reason. Having a lawyer by your side isn’t going to change the fact that an incriminating piece of evidence belonging to you was found at a crime scene.’

Dylan said nothing and folded his arms resolutely. The two stared at one another defiantly for a couple of seconds before Fran reached over to the recording machine.

‘Interview terminated at 11.15am.’

She hit the stop button and rose to her feet.

‘I’ll get your lawyer then.’ She said disappointed and left the room, slamming her door on the way out.

Whereas Fran couldn’t seem to get Dylan to talk, the same was not to be said in Interview room 2. Bridge was having no amounts of fun trying to stifle the young Rhys, who had set it his task to apparently make as bigger scene as possible.

‘I don’t give two shits who you are boyo, let me out of here before I press charges for assault.’

The interview was going well. In the space of five minutes, Rhys had insulted him, let out a particularly lethal fart and even hurled his empty polystyrene cup at Bridge’s head.

‘As I have told you before, you’re lucky I don’t book you for resisting arrest.’

‘Whatever suit, just get on with it already, I’ve got a hot date in twenty minutes and she doesn’t like to be kept waiting, if you know what I mean.’ He gave Bridge a knowing wink.

Bridge sighed and flicked on the play button on the recording machine. As with Fran’s machine there was a loud prolonged beep that forced Rhys to stick his fingers in his ears.

‘Interview 2 with witness Rhys Jones, led by Detective Inspector Nicholas Bridge of Kingsmound Police Constabulary. The time is 11.05am and the date is 18 January 2014.’

Bridge was about to go on but Rhys held up his hand.

‘Woah there, did you just call me a witness?’

Bridge readjusted his collar in the manner of one who has been interrupted in a train of thought.

‘Based on new evidence that has come to light on our case, we believe that there is the possibility that you bore witness to the murder of Arthur Babcock at Gareth Owen’s farm on Tuesday 14th January.’

There was silence. A long, echoing silence. Bridge reveled in it gleefully. This was the effect he had been waiting for and the expression on Rhys’ face only served to embolden Bridge in his interrogation efforts. His victory was short lived however, as Rhys took him by surprise by suddenly bursting into laughter. Bridge fixed him with the most peculiar stare.

‘This is a joke right. Did Gethin put you up to this? He said you were a bit queer, I thought he meant a puff but now I see he meant the other thing.’

Bridge said nothing. He had not expected this and now he was at a loss at how best to proceed next. Not that he had to say anything, his grim expression told Rhys everything he wanted to know. He scratched the back of his ear sheepishly and shifted his gaze to his lap.

‘Why were you in that field that night Rhys. Did your older brother put you up to it? Was it his idea to move the body there?’

Rhys looked horrified and for the first time in the interview and maybe even in Bridge’s career, he felt a twang of sympathy for the runaway chav.

‘I don’t no nothing about no body.’ He said feebly and for a moment Bridge was worried that he might chuck up all over the table.

But luckily he managed to keep his breakfast down and so Bridge poked further at the already exposed wound.

‘I would love to believe you Mr. Jones but these are serious charges. I’m going to need you to help me out here.’

Rhys was about to comply when something extremely rare occurred, his brain spun with life, stopping him for blurting out something stupid.

‘I wasn’t anywhere near that field that night and better yet I can prove it.’

Bridge was surprised at the boy’s quick thinking. It seemed that the Jones’ family were cleverer then they first appeared. A mistake that Bridge had previously made with Gethin and one he was keen not to replicate.

‘I couldn’t have been in that field, as I was with my girl at the cinema.’

‘All night?’

Rhys shifted uncomfortably.

‘No not all night. I tried to you know…’

He formed a hole with his fist and poked his finger through. Bridge held up his hands.

‘Okay, okay… I get it. Then what?’

Rhys looked hesitant to respond and averted his eyes from Bridge’s.

‘Rhys, I can’t help you if you don’t help me.’

The more personal use of his first name seemed to do the trick.

‘Me and the lads went on a road trip to Clandowey, as Darren knew some of the local girls were out that night.’

‘Darren Rhios?’ Bridge asked, consulting his paperwork.

Rhys nodded regrettably. The mention of his gang leader’s name had immediately raised his anxious levels to a high alert. Not totally obvious to the common eye but Bridge was experienced in matters such as detecting slight nuances and body gestures with suspects under interrogation. Bridge could expertly tell from the way Rhys’ shoulders were hunched up defensively and the ever so slight twitch in the corner of his cheek, that the name grated on him.

‘This Darren Rhios, is he the leader of the gang?’

Rhys shrugged awkwardly.

‘I guess you could say that.’

‘Tell me about him, what’s he like?’

Rhys looked unsure.

‘Why do you want to know?’

‘Just entertain me.’

Rhys sighed, he was starting to get fidgety again.

‘I’d rather not talk about it.’

‘Why, does it make you uncomfortable Mr. Jones?’

‘What do you want me to say. Darren’s a laugh, he can be a bit mental sometimes but you know…he is a cool guy.’

Bridge nodded and realigned his folder of paperwork on the desk in front of him.

‘Cool guy eh? The sort of cool guy who convinces his mates to sneak onto someone’s farm and set fire to their hay bales?’

Rhys’ cheeked flared hotly, he was starting to sweat behind his ears.

‘How…do you know about that?’

Bridge flashed him a cynical look.

‘I’m a detective Mr. Jones, that’s sort of what I do.’

Rhys gave him a mocking smile and scratched his crotch in an undignified manner.

‘That stuff is all in the past. I don’t do that anymore so you can just forget asking me anymore about some codger snuffing it on the farm.’

And with that he sat back and fixed Bridge with a look of the upmost contempt and disgust. Bridge interlaced his fingers and gave a casual shrug.

‘Very well, I didn’t want it to come to this but…’

From within the folder, Bridge extracted two pieces of paper and slid them across the table to Rhys, who took one look at them and turned ghostly white.

‘Let it be known to the recording that I am presenting potential witness Rhys Jones with a copy of evidence report 2423 and a corresponding image of said evidence.’

Rhys couldn’t seem to tear his eyes away from the blown up image of the torn fragment of tracksuit. This looked bad. Real bad. Not for him but for Dylan. Silently, he pushed the two documents back over towards Bridge and began twisting his sleeve in his fingers tightly. Bridge tapped the photograph, the nail of his finger clicking against the solid wood of the table beneath.

‘This piece of evidence links your brother to the murder of Arthur Babcock. If you don’t start talking soon, my associate Sergeant Francesca Thomas will have no choice but to charge him with first degree murder.’

Rhys looked as white as a sheet and Bridge had to strain his ears in order to catch the next four words that came out of Rhys’ mouth in barely a whisper.

‘He will kill me.’

Bridge looked very serious all of a sudden and pulled his chair right up to the table and snapped his fingers at Rhys, who jumped at the sudden noise and close proximity of Bridge’s hand.

‘Hey Rhys…look at me…who will kill you?’

‘I…can’t… say.’ Rhys said helplessly, the veins in his temples throbbing with frustration.

Bridge slapped his hand down on the table hard.

‘For god’s sake man, you would keep your silence over your own brother.’

Rhys’ eyes stung with tears, not out of shock or fear but instead they glistened with guilt.

‘We weren’t in that field that night.’ He shouted defensively and swiped the documents of the table in one arc of his arm.

Realizing the extent of his outburst, he sheepishly sat back down and said in a low voice.

‘The night me and Dylan snuck into Farmer Owen’s farm and set fire to his hay bales, Dylan ripped his tracksuit bottoms trying to climb over the fence. Darren had dared us to go in there for a bet but when we had done it and were trying to climb back out, he thought it would be funny to try and stop us. He kept pushing me back and Dylan got angry and they had a little tussle. It was not until afterwards that we both noticed the tear and by then it was too late.’

He was red in the face when he had finished his speech and a mixture of relief and dismay were etched upon his face. Bridge tented his fingers and considered Rhys’ words.

‘This Darren character, does he often pull pranks like this?’

Rhys swallowed and said nothing. His silence confirmed Bridge’s suspicious.

‘I’ll take that as a yes then.’

Rhys looked totally and utterly crestfallen.

‘You said Darren was with you the night of the murder. Did he say what he had been doing prior to your boys outing?’

Rhys shook his head mutely.

‘Can you voice your answers for the recording please?’

‘No’ Rhys stated sullenly.

‘So you were with him the whole night?’

‘Only till like ten. We came home early cos Darren got stood up and he couldn’t get his end away at the club. Dropped me and Dylan off home and said he was going for a drive to clear his head.’

As soon as he had said it, Rhys instantly regretted his decision. But it was too late, Bridge was already on his feet.

‘Interview terminated at 11.20am.’

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

A Cold Case Of Coffee

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

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

‘Want another coffee Inspector?’

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

‘…yes…please.’

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

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

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

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

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

Bridge held up his hands.

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

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

Bridge and Gethin glanced at her with raised eyebrows.

‘What? Did I hurt your sensibilities fellas?’

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

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

Fran and Gethin eyed him suspiciously.

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

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

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

‘So…what do we have here then?’

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

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

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

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

Gethin shook his head.

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

Bridge rubbed his fingers together enigmatically.

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

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

‘…erm….what are you doing?’

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

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

‘And are they?’ Fran persisted.

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

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

Bridge and Fran both glanced at him somewhat affronted.

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

Gethin turned red with embarrassment.

‘No…of course…i didn’t mean.’

Bridge waved a hand dismissively.

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

Gethin looked highly distressed.

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

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

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

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

‘Very well, what else did you find?’

