Powderfinger by Keller Yeats

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Chapter 31

Alan awoke early the next morning, feeling as if he was in need of a good night’s sleep. He lay on his back, looking up at the ceiling above his bed and absentmindedly watched a spider, slowly walk across the light fitment in search of its breakfast.

“Crumpets and Coffee, that’s what I need,” he said as he prized himself off the warm mattress, reached for his dressing gown and placed his feet in the fluffy slippers, that lay by the side of the bed. He had a thumping headache in progress but he wasn’t going to put up with having a sore head, for very long. Reaching over to his well stocked medicine cabinet, conveniently placed on the wall by the bed, he grabbed hold of the bottle of Paracetamol.

“Come to Daddy,” he said to the tablets, as he carefully placed three of the relieving pills, on the rear of his tongue, before swashing the them down his gullet, with one swig of his chosen mineral water, which he always kept by the bed, “just in case.”

“That’s better,” he said and made his way towards the bathroom and turned on the tap for his invigorating power shower. The preset warm water, was flowing urgently from the shower heads in pulsating, supposedly invigorating jets, which effortlessly washed over him, as he stepped inside the cubicle. He closed his eyes and began to wash his hair,

“Remember Alan, you must phone Nicks, before you do anything else this morning.” He then turned and rinsed the soap off his face, before wiping both of his tightly closed eyes, with his dripping finger, before he tentatively opened them. “Good, no stingy stuff!” The difficult part of the showering now successfully negotiated, there was of course, the temptation of staying put and simply sitting down on the floor of the unit and closing his eyes. As the blissful thought crossed his tired mind, he yawned in sympathy. Last night, had proved of little use in the relaxation stakes, so the idea of remaining within the soothing stream, until he turned into a middle aged prune, was very alluring.

When, eventually he managed to extricate himself from the warm pulsating cascade and turn off it’s delights, Alan found that he was still reciting the mantra;

“Remember to phone Nicks.” He repeated it again, for good measure and to make sure he wouldn’t forget, should anything unexpected crop up, as the early morning progressed. As he stepped out of the cubicle Alan reached over for one of the towels, that were warming on the radiator and started to dry himself off. Ten minutes later, shaved and dressed he shut the bathroom door and headed to the kitchen, for a rendezvous with his long desired Crumpets.

Despite his stomach gurgling hunger and an aching desire, for a cup of sweet ’n smokey Lapsang Souchong tea, he became conscious of the increasing ‘sound’ of those bloody words once again. “Must remember to phone Nicks,” played over and over in his ears. The voice, had no need for food, or drink and it knew, that in reality, there was no time to spare. They only had today, to study or copy the book and then, when it was handed back, prior to the ceremony, the evidence would be returned to Nathaniel Jones and hence, it could possibly be lost forever.

“Shut up! I’ll call him, when I get into work,” Alan said earnestly, as he turned his full attention to his breakfast.

Twelve miles away, Alex Findlay, was starting his vehicle, at almost the same moment. He was also thinking of a meeting, but not with Nick Swann. Alex, was looking forward to his liaison, that evening with Jinx, in The Old Raven. Having felt her response to the invitation of the Powderfinger meeting, Alex had detected what he had hoped was a slight disappointment in her voice when he had explained the date was a working one.

Emboldened, the day later he had again invited her out, but this time for a private meal and drink at the Old Raven. Alex beamed to himself as he drove to the station, “She said yes!” He still couldn’t quite believe it.

As he drove he made a mental note to find the time to contact her, regarding the bodies from the old Quaker graveyard, tonight there must be no ‘talking shop’. He decided to call her when he got to the station, just to see if there were any interim results from the investigations she might want to talk through privately, on their personal phones. He glanced at his watch, then speeded up, he could not be late, not after he had been reinstated to his previous position. No, it wouldn’t look good, if he turned up late for work, on his first official day back as Head of the Serious Crime Squad.

