Powderfinger by Keller Yeats

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Chapter 3

The day was extending before his very eyes. Not only was he going to have to be in the hostel when The Police returned at 6 pm, but he would have been on duty for 24 hours by that time and he knew that would not be the end of it. Unfortunately, the rules stated,

“Themember of staff, who is on duty at the start of any incident, appertaining to St. Joseph’sProbation Hostel, is to be regarded as still on duty, until the incident ended.”

So, he would wait whilst the police piled into the car park, blocked off the exits, carried out the search of the hostel together with it’s grounds and conducted interviews. Hopefully, if none of the lads were arrested, the report of the whole event would be given directly to the hostel and eventually, Nick could go home. Damn it, this so called incident could go on, until god knows what hour.

Sometimes Nick had to question why he did this job for a living? Working with young offenders, as he had for more years than he cared to admit to, Nick was becoming jaded. His thoughts turned to earlier when Mr. Davies had almost knocked him over rushing away like he was being pursued by Lucifer himself. This kind of behaviour, normally meant that something illegal had, or was about to happen. It may just be something as simple, as a drug deal. Cannabis was the probationers main drug of choice. On the other hand, considering the speed of his departure, it was more likely payment for an overdue debt. Borrowing was very common in the hostel, money was always short and some of the lads would go to almost any lengths to obtain it but they often ran into problems when it came to paying it back. He resolved to have a few wise words in Roland’s ear later, but right now, Nick was in need of another strong mug of Mrs. Mack’s Patented Recovery Blend Coffee.

As he strolled through the dining room and made his way back into the kitchen, Elsie McLintock was already pouring his desired mug of Coffee without a single word from his lips. Occasionally, it did cross his mind that perhaps Mack was a Witch, or at least dabbled in the black arts, for it often seemed she could read his mind. Then out of the blue, he remembered what Findlay had said, when he was referring to DS Deacon. He had called him 'Arch,' his words were 'Come on Arch.....' Arch Deacon, now that was amusing, probably an in joke put around by some wag down at the station. While his mind, was still on the subject of today’s earlier encounter with the Police, Nick quickly checked in his waistcoat pocket and pulled out the card that DCI Findlay had given to him as he left. He turned it over and read the reverse side. There in a neat, yet artistically flamboyant script, was a cryptic short hand written message, which read; “Arch. Good one eh?” Nick smiled, it seemed this Findlay chap, was not you average Police officer.

When he got back to the office, he was still smiling to himself about the “Arch” Deacon quip as he placed his mug of Coffee on the desk and sat down to give himself a few moments to relax and gather his thoughts. Nick knew he was going to have to phone 'Head Office' and inform them of this morning’s events. Nick dreaded calling his Line manager, Valerie Blackshaw. He would have to tell her what had happened, what the police had said and finally, if she would need to do any damage limitation to counteract any negative PR for the hostel. There was not even enough time for him to consider some form of damage control response strategy, before the infernal telephone began its urgent ringing. Nick’s shoulders sank a little lower with each tin-tabulation, surely Valerie hadn’t heard already. Staring absently at the machine, it encompassed his mind, like the tolling of a great bell.

He reached over to pick up the phone, fully expecting Valerie B. to be locked and loaded on the other end, and she was. Nick held the receiver at a comfortable distance from his ear, fully expecting the blast which followed.

“What the bloody hell is going on, Nicolas?” Valerie Blackshaw, was an austere woman, who always seemed to be wearing some form of a tweed pleated skirt, hemmed several inches below the knee, for modesty you understand, and a pair of Brown sensible brogue shoes. She looked like she was lost in some black and white movie about the 1930ʻs, which was strange as she was a post war baby boomer. Her only excess, if you call it that, was a string of undoubtedly genuine pearls and matching stud earrings. Nick fondly imagined she wore this get up twenty-four hours a day, even in bed. For all her comedic qualities, she was a fearsome woman that it was best not to cross if you valued your job. A woman he had grudgingly learnt to respect. “Answer me, Nicolas.” She impatiently demanded, obviously expecting him to recite chapter and verse, of the mornings events at the hostel.

He had nowhere to run, he was trapped. “Valerie, how are you?” he lamely offered.

“Iʼm fine” she impatiently barked. “Now what is this that Iʼm hearing about a dead body and some womanʼs dog?”

How had she heard about a dead body? Jesus, heʼd only just discovered this, when Findlay had told him only about ten minutes ago. “Iʼve only just learnt about this unfortunate incident myself, Valerie. Can I get back to you when I know a touch more about this?” Nick, was hoping that this simple, off the cuff delaying tactic, would give him a little time to present a better impression of the facts, rather than the inept effort spinning in his head; “everything just seemed to happen all at once, it was crazy. One minute Iʼm gazing out of the window at a clear blue sky and the next thing I see, is what looks like every Police car in the whole area is coming here to accuse the lads of murder”, no that wouldnʼt do at all! He didnʼt have to wait long for Valerieʼs response.