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

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

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

Bridge said nothing and so Gethin took over once more.

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

Bridge frowned.

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

Gethin nodded eagerly.

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

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

Gethin looked doubtful.

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

Fran and Bridge looked impressed.

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

Gethin blew out his cheeks.

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

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

‘They could explain a great deal.’

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

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

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

Gethin added the information to the board.

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

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

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

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

‘…medicine…’ Gethin finally blurted out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bridge looked unimpressed further.

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Do you know what this means?’

Fran and Gethin both looked blank.

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

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

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

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

Gethin frowned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Well….no…but…’

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

‘Yeah…but…’

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

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

Fran looked torn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘So you think she is guilty?’

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

Bridge stroked the side of his face, musing.

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

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

‘That’s a good point.’ Fran agreed.

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

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

‘Such as?’ Bridge queried.

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

‘Dream-what?’ Gethin said perplexed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Then there’s the dolls.’

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

‘Dolls?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fran blew out her cheeks dramatically.

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

‘Any chance you can do that?’

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

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

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

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

‘Hmmm?’ Bridge said absentmindedly.

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

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

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

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

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

‘…I don’t have a brother.’

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

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

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

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

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

Breaking and Entering

The first thing that Gethin noted as strange was that the lights in Arthur’s living room window were on. Instead of heading straight for the front door, he crept over to the window, in the hope of catching someone in the act. In the act of what, Gethin wasn’t sure. Whereas Fran had been provided with tall, lush greenery from which to hide behind, Gethin had nothing but dead plants and weeds, that offered no cover but simply crunched underfoot. A factor that hindered progress if anything. As Gethin neared the orange lit glow of the window, he contemplated how ironic his and Fran’s positions were. On the one hand, Fran was in a beautiful garden full of life and colour but she was scared shitless of everything in it and the woman who owned the house. Gethin on the other hand, was in what can only be described as one of the bleakest and colourless front gardens in existence and yet he had no fear of it or what lay in the house. Intrigue certainly, a level of nervous excitement to be sneaking into a victim’s house perhaps but not trepidation. And yet Gethin knew which garden he would favour in the Chelsea Flower Show.

At the window, he peered in through the dusty glass. It was hard to make out from the combined sunlight and murky pane but it appeared to be a small and minimalistic living room. There was a frayed red armchair, discoloured and worn, it’s fluffy innards poking out of the arms and headrest. A small television was set up in front of the armchair. Gethin was surprised to notice it was fairly modern. A few years old but a smart TV nonetheless. He had expected to be confronted with an antique TV set, covered in a layer of dust. A tall lamp, a wall hanging mirror and a DVD stand made up the remaining space. There were a few miscellaneous objects sat atop the fireplace but Gethin could not make them out from here. He tried the window, for some reason wanting to slip in like a cat burglar. It might have something to do with the fact that he watched all four Mission Impossibles the night before. Much to his dismay it was locked, so he turned his attention to the front door.

The doormat drew Gethin’s attention first. It had a novelty message etched upon it which read: Intruders will be shot, survivors will be shot again. Gethin chuckled and wiped his shoes. They weren’t particularly dirty, he just felt like doing it. The front door was locked.

‘Shit.’

He hadn’t planned for this. There was a 50/50 percent that the door would be locked or unlocked but for some reason Gethin had assumed that it would be open. Now what? Remembering where his mum used to leave her keys for him when they only had one set, Gethin began investigating the area around the door for a hidden key spot. The doormat yield no results, as did the underside of a flowerpot. Grasping at straws, he tried running his fingers over the top of the door.

‘Ouch.’ He exclaimed, as he received nothing but a splinter for his troubles.

Sucking his thumb, he sighed and moved around the side of the house to see if there was another way to get in. The rear garden was enclosed by a fence, which had a door set into it secured by a heavy padlock and a couple of rusted bolts. He gave the lock a half hearted tug, just in the off chance it was loose. Not the case. Gethin judged the height of it. It wasn’t that tall. He looked around for something to stand on but there was only a pile of loose bricks and a wheeless barrow. Not a problem. Gethin had done high jump at school and hurdles. Surely this was no different. He backed away from the door and did a few necessary stretches, as he still felt stiff from the uncomfortable car journey. Fran’s passenger seat was pushed right up and had become stuck that way. A factor that Gethin only discovered once they had set off. Then, taking a deep breath, he darted towards the fence and launched himself off the ground.

Gethin didn’t so much as land in the garden, as spectacularly spin through the air and hit the hard ground with a heavy thump and a dull groan. He had misstimed his jump and in his haste to heave himself over before he slipped back down, he had overbalanced, snagged his trouser leg on a protruding nail and toppled ungracefully into the garden. For a moment he just lay there, his legs twisted uncomfortably beneath him and his face pressed unglamorously into the grass. He was listening for movement. It was highly irrational. The place had to be empty, as the occupant was lying on a shelf in the llangaerthen morgue currently but Gethin had just banged his head against the ground, he clearly wasn’t thinking straight.

Eventually, after much deliberation, Gethin rose up off the ground and brushed himself down. His face was scrunched in an expression of disgust and a moment later, he spat grass from his mouth. He glanced around the garden. It was marginally better looked after then the front, a number of the bushes and trees had been recently trimmed back. The grass was also slightly shorter. However it wasn’t particularly colourful and the plants that were dotted about didn’t contain the most attractive flowers. It was evident that Arthur hadn’t been a gardener. A gazebo and a shed sat at the rear of the garden.

Gethin moved towards the conservatory that by the looks of things had been recently extended on to the original building. A small section of patio surrounded it and in one corner lay a pile of chopped wood and an electric buzzsaw. Gethin realized suddenly why his garden lacked attention. He was more interested in power tools then planting seeds. He moved to the conservatory doors and tried the handle hopefully. Locked. He gave the other one a yank for the hell of it, expecting to meet resistance but was startled when the door swung open. The key was still in on the other side, so he presumed it must have slipped Arthur’s mind.

He slipped inside, closing the door behind him. Two recliner sun chairs occupied the bulk of the space, separated by a low coffee table with a few car magazines and a dog earred paperback. The sight struck Gethin as odd. He thought that Gethin lived alone. Storing this to one side of his brain for the moment, Gethin moved from the conservatory into the living room. It was still dingy but the light glow cast from the conservatory windows gave him a better view of the room as a whole.

It was a very lifeless room. The wallpaper was white going grey and the furniture was dark brown and green and devoid of any patterns. There weren’t many indicators that someone had occupied this space, apart from a half drunken cup of coffee and a pair of old slippers, which were so tattered they were barely held together at the seams.
Gethin moved over to the coffee mug, which stood on a tall, circular shaped table, raised on three gnarled legs. Several dark mug rings adorned it’s surface. Gethin didn’t know why he felt the need to reach out and clasp it. It was presumably cold. There was no sign of a struggle evident in the room. The fact that the coffee mug hadn’t been knocked over by the attacker struck Gethin as peculiar and he could only imagine that the victim must have known the killer. It was with a deep sense of stomach churning dread that Gethin recoiled his hand suddenly. The coffee was still warm. He held his breath and listened hard. There was either somebody still here who had made themselves a coffee or they had not long left. Neither prospect thrilled Gethin.

All throughout the week Gethin had been abuzz with a deep exhilaration over the murder case. This was something new and exciting. He had gone to bed, imagining himself as Dirty Harry. But now an actual moment of drama had arisen and Gethin didn’t feel like Dirty Harry. He felt like he had done during his first encounter with the school bully aged 9: scared and weak.

For a moment he just stood there, rooted to the spot, his watery eyes somehow drawn to the ceiling. He didn’t know what to do. Something like this had never happened before. There was a creak from the hallway stairs and Gethin frantically tried to unhook his baton from his belt. His hands shook violently and slicked with wet, the weapon slipped from his grip and hit the floor. The house, Gethin would later discover, was built on a gradient and as such the floor sloped ever so slightly from right to left.

Gethin watched on helplessly as the baton began to roll across the floor. The hollow, almost mechanical sound it made seemed to reverberate around both the room and the inside of Gethin’s head. His eyes were glued to the doorway, terrible visions of a masked intruder entering the room, a bloodied knife in one hand. Gethin noticed the baton’s trajectory too late and watched helplessly as it rolled out of sight under a tall, old fashioned cabinet. He swallowed hard, the sensation in his throat much the same as when a awkward shaped piece of food hasn’t been chewed enough.

Gethin then did something very strange but sensible for the first time that day, he removed his shoes. Setting them down next to the slippers, he crept across the room to where the cabinet stood, his eyes flitting continually from the cabinet in front of him to the open doorway. The house lay silent. He knelt down and tried to retrieve the baton by hooking his arm underneath it, so as to keep his attention on the doorway for possible threats.  But it was too far from his grasp and his fingers brushed it unsuccessfully. This left him in a predicament. Either he crawl under the cabinet, which meant he could retrieve the baton but left a window of exposure to attack or he could leave it and take his chances unarmed. In the end he chose the first option, he would rather risk it to rearm himself for further danger.

The space between the cabinet and floor was extremely dusty and it took all of Gethin’s effort to stop himself from sneezing. Cobwebs and all manner of dead insect and arachnid littered the floor. There were also a few pens and what looked like a very yellowed and faded Tesco receipt. Progress was slow and the gap was tight, which meant that Gethin’s shoulders scraped uncomfortably along the bottom of the cabinet. The fast paced thuds of his heartbeat pounded loudly in his ears. It seemed an illogical part of the human design. All it did was play its part in drowning out other sounds, such as possible threats planning to sneak up on him.