D.S Deacon was already at work, when Alex walked into the office. He was checking through his notes and preparing his and Kayleigh’s, order of business for that day. They were working together, in order, to tie up any loose ends from cases they were working at Peel Park, before fully rejoining Alex’s team.

“Morning Sir, are we looking forward to this evenings liaison, with Dr. Pinnock?” Before Alex,could respond with anything legible, he added, “Or should that be Jaqui?” and for good measure, he puckered up his lips and blew two kisses at his DCI.

“Fuck off, Arch. We’re just old friends, that’s all,” he countered, as he felt his cheeks redden a little. “How did you find out, I thought, that we’d kept it all hush, hush. Who told you?” Arch looked over and smiled.

“A little bird may have said something along those lines,” then continued sarcastically, “it’s strange but my memory’s not as sharp as it used to be before my time at Peel Park. Sometimes it all just goes kind of, dark” and he reached out and fumbled around, as if he were a blind man, seeking a prop. Alex simply bowed his head and shook it.

“We all think, that it’s a really nice thing for you both,” said Arch. “You know Sir, you don’t need to be a clairvoyant to see the bleeding obvious sometimes.”

Alex Findlay, looked at his D.S, as the office door opened and Westie came through it, with all her usual vigor.

She looked at her two colleagues and exasperatedly said, “I knew that you couldn’t keep a secret for more than about 10 seconds,” and looked daggers at Arch. “Just another typical man-problem thing, I suppose.” She suggested, then shrugged her shoulders really obviously and reopened the door. “See you in the car,” she said to Arch, as she walked through the doorway, taking one final gulp of her Coffee, before dispensing with the empty paper cup, in the waste bin by the main entrance. D.S Deacon, glanced through the office window as Kayleigh walked briskly by, on her way to the waiting squad car. “Gotta keep on the ball, Sir. Must go, people to see and all that.”

Looking across the now empty office, Alex noticed that the clock had stopped. So he checked his watch to discover the correct time and stepped over to put it right. As he reached the correct position, to lift the clock from it’s mounting and fit some new batteries, he noticed his colleagues, about to pull out of the parking area. He smiled, as he could see that Kayleigh, was eating again and Arch was simply sat there by her side frowning. Alex just slowly shook his head as they pulled out, into the busy line of traffic, on the main Partington Road.

It was a good feeling, to have his old team back together again and he smiled a little inside, as he opened his desk drawer and reached for the small black notebook, that lay within. It was pushed snuggly, up against the back of the draw. Alex, then slowly and somewhat reverently, withdrew the item and opened it. Page one, had only one word on it and that single word was “Powderfinger.” This, was Alex Findlay’s private notebook on the case and flipping through it, he reached the first blank page and wrote a new heading,

“Quaker Burials: Interim Results,” and underlined it. Alex picked up his mobile phone from the desk top and was about to punch in Jinx’s private number, when his concentration was rudely shattered by the insistent trill of the office phone and he involuntarily bit his tongue.

“Oooh,fucking hell!” he yelped. “Jesus H. Christ!” and he raised his right hand and hit the top of wooden desk in front of him so hard, the desk tidy, almost fell off. “Ouch.” He squeaked, as his hand objected to such rough treatment. “Bad idea, Alexander” and the pantomime finished with, “You won’t do that again, will you?” Even as he was saying it, he knew it was a lie. He was fully aware, that the next time he hurt himself, the air around him would turn a fetching shade of blue.

With his left, unthrobbing hand, he grabbed the offensive phone. “Yes, what?” he gruffly snarled.

“Alex?” The tinny voice, on the other end queried and then continued, before any answer was forthcoming. “Sorry to bother you but I’ve just received an item in the mail, from the bod’s at Tullets, you know, the people who are going to renovate, The Ravens Gate area. Anyway, they’ve just this minute, informed me, that they are going to be ready to start the work, first thing on Monday morning but they say, that we probably, won’t need to supply any security presence just yet, as it’s only going to be one man doing some preparatory work.” Alex, just looked vacantly out of his office window, as he half listened, to The Commanders message.

