Powderfinger by Keller Yeats

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Chapter 14

Alex Findlay walked confidently into the incident room. He looked at the assembled team of detectives, gathered together to catch the perpetrator of the two homicides on the canal towpath.

“Good morning team. You all know why you’re here, please be seated.”

There was a sound reminiscent of the school room, as several Officers, who had previously been standing, sat down, removing their jackets and shuffling their chairs. Some, in order to be seen more clearly, others to be obscured slightly from DCI Findlay’s view. Arch, stood at the front of the room and silently watched his colleagues, jostling for position as the briefing began.

Alex Findlay standing in front of the incident boards, cleared his throat and turned to the waiting assembly. “Unless, you’ve been on holiday, you’ll be aware, that we’ve got a brutal killer in our back yard and one that has now struck twice.” Alex, purposely paused at that juncture. When he observed, that the room had quietened once more, he attempted to carry on with his briefing........

“Sir, do you reckon, that it’s a bloke then?” The question came from Claire Harrowby, who suddenly appeared in the second row and by the look on her face, was demanding a plausible answer from him. He knew only of her reputation, as a true and just defender of the female’s position within the work force and he didn’t want to begin this enquiry, by pissing her off.

“You really should see those two bodies, in the flesh before you rush to any conclusions.” He paused again briefly and took another deep breath before continuing. “Number One, was, as a few of you will know already, stabbed cleanly through the upper body four times, then had her throat cut before the body was thrown into the water.” The inquisitive voice of Claire H, rose up again.

“Thank you, sir but I’ll ask again, why should it be a man we’re looking for, women can be pretty strong, if they’re pushed hard enough?”

Alex Findlay, found himself growing angry at her constant insinuations. He couldn’t help feeling, that she was just trying to force him into some sexist statement. “Forgive me, Ms. Harrowby but if you’d seen the wounds for real, on the body of the first victim and then taken those few strides across the floor of the morgue, to view the second body, you’d have seen what brutality really means. These photographs,” he waved his hand towards the boards, “do not display the full force of the attack. Whilst I cannot rule out a female perpetrator, it would seem unlikely given the strength and ferocity of both attacks.”

In his mind’s eye, he was seeing the butchered body of Eleanor Ross, lying before him on that cold autopsy slab. Her lifeless body, cut to ribbons and disemboweled, before being discarded on the edge of that stagnant pool in Jenkins’ Hollow. With some difficulty he gathered himself together, pushing down the images of Debra Foxx and Eleanor Ross’s corpses from his conscious mind and put them back in that safe file, labelled 'Evidence.' Then, once assured that those horrific images were safely locked away, he attempted to continue with his report on the case so far.

“D.S. Deacon and I, had a meeting with Dr. Pinnock and the 'Techies’ on Saturday and we were informed, that we appear to be dealing with two bodies but only one killer using the same weapon.” There was a hum in the room, as he relayed this information to them. “Two bodies, is a double murder and I want to see some progress here, before he, or she” he emphasised cynically, “ kills again and The Media, get hold of idea, that we are dealing with a serial killer.” He continued, “They, have already given our miscreant a name, which, for the benefit of any of you that haven’t heard, is 'The Canal Cutter.' He looked around the room, trying to guage the mood of his officers, then went on, “So far, we are working with very little hard evidence and an awful lot of conjecture. I’ll leave it to Arch, to inform you of the latest insights.”

With that, DCI Findlay, gave way to his reluctant DS and sat down. Arch, wasn’t quite sure how he was going to handle this, so he just told it like it was.

“Hello people, you all know me and therefore, you won’t be expecting any window dressing, so I’ll just get on with it.” He took a deep breath and breathing out slowly, he pushed on. “On Saturday, DCI Findlay and myself visited The Morgue, hoping that the 'Techies,’ were going to give us some meat to chew on but instead, all they had to offer were a couple of smeared pictures.” Arch, then put the blotched photo’s from Ralph Jones, up on the Incident Board. “That’s it people, that’s all we’ve got. We don’t even know what the weapon involved in this one is, other than it’s about two feet long, thin, slightly curved and pointed.”