The baton lay at the very back of the cabinet, pressed up against the wall. Gethin reached out his arm, a complicated maneuver in such a tight space and grabbed hold of it. A creak of a floorboard upstairs sent the fear in his brain into overload and his body jolted in a spasm of alarm. His head jerked upwards and smacked painfully into the bottom of the cabinet. His collision had disturbed a stack of envelopes sat atop the cabinet and they rained down upon him, as he crawled backwards from underneath the cabinet like some sort of confused lizard. Slipping and sliding on the sea of envelopes, he clumsily got to his feet and brandished his baton at the open door in a trembling hand.

It soon dawned on Gethin that nobody was coming and he eventually slackened his baton wielding arm. He was still on edge and would be until he searched the rest of the house but at least the threat had gone away for the moment. He glanced down at the messy pile of envelopes spread out across the floor and frowned. They all had neat writing scribbled on the front in red pen. Intrigued, he returned his baton to his belt and stooped to retrieve the nearest one. It was addressed to Arthur. According to the the envelope his surname was Babcock. Automatically, he turned it over in his hands and slid his finger under the seam. He was in the process of sliding the letter out when he paused. Something about this didn’t feel right. This was personal, it was evident from the slanted handwritten words on the front. He resealed it and slid it into his pocket for later. Besides, the house still wasn’t secure and so he retrieved the baton once more, this time not dropping it and moved to the doorway.

Before he entered the hallway, Gethin paused and gave the room one last scan. Arthur’s various war medals were lined up along the mantelpiece. He inspected each one in turn. Some were from the Falklands, others from the Korean War, there were even a few from Afghanistan. For the second time that day, Gethin used his brain and noted down the points of interest in the room in his notepad.

The stairs were not an enjoyable experience for the inexperienced police officer. Even without shoes, the carpeted steps creaked underfoot and any element of surprise had gone out the window. Having said that, any surprise had gone when he had nearly upended a cabinet with his head. Now, the sensible thing would have been to go fetch Fran but his fear was dwarfed by the overwhelming embarrassment that would occur if he was being paranoid.

He began with the bathroom, partly because he really needed a wee. In the mirrored cabinet fixed to the wall above the sink, he discovered a number of questionable pills, including sleeping, anti depressants and steroids. Gethin noted it down, as it seemed relevant.

The first bedroom was small and oddly shaped, as it was located next to the bathroom, which meant that one of the walls was set further back then the door. A single bed was pressed up against the far wall. The bed sheets were immaculately presented. It looked fresh and untouched. The walls were bare but blue tack and white square outlines indicated that at one time the spaces had been coveredd in posters and art. The rest of the room was empty and bare.

The second bedroom, presumably Arthur’s, was larger and played host to a huge Queens sized bed. The bedsheets were neat and orderly but a horrible mud brown in colour, making Gethin wonder if they were army issued. A couple of Andy McNab books were stacked on the left hand bed sized table. The other bedside table was empty but in the draws, Gethin discovered two photo frames face down. He extracted them and studied the subjects of the photo. The first one showed a much younger and much more alive looking Arthur, stood next to a pretty woman in a white dress. He wore his army uniform, a few medals emblazoned on his breast. The second showed Arthur, a little older, cradling a baby in his arms. A happy family by all accounts.

A dressing table was pushed up against the opposite wall to the bed. Two small mirrors and a larger central one, reflected Gethin’s movements. He frowned at a malignant spot on his chin and sat down on the dressing table stool. This appeared to be the only piece of furniture in the entire house that showed any real semblance of character. Gethin assumed that due to the various makeup products, hairbrushes and overfilling jewellery box, that the dressing table must have belonged to his wife. It wasn’t clear if she had passed away or they had separated but based on the fact that everything on the desk was untouched, leaned towards the idea that she may have passed.

Gethin took a sneaky look inside the jewellery box and was surprised and a little perplexed, to not find either his or her wedding rings. Gethin was sure it wasn’t around Arthur’s finger when they had discovered his body.

Gethin considered checking the attic for all of thirty seconds before returning downstairs. The house seemed quiet now and beside,  old buildings did often make strange noises. Acquiring a bin bag  from the kitchen, whilst pausing to run an eye over Arthur’s old army photos, Gethin moved back to the living room and scooped up all the scattered letters. Fran would want to see these.

It was on his way out that Gethin paused and double checked the home phone in the hallway. A small notepad with a recently torn sheaf of paper and blunt pencil sat next to the receiver. Gethin held the notepad aloft in the light and could just make out the slight imprint of the previous message. Remembering a trick he had seen on one of his mum’s detective dramas, Gethin started colouring in the pad with the accompanying pencil. The words from the previous sheaf appeared in white letters amidst the sea of grey. The message read: Food delivery, Thursday, 1.30pm. Gethin took a photo on his phone and exited the house, the bag of letters slung over one shoulder.

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

Vera

Fran manoeuvred her lumbering Volvo up the various winding and narrow country roads that led to Vera Mayhew’s house. At least that’s where she thought they were going. It was hard to tell this far out of town. All the roads and fields looked the same, each one carbon copies of the next. Fran was convinced she had seen the same amount of sheep in at least three fields.
Gethin sat in the passenger seat, staring out the window with an air of melancholy. As much as Fran was pleased that this meant she wasn’t subject to his usual antics of eating sweets noisily, Gethin’s increased despondency was beginning to worry her. She had made several attempts during the journey to broach the subject with her young protege but it had either resulted in Gethin clamming up yet further or diverting her attention and getting them lost. Even now, Fran was under the impression that she had taken the right turning back at the crossroads. But for all she new, they could be further away from their destination and she wouldn’t know any different.

Both Fran and Gethin had visited the house in their youth but Fran’s memory was so bad, to the point she didn’t even remember what she eaten for dinner last night. And Gethin had stumbled upon the place by accident with Dylan and Rhys. He had chosen wisely never to return, after the three of them had been chased away by Vera but Dylan and Rhys were too much of a thrill seeking duo to be persuaded otherwise.

The edge of a low, thatched topped building came into view and Fran squinted at it through her muddy windscreen.

‘Please be the right house.’ She muttered in a half pray and clutched hold of the steering wheel in whitened fingers.

She was growing tired of this wild goose chase and her arms and hands were aching from trying to keep the car in the centre of the rocky and uneven lane. Gethin looked up from his brooding and recognition dawned on his face, as the cottage grew more visible in the distance.

‘That’s the one.’

Fran gave him an imploring look.

‘Are you sure?’

Gethin nodded firmly, as the ivy adorned walls and rustic style windows came into view. Any doubts of it being the house in question were soon put to rest by Fran herself, when she caught sight of the forest-esque garden blooming wildly in front of it. The garden that had been both the subject of her fascination and her revulsion.

Age eight, she had snuck into this garden, entranced by the exotic towering plants and seedlings, only to be met with the hideous sight of a Venus fly trap devouring a half mutilated frog. She had been so disgusted by the scene, that she had thrown up right there in the garden. This had then been followed by a loud rap on one of the darkened windows of the cottage and the loud voice of Vera screaming at her inaudibly.

As they drew up alongside the house, Fran noticed another small cottage further down the lane. In stark contrast to the beautiful and picturesque front garden of Vera’s house, this one appeared bleak and barren. The grass was overgrown and unkempt, infested here and there with clusters of thistles and weeds. The few plants that did grow there were brown and wilted, so frail that Fran was pretty sure that one strong gust of wind would tear them loose from the earth. They wouldn’t be sent swirling through the air so much, as simply crumble and dissolve into the atmosphere.

Gethin was already halfway out the door. He was still upset that he hadn’t been allowed to take his car up instead of Fran’s. The journey had been horribly slow. Granted, they had encountered trouble navigating the route properly, not aided by the fact that the GPS app on Gethin’s phone was about as reliable as a chocolate fire guard. Still Gethin felt it had been more of a trundle then an actual drive.

Fran had joined him outside the car and was taking a few puffs on her e-cigarette. Gethin sniggered at the sight of it. Fran thought about blowing it in his face to get him back but realized it was more vapour then smoke and would have a less impacting effect. Under normal circumstances she would have just lit up a normal cigarette but there was something about Vera’s house that changed her mind. She wasn’t sure if it is was born out of a fear that she would be reprimanded by an irate Vera for smoking near her house or the fact that she felt bad for poisoning the luscious garden with her dirty toxins.

‘I’m guessing that is the victim’s house?’ Gethin pondered, focusing on the more run down of the two cottages.

‘Must be.’ Fran said between puffs.

They stood there for a moment, both slightly daunted by the solitary houses. Vera’s house was a little too overwhelming to the point it became slightly intimidating and the victim’s dwelling was just plain creepy.

‘You sure you don’t want me to come in to?’ Gethin offered and nodded at Vera’s cottage.

Fran shook her head. She had to do this alone. It wasn’t about facing her demons. At the end of the day it was a silly incident in her youth. It was more to do with the fact that she had to woman up and do her job as police sergeant, no matter what the situation.

‘Okay then…I guess I should take a look around…the victim’s house.’ Gethin said and scratched the back of his head awkwardly.

‘Yeah you do that.’ Fran replied with less conviction then she intended.

They remained there for thirty seconds longer, both stood there apprehensively like two school kids who are about to do something that they are not supposed to. Then Fran smoothed down her uniform, took a deep breath and opened the gate to Vera’s garden. Gethin watched her until she was swallowed by the tall foliage, before turning and setting off towards the other house.

