As DCI. Findlay and DS. Deacon departed the Morgue, their heads were filled with totally differing perceptions of the results they had received from Jinx’s autopsy. What they needed was to come together back at the station, to corroborate and find some useful strategy towards solving this unusual case. It was at times like this, that Alex Findlay and Arch Deacon did some of their best work. Both of them saw cases, such as this one, in very different lights. The DCI thought that in cases which had a certain ’whiff of difference’ about them, it wasn’t wise to jump to any obvious conclusions. From experience, he knew, that it was far better to keep an open mind and allow things to develop. He considered, from a life time of observation, that narrowing the search at this early juncture could lead to a protracted and fruitless pursuit up a blind alley, whilst the perpetrator, was left free to cover their tracks.
Arch, on the other hand, was sticking to his rather simple but often effective belief, that the initial indications you picked up at the scene, were often the closest to the truth. He was the archetypal, “First 24 hours,” kind of Copper, their two styles complemented each other perfectly and had produced a very high strike rate. All this stuff, about ‘B’ Movie, giant claw like fingers, was just a load of Psi-crap, as far as Arch, was concerned. They had a brutal killer on their patch and it was the guys from their manor, who were going to have to catch him.
Both of them were more or less convinced, that they were looking for a disturbed individual, who, all indications suggested was male, but the possibility of the offender being a female, could not be entirely ruled out. As he was about to step into his car, Arch stopped, looked over to Alex Findlay and earnestly said,
“I think, that we’ll find, that it’s just another pissed up nutter, on the prowl, if you ask me.” He finished his point with, “nothing to do with anything spooky, all that shit’s just window dressing,” he continued, “I’ll bet you, that it’s just some crazy guy with an unusual kind of weapon.”
Alex Findlay, wasn’t so sure about his colleagues diagnosis. “How often do we get a double murder, on this stretch of the canal?” He interjected. “Have we ever, had to deal with this sort of thing before and if so, when?”
Arch, couldn’t instantly answer that one and silently got into his car, swearing to himself, that he would ‘Google’ it, as soon, as they got back to ‘the yard’. In Arch’s 'World of Order,' you could never have too much information.
Whilst, Alex and Arch, made their way back towards ‘The Station,’ armed with their new information, Nick, was down at Barton Basin. When he had been sitting in the back of the taxi taking him to his recent meeting with Hugo at the Dutch Barn, Nick had noticed, how picturesque the old basin at Lower Barton had become. He recalled how, not so long ago, it had been the last resting place for a whole flotilla, of derelict canal barges. Their decrepit rotting hulks, had no further use on these waters, or any other, for that matter.
How things had changed, gone were the rusting skeletons of the once proud vessels that had been abandoned in this backwater of time, their working lives overtaken by the endless March of progress.
Beyond the quiet basin area a new marina had been constructed along with a small but obviously expensive housing estate. Nick was not impressed with that but, reluctantly, he had been drawn to the custom made fishing area created in the quiet basin. Nick imagined, that this was the sort of development they could expect when Tullett’s started on the conversion of The Raven’s Gate Basin; “Sometime, in the near future.” It wasn’t easy right now, imagining the canal near St. Joseph’s, ever looking that rural. It simply wasn’t an area, that cried out for that type of gentrification. In truth, he thought it would have been better to describe it’s position, as one more likely to require extensive demolition. Nick, had been at the hostel for some years and familiarity, had definitely turned to contempt. 'Why on earth, would anybody think, that doing up The Ravens Gate area, was a good idea? Nick smiled to himself, he had three more weeks to serve before resuming his ‘normal’ life at the hostel, and right now, things weren’t going as badly as he had thought they would. 'No Siree, indeed not' and now here he was ready to relive a pleasant few hours, from his childhood, he was fishing at Lower Barton Basin.
He tentatively cast his baited line, into the dead still water, then sighing slowly just sat there, on his old Wicker Fishing Box. A wave of contentment passed over his entire body and as he looked up and down the still waters, he smiled, there was nothing to be seen in any direction.
