Powderfinger by Keller Yeats

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Chapter 16

Westie was sitting behind her desk, trying hard to find anything evidential within yesterdays reports, so she could feel that the last two hours of going through them all had at least been worth something. However, up to now, there was nothing. It appeared, that nobody had seen anything out of the ordinary, nothing was heard and the only thing that bore any relevance to the whole enquiry, was that Arch Deacon stated he could just about make out a building of some sort, in the wooded area, on the factory side of the canal, by Quaker Crossing. He wondered if anybody had been over there to make some enquiries?

She knew the building, that Arch had observed was in fact, the actual Quaker Meeting Hall. It had been built, along with the bridge, through kind donations from The Brethren and a sizable annuity, from their retail outlets, that were spread like their various Jam’s and Pickles all over the area.

The original idea, of selling home made preserves, had come from one member of the congregation, who thought it might be a useful way to give the bereaved ladies of the borough, something to occupy their minds in the chaotic times of war. From those small Acorns, the idea grew and today it was a thriving commercial business exporting all over the world. The local production in the grounds of the Quaker Hall attained it’s peak output, during The Great War, when news of the loss of a beloved husband, or son, became common place. ‘The Patricroft Pals,’ were a company, that was made up from 613 local men, who had all joined up together and gone to fight for their King and Country in Flanders. Over the first years, they had suffered the occasional loss, due to a well aimed snipers bullet, or a random piece of flying shrapnel, but generally it could be said they had fared pretty well, considering the nature of the conflict.

Then, in 1916, the company had been ordered to join in with General Haig’s “Big Push” and it had been deployed to The Somme area of the front line. Up to that point, they had only lost 16 fighting men and they were becoming known as, “The Lucky Lads.”

However, come 7.30am on the morning of the 1st of July, their luck ran out. The whistle blew, heralding the start of the offensive and within twenty minutes of ’going over the top,’ 397 of them were dead and a further 181 of the company, were wounded. Only nineteen men, out of the original 613, were left standing. The area, was devastated and hardly a family was untouched by the events of that morning.

In these traumatic circumstances, the Jam and Pickle business, was also seen as a means of making a little money, to help the grief stricken, in their time of need. Many of the war widows, would have struggled greatly, if the concession had not been there, as some kind of safety net. Over the years, the outreach of the Quaker’s “Friendship Preserves” brand grew, as their products became greatly trusted, both for their taste and nutritional qualities. Indeed, during the second world conflagration, “They can sink our ships but our ‘friends,’ will always get through,” became a commonly heard local sentiment.

'All, very interesting but it’s not much to show for all that effort,' she thought. "We’re getting nowhere, slowly. Twelve days and we’re still on the fucking starting blocks," she said quietly to herself, as she picked up the last report, which as usual, was The Chiefs. Kaylie picked it up and laid it on the desk in front of her,

“Well Sir, let’s see what you’ve got for us today, shall we?”

DCI. Alex Findlay, had set up this system, of a single officer co- ordinating all the strands of an enquiry, in order to gain the greatest clarity. This time he had chosen her, Kaylie Western, to be this rather prestigious Co-ordination Officer. It was her responsibility to prepare a useful synopsis of the reports, suggest recommendations regarding the areas for further investigation and the most appropriate personnel, for the lines of enquiry. DCI Findlay, would consider her report and its recommendations whilst, at the same time, assessing her capabilities, then he would direct the stations resources, as he thought appropriate. Kaylie, turned over DCI Findlay’s coversheet and looked down at the blank pieces of paper in front of her. She flicked them over again and then, for a third time, just in case she’d missed something, then she neatly squared the blank sheets off and put them in the file and closed the drawer.

Arch, opened the door to DCI Findlay’s office and marched in. “Is he here yet?”