With that, he put the picture of Melissa Gilbert’s cast up on the white board, “More tests are being undertaken on the weapon, so we may know more later.”

Findlay looked across at Arch approving the consummate manner with which he had handled, that awkward section of the briefing. There was a general stirring, amongst those Officers arranged before them.

“Don’t get me wrong, Sir but how the fuck, are we supposed to find something, when we don’t even know what it is we’re looking for?” Arch, was gathering up his notes so Alex, noticing that his DS, was somewhat distracted attempted to answer Dave Stilson’s rather pertinent question.

“I can’t really tell you any more about the implement, or anything else,” he said “until I get some more information and that won’t be available, until the test results come back. You’ll have to bear with me, for a little while longer, Mr. Stilson but I will tell you, what I believe.” Alex, paused and drew himself up, as though he was going to make some salient remark, that would forever more, cement this case in ’Station folk law.’ He purposely inhaled a deep breath and held it, for a second, or two before he exhaled and started to speak. “In my opinion, this is not going to be as simple, as it seems right now. We have two murdered women, both discovered on that singular and particularly deserted section, of the canal bank. Worst of all, we don’t know if 'The Canal Cutter' has finished yet.”

The guilty thrill of this case and the intrigue it generated, silenced him for a moment, as he mulled over the possibilities, that it offered.

“We could have a serial killer on our hands.........” On the floor, there was a sea of puzzled faces, looking back at him, hoping for some more information or evidence but none was forthcoming. Alex Findlay, was looking out into the room and seeing nothing but a mass of confused Homicide cops. He didn’t imagine for one second, that he would have looked very much different, if he was viewing himself through their eyes. “Well, that’s enough from me and I think that DS. Deacon, is ready to carry on now, so I’ll hand you back to Arch, if that’s O.K, with him?”

That timely interjection, was handled very smoothly and the point wasn’t missed, by his colleague.

“Thanks Sir,” whispered Arch, grinning at Alex as he stood up to continue the briefing. Using both of his arms to prop himself up, in standard ’police cliche’ fashion, Arch re-established his position and calmly continued the briefing, “I think from the look on your faces, that you guys are having as much trouble with this one, as I am. So I’ll recap, what we have so far, in the hope of clearing up any doubts, that any of you might be harbouring.”

Arch, then gathered his thoughts and continued. “So far, we’ve found no connections between these two women other than, they both happened to be on the canal bank in the same area. However, they were murdered at different times of day. Debra Foxx at around 2am in the morning and Eleanor Ross around midday. Their friends and relatives, have yielded no really useful information and so far, all those in the frame have alibi’s which check out. Neither of the dead women were robbed, or showed signs of sexual activity. On that front, everything is clear. It appears that robbery, or sex, were not the motive.” He looked out at the room, that was full of Police Officers and saw only bewilderment in their eyes, so he thought that it was probably best, just to push on.

“We are left with the uncomfortable truth, that these were simply, two cold blooded murders. All the 'Techies’ can give us, are the two photographs with smears on them, that may actually, be nothing more, than photographer error. So in short, we have no motive, no suspects, no connection, no definitive weapon and bugger all, in the way of leads.”

He looked at the team members, ensuring they had all realised the gravity of thensituation. Then he continued, "We’re going to need a Hare, to get this dog out of the stalls. So I’m going to ask every last one of you, to get your hands dirty, get down on the ground and do some good old fashioned police work. To that end I want you to split into four teams. Team one, will check everything about the victims again, including financials, phone, emails, friends and associates, the works. As an associate of mine often says; 'The devil, is in the detail,’ so let’s not miss anything, people.”

He congratulated himself on that one and looked over to Alex, hoping for some reaction. Alex, who had heard the sentiments clearly enough, just nodded once, in a gesture of recognition and folded his arms, while he waited for his D.S, to conclude the briefing.

