Powderfinger by Keller Yeats

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Chapter 6

“Arch, could you call Jinx and see if she’s got any prelim’s for us on the Canal Bank job?” The sound of his DCI’s voice behind him, made Arch Deacon jump so he almost dropped the evidence folders, he was ever so carefully balancing on three extended fingers, as if he were a Cocktail Waiter.

“O.K, no sweat, I’ll get right on it. You know, you nearly made me spill my drinks just then” replied Arch. Alex Findlay, just laughed to himself and thought that perhaps his DS had another career option he had kept quiet about? He had grown to both like and respect Arch, despite finding him initially disconcerting. He could clearly remember, that first week, when he’d arrived at the station, ever so eager and at the same time, so naive. He had been like a puppy, the way he had trailed after his superiors.

David “Arch” Deacon, had a memory and mind for details. He had the ability, to sit and listen to someone prattling on for hours and then, repeat back to you, exactly what they had said. It was a remarkable talent and DCI Alex Findlay, had come to rely on him a great deal, for his dedication, listening and deductive abilities. He was fully aware, that one day Arch would most likely wish to move onward and upward, but for now, Mr. Deacon was his DS and he was not going to let him slip away, all that easily. Arch, having been given a task, got on with it immediately. He punched in the number for The Morgue and it was picked up almost instantly.

“Dr. Pinnock. How may I be of assistance?” Jinx, had always flustered him and he was stumbling around right now. She was twenty years his senior and from the very first time he met her, he found her inexplicably attractive. Those feelings were creating problems for him now, as they always did. He really wanted to ask her out for a date, but the fact that he was sure if he did, she wouldn’t think that he was serious and just laugh at his boldness, put him off.

He got back to business, “Hi Jinx, sorry to interrupt your day but the boss wants to know if you’ve got anything on the woman, that was found on the canal bank?” She answered his enquiry, with her usual irreverence,

“Tell the boss, that she’s not too well at the present time and visiting hours, are seven to nine this evening.”

“Oh come on Jinx, that’s not fair. What can you tell me? I’ve got to give him something to be going on with.”

Her real name was Jacqueline Pinnock but she had been known as “Jinx,” since her days at Medical School, when one day she was learning how to set up a shunt for a blood transfusion, something had come loose and the blood bag sprayed her white coat, with drops of the red stuff. On seeing this, her mentor said something along the lines of “I don’t know so much about Pinnock, it should be Pollock.” From that one small quip, and numerous other ‘not my fault’ happenings, “Jinx” was born. Since 1984, whenever anybody asked her name, she would answer; “My name is Jacqueline Pinnock but people call me, Jinx” and then delight in the curious look on their faces.

“O.K. Arch, this is all I’ve got at the moment, just tell the old man, that the cause of death was the cutting of the throat and four deep penetrations of the torso. The best that I can do on the time of death is sometime between Midnight and Four a.m, most likely around 2am, as I said before at the crime scene. I’m running tests to narrow that down. The weapon, is proving to be quite problematic. It appears to be some kind of cutting, stroke stabbing implement wielded with great force. I know he won’t like that but tell him, I’m going to take a cast of the wound. Hopefully, that will give us a clearer picture of what exactly what the weapon is. I should know more when the test results are in. I know it’s not exactly what you wanted to hear, but tell the old sod, that this one is not your everyday run of the mill killing. I’ll keep you informed as the results come in.” With that, she bid Arch “goodbye” and cut the line.

“Jesus, he’s going to love this,” he said into the air. Arch made his way through the incident room to his bosses office, at the far end. As he drew closer, he could clearly hear his DCI, cursing something or other, so it was with some trepidation, that he knocked on and then opened the door. There was nobody other than Findlay in the room, but there were envelopes all over the floor.

“Fucking paperwork, don’t you just hate it,” he stated, not expecting an answer, then continued “What have you got out of Jinx, anything interesting, or just another load of Science speak?” Arch, was dreading having to tell him what Jinx had told him to say, particularly as the DCI did seem to be a touch more agitated than usual this morning. At least, they wouldn’t be his words, they were Jinx’s.

Arch, began “She, told me, to tell you” and repeated verbatim what Jinx had said to him.