“Bliss, sheer bliss,” he said, as he settled into a day by the waters edge. 'Why did I ever give this up,' he idly thought? Every now and again, a fish rose and almost silently, broke the surface in an attempt to snatch a fly. The gentle hum, of the occasional motor vehicle could be heard on the road but it was of little consequence to Nick, for he was lost in a world of Huckleberry Finn and young boys, down on the river, just fishin.’
His mind, flitted back and forth as he stared at the still water of The Basin. One minute, it was thinking about The Hostel, the police and a couple of murders, the next, it was amusing itself, with thoughts of days like this. Of him and his father sitting on some river bank, many years ago, almost dropping off to sleep, both trying to pretend they were wide awake, with their fishing rods in their hands, the tips dipping perilously close to the surface of the water. His father snoring loudly, as his float was dragged under. Nick smiled, affectionately to himself, as he remembered his dad and all the crazy situations he got himself into.
He almost laughed out loud, as he remembered the time when the family had gone on holiday to Belgium. His father thought it was hilarious to pack his week old sweaty socks, then tie them, with some crafty naval knots, to the string of the kite that he had bought at a gift shop, on the promenade. He then flew it over the other holiday makers on the beach, casually releasing the ghastly socks, one stinky one after other. The sight of the offensive articles, drifting slowly down to earth and landing on, or next to the blissfully unsuspecting tourists, reclining in their sun loungers, who suddenly shot up, often spilling their iced drinks, in an attempt to escape the foul stench, that had just intruded on their world of Ambre Solair, would live with him forever.
He particularly recalled the middle aged bald Frenchman, who had one of his Dad’s socks, land right on his nose, as he slept. At first, he hadn’t moved and just carried on sleeping in the warm sun. Then, 'Quel Horreur!' his nasal passages were under attack and he fell out of his sun lounger and ended up spread eagled on the sand, the remains of his drink, in his lap. Even to this day, whenever he thought of that scene, it made him laugh. For many years after those happy events of childhood, he had chuckled when he saw a bottle of the accursed brown sun oil.
He found, that he really missed his dad at times like this. Some of his steadying words of wisdom would not have gone amiss right now. His mood took a distinct down turn, when he thought of his heartbroken Mother. She had initially seemed to contend with the death of her husband quite well, but as the denial was replaced with reality, she had gone down hill fast. Her decline began with an occasional tipple to alleviate the grief of her loss but then, she began to drink more regularly and soon it was a headlong dive into the bottle. This had masked the start of her development of dementia. He knew he needed to do something.........
Now he was struggling, both with some uncomfortable analysis of his own troubles plus his mothers troubles and a distinct lack of ‘fishy’ interest in his maggots. Then on a wave of melancholy, Joanne invaded his thoughts........This sojourn to the Basin, with it’s attendant peace and tranquility, was supposed to bring a little clarity to his troubled mind, but all it had done, was enable a wealth of pent up feelings to emerge, from the depths of his psyche and now he could feel the tears sliding down his face. Cradling his head in his hands, he cursed himself for being so soft,
“Come on Nicolas, pull yourself together man, life’s too short for this kind of crap,” and he fiercely wiped his eyes.
He attempted to lighten his mood, by recalling some rather sickly, yet highly amusing incidents from his past life. Like the time, that he got his head stuck in the school railings, after being so convinced, that he could pull this stunt off. He had bragged about how smart he was, to all his school friends and how his fellow classmates, had eagerly lined up, to kick his backside, when he had failed. Like many things, it was funny, when viewed in hindsight but at the time, it was mortifyingly embarrassing. He laughed out loud, then resolved.
“I won’t let you down, Dad. I’ll make sure that mom’s O.K. Trust me.” The recollected mirth and the promise to his departed Father, somehow broke the spell and Nick’s self control began to reassert itself. Slowly, he regained some kind of control of his mind. Maybe, this time, he would come at the problem from a different angle. 'Hey mom, I figured out that if we both sold our respective houses, we’d be worth almost a Million pounds. 600k, for yours and 300, for mine.' Yep, that sounded like a good starting point, he mused and that would give me loads of cash in hand, to take good care of her.