“The other three teams, will sweep the entire area, all the way from Barton to Gildabrooke, door to door to try and get us something solid to sink our teeth into. I want you to check everything, be attentive to every word, there must be some clues out there and it’s our duty, to find them.” He looked over again, at Alex and seeing the worried expression on his chief’s face, added, “I will be accompanying, The Chief and DC. Western. We will be taking our turn knocking on every door that’s adjacent to the crime scenes. That’s to say, every work area and every house, or flat overlooking the canal. Somebody, must have seen, or heard something. OK, has anybody got anything to add, or ask” Arch added.

There was an enquiry from the floor, regarding the use of divers to see what they might discover in the water. DCI Findlay took it in abeyance,

“Let’s see what you lot turn up today, before we go costing the taxpayers a packet for no good reason. Let’s just see how it goes and if we get nothing worth having, we can always go to the Divers later. I’ll keep it in mind, after all we know the perpetrator is taking the weapon with them so there may be very little to find.” He paused momentarily to let his words sink in the added, “Please remember, not a word about any of this, is to fall into the hands of The Media. We can do without a feeding frenzy on our hands.” With that final plea for secrecy, the team went silent, so he concluded with, “For what it’s worth, If you want any of the photo’s, or a copy of the case notes, see Arch before you leave and good hunting chaps.”

Normally, if they had been given a task such as this the assembled team would have been murmuring their complaints. Not this time, they knew that the Boss needed results and Alex Findlay was popular with his team. He would seek to raise their spirits, when things got tough, both physically and mentally and he had no trouble in openly praising them, when he thought that they had done a good job. Right now, Findlay feared that these qualities were going to be severely put to the test before this case could be filed away, in the 'Solved' drawer.

Arch, set about dividing the assembled Officers, into four teams and gave them their orders for the day. As they were streaming out of the incident room, Ronnie Childs, DCI. Findlay’s diminutive secretary, was attempting to enter. She was engaged in a losing battle with the tide sweeping out of the incident room, muttering incoherently. Ronnie was trying to reach DCI. Findlay, to tell him he’d had a call on his private line that might prove important. Alex, noticed her struggling at the door and called to her,

“Is there something, that I can help you with, Ronnie?” For her part, she was being buffeted so much by the wave of departing Detectives, that she could not hold her ground and speak at the same time. Alex, could see she was losing her battle with the departing crowd, so he quickly added, “Give me a minute, or so and I’ll be back in the office.”

In that moment of hesitation, as Ronnie absorbed his words, she was swept away by the departing human tsunami and ended up being discarded next to the drinks machine, halfway to the main exit of the Station and a good twenty feet beyond DCI. Findlay’s office door.

“Jesus, this lot get more like a fucking football crowd every day,” she cursed under her breath.

Alex, reached the office at roughly the same time as she did and opened the door to let her in. “I thought we’d lost you there for a minute, Ronnie. That was a close call.” The quiet of the office allowed Ronnie to order her thoughts.

As she laid his transcribed copy of the case notes on his desk, she said, “Some bloke, who goes by the name of Nicolas Swann, called. He says that he’s got an interesting tale to tell you about the canal bank that he heard the other day, while he was out fishing.” Alex, looked at his secretary and nodded his head, saying,

“Did he leave a number?”

For his part, Nick, had spent the last few hours wondering what he should do, about the story old Samuel had told him yesterday and if he really should inform DCI Findlay? In the clear light of a new day, the old man’s somewhat fanciful tale, of scraping sounds on the gravel and bundles of rags, that moved at high speed and could only be seen in reflections, glimpsed in some grimy broken pieces of cracked glass in the moonlight, did seem a little far fetched. DCI. Findlay probably already had him down as a wishy washy Liberal type and if he were to relay this story to him, he’d most likely add “Druggy,” to that opinion, or at least he’d have him down, as an alcoholic. Nick, was fully aware, that losing some bad shit, was always infinitely harder, than picking it up. Although Samuel had seemed to be sober and sincere enough when he had told him the enigmatic tale of nocturnal goings on along the Towpath. However, with the benefit of a good night’s sleep and the soft warm sunshine of another day, the relevance of Samuel’s yarn, had somewhat dissipated. After consideration, he decided the credence of the tramp’s story was not for him to evaluate. That was a task, for the Boys in Blue.