Findlay, just sat there impassively and listened, “Oh, that’s fucking great. Brilliant,” commented Alex Findlay, when Arch had finished giving his report. “Tell you what, why don’t you and “Westie,” get yourselves down to the cab company. We know it was “Pronto,” there was a card of theirs in her possession and her sister, said that she left in a yellow cab on Friday night. When you’ve had a word with them, talk to her driver then get your backsides over to The Gagging Goose and see if anyone remembers this woman from Friday night.” He then turned his attention, to the case file, which he was carrying and fished out a recent photograph of Debra Foxx, provided by her mother. Arch, took the photo off DCI Findley and silently turned on his heels, charged with his latest mission.

Locating Kaylie Western which was rarely difficult at this time of day. She would most likely be in the canteen, for “brunch” as she liked to call it, stuffing her face with a Bacon and Tomato Roll. “Westie,” would have been an ongoing nightmare, if you ever found yourself in a famine situation. She was an almost six feet tall, exercise junkie who ate like a horse, yet carried not one ounce of excess weight. As he reached the door, he could see her through the glass, tucking into the last few mouthfuls of her brunch. Arch was trying to avoid the canteen, as he was trying to give up smoking again after his recent burnt fingers. His temptation to light up, was always greatest after food. He had tried and failed several times only to replace the demon weed with increased food and the attendant weight gain had tricked him back to the habit. This time he was determined and his programme included avoiding food zones. Many people, had warned him against social drinking and the ensuing desire to smoke after a good pint, or whatever your tipple was. Though it was a little difficult, to stay clear of drinking was as nought, when compared to food. So, instead of entering the servery, Arch simply stood outside and waved furiously at 'Westie,' in the hope that she would notice his frantic gesticulations and join him outside.

“You looked like you were enjoying that, I didn’t rush you did I?” said Arch, as she joined him on the way to the car.

“No, not really, though I was considering having a Coffee to wash it down. Still, places to be and people to see,” she said, then added “Where to Boss?”

“His nibbs, wants us to get our arses down to Pronto Cabs and then go on to, The Goose to see if anybody has had any memory jolts, since Friday night. You know the routine, just standard face to face stuff, “did you see this girl, time checking and so on” he added as he unlocked the drivers side car door and climbed in. DC Western eased her athletic body into the passenger side and shunted the seat fully back. Arch handed her a copy of the photo of Debra Foxx, then pulled out of the station.

“I hate these cases,” mused Westie, “everybody always seems to be hiding some perceived dark secret and any information that you get is always tainted by that fact.”

Arch wasn’t really listening, he was looking at a long queue of stationary vehicles, stretching down towards the traffic lights and the turning for Barton which led to Pronto Cabs. “Fuck me, someone can’t drive,” he said, as the wail of an Ambulance siren could be heard somewhere ahead. “Still, I suppose that there’s fuck all that we can do except wait,” he sighed resignedly and quickly turned the radio on, in the hope that it would pass the time without too much chit chat as he and 'Westie,' sat there, twiddling their thumbs. Fortunately, the problem didn’t take too long to clear and soon the road was open again.

“Do you think that we could stop and get a drink, before we get to Pronto’s place? You interrupted me, before I could wash down my 'Brunch' and now my mouth, is as dry as The Kalahari in summer.” Kaylie Western, had a neat turn of phrase, very left of centre, which Arch always enjoyed when they found themselves together on a long tedious day like this one.

It was easy to stop at the gloriously named, “Mario’s Gourmet Trucker’s Rest”, a place frequented by most of the local force and which the owner liked to think of as a “Diner of Quality”. Mario, or “The Don” as he was known, was of Maltese extract. Although nothing could ever be proved, it was widely suspected that he had connections to the Galliano Family, a notorious gang from “the old country,” who in turn, had “interests” in the area. However, crooked or not, everybody agreed that Mario served the best snacks you could hope to find for many miles around. His sausage and tomato breakfast buns, were legendary and the black pudding and onion ring pizza slices were to die for. Mario’s truckers rest was, in fact, a converted eight berth caravan, parked permanently in the pull in, next to the old disused railway line.

Arch, indicated and pulled sedately, onto the parking area. 'Westie,' made ready to jump out of the squad car, as Arch requested “A cup of tea with two sugars and no milk for me.”