Ronnie looked at him, puzzled by his over eagerness. With a query in her voice, she said, “No and you’re the second person to ask that question, but why the urgency?” Arch held her gaze for a few seconds, almost as if he were considering, whether it was actually worth carrying on down this route. Then he spoke, in a slightly hushed tone.

“Yesterday, after Westie and Me, had done a little investigating, we went for lunch in The Black Dog. We’d just sat down and were waiting,” and with that, he paused again before continuing, “waiting for him,” she nodded to show she understood, who he meant. Arch continued, “and for our refreshments to arrive. When suddenly, in rolls The Boss, out of breath and white as a sheet.” Arch, then waited for any reaction before carrying on with his recounting of yesterday’s events. He got nothing so he continued, “He then just sat there looking at the table top. He didn’t say a word, until I asked him, what he wanted for lunch?”

Ronnie, cast her mind back to the blank report that she had forwarded to Westie. Arch prattled on regardless,

“A little later, when it was appropriate, I asked him, if he was feeling O.K? And all he said was, 'Yes, fine now. It was just a little warm and a bit claustrophobic in that shed. The stench of tar was quite sickening and the noise, coming from all those birds was deafening.’ Then he seemed to be answering himself by saying, 'Yes, that’s all it was.’”

Ronnie looked up at Arch and he noticed a little something, best described as curiosity and concern, in her eyes. “What is it Ronnie, tell Papa?” Said Arch, in his best sycophantic voice. She tilted her head to one side and the look in her eyes changed. It flashed from being one of sympathetic interest, to one of abject pity. Sadly, it was already too late for Arch, with his initial gaff registered, he finished his sexist remark with the equally offensive, “Be a good girl now.”

Ronnie Childs, just stood up, opened the door and then escorted him out of the office while indicating to the row of waiting room chairs, with a wave of her hand she said loudly “Wait here. Now you just be a good boy for Mummy , I won’t be long. See if you can count to a hundred.” As she spun on her heel and firmly closed the office door, the whole incident room just erupted into laughter.

Arch, simply sat there feeling about two inches tall and cursing himself for trying to be amusing, when there was a smart woman around. A few minutes after Arch, had sat down, DCI. Findlay, walked swiftly in with Westie in tow and marched straight past the recently admonished Arch Deacon, as if he wasn’t there. Only when they had both entered the office and it seemed that they were about to shut the door, did he hear the Boss calling,

“Are you coming in Arch, or are you just going to sit there all day, twiddling your thumbs?”

Kaylie Western was the first to break the silence. “As the investigation coordinator on this one, I have to make it clear, that to co- ordinate anything, you first have to have something to organise into a useful format but you guys, have given me so little to go on, that to be honest, I might as well not be here.”

Trying to redeem himself, Arch butted in and offered Kaylie, some support, “The problem with this case, is the lack of clues. Every time, that we think something is panning out, we run into a brick wall. Nobody seems to have heard or seen anything. There’s no apparent motive, and nobody is making any slip up’s with their alibis. The end product of this lack of substantive information, is as Kaylie says, that we’ve got nothing to go on. We’re quite simply, running on empty.”

The information gathered by the teams that Alex Findlay, had set up in the last few days, were all running into similar problems and the 'Canal Cutter,’ was apparently, getting away with it at present. Alex pushed his chair back,

“Have we discovered who called in the second murder yet?” Kaylie looked directly at him,

“No, we’ve drawn a blank on that one as well. The voice was muffled, the labs think it was probably a young male, but it was from a pay as you go phone and untraceable.”

Alex sighed, then observed “This is just the way, that some cases go. Eventually, something will give, we just have to be ready for when it does.” With that he stood up and led the way into the Incident Room and standing in front of the evidence boards, he looked at the assembled mass of investigating officers.

The younger ones, were looking tired and frustrated, whilst the more seasoned officers, showed quiet resignation.

“I know, it’s not what you wanted to hear but this is the point, where it all gets very hard to stay on your tip toes. We all, have to stay positive and then, hopefully something will turn up and if we’re lucky, it won’t be another victim. DC Western, has your assignments so I’ll turn the floor over to her.”