“No. I will arrive at the hostel for a full account, when Iʼve dealt with another pressing matter. Shall we say around twelve?”

No sooner had he put the receiver down than the telephone rang again. Nick jumped and answered the phone almost simultaneously, “Valerie?” he anxiously blurted out, like some child who has been caught with his hand in the Cookie jar. He was fervently hoping that Valerie, was going to say that she couldnʼt make it today after all.

“Hello, Mr. Swann?” said a vaguely familiar voice, “This is DCI Findlay, we met earlier at the hostel. If you go to the window and look over at the canal bank, you should see myself and Arch down at the canal side. Could you come over and join us?”

Nick, didnʼt expect that and for a moment was dumbstruck. Heʼd just called a Senior police officer, “Valerie” but that self same police officer, had also referred to his side kick, a ranking officer in Her Majestyʼs Police Force, as 'Arch.' “O.K, how does around ten minutes sound?” Adding, “I’ll just have to find some cover for this place. Be with you shortly.”

Cover, now there was a thing. This place ran more on good will than fine planning and he had little choice, when it came down to emergency cover. It was highly irregular but using his sweetest, most charming voice, he was forced to ask 'Mack,' if she would keep an eye on the place, while he just nipped out to see DCI. Findlay, somewhere on the canal bank opposite. “Would you be a honey and help me out for a while?” Seeing that he had peaked her interest, he continued, “It’ll only be for a few minutes and I don’t expect you’ll have to do anything but the DCI wants a word with me and he’s over there.” As he said the words, Nick indicated towards the canal bank, with his thumb a couple of times. ‘Mack,’ loved it, when Nick put her in occasional charge whilst he nipped out for some Fish and Chips, or something similar, on a few occasions during his daytime shifts. “Will you be all right, while I go and clear my name, Doll?” Nick said, in a terrible American accent, adding“You’ve got my number, babe.”

Mack genuinely found his Chicago gangster style quip hilarious and let loose the loudest laugh he had ever heard. “O.K, stop it already,” said Nick the Yank. “It ain’t no big deal. It’s just that I needs someone to watch me back, see.” Mack, guffawed loudly. This light weight badinage that he had with Mack had begun, not long after he took up his post. Nick became fascinated by her deep knowledge of old black and white Gangster Movies They both shared a deep admiration of Cagney, Bogart and Edward G. He had learnt that, “Casablanca,” was her favourite film and her knowledge of the script was to say the least, impressive. Laughing with her he waved goodbye and made a swift exit.

He cast his mind to Findlayʼs request, things were getting stranger by the minute but this was no time to hang around. He had to get over to the canal bank and see what the DCI wanted. First, he would do as he had suggested and take a look out the upstairs window at the frenzied activity along the old industrial watercourse and locate the DCI. As it was late Saturday morning, life was less hurried around the hostel and half a dozen of the lads had been given home passes. This was part of the process to prepare their re- acclimatisation back to a life in ʻnormalʼ society. Having checked again all the rooms and satisfied himself that there were no imminent problems about to combust, Nick secured his set of keys to his belt loop, checked he had his mobile in his pocket then called, “Bye” to Mack.

He made his way over the dew soaked hostel grounds, towards the throng of uniforms and flashing lights milling around on the canal bank. He felt reasonably confident in Mackʼs ability to keep a tight ship for a few minutes. He soon spotted his objective and strode purposely towards him. He couldnʼt miss DCI Findlay in this crowd, he stood a clear head above all the others engaged in the processing of the crime scene. An evidence tent covered what he supposed must have been the body that he had heard about. At this point, everything was hidden from the public gaze so nothing could be gleaned from a casual glance. There was no sign of DS Deacon, so Nick simply walked towards Findlay who was in the process of putting something in an evidence bag.

When he felt that he was within voice range, he announced his presence with a resounding “Hello, Mr. Findlay, I believe that you wanted to see me.” The sound of his name, coming from out of the blue, while he was concentrating on gathering some evidence, made him jump.

“Ah yes, Mr Swann. I think that we may need to discuss a couple of things off the record. Follow me if you wouldnʼt mind.” Findlay, led the way and Nick trailed behind, eager to discover just what it was, that the DCI had felt could not be imparted in the public domain. When the two of them had removed themselves a discreet distance from the small groups of interested parties, mostly local Press and a few passers by. Findlay stopped, checked to make sure that nobody could overhear, what he was going to say next.

“Firstly, this has been a very brutal killing and the perpetrator must have been splattered with blood, are you sure that none of the lads had any signs? Perhaps they were hiding it behind a coat or had changed their clothes?” Before Nick could answer, he continued “Secondly, my boss is the type who likes quick closure. He will automatically be convinced that one of the lads staying at St. Josephʼs is responsible.”