She smiled, back at him, saying, “fine by me,” as she smoothly exited the vehicle and strode over to the service window. Arch, took this chance, to review some of the notes that DCI Findlay, had given him earlier in the day. Overall, they provided very little in the way of useable information, there were no new leads, or anything of that nature in any of the documents, still, there was time yet for something to emerge. He was dragged back from his idle speculations, by the sound of 'Westie,' fumbling around outside the passenger door, her hands full of bags and two cups of tea, steaming away in the plastic receptacle she was holding in her right hand. When she finally gained entrance to the car, she handed one of the cups to Arch, put her own on the dashboard and opened one of the paper bags, revealing two slices of pizza.

“Want one,” she asked but he declined the invitation, saying he couldn’t risk it.

“It’ll go straight to my pie thighs” he offered, restarted the vehicle and set off towards Pronto’s yard, a couple of miles or so, further down the road. “I don’t know where you put it all,” he commented, as they drew close to their destination as “Westie,” finished both slices of her pizza and sipped at her drink. Arch, was as ever, amazed by his colleagues ability, to consume vast amounts of food and never appear to put on any weight. “How do you find the room in your stomach to pack all that away, without turning into a blimp?” he said with a sense of wonder.

“Metabolism and a hectic life,” she responded, “that and vigorous sex, but that comes and goes if you get my drift. I suppose it’s a bit like the blokes that you meet in this job, present company aside Sir.”

Mercifully, they reached their destination so he was not required to interject further and Arch’s embarrassment, was diverted when a “Pronto Cabs” driver came roaring out of the lot, almost collided with the Police car and sped off in the direction of Gildabrooke.

“Fucking hell fire,” squeaked Arch, as he yanked the wheel hard to the right.

“Fucking hell,” responded DC. Western, as she was flung across the central well and head butted Arch’s shoulder.

“Christ almighty, he blurted out, as he brought the squad car to a sudden halt. “You alright?” he enquired of his partner.

“Yeah, I’m cool but those pieces of shit won’t be,” and motioning toward the hut, she finished her sentence, “if they give me any nonsense in there.”

Arch, had inadvertently stopped the car, in the middle of the entrance to the yard and was considering the possibility of leaving it right there. However, realising, that such an action could conceivably be viewed as wilful obstruction, thought better of it so pulled up to the entrance and carefully parked. 'Westie,' was still somewhat annoyed and she jumped out quickly, almost before Arch had brought the vehicle to a halt. She had one of those “let me at them” looks on her face. He quickly cautioned her,

“Cool it Westie. We don’t want to make any enemy’s here. These fucker’s are best kept onside, otherwise half of our casual leads will disappear in a puff of smoke. So, as you would say, ‘Chill’”.Inside, he took the lead as they were politely ushered, by the new and somewhat flustered secretary, into the plush warmth of the Customer Lounge.

“Would you gentlemen......” she began and then, as she noticed that DC. Western was female, added “and lady,” to her original statement. “Let me try that again," she implored. “Would you care for a drink, while you are waiting?”

Arch was getting annoyed, “We are not here for a social gathering, young lady, where’s your boss, I’d like to speak to him,” and mimicking her original faux par, added “or her, Now!” he emphasised.

She blushed a little at this sarcastic remark but recovered well adding, “I think he’s in the garage. I’ll just go and have a look” and with that she made a swift exit. A couple of minutes went by and Arch was growing impatient, when the door opened and Ken Scott, the owner of the depot, blew into the room with his usual gusto. Then, making the same mistake as his secretary, enquired

“And what may I do you two gentlemen for?” However, his recovery was almost immediate, as he noticed that DC. Western was female and, by now, was showing distinct signs of agitation with his casual misogyny. Ken, quickly realised his error and desperately tried to repair his reputation, by apologising profusely.

Arch cut across him, “We’d like to see your customer logs for Friday evening. We’re particularly interested in the pick up of Miss Debra Foxx from Barton sometime around 8pm.” Ken Scott, was aware of the general events of Friday night on the canal bank and was ready for this enquiry from the 'Boys in Blue.' He put on his glasses and brought up Friday nights log on the computer screen,

“Yes, here it is. Let me see, the pick-up time was arranged for ten past eight, by the young lady in question. The driver who took that job was, Barry Riley. He dropped her off at The Goose around 9.00 and then went on to Partington, to deal with another client, a Mrs. Annabel Dean. One of our regulars, he picked her up at 9.23 and took her to The Crescent Rooms, for her routine Friday night Bingo session, arriving at 9.38. He then clocked off for the night, earlier than usual as his wife had called about having a sick kiddy. Would you like me to go on?”