“Come on you old fart, it’s time to do your bit for the good of all,” he said to himself and picked up the phone to call Alex Findlay’s office. Then, thwarted by his absence, was forced to leave a message. The longer he waited for a reply before he could relay this new, yet somewhat otherworldly information he’d acquired, the less sensible the whole thing appeared. Anyway, if Findlay didn’t phone back soon, he was going to change his mind.

Ronnie Childs, passed the notepad to Alex and carried on with her organisational duties around his chaotic desk, saying, “The number you want is there, under Swann. He called about twenty minutes ago.”

This, as far as Alex was concerned, was a fortunate turn of events. According to Valerie Blackshaw, Nicolas Swann, was out of commission for the next three weeks and any further quality information from the Hostel inmates, was unlikely to be forthcoming without his influence. So, he gladly responded to Nick’s initial call at the first opportunity.

Nick, was about to forget the whole thing, when his phone rang “DCI. Findlay here, returning your call.” Before Nick could speak, he continued “Nick, I can call you Nick, can’t I?” A polite policemen, now that was novel. It was usually all speed and indifference, so taken aback, he agreed to the informality. “We met at The Hostel, last weekend. I believe that you tried to get hold of me earlier, so I’m returning your call. How can I help you?”

Nick drew breath and waited for a second, so that he could order his thoughts, before commencing. “You may find this a little strange and it may have no bearing on the murders but” and with that caveat, he relayed all the relevant information of the tale he’d been told by Samuel during yesterdays fishing expedition. He finished by stressing Samuel’s apparent honesty and sobriety. As he’d promised himself, he neglected to inform the DCI, of any misdemeanor’s regarding smoking, or revealing Samuel’s real name.

“You don’t happen to know where the tramp you met, was dossing, do you?” asked Findlay.

“I’m not too sure but judging by what he said, I’d have to say, that it sounded like he was talking about somewhere between, Balaclava Bridge and Jenkin’s Hollow.” Nick said and added, “Don’t hold me to that but I just got a feeling, that’s the area, he was talking about. He mentioned, something about reflections in some panes of broken glass and the old greenhouses down that way were all that sprang to mind, but he’s not there any more. I got the impression he reckoned it was just too creepy down there, so he moved on but where he’s bedding down now, is anybody’s guess”

This new information from Nick Swann, intrigued Alex Findlay. It tied in with Ralph Jones‘ postulations, about there being, ’something else going on, behind the popular image, of these dark industrial stones.’ Perhaps, it wasn’t such a bad idea to call the Divers in after all.

“Well, thank you Nick, that’s some of the most interesting information we’ve received so far and I don’t mind telling you this but we’ve got surprisingly little to go on.” Nick, then thought, that he heard the policeman sigh resignedly. Just as he was going to put his phone away in his back pocket, he could hear the almost plaintive, unpolicemanlike voice, saying. “Everything seems to lead nowhere and I’m beginning to get the feeling that we’re just banging our heads on a brick wall.”

Nick, listened to the almost desperate tone and was once again about to cut the connection, when he heard DCI. Findlay say, “If you hear anything else, anything at all, give me a call on this number, it’s my private line, so you will be able to speak freely.” At that point, the line went dead.

Alex Findlay, was now recalling a not totally dissimilar case he had read about years ago, in the pages of 'True Crimes,’ which was at that time a popular comic much loved by schoolboys. He was recalling, that week when 'True Crimes’, had transformed itself into a modern version of a Victorian ’Penny Dreadful,’ which was roughly the era of the story they were featuring in this special edition. There on the front cover was the headline, which read;

“Bodies of Missing Girls, found by Pond.” Then, there had been some equally lurid mention, of throats having been cut and vast amounts of blood having been spilt but that was only there, to appeal to the mostly young, male readers. The story related the discovery of the two Langford sister’s bodies, which had been found on the banks of a local pond, over a hundred years ago. He could clearly remember how exciting it all had been, as he had read this story to himself, over and over again by torchlight, under the covers of his bed sheets. How these two girls met their grisly deaths, was etched into his subconscious mind to this day.