Then, turning, he caught the attention of DC. Joe Crilly, beckoned him over and they went out into the corridor. “I want you to take your squad, along with Arch and Westie over to the Ravens Gate works and have a good look around the place. Take your torches, stay in two’s and keep your Coms open. I don’t want anything going wrong.”

Joe Crilly nodded, “You can rely on me, Sir.” Alex appreciated Joe’s fastidious methods and that’s why he had chosen him for this assignment.

“Keep an eye open for signs of an old tramp who may have been dossing there, let’s just say that ‘he could be a person of interest’.” If there was anything going on at the Ravens Gate works, then Joe, along with the down to earth Arch and the meticulous Westie to co-ordinate the search, would find it.

The sharp ringing tone of the telephone, cut through the air like a knife and it made Alex jump. His mind was somewhere else, definitely not in his office. Ronnie calmly picked it up, listened for a moment, before handing it to him. It was Jinx.

“Morning Alex, just phoning to let you know that your second set of Autopsy results are waiting for you, here at The Carvery.” This was good news, it may lead to some clue or other which would bring them a step closer to finding their killer.

“We finished the work last night and I think you’re going to be pleased with the results we obtained.” Things were looking up at last, but before he could rationalise his thoughts, the line went suddenly dead and he just got the annoying “Burring,” sound in his ear. At this point, Arch and Westie came into the office,

“Jinx,” he said looking knowingly at Arch, “The Autopsy results, are in and she wants to see me anyway, on a related matter, so I’ll kill two birds with one stone and call in at The Morgue. You two, get over to Ravens Gate and give Joe Crilly and his crew a hand. See, if you can discover any clues, that may have been overlooked.”

He then turned to Arch and frowned a little quirkily, before turning towards Westie and Ronnie and giving them all the relevant details, regarding yesterday’s strange episode in the shed at Ravens Gate.

“I don’t want everybody to know about this but I think it’s only fair, if you, Ronnie and Kaylie, are aware.” He paused a moment, looked quickly upwards, to the heavens and then down again at the floor. “Call it a feeling, maybe tar induced, or whatever you like but.........” he halted and looked conspiratorially at his three colleagues and then carried on, “I think there is something, that we ought to be looking at in the Ravens Gate works and he, or she doesn’t want us to be poking our noses around too much. If we spook our friend, they’ll be gone in an instant but if we play it down, the perpetrator may give themselves away. So, I don’t want people, and that includes some of our colleagues, turning up mob handed. I want you both to go with Joe Crilly’s crew and quietly, do a discrete search of the works. We may eventually have to rip it apart, but first let’s try the Softly Softly Catchy Monkey approach.”

Arch nodded and motioned Westie over. Alex continued, “Speaking of which, I think I’ll go and see Mr Turnbull. He seemed to be a touch too obstructive, when he was confronted by you, Arch.” Then, he looked over to Ronnie Childs, “Can you make an appointment with him at his earliest convenience,” he requested, then, as he turned, Alex silently congratulated himself over his man management skills. He smiled at the recollections of a course he had been forced to attend some years earlier, by Commander Sykes in his stead, when the term 'Man Management,’ was seen as some kind of psychobabble and was not worthy of his personal attention. 'Who’s sorry now, eh Briscombe?' He mused, whilst the ever faithful DS. Deacon, was filling in Kaylie Western, regarding yesterdays meeting with Alan Turnbull and the multitude of things, that were not said. Alex, picked up his papers and headed for his car and his meeting with Jinx before any one really noticed he was gone.

The journey to the Morgue, was pleasant enough and the traffic was relatively light, for this time of day but as he was parking his Audi in the allocated, 'Guest' slot, he was remembering his uncomfortable experiences of yesterday, in that black shed at Ravens Gate. He put that disquiet behind him, as he breezed through the main doors and bid Colin Jeavons, a hearty “Good day, Mr. J,” and made straight for Jinx’s lab.