Saying this he turned the screen so Arch could read the information. Arch, was impressed with his thoroughness and knowledge of his drivers whereabouts but he and Westie, would still have to verify any facts that they uncovered here at Pronto Cabs, before they went on to The Gagging Goose.

“No, that’s fine. Just print out a copy of that page please.” Ken nodded and hit print. Arch continued “do you know where Mr Riley is at present?”

“Yes, he’s on an airport job. He should be off duty in about an hour. You can talk to him now, over the radio, if you like.” Arch agreed and arranged to meet Barry Riley at his home address two hours later. They were about to leave when Westie enquired,

“Is he a good lad this Barry Riley?” Ken Scott, had no hesitation in his voice, as he answered her enquiry,

“Oh yeah, he’s one of our best. Barry’s a good dependable driver, nice bloke too, family man.”

As Arch and Westie, were leaving the office, with part one of the days tasks completed, Ken Scott called over to them, adding, “ we got another call, around eleven, from the same woman, requiring two cabs at midnight. One for a return pick-up, from The Goose, back to Barton and the other to Nether Barton. Both cabs were for two people. I think these pick ups were covered by Les Hodson and John Phillips. I could check that if you like, it’s no trouble.”

Looking over to Westie, Arch nodded, “Give their personal details to my colleague could you?” then, as he was leaving, “Thanks for your help, I’ll be in touch.” Ken Scott, rechecked the log and personnel files, printed out a page then quickly scribbled a note on the back and handed it to Westie, who folded it and placed it in her pocket, for viewing later.

A few minutes later Westie joined Arch in the squad car and they set off to get some lunch on their way before going to see Barry Riley. Turning to his partner, Arch asked “What did you think of that encounter?” She was still trying to understand the intricate moves, in the dance, that she had just witnessed.

“I’m not sure to be honest, although I have to say, that he seemed to be a bit, how should I put it, too helpful.” Arch, silently nodded,

“Yes, I know what you mean, but he didn’t seem to be covering anything up. Mr. Shifter, always reckons, that it’s not what they say, it’s how they say it and old Ken, did seem to be straight up to me. Still, it’s early days yet and something is bound to turn up sooner, or later. You just have to be patient, that’s all.”

Westie, reached into her breast pocket and was now inspecting the note that Ken Scott, had handed to her, as they left his office. Noticing this, Arch wondered if it led them anywhere. “Anything interesting?” he enquired.

“Not unless you want to know his phone number there isn’t. You know the cheeky sod, asked me out for a date then muttered something about me having nice tits and would I like him to wax and polish them?” Arch, almost choked laughing and the police car jerked about in the road for about half a mile, as he kept stepping on and off the accelerator as his mirth got the better of him. “It’s not that funny” she protested.

“It is from where I’m sitting,” he spluttered, “Jesus, you must be at least a foot taller than him and about thirty years his junior. Fucking hell, you’d look a treat together at the Police Ball. You really should consider it, if you ask me.” She, was feigning a look of being upset but couldn’t keep her face straight and joined in the laughter.

It was only a ten minute drive from Pronto Cabs to The Wheatsheath, a rather well thought of local hostelry, which proudly boasted four stars in the tourist guides. This was indeed a fortuitous luncheon choice. The place was fairly busy for a weekday and the locals were not averse to sprouting off about the murder on the canal bank, though little of what they said was of any use to the enquiry. It was mostly conjecture about the sort of people, that were generally found along the waterway. All kinds of irrational prejudices and fantastical deductions were expressed but the general gist of the conversations, indicated that the punters in The Wheatsheath, hadn’t got the slightest idea who had perpetrated the crime. The Bar clock, struck three times and Arch, started to get to his feet.

“Time to get back on the horse,” he said to Westie and then, as an afterthought added, “that is, if you’ve not eaten the poor beast.” She ignored his quip and took one last sip of her orange juice before joining him to go and interview Barry Riley. Barry’s wife opened the door to them and soon confirmed Barry had been home by ten only to be up with her and their sick child most of the night.

Arch had a private word with Barry in his garden “Shame about that girl, quite a looker, nice legs...” he tailed off, giving Arch a slightly guilty look.

Back in the car Westie asked “Did you get anything?” Arch considered for a moment,

“He was keeping something back but I think he just feels guilty for fancying her. His alibi checks out for now, but as it’s his wife we can’t completely rule him out. It’s unlikely, but he’s still in the frame for now.” So it was on to their next stop, The Gagging Goose. “You ever been in this place?” Arch enquired, as they passed through the traffic light and he indicated left, to pull into the car park.