For the past few months, he had been mulling over the possibility of doing something more with his life, before he was too old to make it worth his while.
"Well, it’s either do that, or it’s the Probation life for you until you retire, or drop dead.” He sarcastically said to nobody. Perhaps, he was experiencing the fabled ‘male menopause,’ or maybe, he was having a mid life crisis. It didn’t really matter to him because one way, or another, he was soon going to have to make some pretty big decisions, that could well be life changing. He realised, that he had been drifting, from one piece of heart wrenchingly painful, yet occasionally amusing nostalgia, to another, all morning. It was time to put the Genie, back in the bottle. It was a beautiful day and he wasn’t going to waste it, thinking about all the shit in life. There would be plenty of time for that later.
Just then his float bobbled, he struck and missed it. Cursing under his breath as he wound back his line to rebait his hook. “Concentrate man, you’re here attempting to catch fish. That’s why they call it fishing.” He decided to distract himself from these melancholy thoughts, by swiftly employing his most usual method of distraction. He rolled himself another generously loaded Joint. As he sat back, eyes closed, smoking it, he heard a voice behind him.
“Are they biting today?” the inquisitive stranger asked. “Mind if I sit down for a minute?”
Nick’s heart was racing, 'What if it was the police. He had a fucking big Joint on the go, so a plea of not guilty.......' He slowly turned his head and opened his eyes. Squinting from the glare reflecting off the water, he raised his free hand to shield his eyes, and focus on the uninvited stranger.
To get a good view he had to rearrange his position on the old fishing basket, which creaked it’s objections. All the while, the Joint just sat between his first two fingers, smoking away. Seeing, the stranger was obviously not an agent of the state, Nick sighed, then took a long, relieved draw on his “naughty cigarette.” Cops generally didn’t wear their hair in Dreadlocks, well, not that long anyway. Now he had the intruder in focus, he reasoned, that most policemen, were rarely this old and grey. Nor, did they have a passing resemblance to Morgan Freeman, on a very bad day. So, devoid of any further options, Nick, offered his new companion, a toke of his hand rolled cigarette. Taking the Joint, the shabby man said;
"Thank you kindly, Sir. It’s been a while but never let that kind of detail ruin your day.” He took the offered smoke and allowed himself two deep drags, before handing it back to Nick. “Oh yeah,” he exclaimed, as he expelled a vast cloud of smoke from his lungs. “Now, that’s what I call good stuff,” said the Hobo and sat himself down on the bank. “I don’t usually get down this end very often but I was having a bit of trouble in my old spot, so it seemed wise to give it a break for a while and explore pastures new.”
Nick, didn’t fancy putting the slightly soggy Roach in his mouth, you never knew what you may catch, he reasoned, so he simply passed the thing back to his new erstwhile friend saying,
“Here, you have this one. I’ll roll myself another and anyway, you look like you could use it.” The old gent, reached over, took the Joint and smiled at Nick, as if this was the first act of kindness, that he had experienced in a long time.
“The names Samuel,” said the old fellow, as he lay back on the bank and took another puff on his 'gift.' Nick, returned his smile and looked a little pitifully at the sad old man, as he relaxed on the warm shale.
“I’m Nicolas,” he said as he licked the strip of glue on his Rizla’s and turned them delicately in his fingers. The pair of them, just sat silently by the water, like two old friends and quietly smoked their respective ‘Doobies.’ Nick, loved these rare moments, when two complete strangers, could sit for a brief time, have a smoke in mutual peace and then move on with their private lives. These kind of opportunities, were becoming, rare, in these cut and thrust times. Words didn’t matter, it was all about the engendered tranquility and harmony of the shared experience. Nick, let go of his previous concerns and just dissolved, willingly into the dream-like moment.
This was just like Huckleberry Finn all over again, he and the eloquent old Tramp, enjoying a quiet moment together, in the warmth of the late Autumn sunshine.
“It doesn’t get much more relaxing than this,” offered Nick absentmindedly, not caring if Samuel was listening, or not.