Rosalind and Rosemary Langford, where the daughters of Gerald Langford and Clarissa Faversham-Hayles, a couple of bright young things, who were the toast of the town when they were married in 1847. She was an ’old money’ Heiress and he, a Captain in the Household Cavalry. They were doubly blessed with first, Rosalind and then, two years later, Rosemary, or Rosy as she preferred to be called. It was noted that the girls;

“Were both decidedly, doted on by their adoring parents,” and were deemed to be, “The icing on their young families, rising cake.” When Gerald was promoted, the family, had taken up residence at Carsley Manor, with it’s huge grounds and the man made lake, which was really a gigantic fish pond, located right in the middle of rolling heathland that had previously, provided both fish and fowl, for the table of the incumbent 'Lord of The Manor.'

The days of grand banquets had long gone and 'Carsley,’ as people referred to it, was nowadays, simply a rather well to do, largish family home located within 500 acres of rolling, manicured land. Rosalind and Rosemary, had both grown up with a real sense of freedom in their souls and their parents, had only encouraged their sense of liberty, with their rather lax approach to discipline. The girls, were allowed to go to bed at whatever time they wished and they were permitted to arise, at the hour of their choosing. Gerald and Clarissa, paid no attention to those times, during the day, when they saw neither hide, nor hair of their thoroughly independent offspring. The summer of that year, had been unusually long, warm and windless. So, it was not unusual for the girls to go out early with a picnic and return late, grab a bite to eat amongst the house servants in the kitchen, then just go to bed. Occasionally, their parents would not encounter them for days.

Alex Findlay, was simply, wallowing in a self induced, state of childhood and realised, that he was staring at the walls and getting lost in his own adolescent memories. Why did his mind, always come to this place, whenever he was troubled? The murder of the two Langston girls and the subsequent discovery of their bodies, on the banks of The Estate’s own lake by their mother, was just a dreadfully romantic story and anyway, it all happened a long time ago. When he thought about it now, he realised, just what an old friend, his copy of the old bloody tale had become. Alex, felt curiously fascinated by the similarities, between these two events. Something was gnawing at him.

“It’s just good old fashioned instinct and I know it wouldn’t hold up in Court but it simply won’t stop chewing.” He sighed, “I may mention 'True Crimes’, in my autobiography,” he said to himself, smiling, as he sat back in his chair.

He realised this was all getting a bit H.G Wellsian and decided, that a visit to the canteen might be in order. 'Jesus Alex, that trip to the morgue, didn’t do much for your head and you definitely, need to stop considering that idiotic concept, of doing much of your work, by candlelight.' He chuckled quietly to himself. Over reaction or not, the visit to the morgue and talking to Jinx about her impressions of the murders was, as usual, very enlightening. There was a feeling, that went with this disquiet he was experiencing and worse still, it was becoming almost palpable. It felt akin to some deep sorrow, that it seemed, had just collided head on with his “Patch” and was possibly, going to change it irredeemably. Alex Findlay, got out of his chair, sighed and made his way to the door. That cup of Coffee, couldn’t come soon enough. 'Why’s it always, those two bloody Langford girls?' He thought, as the paper cup fell into position and half of its intended contents, missed their mark.

In Willowbank, Nick, having just listened to the curious call from DCI. Findlay, with all it’s odd intonations and obvious concerns, was feeling strangely uneasy. He could tell that the Cop was distinctly worried about this case. As he was speaking, Nick felt there was something he was missing, something intangible in the DCI’s voice.

“It’s probably just me, reading too much meaning into very little,” he said, as he got up and went into the kitchen to make himself a mug of hot chocolate and then, sitting himself down in his favourite chair, Nick turned on his iPod, fitted the headphones, turned up the volume and relaxed. 'What a curious end, to a call that was.' He thought to himself as the music overwhelmed his senses. He closed his eyes and just drifted. He could feel himself just floating, out beyond this world’s realms of perceived control and he felt his consciousness, slipping away into the comfortable warmth and security of slumber.

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