“No, it never appealed to me really. Too ladylike I suppose. Call me weird but I can’t recall ever fancying being humped by some drunken oaf, it’s just not my style.” Arch laughed and turned into the parking lot. As she was leaving the automobile, Westie commented,

“I don’t mind the heels so much but the gravel, has a tendency to chaff.” Arch, banged his head through laughing, as he followed his DC’s lead.

“You do the Baby blues and I’ll handle the Pinks,” he said, following Westie through the entrance.

“Seems good to me,” she acquiesced with a nod of her head and removed her Badge, from her breast pocket holding it out so the few people inside, would see it, hold their positions and accede to being questioned. Alternatively, anybody with a guilty conscience may attempt to flee. Arch, also held his I.D. card in front of him, for added gravitas, but nobody in the gathered workforce even flinched as they approached.

“This about the dead girl on the canal bank? Wondered when you’d get round here?” interceded one of the men in the dark suits. Deacon and Western, followed the previously agreed format and split the staff into two groups. He took the Barmaids, while the management, who just happened to be all males, were handled, by Westie.

Responding, to the rather brusk question from the house chief penguin, she sternly replied, “Yes, now I’m sure that none of you gentlemen, would like to go down to the station, to answer questions, so let’s just get on with it, shall we?” She was tired of being so accommodating today and thankfully, they were all more than willing to talk, but she learnt very little from any of them. At least, they didn’t attempt to chat her up. If they had, they might have encountered her wrath on a grand scale.

Instead, she heard all about a punter Debra had accidently tangled with, who had fallen over due to slipping on a wet patch, sat in some liquid, which had made it appear that he had “pissed himself.” That had raised a general snigger but the punter had seen the funny side of things. His mates had carried him off and they had all left in a taxi about 2am. Apart from that, it was just a normal evening in the town’s top knocking shop.

The Barmaids, on the other hand, were like a horde of lonesome Banshee’s and Arch, had difficulty in keeping order at times, as the innuendo’s flew back and forth all around him. He soon realised that this line of enquiry was proving fruitless. When Arch showed them the photograph that the family had provided, only one of the bar staff even remembered having seen Debra Foxx. Back in the car, they compared notes, but there was very little of any interest to talk about.

“Bugger me, a fucking warm Friday night and nobody really saw, or heard a thing. Jesus, what are we dealing with here a fucking ghost, or something?” commented Westie, as they headed back to the yard.

Following his usual routine, as he stepped outside, Nick popped a strong mint into his mouth, a safeguard against being inadvertently discovered to be a smoker. Just to be sure, he tried to capture some of his breath in his cupped hand to detect if there was any trace of smoke in it, nothing. Now, quite content that his little secret was safe, he set off for his meeting with Valerie B. with purpose. As he walked he played out the responses he might have to give the disciplinary board, when they inquired as to 'How things had apparently got so out of hand, so quickly?' His teacherʼs, had taught him, 'if you tell the truth, you will not be told off.' Well, that one didnʼt hold much water in the real world.

The morning was not particularly cold, even though there wasnʼt a cloud in the sky. There was no wind and a faint glimmer of early day sun warmed the air. As he made his way to Willowbank Station, he contemplated the meeting ahead and played over again the tough questions he anticipated. Nick, could see their dilemma. On the one hand, there had always been a distinct liberal tendency within the service, but then there was the public requirement for cold and callous justice. There was one immutable rule which could never be overlooked by the patrons and sponsors of St. Josephʼs, due to most of them being of a religious tendency. That was inebriation, raucous and lewd behavior by the inmates would not be tolerated.

Nick was only minutes away from The Station, when a vaguely familiar voice called to him from across the road, in broad Mancunian,

“Nicky Swann, hey man, how you doinʼ?”

This sudden intrusion into his stoned tranquility, made him stop short and look over, to see who had called his name with such knowing clarity? Across the road, he observed a barely remembered face grinning at him and waving like a maniac but he couldnʼt instantly put a name to it and anyway, there was no time right now, for reminiscences with an old lag from his wild days. He had a meeting to attend and he was beginning to wonder, if that rather pleasant Joint had been such a great idea in the first place. So, to cover any possible embarrassment, he aimed his voice into space and simply called back to the mystery Manchy, “hi, get back to me on Facebook, Iʼll answer it.” Then after a small period of silence, Nick raised his voice and added “busy right now, man.” He considered attaching "man" to the end of his response, covered all the bases and anyhow, if the “Shouter,” messaged him as suggested, he would discover his identity, without having to pretend he knew him. At this precise moment, Nick could barely recognise himself in the bathroom mirror.