“Well, it’s certainly less freaky, than it got down where I used to hang out.” Came the old tramps reply. “Fuck, it just got too weird over that way,” continued the old chap, nodding his head to indicate, a location further along the waterway. Nick, listened but said nothing and just allowed him to continue, “It was bad enough with those bastards at that Probation Hostel, or whatever it was, throwing rocks and cursing at me, but then, I started to hear some fucking spooky sounds at night.”
Samuel, fell silent at this point but he obviously wanted to talk, so Nick remained silent, while the old man, hesitantly, relived the traumatic happenings, of a few nights gone by.
“It was like some unworldly thing, crawling around in the dark. I could hear it rasping for breath, as it crept up and down the towpath. It was obviously looking for something and then, one night it got so close, I feared that, 'It,' whatever 'It,' was, was coming, especially for me. So I reckoned, that it was high time to leave that pitch and venture out into pastures new.”
Nick, had been alerted, by Samuel’s mentioning of the hostel but thought, that it would be best, not to mention the fact, that he worked at there. Samuel, getting no response, continued elaborating his tale.
“It was about a week or so ago, around midnight I guess, I was trying to get my head down, when just as I was nodding off, I heard this sound of something scraping along the opposite bank, disturbing the gravel and making a grunting, guttural sound as it went.”
Nick, was now becoming genuinely intrigued by this story, and he raised his head to one elbow facing Samuel.
“I popped my head out from under my cardboard boxes to have a look what was making the noises but I could see nothing. It was a bright moonlit night, so visibility was not a problem.” Without any bidding from Nick, he continued, “There was next to no breeze, that evening, so the sounds could not be put down to the wind rustling some unsecured item. I could hear something, or other, traversing the towpath, moving slowly along the opposite shore, as if it were seeking some long lost item.” He took a long deep breath, before he carried on. “The sound grew louder but I still couldn’t see fuck all. Apparently, there was nowt to be seen, just this endless rasping sound and the scraping of the gravel. I have to admit, that I became a bit un-nerved and sank a little further into my cardboard shield. Then, as I was looking down the canal, towards Gildabrooke, out of the corner of my eye, I was suddenly drawn to some movement, on the other side of the water.
In the reflection, of the few remaining panes of cracked, grimy glass in those broke down greenhouses, I thought that I could make out a moving, twisting, turning and tumbling bundle of Grey rags with long pale stick like things, scraping along on the ground in front of it. As it passed beyond the reflective surfaces, I lost sight of it and try as I might, I couldn’t find it again. I got no sleep that night, I can tell you and I moved all my stuff down here in the morning.”
Nick, just looked at Samuel, trying to deduce wether it was just an attack of the D.T’s, or if there was something more to the old man’s story but Samuel was not quite finished.
“The rags moved fast, like they’d been speeded up but the long pale stick things, went at normal speed. Freaky hey?”
Nick, didn’t know what to say but this potentially 'tall tale,' would have to be passed on to the police, as it may get them off the backs of the Hostel inmates and give them something else to hang their hats on.
“Fancy another?” Nick asked Samuel. “I’m going to roll myself one, so if you want one, say so now, or forever hold your peace.” Samuel, looked at Nick and simply said,
“If you don’t mind?” He hadn’t met anybody like this in such a long time, and even though he was fully aware they would never be buddies, he was feeling a certain kinship with this fisherman. He promised himself, that he was going to hold onto these memories, when things got hard to bear as the nights grew long and cold. Nick, casually looked at the float sitting in the water. The thought that it was a long time since anything nibbled so there may be no bait left on the hook, didn’t seem to matter anymore. Samuel’s recanting of the bundle of rags tale, had somewhat eclipsed any of his own idle thoughts.
“Well Sam, you’ve been a great reality check. I came down here, hoping to put a little organisation back into my life and until you turned up, I was just reliving past times and actually, I was depressing myself. I can’t help but envy your freedom a little, you don’t have anyone standing over your shoulder, telling you what to do, or expecting you to fulfil their expectations. No Sam, you have a certain liberty, that idiots like me find quite appealing.”