Fran moved through the garden slowly, taking care not to make too much noise. There was no need for this, it was more of an animalistic instinct. She had no way of knowing if this was the killer or not but Fran couldn’t help shaking the feeling that they were on to something with this one.

As she wound her way through the jungle like front garden, she was wary to keep an eye out for the Venus fly trap that had been the subject of so much grief as a child but it was nowhere to be seen. Fran wasn’t sure if she preferred this or not. Surely not knowing where a threat waited was scarier then the threat itself. At least that’s what Fran thought.

Eventually after many twists and turns, she found what resembled, a half buried garden path and proceeded down it. The house stood in front, still and silent. It was an old cottage, the paint of the front and sides of the dwelling peeling from lack of attention. All the windows were covered in a thick layer of dust, which made it hard for Fran to discern if there was anyone home. If it hadn’t been for the fact that the plants in the garden were so well tended to, Fran would have presumed that the cottage was uninhabited.

She reached the front door and scanned it for any sign of a knocker or a bell. There was none so instead she gave the door a loud rap with her knuckle. The door was slightly ajar and drifted open upon her knock. Fran flinched and reached for a gun that she did not have. Caught up in the chaos of the moment, she couldn’t help but laugh bizarrely. Why had she done that? Maybe it was because she had never actually been involved in a police situation of this type and had instantly assimilated her little knowledge of it from cop shows. Or perhaps it was just instincts kicking in like before in the garden. Either way she felt ridiculous.

Tentatively, she slipped inside the house, her heart beginning to hammer like a snare drum. The hallway was dark and dingy and Fran almost slipped on a pile of unopen mail strewn across the carpeted floor. Fran’s unease rose. She sincerely hoped that she wasn’t going to find another body. Surely not, the smell would have reached her by now. Moving cautiously down the hallway, she shook out het trembling hands and tried to get a grip of herself.

‘Hello, is anybody home?’ Fran called, her voice more mouse like then she intended.

‘Whose there?’

Fran nearly jumped out of her skin, as a silhouetted figure appeared in the doorway to the living room, situated at the far end of the hallway.

‘….I’m Francesca Thomas….Sergeant….I’ve come to talk to you…about your neighbour?’

‘Arthur? What’s this about? Is he alright?’

The figure stepped forward out of the doorway and the hallway burst into light. Fran flinched, as her eyes were forced to readjust the bright glare. The shadow was now revealed to be an elderly lady, who shuffled slowly towards her. Fran squinted, taking in the woman’s appearance. It was Vera Mayhew, there was no doubt about that. She may have been a lot older then she was in the photograph on the evidence board but it was apparent that over the years Vera had taken good care of herself.

‘Well…I’m afraid I have some bad news…’

Fran moved forwards, her fear dissolving, along with the myth that Vera was a cranky old hag.

‘I’m sorry to inform you this Mrs. Mayhew…but Arthur is dead.’

Vera’s raised her eyebrows in momentary surprise before announcing;

‘Well…you best come and have a cup of tea then hadn’t you?’

And with that she turned on her heel and disappeared through a door to her left, that presumably led to the kitchen. Fran was left stood in the hallway, feeling rather puzzled at how Vera had taken the news in her stride.

‘Do you take sugar my dear?’ Vera called from the kitchen.

‘One please.’ Fran replied and followed her into the kitchen, still slightly numbed by the strangeness of her current situation.

Fran sat perched on the edge of a once pretty floral sofa that had become faded and frayed with age. Vera stood at the fireplace, one arm leant nonchalantly on the mantle, the other clasping a cup and saucer of tea, both made of fancy looking china. Fran held her own cup and saucer, the latter of the two she held on for with dear life.

She had never been accustomed to the airs and grace of proper tea making. At home growing up, it had mostly been a case of finding the least tea rimmed, stained mug and dumping a teabag in, adding water and pouring in a generous helping of sugar. Fran had been treated, rather pleasantly on this occasion to a brewed teapot, sugar lumps, milk that didn’t smell like it was on the turn and a plate of moorish biscuits.

She had expected to be nervous of the old woman and find herself in a grubby living room, surrounded by stuffed birds and piles of knitting. On the contrary, Vera’s house couldn’t be more inviting. It was rustic with many pieces of carved furniture, some elegantly shaped into the distinct forms of animals. Fran particularly liked a small footstool designed with an otter clasped around it.

‘Feel free to sit if it is more comfortable.’ Fran offered helpfully.

‘No no dear, I’m fine. I am trying not to become glued to the thing.’ She gestured at her armchair, bearing the same floral pattern as the sofa.

Fran nodded and took a tentative sip of her tea. It was an odd sensation being in the hot seat. Usually, she was the one in the driving seat and it was the interviewee’s who felt slightly nervous. There was something ever so commanding about Vera. Not so much aggressive. In fact that was the most unsettling part. She was so calm and well mannered, that Fran would have felt at ease, if it wasn’t for the fact that Vera’s high attention to detail and meticulous method of self preservation, made her feel she was almost compelled to follow suit. It was like she had reverted to a child. Slightly awed but a little frightened at the self made adult in front of her.

‘You’ve got a nice place here.’ She said, clearing her voice in attempt to gain authority over the conversation.

Vera smiled and took a sip of tea. Her eyes searched Fran intently. They were vividly green and Fran couldn’t help but gaze at them in amazement. She had never seen eyes that green before. A troubling thought crossed her mind. She was sure that when she had looked at the picture of the younger Vera, her eyes had been brown not green. But that couldn’t be possible? Fran ran an eye over her face as a whole. There was no doubt, it was definitely the same woman.

‘Have another biscuit dear.’ Vera said sweetly and gestured at the tray on the footstool in front of Fran.

Fran patted her stomach and shook her head.

‘Probably shouldn’t. Need to get rid of the Christmas belly.’

‘Go on dear, I insist. Otherwise they will only go to waste.’

There was something a bit sinister about how insistent Vera was and the smile she wore was so wide, Fran thought she glimpsed just for a moment, a dark presence beneath her sweet disposition. A shiver ran over her and hearing a rattle of wood she glanced up.

Suspended from the ceiling on long, thin pieces of string were a multitude of dream catchers, with a plethora of colours and a wide range of sizes. Fran almost split some of her tea, so taken aback by this new discovery.

‘Impressive isn’t it?’

‘I’ll say.’ Fran managed, not sure whether to be impressed or concerned.

‘That collection I have built up over the last thirty years.’

Fran nodded, examining as many different ones as she could.

‘What made you start collecting?’

Vera moved over and stroked the feathers of one of the lowest ones, which was cherry red in colour.

‘I have always been fascinated with dreams and I like the idea of something being able to trap the bad ones, like a karmic spider trapping evil flies in its web.’

Fran regarded the woman that stood before her. She appeared for all intense and purposes like an elegant older woman from the 50s with her grey hair styled into a bob, glamorous jewellery and a long, blue dress that embraced her curves, which despite her age were not half bad. In stark contrast, her house appeared like something out of a living green magazine with its rustic furnishings, blossoming garden and homely décor. Fran was faced with an enigma. Usually by now in the interview, she would have gauged the measure of the subject. But now she was totally at a loss to draw a conclusion.

‘Do you really believe that?’

Vera shrugged and threw her head back in laughter.

‘Maybe, maybe not. I might have believed that at some point but I think now I just collect them because they look nice.’

Fran smiled slightly but it felt strained and so she hastily returned to her tea. It was starting to get cold. She glanced at her watch. It had already been half an hour and they hadn’t actually got onto the topic of the deceased neighbour Arthur. This supposedly innocent old lady was certainly good at distracting attention and stalling. Fran placed the cup and saucer carefully on the tray and clenched her hands together, resting them in her lap and leaning forwards.

‘So, Mrs. Mayhew.’

‘Ms.’

‘I’m sorry?’

‘It’s Ms. I’m afraid I never made it that far my dear.’

Fran blushed. She should have known that. It was quite a common fact that Vera Mayhew had never married, even some of the more uncouth of the slighter old boys she hung around with when she was a child, claimed that she enticed men into her cottage and then boiled them up in her cauldron. A few said she was infertile. Fran didn’t know either way and she was not going to ask. One blunder was enough for one interview. Although she did think it would be darkly ironic if Vera Mayhew, who spent such much of her time fertilizing plants, couldn’t produce seeds of her own.

‘My apologies.’

‘No worries, more tea dear?’

‘No…I mean…yes…’

‘Which one is it dear?’

‘Yes.’

Fran blew out her fringe hair exasperatedly. It was obvious what Vera was doing. She was trying to derail the interview. Make Fran lose her flow. But why? What did Ms. Mayhew have to hide?

‘Ms. Mayhew? I was wondering if you could give me some more information about your neighbour Arthur?’

Vera pursed her lips, thinking hard.

‘I’m afraid I don’t know that much. Despite being neighbours, I rarely see him. He keeps to himself and so do I. I sometimes see him reading on his porch, when I am in the garden but other then that, he mostly stays shut up in his house. Bit of a hermit if you ask me.’

Fran snorted tea.

‘You alright dear?’

‘…yes…fine.’

She wiped her nose with the back of her sleeve and recomposed herself. It was just ludicrous to hear Vera rant on about her neighbour’s hermit style life choice, when she herself had been guilty of the same crime for the last thirty years. Fran cleared her throat.

‘Do you know his last name by any chance?’

Vera frowned.

‘I think it is Babbock or Bammock. Sorry my memory is a little sketchy these days.’

Fran pulled out her notepad, which in stark contrast to Bridge’s was messily crammed full of untidy notes and odd bits of paper glued and stapled in, at an assortment of wonky and slanted angles. She flipped it open and began noting down the names hurriedly. Vera sat quite still, watching her with an air of infuriating patience and composure.