At least, the rather unexpected interruption, had given Nick the opportunity to change his mindset and now instead of matters disciplinary, he found himself thinking about those days in Leeds, during the early 80ʼs. Great memories of The University, the gigs, the drugs and of course, Hugo and all those naughty girls. He could still recall a few of their faces, but their details had become a little vague, over the ensuing decades, “Judy, had great legs and when she wore those heels?” Or, alternately, “Chris and her short blond hair. She, was so painfully pretty, it could make you weep.” He was drifting around in the 80ʻs when the Station tannoy system, snapped him back from his adolescence, to reality.

“The train now arriving on platform 2, is the 9.40 Sprinter, to Manchester Victoria.” Nickʼs heart, was now beating a little too rapidly in his chest. 'Jesus man, that was lucky,' he thought. 'Cʼmon Nick keep your shit together!'

He again admonished himself for drifting off, into his own private world and tried to concentrate on the meeting with Valerie and her “S.S. Henchpersons.” This S.S. thing, was a joke that he shared with a group of one, himself, but it sure did make him chuckle. The S.S. Part, actually stood for Social Services, which made it even funnier, or so he thought.

“Hmmm, and the title of Uberschtumbienfuhrer Blackshaw, slips so easily off the tongue,” Nick muttered to himself, then couldnʼt prevent his lips quivering uncontrollably, as he smirked to himself envisaging Val B. wearing, a rather pert little black number, by Hugo Boss. He was giggling as he made his way to the train, along with all the other passengers, who were milling around on The Concourse. 'Should have bought a paper, preferably,one of the more serious titles,' he considered a little too late, just as his right foot stepped onto the train carriage. His left foot followed and he was committed.

With an almost imperceptible jolt, the trees and buildings outside the glass, started to mysteriously move of their own volition. It took him a moment or two, but rapidly his brain deciphered what his bleary eyes were seeing.

“Next stop Victoria and then what?” Nick, was about to experience twenty minutes of peace in a tin can, before a slow walk to ʻPeninsular Houseʼ and possible execution. As usual, he tried to find a seat by the window that looked out on the backside of the city. Odd pieces of forgotten rusted metal, old cable drums and the occasional plastic bag, glided past the window. On some days, when the sun was just in the correct position and a low, cold mist hung onto the rails, the broken bits of wood and twisted wire, took on a spectral quality. This was the view of the metropolis, that most people chose to ignore, but Nick often preferred it to the manicured vision on the opposite side of the tracks.

Glistening skyscrapers and flash cars, humming down the tree lined boulevards of the ʻnewʼ City, hardly fitted his mood. Strangely, the world seemed very quiet this morning and this slightly later than rush hour train, was much less crowded than was normal for this journey. Nick had used that earlier train many times for training courses at Peninsular House when hoards of men and women were rushing everywhere, all trying to get to work on time.

The trip to Victoria Station, took its expected twenty minutes to complete and once he had negotiated the other human beings along the platform, Nick was swiftly on his way to a meeting, that may well affect his future in The Probation Service. He picked up his pace, he didnʼt want to be late for this one. No, that would give entirely the wrong impression. There was no question, of being fashionably late for this one. He ascended the final couple of steps, to the main entrance of Peninsula House with five minutes to spare and on his way in, momentarily stopped and looked at the impressive facade, in order to reacquaint himself with “The old dear.” It never ceased to amaze him, how on earth, in all that clamour and headlong rush for ʻThe Modern,ʼ in the 1960ʻs, the main entrance of the old Peninsula House had survived intact.