“She’s expecting you, Sir, she told me to buzz you straight in, when you arrived.” Alex Findlay, waved his hand in recognition and walked on down the hall to the stairs. Jinx, had sounded like she had something curious to tell him and right now, she was the only person that he could rely on, not to laugh at his scare in the Tar Works. There was something about this case, which defied certain rules of logical thought and that never went down well, with the upper echelon, or his digestion for that matter. Jinx understood this and as Alex had fallen foul of unwritten rules once before, to his cost, this time he was going to keep these speculative feelings between Miss. Pinnock and himself.

From outside the door, he could see that Mason was in the Pathology Lab with Jinx, so he took a few deep breaths, steadied himself and strode into the laboratory, as if he hadn’t a care in the world.

“Hi Jinx, what have you got for me now,” he said, with a forced smile on his face.

“Your latest results are in and I think that you are going to be, how should I say.........” She appeared to be having trouble finding the right words,

“Amazed,” said Mason, finishing her sentence for her.

“Yes, that’s as good a word as any,” Jinx, added.

Mason, took this chance and stepping forward, invited Alex, to follow him. They crossed the room and went into a small annex at one end of the lab. This was an old shower room now converted into a storage space for ongoing case boxes with their evidence contents. Every time Alex entered this space, he was struck by how plain it was with it’s white tiles and rows of boxes with just a simple table in the centre of the room.

There was an evidence box in the middle of the table marked “Powderfinger”. Mason opened the box and removed two items, placing them on the table then stood back, grinning whilst Alex Findlay tried to make some kind of rational sense of what he was viewing.

There on the table in front of him, were two white, four fingered hand like objects, about two feet long. Dismissing them, as the articles that he was invited in to view, Alex turned his head and looked around.

“Exactly what am I supposed to be looking at,” he enquired and Mason, just laughed out loud.

“You were looking at them a few seconds ago.” He moved back across the floor, towards the giant white, obviously plastic, or resin, skeleton like things, sat on the evidence table. “You’re supposed to be looking at these,” said Mace, indicating vaguely, with a sweep of his hand, towards the models.

“What?” said Alex, still bemused. Now getting more and more frustrated by his apparent refusal to see what was right there, before his eyes, Mason picked up one of the enormous hand like objects and waved it at Alex. “These, for fucks sake,” he insisted.

“These two fucking giant hand like things!”

Findlay, stupified, posed another disbelieving question. “These?” he asked , while incredulously staring, blankly at Melissa Gilbert’s model hands. “These two whatever they are’s?”......

“I’m afraid so.” Intervened Mace. “Due to the almost instant cauterisation, that took place, we were able to get a good impression of the wounds. When we analysed, the groupings and their trajectory, it could also be deduced, that the implement had several prongs, that could be grouped together, thus.” For Alex’s benefit, he made the point, by stabbing at the air with the fingers of his hand. “Melissa Gilbert poured the casts and reconstructed the ‘implements.’ We were as surprised as you when we saw the result.”

Alex, was somewhat lost for words, as he continued to stare incongruously at Melissa’s massive skeletal hands. “And, just what am I supposed to tell my officers?” He stared at Mason, his eyes wide, with an expression of disbelieving confusion on his face. “Perhaps, I could tell them, that they need to keep an eye out, for some kind of giant bloke with massive skeletal hands, and that under no circumstances, are they to approach alone?”

Alex shook his head, he peered again at Mason, “I can’t say that, they’ll think, that I’m fucking crazy.”

At this point, Jinx entered the annex and looked sympathetically at Alex. “I know what you’re thinking because I was thinking it too.” He looked at her nonplussed.

“There’s no way, that I’m going to put anything about gigantic boney fingers, or the wielder of the aforementioned massive digits, in anything remotely resembling an official report. I like my job too much and I fully intend to retire, in post.” The space separating Alex and Jinx, was crackling with electricity and neither of them knew quite what to do, or say next.