‘And…did Arthur have any family that you know of? A wife or kids perhaps?’

‘He mentioned a daughter that he doesn’t talk with anymore, who lives somewhere in England. He’s never mentioned a wife but I noticed he did have a wedding ring. Whether he be a divorcee or a widower, I have no idea.’

Fran nodded, making quick, concise notes. She looked up, contemplating the best way to phrase her question.

‘…so sorry if I sound forward Ms. Mayhew…’

‘Please call me Vera.’ She interjected with another wide smile.

Fran restrained herself from saying something rude. She was beginning to get a little tired of this woman’s continual sweetness. It felt at times like she was dealing with a hippie version of Dolores Umbridge.

‘Vera.’ She continued with mock stress on the name. ‘How were you able to phone the police?’

Vera looked rather alarmed all of a sudden. It was the first time Fran had seen her gentle disposition drop. A fact that Vera quickly hid. Fran had clearly not meant to see that side of her.

‘…I don’t quite follow?’

Fran moved forwards and placed both her hands on her knees, fixing Vera with a determined eye. She was going to swing the tide in her favour. Now it was time for Vera to feel uncomfortable.

‘Well, you previously mentioned that you and Arthur didn’t have much of a rapport, so why did you grow concerned? Surely if he was hermit, you would have gone long periods without seeing him at all?’

Vera answered so rapidly and smoothly that Fran was sure it had to have been rehearsed several times.

‘The home dinner delivery service didn’t turn up.’

‘Home dinner service?’

Vera nodded eagerly and took a biscuit from the tray.

‘One of the few things me and Arthur have in common is we both get food delivered to our house. You know, meals on wheels and all that jazz.’

Fran noted it down and tried to suppress the mounting anticipation growing in her chest. The case had taken so long to break but now new clues and trails seemed to be popping up at every corner.

‘Who delivers these meals?’

‘That would be Simon…Simon Barnes. Lovely guy, has the most remarkable eyes? Suffers from a condition called Hetechromia.’

When Fran didn’t ask what that was she carried on.

‘He has one blue eye and one green. Like David Bowie.’

Fran smiled. She wondered if he delivered on Saturday nights.

‘So you noticed that Simon hadn’t turned up and assumed he was missing, just like that?’

Fran looked slightly irked at Fran’s to the point tone.

‘Well, me and Simon always have a natter after he has dropped off Arthur’s meal and every week without fail Arthur puts in an order.’

‘So why didn’t you phone Simon?’

‘I did, he said he had cancelled, so I went over there and knocked to see if he was alright. Couldn’t see anyone in there, so I let myself in with his spare key he had given me. Nowhere in sight. I even walked up and down the lane a few times, calling his name.’

‘That’s very considerate of you to be so concerned for him.’ Fran said with a testing look.

Vera returned a challenging look and for a moment the two women looked at each other, waiting to see who would break first.

‘We may not be best friends Sergeant Thomas but we look out for each other. When your this far out in the valleys, you need someone to watch your back.’

Vera waited for her to fire back with a retort but Fran’s attention was focused on something in the gap between Vera’s elbow and the mantle.

‘Those are interesting. May I enquire what they are?’

Vera turned side on, so as to allow Fran a better view of the mantle. Lined along its top were roughly ten small dolls, each with different hair, clothes and material. Fran got up out of the low sofa, the springs had long since gone but Vera had kept it because of her obsession with flowers, and moved closer to inspect them.

‘They are made out of sack material, stuffed with hay and the clothes and hair are a mixture of felt, cotton and silk.’ Vera stated proudly.

‘Their very lifelike.’ Fran commented, feeling another shiver course through her spine.

Much too life like. There was something familiar about them but Fran couldn’t think what. Maybe she had owned creepy dolls of her own when she was a child and the memory had been suppressed. She noticed a blurred movement out of her eye and glanced out the window. Gethin waved at her eagerly, half concealed by a tall fern. Glossing over it, she straightened up and held out her hand.

‘Thank you for cooperation Ms. Mayhew. I shan’t take up your time any longer.’

‘Not at all dear. I’m sorry about poor Arthur. I hope you find the person responsible and they get what they deserve.’

She squeezed Fran’s hand surprisingly tight and showed her to the door.

‘Feel free to come any time.’

Fran stood on the doorstep, feeling altogether peculiar and ran a hand through her hair. She was dying for a cigarette.

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

Caught Between A Cop And A Hard Case

Gethin overslept and awoke groggy eyed and fuzzy headed. The window was open and throughout the night a cool, frosty breeze had frequented the small bedroom. Forcing his tired eyes open, which at this point were thin slits, he let out a deep sigh and rolled over on to his other side. He reached out his arm for the window but it was just out of reach of his fingertips and so he relented and flopped back on the bed. The fresh air would probably do him good he thought to himself. Eventually, with various mutterings and groans of displeasure, Gethin extracted himself from the warm confines of his ‘Need for Speed’ duvet and stood shivering in his boxers. He was already late and at a guess, he reckoned his mobile phone sitting on the bedside table would have around four missed calls and several new texts. It wasn’t on silent or airplane mode, it was just that Gethin was an incredibly deep sleeper. Hence the reason he had slept through all three alarms. His deep sleep cycles were so bad, to the point that he had once slept through an entire day of college and had only been woken up when his mother had returned home from work early, to find him snoring loudly with the alarm clock actually sitting on his face. Upon further investigation, she had discovered that Rhys and Dylan had put it there for both practical and humour related reasons. According to Dylan, they had even cracked out a pair of symbols and a trumpet to aid in rousing, although Gethin and his mum weren’t entirely sure they believed them.

As Gethin stood there contemplating the universe and all existence, which on occasion he did at 8.45 in the morning, the door opened and Dylan announced his presence by mooning him proudly. He wasn’t entirely satisfied with seeing the moon at this time of day, even if he had previously been pondering the universe. After Dylan had felt he had sufficiently bared his derrière for long enough, he gave Gethin the obligatory finger and slammed the door. As the room rattled from the tremor of the door slam, Gethin consoled himself that at least he had only had to look upon one of his brother’s arse’s instead of being underneath it.

Downstairs, Gethin was surprised to find the kitchen empty for once. On further investigation, he discovered Rhys and Dylan playing PlayStation in the living room and spotted his mum hanging out the laundry in the garden. Gethin crept around the kitchen, as he made himself a morning coffee, trying to remain as silent as possible, in order to avoid a food and beverage order from the twins in the living room. Usually he would inevitably end up walking into a table or banging his head against a cupboard and giving the game away but today he was in luck. Coffee made and a bit of bread cooking in the toaster, Gethin sat down at the kitchen table and extracted a small, well thumbed paperback from under a pile of newspapers. Gethin loved books, his affiliation with them born out of his primary school days, where struggling to make any friends, he turned his attention to literary characters instead. These days, Gethin didn’t have much time for reading, what with the demanding hours of the job and the equally demanding and distracting efforts of his two younger siblings. Today however, he was graced with the good fortune of being able to indulge himself in a chapter of his book. Another of Stephen King’s masterpieces, Gethin was a big fan. So much so that he had even acquired the series of books written under Stephen King’s alias: Richard Bachman.

Gethin glanced at the clock above the window. He was running late, very late. However Gethin wasn’t one to get easily flustered and after all there was no point in rushing, as he was already late. What difference would five minutes make?

All the difference apparently. When Gethin finally arrived at work, he was met with a familiar and disheartening sight. Fran and Gethin were stood in front of the evidence board, bickering like two schoolchildren arguing over traded pokemon cards. Upholding his civic duty, Gethin chose to ignore the pair of them for the time being and retreated to the safety of Sergeant Paul’s desk.

‘Morning Paul.’

‘Gethin,’ Muttered Paul, not looking up from his daily Sudoku puzzle.

Silence followed their exchange, punctuated every now and then by Fran and Bridge’s elevated voices through the office door. Eventually Gethin whistled loudly and drummed his fingertips on the desk.

‘Good talk, Paul.’

Bracing himself for the inevitable shit storm that was to follow, Gethin made his way to the office doors and plunged into the unknown. It was only when the door had closed behind Gethin, that Paul looked up from paper, registering Gethin’s exit from the foyer.

Gethin entered the main headquarters room tentatively, holding on to the door with his hand till the last minute, in order to make as little noise as humanly possible. Fran was now seated and Bridge was stood in front of the evidence board, making enigmatic hand gestures. The two were red faced and appeared to have quietened somewhat, most likely too exhausted by one another. Gethin was reminded of when you attempt to push two magnets together at school and meet resistance between them. Fran and Bridge were the embodiment of the term opposing forces.

As he got closer however, he was met with a sight of such a bizarre nature that he had to pinch himself to make sure he wasn’t hallucinating. Fran was laughing. Not only that but Bridge was smiling. So bowled over by this turn of events, Gethin had to sit down in a nearby chair, slightly weak at the knees. Bridge pointed at something on the board and glanced around the room. It was then that he saw Gethin. He did a double take before actually absorbing the fact that Gethin had essentially materialized out of thin air.

‘Morning Gethin…didn’t see you there, gave me quite a turn.’

Fran twisted round in her chair and jumped in surprise at the silent Gethin, watching them intensely.

‘Jeez Geth, you trying to give me a heart attack.’

Gethin looked from Fran to Bridge then back again and realized that they eyed him with a look that a parent would give a absent teenager. Forcing himself up out of the chair, he shook out his wobbly legs and smiled suddenly, the low hanging dark cloud dissipating from above his head.