“Oh fantastic news, just what I wanted to hear” expounded Nick, with more than an air of cynicism in his voice. “As I said earlier these lads are just petty criminals. To think that one of these idiots” and he waved his hand in the general direction of the hostel, “could murder anybody, must be a joke. Most of them have enough trouble remembering to breathe in their sleep.”

Findlay smiled sympathetically and added, “Yes, understood but are you absolutely sure that sleeping and breathing is all that they were doing last night?”

By now, a number of The Press Gang, had noticed DCI Findlay talking to Nick and they began silently but very deliberately moving closer. Findlay spotted them and with a sudden jerk, stood up tall and put a finger to his lip, so that only Nick could clearly see it. Turning towards them, with a clear note of disdain in his voice he said, “Move along now people, thereʼs nothing to see here.”

Now it was Nick who was smiling at DCI Findlay. That was pure “South Park” and not a single member of the Press Corps noticed it. They carried on shouting inane questions, that went unanswered as Findlay quickly made his way to his car and Nick trudged back to the Hostel.

Even as he was taking his jacket off, the telephone began ringing in the office. Nick cursed under his breath. “Can’t a man have a few moments to himself?” he muttered, as he stomped off, his head resounding with the noise emanating from that accursed piece of plastic. “Christ, I’ve hardly had time to sit down since I got up this morning” he railed. “For fuck’s sake, give me a break.” Already today, he had been on the go, since woken at 5.30 a.m, by the trilling of his alarm clock in the wardens overnight suite. Having turned it off, he had wearily maneuvered himself to an upright position, perched himself on the side of the uncomfortable bed, then promptly put his right foot, squarely into the piece of cold Pizza he had let drop from his grasp, as he fell asleep the night before. Peeling the remnants of last evenings offering from his foot was bad enough, but this mornings events had been quite stressful and now he felt like he was being tortured yet again by this infernal thrumming emanating from the telephone.

Nick grabbed the handset impatiently, “Hello,” he barked, “St. Joseph’s Home for the Terminally Insane, how can I assist you?” He did not expect to hear Valerie’s voice on the other end of the line.

“Very funny Nicolas,” she snapped and then continued, seemingly without pausing for breath, “I sincerely hope that this is not a regular greeting.”

Oh brilliant, he thought. “Hello Valerie, you’ll have to excuse me, it’s already been a long day and it’s hardly begun yet,” he shamefacedly responded, feebly hoping to placate her. It didn’t. She carried on bleating, as if she hadn’t heard a word he had just said.

“I have been unable to rearrange my schedule so I won’t be able to meet you today.” Nick exhaled, then she pressed on “However, I am led to believe, that against protocols, you granted rather a lot of late passes last night to your residents and you cannot account for their movements. As there was a woman’s body found in the canal, which curiously runs by St. Joseph’s Probation Hostel, or 'Home for The Terminally Insane,' as you so aptly put it, I’ve been informed by the police that they will be making a detailed search of the Hostel and conducting informal interviews at 6pm tonight. Make sure you are present and then prepare a full report. You should also be aware that breaking protocols is a serious breach of conduct and I will be arranging a disciplinary hearing on the matter for Monday morning at head office. You will, of course be required to attend. I’ll email you the details to your home computer” and with that, she put the phone down.

Nick was taken aback. What the hell was going on today, absolutely nothing seemed normal, everything was happening in what could only be described as quantum chaos. He considered Valerie quite possibly thought by now, that she was dealing with a complete moron. 'This does not feel too good Nick,' he thought, 'a disciplinary hearing at head office on Monday....Shit! I could be suspended or even lose my job!' It seemed to Nick, that Valerie was one step ahead of him today. Disconcertingly, she appeared to be almost aware of things yet to happen. Of course, there was always the off chance that, 'Maybe, Valerie’s the killer?' The thought had crossed his mind previously that day but it was still an extremely doubtful premise, though the thought did amuse him. This was all getting very silly, which was a sure sign, that it was time to have another Coffee, something to eat and sit down to take stock of the situation.

No sooner had he sat down with his steaming mug of even stronger than usual Coffee and the lunch plate that Mrs. Mack had supplied him with, than the damn telephone set off again. “Shit and Goddam Almighty,” he hissed as he lay the canteen tray down and picked up the receiver. “Yes, what is it?” He growled into the mouthpiece.

The voice on the other end responded with, “Sorry, if I’ve interrupted something important. DCI Findlay here, is that you Mister Swann?” This Mister Swann thing, sounded distinctly odd to him and Findlay’s old school manner of speech threw him a little, so he responded with the usual self effacing,

“Call me Nick, everybody else does.” Findlay’s response was unexpected.