He felt his jaw drop, as his new boss, simply ploughed on. “I just thought I’d inform you, so that you can organise a couple of uniforms to go down there anyway, and show their faces.”

Alex, was taken aback by the rapidity with which everything was moving and said so. Commander Metcalfe, could understand Alex’s concern. Indeed, he also thought the work was being rushed through, at an undignified pace. However, with no new evidence coming to light, regarding any of the police men’s murders and the Eleanor Ross and Debra Foxx cases, being declared cold, they could hardly hold up work any longer.

Ever since the cold blooded murder of the two officers, there had in fact, been not one single lead offered to the police and hence, after long months of deafening silence, this case was just a couple of degrees above frozen.

“I understand your objections Alex, believe me I do, but money talks these days. We’ve got all the forensics we can from the

area and any new breaks, I’m afraid will have to come from other sources.” This was indeed, turning into a day, that was full of surprises and it seemed, they were not guaranteed to be good ones. “Always remember, the case of our colleagues isn’t closed, it’s just resting.” With that, he put the phone down.

“What?” said Alex, as he held the receiver in his hand and just looked blankly, at the handset. “For God’s sake,” he cursed angrily. “We’ve now got contractors, telling us, what they want and when. Plus, it appears, they have already decided on the police manning levels, that will be required.”

The DCI, in Alex Findlay was now, slowly beginning to grow annoyed and it took a moment, or two, for him to organise his thoughts. “Right, first things, first,” he said as he pressed the number 5, on the miniature keyboard, that resided, immediately below the hand set. He was calling Ronnie, to inform her of the news and to hopefully, get her to organise the assignment of a couple of ’uniforms’ to the task of Tullets security, from Monday.

“Could you inform them, that they will be operating, by The Ravens Gate, from first light on Monday morning for an indefinite period.”

“Don’t worry Sir, I know just the two men, you’re looking for,” Ronnie said. “You’d be wanting, Josh Frazer and Stanley James, Sir. They’re both your boys and I know they’ll both be available.” Josh Frazer and Stan James, were the two oldest uniform cops, who were still gainfully employed at the station.

Everybody knew them as, “Waldorf and Statton,” due to their particularly laconic sense of humour, which was very dry and often rather cultured. They were both due for retirement after long and distinguished careers in the lower tiers of local law enforcement, next Christmas.

“O.K. Ronnie, could you see to that for me,” he absentmindedly said, as he finished punching in the numbers for Jinx’s phone.

Unusually, it rang three times before she picked it up. “Hello Alex, how are you today and before you ask, Mason, has managed to get some interim results back, from his contact in the Forensic Archeology department. You know, I mentioned them to you. They’re his mates at the Uni and you won’t believe, just what we got back from them.” She sounded a little perfunctory and breathless, so he let her continue without interruption.

“The times of death of the bodies, are actually all spread out, through a period of time, spanning the years between the early 1700’s to the first few decades of the 1900’s. That’s two hundred years, give, or take an inch.“ She paused to allow it to sink into Alex’s head for a moment and then she continued with her salient point. “O.K, you say, that’s fine but when you see their state of preservation, they all appear to have died at roughly the same time. Give, or take ten years.”

Alex, could plainly hear the excitement in her voice, coupled with a disturbing sense of incredulity. They should be showing differing signs of decay, but they didn’t. “Maybe, it’s just me being dumb but isn’t that pretty much impossible?” he asked.

“Exactly, don’t you see what this means?” Jinx asked. He knew that if he just waited for a few seconds, she would not be able to stop her thoughts, leaking into her mouth. It was simply a matter of patience. “It means, that there is something.........” She paused, to give herself time to consider her next few words carefully ......... “Something unknown and strange at play here and if pushed, you could honestly say, that we’re travelling through ’Terra Incognito,’ for the want of a better phrase and nobody, could contradict you.”

Alex, was not fully conversive with the term, ’Terra Incognito’ and decided, it would probably be best if he attempted to keep any future conversation firmly grounded in the world, of here and now. “So, what you’re saying is, these people all died at different times, years apart but you wouldn’t know it, just by looking.” He was feeling quite pleased with himself, over that one. He felt, that it made him sound more intelligent, than he considered he actually was.