With that, Nick handed the Tramp, a really well loaded Joint and reached into his pocket, searching for his Ronson lighter, so that he could light the Hobo’s Marijuana cigarette. The two of them then just sat down, on the bank, with their legs dangling over the edge, like little boys and quietly smoked their Joints.
“I’ll tell you what, man,” uttered Samuel, breaking, what had been a long and contemplative period of silence and causing his stoned compadre, to jump. Nick, turned his head slowly and responding, in a languid tone asked,
Samuel, was a much travelled individual, with many years of traversing many of the Canals and Riverbanks, in this area of the country. Nick’s error, was in asking the old man, 'What?' Samuel, just took it, as an open invitation to talk and so, he did. For the next age he regaled Nick with the story of his life, his trials and tribulations, his observations like,
“You know, that you’re a privileged kid, when you realise, often years too late, that the definition of a privileged childhood, is the unreserved love, that your parents give you, until the day they die,” and of his his triumphs as a rugby league player and his downfall, redundancy, drink and divorce. Nick, was just listening and said nothing that may interrupt Sam’s flow. He finished with, “what’s it they say, something about entering the world with nothing and leaving with nothing? Well, that’s me, all right.” Sam’s mood, had changed and it now appeared, that like all good stories, there was a darker side to his tale.
Nick, didn’t know what to say and so he just laid back on the shale and relaxed in the sunshine. Samuel, took one look at Nick and by his demeanour, decided that he had obviously talked enough for one day and rejoined him in a prone position on the shale.
They both drifted in and out of consciousness and while Samuel, thought of a life in the warm and what that would be like, Nick, contemplated the freedom of the road and the benefits, that may accrue. They both lay there in silence, each lost in their own thoughts as an air of stillness flowed through and over the pair of them. It would have remained that way, had it not been for the snoring sound, that was issuing from Samuel, rudely arousing Nick from his daydreams.
The day, had hardly gone as Nick had envisaged and with the absence of fish, he decided to quietly stow his fishing tackle and make a quiet retreat, leaving The Tramp to continue his peaceful sleep.
“Goodbye Samuel, live long and prosper,” he said, as he made his way up the gentle incline. Huckleberry Finn wasn’t so far off the mark after all, days like this one, spent on the bank of the river, or in this case, the canal, with a fishing pole, were indeed precious but his mind was not at peace and as he walked back to his car, more of the disturbing thoughts, began to push their way into his consciousness.
Nick, realised that when all the padding and excuses were removed, he was actually considering packing in his job at The Probation Service, in favour of something more interesting. When he reached the Car Park and got back in his car, he didn’t put the keys in the ignition, he simply sat there, mulling over his options. As he recalled the events of the day, his tears began to well up again and soon he had droplets running down his cheeks and dropping onto his trousers. He was crying for the loss of his Father, the changes that his Dad’s death had wrought on his Mother, his own seemingly endless heartache over Joanne and the futility and meaninglessness of his job, his life.
Nick realised, that try as he may, he could not bring his father or Joanne back from the dead. He seemed unable to mend his increasingly deteriorating Mother and it appeared, that he was destined to spend his life alone, due to the simple fact of ever having met Joanne and the powerful effect, that she was still exerting on him, even after all these years. Despite all the pain of her cruel death and the repercussions that ensued, he knew that given half a chance, he would do it all again. Almost, sixteen years had passed by but in quiet moments, he still missed her presence, awfully. Nick, remained in the Car Park for quite a while and just cried until his eyes began to sting.
“What’s the difference, between Samuel’s life and mine,” he asked out loud and immediately answered his own enquiry. “Fuck all, just luck,” he said and his shoulders sagged, as he realised, that it was the truth. The only thing that separated him from Sam, was the random falling, of a few chips in the great game of life.
Eventually, his eyes dried, his mind cleared and he had a cathartic realisation. His Dad and Jo, were beyond his control but his Mother and the job, were not. It was time for a review of his options but first, he had to give Findlay a call and inform him of the meeting with Samuel and the old tramps spooky story. Although, he thought that he may omit the part about the Joints, that they had smoked together. Some things, were best left unsaid.