“I concur,” spluttered Alex. “I’m very unlikely, to sidle up to Commander Sykes and inform him that we’ve got a giant skeletal handed killer out there. It’s just not at the top of my 'things to do, before I die’ list.”

Any semblance of doubt and imagined concerns, over future employment, were swept away by Mace, who broke any facade of seriousness by removing the ‘hands’ from the display boards on the table and sloughed around the now silent room, dragging both hands and his left foot, along the tiled floor and calling pitifully,

“Brains, brains,” as he approached Alex and Jinx, who were now laughing. “My work here is done,” said Mason, as he carefully replaced the two model’s onto the display boards next to the box marked “Powderfinger,” and left the room.

“It’s all well and good to laugh, but applying the information we have at the moment, he’s not so far off the truth. What was it, that Sherlock Holmes said about eliminating the facts?” said Jinx. Silently, they both mouthed the conclusion. “Eliminate them, one by one and all that you are left with, is the truth?”

Alex Findlay was not ready to accept the fantastical just yet, he was more inclined to believe that they were seeking a lone nutter with an exotic taste in weaponry, who would eventually make a mistake, which would lead to their apprehension. Jinx, could clearly see the look of disbelief on his face, so she gave him a touch more information to consider.

“If Melissa is so wrong, and there is some other agent at work, then I ask you, what is it that you think, we are dealing with here?” She stared at him, waiting for some theory to pop out of his mouth, that may serve to make her feel a little easier. Alex, was looking at the gigantic model hands, that were lying on the table top before him and wracking his brain for some form of a convincing alternative, to Mason’s ‘Hammer Horror Zombie’ impression.

“You’ll have to leave that one with me Jinx, but right now I’m not yet willing to go down that ludicrous road. There must be a simpler answer. Maybe the perpetrator merely carved something similar as weapons. I think we should just refer to the weapon as a several pronged, garden fork-like implement for now.”

She understood his reticence and nodded her acceptance of his cautious stance. “O.K, I’ll leave it with you for now but I won’t be putting any of this in my report, not now, not ever. I just thought that you should be aware that this case is a touch peculiar, that’s all.”

Alex, started to make his way towards the door of the Lab, when he turned and looked at her. “Sorry Jaqui but I’ve got a lot on today, so don’t think that I’m being rude, or anything but I need to get back to update Commander Sykes, he’s back from holiday today and I’ve got a team searching the Tar Works. I won’t go wading in with some kind of half assed spook story, until, as your Mr. Holmes says, all the options have been eliminated, leaving only the truth, no matter how uncomfortable that may be.” Jinx, suspected he was correct to assume that they were actually dealing with some disturbed individual. In her quieter moments, she concurred.

“I pray that you’re right Alex, but if you had Mason running around the Police Station, expounding one crazy theory after another, you may find yourself, every so often, listening a little too intently to his ravings.” Alex, nodded his head a few times, in a gesture of sympathetic understanding,

“’Powderfinger.’ Hmmm, Yeah, I like it...” then with half a smile, he stepped through the door, which silently closed after him, as he made his way back through reception.

Colin Jeavons, was still at his post behind the monitors on the imposing wooden desk and offered a friendly, “Bye, Sir,” as he exited The Morgue and made his way towards his car, whilst fishing around in his pockets, trying to locate his Mobile phone. Even as he speed dialed Arch’s number, he was remembering that he would have to contact Nick Swann later, just to keep him in the loop regarding the Inmates at the hostel, and the investigation of the information given by the tramp. After his meeting with Jinx, the lads at the hostel, were now obviously more, or less off the hook . Their alibi’s, had all been corroborated and it seemed highly unlikely, that any of them could have created or concealed any weapons similar to Melissa Gilbert’s giant skeletal hands.

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