“By George, I think he’s got it,” Jinx facetiously retorted in her finest upper crust English accent, then mixing her metaphors, she added “You shall go to the ball.”

Alex, politely smiled but he was not really feeling very amused. “So what you’re saying is, that these poor devils are stuck in their own time, even in death.”

Jinx, jumped back in at that point. “Not only that but Mason, persuaded a lady friend of his, to run a few tests, on the materials that made up their clothing.”

Alex pricked up his ears and said, “Interesting indeed and what did you learn from that?”

Jinx, responded without missing a beat, “Unbelievably, the tests, all came back with the same result.”

Alex, was intrigued by this stage of the dance and knowing the next move, he asked, “Which was?” She responded to his lead.

“Amazingly, all the samples had suffered almost no degradation over the years, appearing almost as new as the day they were interned.”

On hearing these results, relayed to him by Jinx, he attempted to ask a coherent question but Alex, suddenly had a million confused thoughts and little else, racing around in his head. “So, let’s see, if I’ve got this right.” He, managed to get out quite fluently. “What you’re telling me, is that........” He stopped right there, because he didn’t have anything more, to add. Jinx, could clearly hear, that he was struggling, to accommodate this latest information but instead of trying to explain the impossible to him, she simply said,

“Putting it in plain English, Alex, I simply don’t know. It’s not logical, for the passage of so many years, to all blend into such a small window,” she said, hoping that her inadequate attempt to explain, the inexplicable, had somehow elicited some understanding, on his part.

There was a silence coming from his end of the line. “I know that it sounds impossible but these machines don’t lie and they have nothing to gain by making the facts inconvenient.”

Alex’s brain had stopped whirling around by this time and he gathered himself again. “So, what you’re actually telling me, is that all these people, died at roughly the same time, but over a two hundred year period?”

Now it was the turn of Jinx, to be silent. This whole series of results, had already made the entire thing, appear incredulous and she hand’t finished yet. “You’d really needed to see these people, Alex. Then, you would understand better. Unfortunately they were taken for cremation, but luckily I do have extensive photographs.” She then, fell silent again, as she considered, exactly how much of the scientific stuff, he really understood. She decided it would all be absorbed better, if she showed him the pictures to go with all the theoretical stuff. “Oh yes, one thing more and then I have to get on with my day.” She said casually and then knocked him over, when she informed him, “All these people were killed in a similar manner to those of the recent Powderfinger murders. We may have a cast of the weapon used in the evidence cupboard already. It’s been in there all along. If I’m right and all evidence points that way, it’s the self same weapon that killed Debra Foxx, Eleanor Ross and your two colleagues. If so, then you can forget my estimation of two hundred years and make it more like three. All I’m waiting for now is the results of the powder residues on all the victims.....”

Alex didn’t know what to say, his mind was spinning with possibilities and impossibilities. Then, realising the silence, jerked himself back to the present and managed to respond with “Don’t forget, 7.30 in The Old Raven, so I’ll pick you up at 7.00” and Jinx responded with a reassuring,

“I’ll be ready, and I’ll bring some photos of the bodies and their clothing for you to see” and they both smiled as they disconnected.

Then Alex thought, “damn it man, now you’ve introduced work into it!” He sighed, then smiled again, it didn’t matter, he could get that over with quickly and move on to more personal issues and besides, he was going on a date with Jinx!

Then an awful truth began dawning on Alex Findlay, as he sat behind his desk, planning his evening with Jaqui Pinnock. Maybe, the same killer had murdered Nesbitt and Draper and it, whatever it was, had been within a whisker of adding him to it’s list of victims, that day in the big Number One shed at The Raven’s Gate Works. Anxious to avoid any thoughts, that may relate to his sanity, he had said nothing of his fear and had sent Nesbitt and Draper in there alone and unarmed, to their deaths. He felt that wave of guilt and remorse wash over him again. Now all he had, was a crazy theory about a killer, who it appeared, was possibly three hundred years old.