‘Sorry, I didn’t want to interrupt you guys. You looked like you were in the middle of something important.’

Both Fran and Bridge relaxed and beckoned him over to the evidence board eagerly. What neither of them had realized was that Gethin was utilizing every effort in his body to disguise his discomfort. Luckily, as a child Gethin had, for a time, been interested in acting and was very good at it. So much so, that people underestimated Gethin and upon first meeting took him to be a slightly naive and unaware young man. Whilst this was true to certain extent, Gethin had a habit of playing this aspect of his personality up. And what Bridge and Fran and a number of other people failed to realize was that Gethin was a rather accomplished police officer, due to the fact that he played dumb, using it to his advantage to glean information and find out important things when no one was paying enough attention.

‘Whilst you were having a nice lie in, some of us were up early working on new possible leads for the case.’

Gethin ignored Bridge’s slight remark and Fran’s reproachful look and moved in closer to the board, to inspect the latest developments. A few more photos and barely decipherable sections of texts had been added. It now grew more and more out of control, the various pins and strings, criss crossing over the board, connecting the relevant pieces of evidence to victims and suspects.

‘Whose that?’ He asked and tapped an old black and white photograph of a young, pretty woman with long brown hair. She wore a long flowery dress down to her knees and was knelt in a field of tall grass, smiling joyously. A pearl necklace hung around her neck. Her skin was light but tanned coppery brown by time spent outdoors in the summer.

‘Vera Mayhew.’ Fran said proudly, her chest swelling at the fact that Gethin had picked up on her discovery first.

Bridge looked a little disgruntled but hid it quickly, as he felt Fran’s eyes upon him and didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of seeing him beat. Gethin frowned at the photo and mulled over the name in his head. It meant something to him but was so vague it was hard to pinpoint. Fran smiled, glad that she wasn’t the only one who had found it hard to put the name to the face.

‘…She’s not…old crazy Vera who lives…over Cottles way?’

‘The very same.’ Fran confirmed, surprised that he had made the connection so fast.

‘My brothers used to chuck apples at her house when they were younger. Sent her into a right frenzy I can tell you.’ He laughed and shook his head in disbelief. ‘But she looks so different here, so young…and pretty.’

Gethin glanced at Fran. She looked serious all of a sudden. Bridge too was quiet and inspected something on the end of his shoe awkwardly.

‘What is it?’

Fran cleared her throat and placed a hand on his shoulder.

‘Now…I don’t want you to worry…straight away, at the end of the day…it is just a line of inquiry and it might mean nothing.’

‘What?’ Gethin replied, a nausea gripping his stomach all of a sudden. ‘What are you on about?’

‘Bridge has a lead…a theory to do with…some of the gangs.’

Bridge flashed Fran an expression of annoyance. Thanks, throw me under the bus why don’t you? He shot this question at her telepathically, hoping that the this would be a great time for his superpowers to kick in. Gethin groaned and already knew what she referred to, before he scanned over the board. There. His eyes snapped to a series of mugshots of young lads, all around the same sort of age, with similar hairstyles and clothing. However Gethin did not need a magnifying glass to pick out the two lads on the end. Rhys and Dylan stared back at him with cocky, slightly thug like expressions. Facial expressions that pretty much said ‘Up yours mun.’

Gethin could feel Fran and Bridge’s eyes upon him, waiting to gauge his response to this new development. Gethin needed to play it careful. It was important to show a certain level of shock but at the same time disheartened understanding. And most important of all, he had to keep his festering emotions at bay. The ones that wanted to rip free from his throat and scream at the board in front of him. To seize the thing by its edges and toss to the floor, before stamping on it repeatedly. Instead, he widened his eyes in alarm but just for a moment before sighing and kicking a nearby chair in frustration. It was a bit of an over the top reaction but necessary to at least vent some of his anger. Otherwise it would just build and build inside him until eventually it would burst out at another time, in a far less accommodating or appropriate situation.

‘Brilliant.’ He growled and glared at his brothers’ mugshots.

Bridge replaced the chair quietly, whilst Fran gave him a sympathetic smile.

‘I’m sure they have nothing to do with it. It’s a big gang at the end of the day…’ She trailed off, wanting to say more but not quite sure what to follow up with.

Gethin nodded and let his shoulders droop half heartedly.

‘I know. I just wish they weren’t so….’

He glanced up at the ceiling, searching for the right words.

‘Temperamental.’ Bridge suggested.

Fran glared at Bridge but Gethin clicked his fingers at him.

‘Exactly.’

The three fell into silence, all musing over the predicament of the two brothers. Eventually Fran sat down beside Gethin and said calmly.

‘If you want to take five and grab a coffee we can…’

Gethin shook his head, looking at the board decisively.

‘No…no, I’m alright. I’d rather just get on with it…if its all the same to you.’

‘Good man.’ Bridge said encouragingly.

Fran gave Bridge a sympathetic smile. Gethin was again taken aback by the civility of the two. Obviously, they noticed his sideways glance ,as they flushed red with embarrassment all of a sudden and moved away quickly. Bridge returned to the evidence board and turned on the spot, ready to make an announcement. Fran moved over to her desk and settled herself in her chair.

‘So…me and Fran have been talking over the case all morning and we have come to the conclusion… that the best course of action… is for you two to take a visit to Vera Mayhew’s and interview her about the witness.’

Gethin flapped his hand to interrupt. Bridge grimaced at the impolite gesture but kept a level head. It was no use enflaming the situation. As long as Gethin and Fran played ball he could get on with his side of the case and wrap things up quickly and jump on the first train back to London.

‘Yes, Gethin.’

‘How does old, crazy Vera link into this?’

Bridge straightened his tie slightly.

‘Vera Mayhew.’ He corrected.

Gethin rolled his eyes at Fran, who sniggered behind her hand.

‘Just so happens to live next door to our victim.’ Bridge continued, choosing to ignore their childish behaviour.

Gethin’s mouth dropped open a little and he turned to Fran for clarification.

‘Steven recognized him the case file photo.’

‘Which he shouldn’t have had access to.’ Bridge added.

‘Well it did help open this case didn’t it?’ Fran retorted.

Bridge opened his mouth to protest but Gethin beat him to it.

‘So we have a witness?’ Gethin said excitedly and sat up straight, his attention rapt on Bridge and the board.

This was brilliant. Not only did this mean they were closer to solving the case but also that their attention would be diverted from Dylan and Rhys. Unfortunately this promising news was soon crushed by Bridge, when he delivered his next part of the speech.

‘In the meantime I will analyze the tracksuit fragment for any hair or skin traces.’

Gethin felt his stomach lurch horribly as Bridge talked. He shifted uncomfortably. Good actor or not, Bridge noticed Gethin’s discomfort. He stored it to one side of his brain, his skill of compartmentalization coming in useful once again. Bridge was well aware of the importance but at the moment he had more pressing matters such as talking to the gang members. Much to his discomfort however Fran shot him down.

‘No way.’

‘But…’

‘May I remind you what happened when you tried to interview Gareth Owen.’ Fran warned, her eyes narrowing.

‘I know but…’

‘Not a chance.’

Bridge appealed to Gethin to provide him backup but had no luck.

‘I think Fran’s right.’

Bridge huffed loudly and dry washed his face.

‘Fine, I will talk to forensics and then see where we are at.’

Fran scrutinized him shrewdly, not trusting him to just look at the evidence and not go the next step further. However Bridge’s face was impassive and Fran couldn’t discern any hint of a hidden secret. Gethin was staring at the floor, trying not to think about Bridge poring over the tracksuit piece with a magnifying glass and tweezers.

‘Gethin?’

He looked up. Both Fran and Bridge were watching him.

‘What?’

‘I said, are you ready to go up to Vera’s now? Fran repeated.

Gethin nodded, a numbness in his head and body and lifted himself out of the chair. As he followed Fran out towards the station car park, he felt like he was floating on air, as opposed to walking on solid ground. The feeling was not freeing or comforting in the slightest but instead filled him with unease.

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

Back On Track

By the time Fran finally got home she had begun to calm down a little, not a lot but a bit. It had been a truly disastrous day and to remedy this she was keen to kick off her shoes and sink into a warm, relaxing bath. At the top of the steps to her front door, she tried the handle and found it was locked. Off course it was. Despite the fact that her better half was inside and awake, he insisted on locking the door. Fran let out a sigh, her misty breath steaming up the glass in front of her and started the laborious process of searching her handbag. Not an easy task. There was an awful lot of crap in there; empty chocolate wrappers, discarded tissues, a host of music players, all of which were out of battery and a ridiculous amount of Biros.

‘Really?’ She hissed, as there was a loud jangle and her keys hit the floor.

She was in the process of stooping down to retrieve them when there was the sound of a key being turned in a lock and the front door swung open.

‘Sorry love, forgot I had locked the door.’

Fran straightened up with a groan and barged past her husband, shooting him the stink eye as she went. He rather sheepishly closed the door behind her and locked it with burning red ears. She threw down her handbag in the empty living room chair and collapsed onto the long three seater sofa. It had cost them an arm and leg but Fran had insisted and at times like these she was glad of her decision.

‘Cup of tea dear?’

Fran’s arm shot out with her thumb raised up. Even speaking was too much effort for her at this point in time. Something brushed up against her leg and she pushed herself up into a seated position. A small, chubby Jack Russell with stumpy legs jumped up onto her lap, making her tense and groan at the same time. It wasn’t that she wasn’t used to the dog’s behaviour, it was more that the ageing faithful hound was becoming increasingly on the heavy side.