“Yes, I suppose that would be quite acceptable, considering the fact that I was just about to officially inform you, that I have been put in charge of investigating this particular case. So I will be there as agreed at 6pm with my team to conduct the search and some unofficial interviews. I expect you will be there to receive us?”

Nick answered in the affirmative, put down the phone and turned his attention to his already late lunch. “Jesus Christ,” he muttered, “these, twenty-four hour shifts, will be the death of me.” Nick then ate the remainder of his interrupted meal, sat back with his feet up on the desk and his hands resting on his now satisfied stomach.

From that point, the afternoon progressed as many others had in the past, sleepily, with only occasional minor interruptions to its tranquillity. Nick, lazily glanced at the clock and the rota sheet on the office wall. He reached over and turned the small staff radio on and then slumped back into his original position, as the melody of the second half, of ’A theme on Thomas Tallis,’ almost put him into a delightful trance. He was almost drifting off, when something in his mind, demanded to know, ‘who was taking over from him?’ Nick hoped it wasn’t Larry but on opening his right eye and squinting at the list on the wall in front of him, he saw, to his immense disappointment, that it was in fact, the dreaded Lawrence Patrick Walsh, who was down to take over the reins from him. Nick sighed, took his feet off the desk, and began to formulate the outline of the report he would need to prepare for Ms. Blackshaw.

When DCI Findlay received Joe’s search report, in the incident room, he found the news simply exasperating. Today, had not gone at all well and he and Arch, still had to call back at the hostel, for their proposed and possibly futile 6 o’clock rendezvous with its inmates, who would undoubtedly hate them for this inconvenience. Any such polite considerations, he dismissed, right now he needed leads.

“So, you’re telling me, that eight Police officers, can take five and a quarter hours, to search up and down the canal banks and find, as you say, precisely nothing?” Alex, was amazed and his voice sounded like it, as it rose another octave, when he barked, “Five fucking hours and I’m supposed to justify that, exactly how?”

Bruce Spellman, another old hand, who had worked with Joe for years and greatly admired his methods, attempted to ameliorate the situation. He interceded, with a somewhat jaunty repost, “Ah, yes but thirty minutes of that, was for dinner.”

You could have heard a pin drop in the room. Then Alex spoke. “O.K. Then, let me put it this way. Has anybody, got another ridiculously inappropriate answer, to add?” Alex, looked at all the blank faces that were looking back at him. They were all eagerly awaiting, the question that they knew he was inevitably going to pose. Like a pack of hounds, waiting to be ordered to strike their prey, they waited and then, “How’s it possible, to murder someone and leave absolutely no trace?” He finished his tirade, with a plaintive, “Well, how is it?” DCI. Alex Findlay, standing in front of the incident boards, put his hands on his hips and said, “Gentlemen, I await your suggestions?”

Joe Crilly, felt this unfathomable set of results, couldn’t be allowed to reflect badly on his search team and attempted to retrieve their good standing, “Sir, it’s not any fault of my team, that there was just no other evidence that we could find. It was identical in both directions, the place almost seemed to have been swept clean.”

Alex, looked over to the somewhat crest fallen Joe Crilly and gently smiled at him. “Sorry, if I was a little brusk Joe, I know it’s not any of your officer’s faults. It’s just that Commander Sykes, will expect us to find something, anything, that would give us some form of prime suspect, or at very least, a few solid leads, that we could take on from here.”

Arch, was looking at his watch and patiently waiting for an opportunity to attract Alex’s attention during one of the natural gaps in his frustrated tirade. Seizing the natural pause he caught his eye. “The hostel chap, will be wondering where we are, if we don’t get a move on. I’ve got the team ready, Sir.”

DCI. Findlay, took the opportunity, to look at his own watch. “Ye God’s yes. Sorry gents.” Then, having got his thoughts into something resembling order, he finished with, “O.K, Arch, alert the rest of your team and lets just get on with it.”

As the clock approached 5.45 pm, there was no sign of Larry. He was, as usual late in leaving for work and then Hilda, his ancient BMW, had been slow to get started. One too many glasses of claret and a full stilton for lunch had led to a rather long afternoon snooze. Larry sighed and reached for his mobile phone to call the hostel just to let whoever was on duty, know that he may be, “A few minutes, late in taking over.”

Nick, barely had time to take in that message, when phone rang again. Once more, it was Larry and surprise, surprise he was stuck in traffic so he now reckoned, that he was going to be, “A Gnats ass late.” Well, thought Nick, at least that would probably allow him enough time to get Findlay’s stuff underway before Larry arrived. On the other hand, how long was a "Gnat’s ass?" Nick groaned, “Damn it, Larry and now bloody Strauss, is on the radio. Could it get any worse?”

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