Against all the odds, it had retained its 1920ʻs rotating Oakwood and Stained Glass entranceway. A surviving relic of a more elegant time, itʼs status had been elevated to that of a quasi heritage installation, in the eyes of the cityʼs population. The fact, that it still remained a feature, in the soulless heart of a major metropolitan city, was remarkable enough, but the juxtaposition of itʼs art nouveau carved wooden entrance and Tiffany stained glass work, set against the cold functionality of a Concrete monolith, was truly a thing of beauty. Both, starkly emphasizing the others strengths and inherent weaknesses. The doorway, beautiful and lovingly carved by a skilled Craftsman, then finished and polished by human hand and behind it, the body of Peninsula Tower, rising like a grey pillar holding up the sky, with its one powerful finger. The circular doorway appeared, by contrast, as though it would be soft and warm if it were touched. The ornate wooden carving depicting a woodland scene encircled the entrance, and the glass gave the impression soft green leaves giving the viewer the impression that an elfin land waited within. Nothing could be further from the truth.

All very romantic but there were more serious matters at hand and Nick strode confidently into Peninsula House and proceeded to make his way up the stairs, to the second floor. As he had made his way up the two flights of stairs, to the ominously numbered, Room 13, Nick had grown increasingly and justifiably nervous. Even though, he had gone through this sort of thing once before, this time it was more serious and there could be a much heavier price to pay, suspension, or even dismissal. He hoped it would not come to that.

“Stay icy Nickolas, give ʻem nothing” he repeated several times, as he neared his objective. A jaunty double step, for the benefit of anyone who may be watching, propelled him up the last couple of stairs and onto the mezzanine. At the top of the climb Nick paused and looked at the floor plan displayed on the wall before him and turned, as suggested, to the right and walked slowly towards the closed door, with the unlucky number 13 on it.

He stood and took a few long deep breaths, in order to compose himself, checked that his fly was fastened, then knocked on the door and walked calmly into the room. Valerie Blackshaw and her assembled gang of Inquisitors, were already here, drinking tea and discussing the days proceedings. The air inside, was still and the assembled throng fell silent as he entered. Before him were five aging figures, looking like they fell out of a Dickens novel, instantly his heart sank. Fortunately, he quickly regathered his senses and strode assuredly into the room and acting as if nothing could deflect him from his goal, he walked towards them, offering his hand. Ominously, they all remained seated and like a gathering of Undertaking Automatons, with their Black suits and dead menʼs blank eyes, they turned, looked and just waited for Miss Blackshaw, his Boss, to open the proceedings.

“Welcome. I think that you know everyone,” said Valerie, trying to sound both, friendly and perfunctory, at the same time. She gestured for him to take the seat in the middle of the floor in front of the panel. Nick, cracked a weak smile in her direction, but inside he was not laughing as he took the required ʻChair of Interrogationʼ. To be honest, Nick didnʼt know everyone and if truth be told, he only recognised Valerie B. So judiciously, he just simply smiled and nodded his head, to keep them all sweet. Nick, was beginning to seriously wish, that he had been a little less generous, in the loading department, when he had rolled this morningʼs joint. The discorporated feelings, had begun at the ornate entrance. He kept getting lost, in ridiculous thoughts and situations. 'Itʼs like getting yourself, stuck in a rabbit hole,' he thought. Then, suddenly realising, that Lewis Carrol, must have experienced something similar to his present situation, he pulled himself out of the darkness and attempted to clear his head by biting his tongue a little too enthusiastically.

Silently, he scanned the assembled ʻDignitaries,ʼ and looked for any indications, of a friendly face. He vaguely recognised the man on the end of the table but he couldnʼt be sure why, or when he may have met him previously? Brian somebody? Perhaps it had been at the interview for the job? That was years ago and how many people can recall the faces of those who had been on the interview panel, that appointed them? Even so, it couldnʼt do any harm to be pleasant, so he put a gentle smile on his face despite “The Dickensian Society” just sitting there looking profoundly unimpressed. Nick expected the bog standard opening of an enquiry kind of questions, and true to type, he was first asked;

“Whoʼs idea was it, to permit so many of the residents a late permit?” Nick answered, by stating the obvious, that seeing as how, he was the only member of staff on duty, it had been his decision to grant the request for an extension. Normally, the residents, had to be accounted for and logged back into the hostel, by 11.30 p.m. and they were all supposed to be in their rooms, by midnight but on the night in question, they had been given an extension, until 12.30. Nick explained the rather unusual occurrence of two, 21st Birthday celebrations falling on the same day, in a hostel that only accommodated 29 inmates. Statistically, you could spend at least another fifty years working there, without it happening again.

Nick, felt that he had given a good, fair and measured response to the enquiry and was congratulating himself on his answer when Brian Glossop, the one guy that he thought he may have recognised, asked the killer question.