‘Who’s a good boy?’ She said fondly, scratching under his chin.

Wagging his tail he leaned in to lick her face. Fran wrinkled her nose and shoved the affectionate animal off her lap, which was now covered in dog hair.

‘What have you been feeding him Steven?’

‘He’s probably been digging up worms in the neighbour’s garden again, no doubt.’ Steven replied loudly over the boiling of the water in the kettle.

Fran shook her head at the panting hound but Steven shrugged nonchalantly.

‘No real shame. Their a couple of right twits anyway.’

‘Karen’s alright.’ Fran yawned and stretched out lazily.

Steven gave her a skeptical glance and she blew out her cheeks.

‘Alright she’s a silly tart too.’

Steven smiled and moving over to the sofa, placed a steaming mug of tea on the low coffee table in front of her. He winced as he went to straighten up and massaged his lower spine with his hand.

‘Sit down you stupid git. The doctor said you need to rest.’

A rather cross looking Steven sunk into the nearby armchair and scowled at the floor.

‘All I do is rest, the blasted thing is driving me mad.’ He whined, readjusting himself to a more comfortable position.

Fran massaged her forehead, in an effort to dispel the low pressured migraine.

‘Have you done your exercises today?’

Steven tapped the armrest with a finger and glanced around guilty.

‘Steven! How do you expect to get better if you don’t help yourself?’

‘I know, I know. I tried, it was just too painful.’

Another fib. Fran knew all too well that he had fallen asleep again on the sofa, watching one of his old westerns. She rolled her eyes and rubbed the dog’s belly which was presented expectantly.

‘Did you take him for a walk?’

‘What dear?’ Steven said vaguely, his brow still furrowed in anguish.

‘He is getting overweight.’

Steven waved his hand dismissively.

‘Nonsense he is old is all.’

Fran went to object but gave in at the last second. She was far too tired and cranky to get into a heated debate over the dog’s health regime at this hour of the night. Leaning forwards with a groan, she scooped up her mug of tea and took a sip. It was a glorious sensation, cancelling out the disgusting taste in her mouth from a day of crap station coffee. She was annoyed at her husband, despite knowing she shouldn’t. It had been a hard, grueling day and all Fran had wanted was to come back to a clean and tidy house. But no, instead the sink was full of dirty washing and the coffee table was piled high with half eaten meals and scrunched up newspapers. Sympathetic feelings attempted to slip into her head but were battered away when she reminded herself of Steven’s lack of effort with his recovery. It almost felt as if he was deliberately ignoring them in order to shirk responsibility. But surely not? Looking over at her dressing gown clad partner with his messy and awry hair it was evident that he was suffering.

‘Alright love?’ He asked with a raised eyebrow, feeling like he was under a magnifying scope all of a sudden.

Fran nodded and shot him a warm smile. The dog now lay across her waist, one of his outstretched paws on her chest, as if the animal was an fancy adornment to be worn to a ball or dinner party. Fran’s stomach rumbled deeply and the dog’s ears twitched ever so slightly at the noise. Steven watched the television silently, his eyes glassy and his lips slightly parted. Fran was reminded of a patient she had once been in charge of when she worked as a nurse on a psychiatric ward many years ago. She had been a lot younger then and although it hadn’t been an easy job by any means, she possessed a stamina and vigor to help cope with it all. In an odd sort of way she felt she had come full circle again. Here she was looking after someone who was clearly both physically and mentally impaired, whilst trying to catch a killer, who from everything they had witnessed so far, most definitely belonged in an asylum of sorts. It was like drowning but not in a river or a pool but more as if she was being dragged into a child’s ball pit and layer after layer of multicoloured balls were slowly pushing down on her, until the air from her lungs began to diminish. Fran took another sip of tea and forcefully widened her eyes. She was being morose. Suffocating in a ball pit was a surprisingly amusing image but also highly disturbing. Maybe she was the one who needed to be locked away in a straight-jacket. At least then she would finally get some peace and quiet. Fran was good with people but that didn’t necessarily mean she liked having them around all the time. Why did it always have to be her making an effort? She understood that Gethin wasn’t the brightest sheep in the valley but others like Bridge and Desk Sergeant Paul had no excuse. They simply didn’t give a shit.

Her stomach gave another cry of protest and she made herself sit up. The Jack Russell jumped down from her lap, padding away with attitude, displeased at being jettisoned from his rather comfortable perch. With various cracks and pops from her stiff joints and bones, Fran hefted herself upright and shuffled over to the kitchen. The advantage of an open plan house. Steven attempted to twist round to see what she was doing, forgetting in customary fashion that he had put his back out. Fran checked both fridge and cupboards, disappointed at the lack of food in the house.

‘We are going to need to do another food shop soon.’

‘Already sorted my beloved.’ Steven said triumphantly, feeling victorious for the first time all week.

‘Did you have dinner?’ Fran called, unable to distinguish the eaten meal from the dirty bowl and saucepan on the kitchen counter.

‘Yeah I just had oven food. There is some in the freezer if you fancy it.’

Fran’s eye twitched ever so slightly. She didn’t want oven food because she was overweight and the reason being was that Steven rarely cooked and she was on the go a lot, meaning that the majority of her meals consisted of corner shop pasties and salt and vinegar crisps. She flicked her hair back irately and started rummaging in the cupboards for jars of sauces and salvageable vegetables in order to cobble some semblance of a healthy meal.

Steven sighed deeply, as various clatters and slamming of cupboard doors assailed him from the kitchen. He felt like a useless lump. Correction, he was a fat, useless lump. Every day he woke in agony and discomfort and every night he descended into a ever deepening pit of self loathing and pity. It wasn’t that he couldn’t cook. In fact up until his injury Steven had been a dab hand at preparing meals. But since doing his back in, he had become half a man. There was the physical strain of preparing a meal that obviously affected him but it also had taken a psychological toll as well. As silly as it was, Steven felt inadequate. Not being able to work had made him feel insecure, a factor that had seeped into all other areas of his life. Particularly sex. Granted, their bed activity wasn’t as frequent as it had once been in their younger years but they both still had needs. Of course it wasn’t exactly easy with a bad back anyway but add on top of that he didn’t feel confident or sexy in any sense of the meaning and their sex life was virtually non-existent.

Twenty minutes later and not only had Fran returned to the sofa with a bowl full of yummy looking curry but she had also managed to do the washing up and wipe down the kitchen counters. The dog which dozed on the sofa cushion next to Fran, opened his eyes all of a sudden and crept forward for a good sniff. Fran wiggled her finger at the hungry animal, who responded by licking her hand. Steven tried to concentrate on the TV but his stomach grumbled at the sight and smell of food. Oven food never filled one up entirely. He managed a couple of sideways glances before Fran cottoned on.

‘Do you want some?’

He shook his head and returned his attention to the TV set.

‘Well its in the pan if you want some.’ Fran instructed, knowing all too well her husband’s appetite was yet to be sated.

Steven held out for a couple of minutes before giving in and going to fetch some. So, you can pull yourself out of that chair when there is food involved Fran thought to herself.

When they had both finished Steven announced that he was off to bed, claiming that he needed to rest as his back was flaring up again. Fran was under the impression that he had been doing that all day but she resisted the urge to say it.

‘I’ll be up soon. Just want to check over a few things first.’

She extracted the case file on the victim from her bag and began leafing through it. Steven glanced at it reproachfully but said nothing. Instead he lumbered up the stairs to bed, wincing at the shooting pains running haywire up and down his spine.

Fran was studying the photographs from the crime scene when Steven came down the stairs again fifteen minutes later, in need of some water and a sleepy tea. Whilst he waited, he glanced slyly over Fran’s shoulder, intrigued by the macabre photos.

‘I know him.’ He exclaimed in alarm.

Fran looked up at him quizzically. Usually she would have scolded him for nosing through police business but tonight she was more interested in what Steven had to say.

‘Are you serious?’

Steven nodded enthusiastically and moved closer to Fran. He tried to bend down to get a closer look but it was too painful and in the end resorted to sitting on the armrest and getting Fran to pass them up to him one at a time.

‘Yep that’s him.’

‘Who?’ Fran persisted eagerly.

Steven frowned hard, trying to recall his encounter with the dead man.

‘…I think his name was…Arthur…or maybe Alan.’

He paused and glanced down at Fran who was rotating her arm pointedly, encouraging him to go on.

‘He lives over by old Vera’s. I accidentally ended up there when I was trying to get to Cottles Farm.’

Fran sat up eagerly, now wide awake.

‘What? Poison Ivy Vera?’

‘The very same.’ Steven said knowingly and folded his arms nonchalantly. ‘He is her neighbour, they don’t talk much, can’t say I’m surprised.’

Fran sat in stunned silence. They had spent days digging around in the dirt, trying to find some clue to open up the case and all this time it had been staring her right in the face.

‘You alright Fran?’ Steven asked, noticing a strange glint in her eye.

Fran got up, seized his head with both hands and planted a big kiss on his lips.

‘You are amazing.’

Steven’s cheeks blushed red and he slapped her playfully on the arm.

‘Stop it, you have sent me all a flutter.’

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

A Bridge Too Far

The elation of having found such a vital piece of evidence had soon faded after Bridge’s bollocking from Fran. After five minutes spent arguing with, trying to calm down and then arguing again with an enraged Fran, Bridge gave up and left before any more damage could be done to either himself or the office around them. Desk Sergeant Paul tried in vain to conceal a half grin at Bridge’s left cheek. Bridge now equally red in the ears said nothing and hastily exited the building.