“Impossible,” he said again and attempted to carry on with his day, as planned. Alex, was getting nowhere, this was a completely fruitless endeavor. He was just sitting in his office, racked with guilt and overwhelmed by a need to redeem himself. “Pull yourself together” he admonished himself, “Get on with the job at hand and cheer up, or you’ll be a crappy dinner date and after all this time, waiting for the right moment to ask Jinx out, you don’t want to blow it now.”

At the same time, that Alex was having his moment of self doubt, Alan was informing Nick, that he was in possession of something which he really needed to have a look at and copy quickly. “I hope you’ve been getting plenty of sleep lately, because once you start reading this, you won’t want to put it down and you’ve only got today, with the original and believe me, it’s not a short piece of work.”

Nick was intrigued by Alan’s introduction, to his sales pitch. “All right, I’ll take one, no, make that two of whatever it is, that your trying to flog me” only then, did he enquire as to what exactly it was, that ‘altorro,’ was selling.

Alan, then gave him a potted history, of his encounter with Nathaniel Jones and Constance Goodchild’s chronicle, now in his stewardship and would be, only until tomorrow morning.

“Jesus Man, that only gives me 24 hours...” Nick, was obviously frustrated by the deadline “Why didn’t you get in touch with me, earlier, Man. I’ll have to copy most of it and make notes, at the same time!”

Alan was expecting this reaction, so he had hastily prepared a fall back position. “O.K Nicks, how does this sound to you?” With that question, Alan now unveiled his plan. “I take it, that you doing days this week?” Nick grunted, in the affirmative. “Well, when you finish today, call round at my place and let yourself in.” Then, before Nick could say a word, he went on with his semi-prepared speech. “The key is under the plant pot nearest the door, on the side where the lock is located.”

Alan, was obviously pleased with that one and reinforced his logic with, “Good one eh?” It’s so obvious, that it’s invisible” and rubbing his own ego, he added a smug, “Plain sight, Nicks, it’s all there in plain sight. All you have to do, is open your eyes wide enough and it will become, clear.”

He was, of course, correct but Nick, was not about to inflate the bugger’s ego any more, so he simply stated,

“O.K, so I’m in your place, drinking your fine Brandy and listening to your sound system, then what?”

Alan, was ready for that one. “I’ve left the chronicle on the coffee table upstairs.” He paused then casually added, “I’m sure, that even you, can’t get all that Rat arsed between, your getting there and me arriving home.”

He waited for a response from Nick but there was none forthcoming. So, after a couple of long seconds, he just ploughed on with his proposition. “Right, when I get in, I’ll get something rustled up for tea, whilst you further acquaint yourself with ’Conny’s tome’ and take any copies you need. Then, after we’ve eaten, whilst you read and copy the manuscript I’ll write down any notes you want to take on my laptop. What do you say.”

It was a typically Alan, way of going about a long winded task. “I can’t sit around there, drinking your Cognac all night and then drive home pissed as a fart, get up in the morning and make it into the hell hole that is St Joe’s!”

“Quell horreur, non,” chirped Alan. “No, no, you stay at my place overnight and in the morning, I’ll cook us both, an Old English breakfast.” Nick, was liking the sound of this idea more, as the time slipped on by.

“O.K, you’ve got yourself a deal,” he said and Alan, began breathing again. For a moment, he feared that Nicks, was going to decline his offer but that instant had now passed and the arrangements were all finalised, barring a handshake.

“We’ll spend most of the night reading Constance’s Chronicle, it’s not a short document and you can trust me, to keep us both well fed. In the morning, we’ll need a good breakfast, to set us up for the coming day.Then, when you’ve eaten, you can just drive on over the road and waltz into work, as though it was just another normal day. I’ll jump in the car and head off for The Library and everything, will appear to be normal but I’lltell you what, Nicks, when you’ve read this book, there will be no more normal days, by the side of this canal.”

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