“Tell me Mr. Swann, how can you be sure that none of the residents were involved in the brutal murder of that poor unfortunate young woman, on the canal bank, during that very night?”

Nick, gulped. 'Checkmate,' he thought, he had no answer that question. He rapidly ran through all his actions following the murder. They had all been ʻby the bookʼ, he had dealt with the police, stayed late on Saturday for the interviews and search, then made a full written report to Vera on the Sunday. Surely this must count in his favour? As the silence lengthened he committed the cardinal sin, he fell back on his report to Valerie and, in doing so, sounded banal. As the words left his mouth, he was aware, that his next few utterances could drop him right in it but the pathetic statement continued anyway. It was like a festering pool of linguistic quicksand and he was sinking fast. The more he struggled with the words and their ramifications, the deeper he sank into the mire and by the time his mouth had called it quits, his position was hopeless.

Nicks thoughts festered on ʻThe Line of Probation Office Crows,ʼ as he had rapidly come to think of them. He included Valerie Blackshaw in the line up, for her lack of support, as he had come under attack from the ʻimpossible to answer at this time,ʼ kind of question. After which, the meeting had simply degenerated. Then, after a brief period where he was asked to wait outside whilst the panel deliberated his fate, he was called back to hear their judgement;

“Upon reflection and with heavy hearts, the panel have decided that you will be suspended from work immediately, for a period of one calendar month. Is there anything that you wish to say?”

Nick considered unloading his vitriol but bit his tongue and instinctively looked at his wrist watch, like it was somehow, going to magically ease his anger and despondency.

As he rose to leave, he was suddenly aware of feeling very hungry but it was not a desire for food. No, at this precise moment, he desperately wanted another fucking big strong joint, to smoke and dismiss this day. As he stood, head down, staring at the floor, Nick realised, that there was nothing that he could have done to ameliorate this outcome. It had been a done deal before he arrived. 'So, why the fuck did you come here and take all this shit off these arseholes?' He thought. Then, making no attempt to hide his distain, he walked out of Room 13, head held high and uttering a blank,

“I’ll see you in a month, if that’s O.K, with you.” Without waiting for an answer, he closed the door silently behind himself and strode away from the scene of the crime, heading for the sanctuary of home and the awaiting pleasures of that big joint.

“Well, in terms of leads, we may as well have spent the day twiddling our thumbs,” Arch said, as he reported to DCI Findlay on his return to the station. “Nothing except a guy who was mildly embarrassed by our victim, a taxi driver with an alibi who’s guilty of looking at Debra’s legs and a bit of a letch at Pronto Cabs.”

Alex Findlay, made an exasperated grunting sound as he looked at Arch, over the piles of documents strewn allover his desk,

“Details.” Arch continued, “The drivers alibi is his wife and a sick kiddy so I guess he’s still in the frame but my gut says it’s unlikely he’s our killer. The bar staff all left after 2.30am. I guess we can’t exactly rule any of them out without running all their alibi’s but if Debra left the place shortly after midnight to get the cab she ordered but missed, then set off on foot down the canal bank, she would have covered the three miles to the crime scene in about an hour, say one to half past. Without the accurate time of death they’re still in the frame, we’ll know more when Jinx gives us more results.”

Findlay considered, then asked “What about the guy she embarrassed and the letch?” Arch thought, 'He doesn’t miss a trick' then continued,

“The embarrassed guy was carried out to a taxi and left with his mates at 2am, they were on his stag night. The letch was Old Ken Stott who made a pass at Westie!” Findlay chuckled,

“Wonder she didn’t arrest him, he’s got Balls, I’ll give him that!” Findley turned back to his papers, “I’ve been trying to get this lot sorted all fucking day, Arch. First I had to deal with that dammed harridan, Miss Blackshaw, who wanted to know what we were doing to calm the public’s fears, now that we’ve ruled out any of the inmates at The Hostel as the perpertrator. Like that was our responsibility! So, I ask her, what it is that she suggests we do?” He looked exasperatingly at Arch threw his arms up in the air and continued, “all she had to offer, was a classic piece of double-speak, suggesting that we release a statement and speak to one of the staff members to calm the Hostel inmates ASAP. Great I say, statement it is and who do you suggest I talk to at the Hostel? Nickolas Swann, she says, he has the best repartee with the lads. When will he be available, I say, innocently. In three weeks or so she says, he’s been suspended."

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