It was getting dark by the time Bridge stepped onto the pavement outside. The rain from the morning still lingered but fluctuated intermittently like a low pressured shower head. Bridge hated weather of this type, it gave him the sensation of being trapped inside a large fish-bowl. Feeling his fingers begin to twitch in that all familiar way, he searched his pockets and discovered the crumpled, half bent roll-up tucked in one corner. He removed it, straightened it out and popped it between his lips. Again he returned his hands to his pockets, this time in search of a lighter, preferably a working one. Three lighters Bridge managed to acquire, every one of which failed to catch. There had been a moment when a hint of fire had flickered into life but by the time he had raised it to light the roll-up it had disappeared. Frustrated, he tore the blasted thing up and threw it into a nearby bin. Giving up was something Bridge had been trying on and off for quite a while now. There was always something, some reason that gave him an excuse to start up again. The most recent of course being the upheaval, travelling and stress surrounding his new case. Thirty seconds ago, he had convinced himself that today was a particularly stressful and demanding day and as such his efforts should be rewarded with an obligatory smoke. However on failure to light, it had become quite clear that this was just another excuse in a long line of excuses to have a fag.

Pulling up his coat collar, he glanced around for Gethin. The young lad was nowhere to be seen. Neither was Maggie Owen. Perhaps the two had eloped together and Bridge had stumbled in on the farmer’s wife’s confession. Bridge allowed himself the slightest of grins. That would certainly bring some drama to this dead town. He toyed with one of the toggles on his coat agitatedly. This case was starting to get him. No correction, not the case, more so the way it was being handled. Nothing was happening. The way he saw it, the evidence was staring them right in the face and yet all Fran was interested in was interviewing more people. I mean granted, there was a chance both Gareth’s and Fran’s technique of extracting information from the locals may prove fruitful but just how long would it take. And from what he had seen so far it wasn’t likely that they were going to confess off the bat.

Bridge paced up and down the rain flecked pavement in front of the police station, playing with a loose thread in his coat pocket. His hand drifted over the evidence bag and the fragment of torn tracksuit inside. He wasn’t entirely sure why but holding it in his hand relaxed him slightly. In the same way a slightly paranoid individual might cradle their keys or clutch on to their phone, Bridge took solace in the small piece of case evidence. Part of him felt slightly guilty about having it about his person but excitement had compelled him to bring it straight to Fran’s desk. A poor decision on reflection. However even now after just having a conversation with Fran, whereby she had instructed him to take it to evidence, he had decided to leave the station with it still in his pocket. He told himself that it was necessary to ensure the job was done properly, as it was clearly evident that it would take about three weeks to analyse in these backwards valleys. Despite some of this being true, the real reason he held on to it was because he needed it. Without this case there would be nothing to do. The reality that he was alone, forced to face himself and his thoughts frightened him. So he filled all these dark realities with case files.

Aware that Gethin had obviously ditched him and clocked off early, Bridge shook the light hazing of droplets from his hair and wiped his gel covered sticky hand on his trouser leg. Usually, this slovenly behaviour would have perturbed Bridge. He took great pride in his clothes and appearance, so much so that he had won a smartest dressed detective award at his precinct back in London. But right now, after the day he had just had, he couldn’t give a sheep’s shit what he looked like. A great melancholy had come over the detective. He felt totally dead in the water. Unsure why he was still stood in the rain, Bridge set off down the street in which he hoped was the right direction. At the high street he went to cross over the road and inadvertently sunk his foot into an overflowing drain. The dirty cold water filled his shoes, quickly spreading itself around his foot and permeating through the porous thin layer of sock. If only the rivulet of water streaming beside the pavement would sweep him up and carry him down the drain to drown his woes or at the very least erode away his never ceasing brain.

The pub was loud with the sound of voices and laughter, which spilled out of the open doorway with the orange evening light from within. A small voice in Bridge’s head ordered he mingle with the punters to get a little more local knowledge. Despite this he made straight for the stairs up to his room, his legs burning with a deep ache on the narrow carpeted incline of doom. He cursed under his breath as he pushed open the door and it banged nosily against the bed. I mean seriously if you are going to rent out rooms to visitors then at least measure the bed to see if it fits. He flung his briefcase down on the recently made bed, (which was a nice surprise), part of him was expecting to find it the way he had left it. The dull thud of the music vibrated through the carpeted floor beneath him. The window opposite was open wide and the sill was slicked with rain, some of which had dripped down the peeling wallpaper. Bridge sighed. This place really was a dive. A car engine rumbled through the window and several loud shouts travelled up to him. Hastily he moved over and stuck his head out. A group of young men and women were huddled on the corner of the pavement, smoking and singing drunkenly. Bridge thrust his neck out further, in a pathetic attempt to inhale the fumes but he was too high up. One of the women, dressed in neon pink and wearing leggings far too tight for her thighs and belly caught sight of him.

‘What you looking at pervert?’ She screeched.

The others glanced up, upon hearing the women shout. They joined in, the two blokes with them squaring up for confrontation. Bridge went to retract his head but moved too quickly and smacked it painfully against the base of the window pane. The group of drunken reprobates burst into laughter, drawing the attention of other pub smokers. A red faced Bridge disappeared from the window before things could get any worse and massaged the raised lump developing at the back of his head. Inadvertently, he had also bit his tongue, which hurt like hell. His eye twitched ever so slightly as he sat on the bed and stared at a patch of faded carpet in front of him. Something smacked against the window and Bridge jumped. A half eaten kebab was plastered to the window. It was the final straw. Bridge jumped to his feet and yanked the pane up angrily. But it was too late. The perpetrators had jumped in a bright yellow car and were racing down the street, exhaust pipe popping behind them. Nevertheless Bridge studied the number plate and wrote it down in his notebook. He wasn’t entirely sure what charges he could get them on. Somehow a kebab grenade didn’t seem like the most heinous of crimes.

Laying back, he closed his eyes and tried to empty his mind. It wasn’t easy work. Aside from the obvious concern about the case in hand, he also couldn’t shake the feeling that he had botched things up with his two colleagues. Fran was pissed off with him and for good reason. Well at least that’s what she thought. Okay maybe he had stumbled in at an inconvenient moment but it wasn’t as if he didn’t have a good reason for doing so. He had discovered a vital piece of evidence. Correction he and Gethin had found an important piece of evidence. Perhaps that was why Gethin was acting strange. He had taken away his spotlight. Bridge punched his pillow in a half hearted attempt at frustration, wishing he was back in London with his team. Especially his partner Detective Sergeant Justin Ward, who always had his back, no matter the situation.

After many sighs, puffs of the cheeks and mumbles of discomfort, Bridge forced himself into a seated position. This was his usual nightly routine, get home and try to sleep, only to find himself still awake two hours later. Physically he was exhausted, to the point that even lifting his arms hurt but his mind continued to whir. It was in his nature and one of the reasons he was such an accomplished detective. A factor that had resulted in many a failed relationship. He hadn’t even noticed the one before last. The door had slammed before he had even looked from his case file.

The last orders bell rang out from downstairs and Bridge breathed a sigh of relief. Perhaps now he would finally get some peace and quiet. On the contrary however. The call out for last orders had obviously alerted the drunken patrons and they proceeded to rush to the bar in an angry mob, eager to get the last drips and drabs of their boozy nectar.

Half an hour later and the bar downstairs hadn’t got any quieter. Bridge had half a mind to go down and have a word with the landlord but eventually decided against it. It wasn’t worth the hassle. The landlord who often drank with the regulars would most probably be drunk, meaning it would take an age to get through to him. The wife was normally more sober but once you got talking to her she never stopped which would mean more delay. Also it was guaranteed that a couple of the punters would single him out and wind him up for being English. Something along the lines of:

‘Sorry butt, are we being too loud for Mr. Arthur Dent?’

But it wasn’t just the noise that kept him awake. The young lads and lasses outside had reminded him of something that Fran had mentioned. That was before the shouting and decision to ignore him. After her interview with Gareth Owen she had told him that a bunch of local young lads had been sneaking into his fields and setting fire to his hay bales. Nothing particularly unusual there. Bridge had seen far worse in London, especially between the various gangs and factions prowling the fag encrusted, chewing gum littered streets.

He sat up all of a sudden, an invisible light bulb illuminating over his head. Maybe that was it. He pulled himself off the sagging mattress and emptied the case file out of his briefcase onto the small wooden table next to the window. A few bangs and cracks outside made Bridge glance up. It was instinctual. Growing up in London made him wary. But it was just the backfires of boy racer cars. This momentarily distraction should have disturbed his train of thought but quite the opposite. It rather spurred him on.

He flicked through the case file of the still to be identified victim and found the photographs and relevant diagrams and notes on the injuries inflicted. When he had first picked up the case, he had been thrown by the unusual ritual carried out on the victim. It was true that none of the gangs in London had this as their trademark hits but in other countries such as South America and Africa, similar gang motifs had been left on victims. Nothing like this but alike in some ways. Perhaps one of the local Welsh outfits had created their own trademark, taking influences from other culture’s practices. That would certainly link up with the torn fragment of tracksuit Gethin had discovered. The only missing link was the victim himself. If it was gang related then why wasn’t the victim both young and a member of one of the groups. Was it possible that he was one of the father’s of the boys? It was unlikely, as Fran knew pretty much all the families and as a such would have recognized him. Bridge rubbed his tired eyes. He felt like all the answers were in his reach but he still couldn’t get to them. Leaning over he flicked on the kettle. It was going to be a long night.

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