The Case of The Burnt Man
Wesley Mortimer woke, just as he did everyday. He stretched as usual, groaned as usual and smelled the smoke in the air as usual.
“Wait a minute...” He muttered, before stretching his arms up.
He threw on a dressing gown, his brown one today; the black one was elsewhere, he wasn't sure where. He was certain it just disappeared overnight, but that was unlikely as his room's door was locked, and his window closed, and remained unbroken. He'd probably just put it in the wrong cupboard. Having no real urgency in his day, he checked his wardrobe, finding no trace of it.
He shrugged, before leaving the room and heading to the kitchen.
“Morning!” Grimshaw called to him. “How you doing?”
Mortimer scrunched his face up in disapproval. “That's a bit 1990s, isn't it?”
“Don't you mean 1890s?” Grimshaw asked, opening a drawer and rooting around in it.
“No, I mean the 1990s.” Mortimer called over the noise of assorted...well, he didn't know what was in that drawer, that was Grimshaw's drawer. “Just seems a bit off for some 1920s fiction.”
“Are we fiction? I forget.” Grimshaw wasn't paying attention, Mortimer could tell. So he ignored it and looked around.
“Wait a minute...”
Grimshaw looked abruptly up and stopped rooting around in the drawer. “What?”
“Something's not right this morning, and I'm not sure what.” He sat down at the table and watched Grimshaw closely as he went back to the drawer and withdrew something from it, throwing it on the bonfire.
“Wait a minute...”
“Is this about the bonfire?” Grimshaw asked, waving an arm at the burning pile of stuff.
There was a sigh.
“Why,” Mortimer asked, “Is there a bonfire in the kitchen?”
Grimshaw looked at it, waving his arm at it again. “You don't like?”
There was a sigh.
“The body on the table last week was one thing,” he paused, not for dramatic effect like anyone reading this may think, but simply to yawn, “but this is just ridiculous! Not to mention dangerous, what if it burns the house down?”
Grimshaw seemed shocked, his face had gone all weird. “It's next to the sink, it's fine.”
“So, if it gets out of control, you're just gonna pour water on it until it dies?” Mortimer rubbed his forehead, which was beginning to ache; he couldn't take this every freaking week.
“Pretty much, yes. Problem?”
“What if the sink catches fire?” Mortimer asked, genuinely a bit curious about his friend's plan.
“Oh, the sinks full of water. And you can't set water on fire unless there's some fracking nearby, and then its only because the water becomes mixed with methane.” Grimshaw answered quickly and rather dismissively, even waving his hand as if to dispel Mortimer.
“I think it's a word people use instead of saying...” Grimshaw looked around quickly, before leaning in and lowering voice, “Instead of saying fuck.”
Mortimer was taken aback “Why does intercourse cause methane in the water? How, I mean.”
“I dunno, they must be doing it wrong. Or I meant that way of getting oil out from underground. Not quite sure really, but none of that appears to be happening around here.”
“The intercourse or the other thing?”
“Probably both; it's the 1920s, no-one has sex and, even if they did, we are bloody English, and will not speak of it!” Grimshaw sounded strangely patriotic.
“Oh, fair enough then.”
There was silence.
“Why is it there though?” Mortimer asked.
“Don't you like it?” Grimshaw sounded hurt.
“Please say it's not just there because you like fire.”
There was a sigh.
“It is pretty though.” Grimshaw observed. “But there is a practical reason for it; a man was burnt alive a couple of days ago, and I was observing the effects that fire has on clothing to see roughly how long he was burning for.”
“Why time it?”
“Oh, just to see if the suspect's alibi works out. Apparently, he was visiting his grandma around the time police found him, but the timing of him arriving there seems to be in question. So I'm burning some old clothes to both clear some room around the house and see how long it takes. Currently, the suspect seems to be in the clear.” He picked up a sleeve and threw it on the fire, taking note of the time.
Mortimer narrowed his eyes and stood up. “What was that?”
“Hmmm?” Grimshaw questioned without words, a universal way of asking someone to repeat themselves.
Mortimer walked slowly over to Grimshaw. “What. Did. You. Put. In. The. Fire.”
“Oh, just the last piece of that brown dressing gown you hate..” Grimshaw beamed at him. “Hope that's okay.”
Mortimer looked at the brown sleeve of his dressing gown. “I'm wearing the brown one, you clod!”
Grimshaw looked him up and down, and blinked in surprise. “So you are. Well, that must have been the black one, I suppose.”
“Are you fracking colourblind?” Mortimer grabbed the sleeve out of the fire and patted it down.
“No, but I figured that you'd be wearing the black one at night, and they all the same in the dark!”
“Wearing it at night...? Why would I wear it in bed?” Mortimer threw the useless sleeve back on the bonfire, which whooshed. “Did you sneak into my room when I was sleeping?”
Grimshaw shrugged. “I assume so, it was night-time.”
“Why didn't you just ask for it?”
“I thought you'd say no.”
“Then why,” Mortimer seethed, “did you just not burn something of yours?”
Grimshaw gave Mortimer a strange look, as if confused. “Because I like all of my stuff. You do not like some of your stuff. Ergo, we burn your clothes, not mine.”
Biting back a vicious retort, Wesley sighed. He knew he couldn't win this argument. “So, you're seeing how long clothes burn for until they reach the state they were on the body of the burnt man in order to test if the suspect's alibi holds up? Am I right?”
Grimshaw beamed and clapped his hands together. “Exactly right!”
Wesley looked at the wood on the bonfire, opened his mouth, then closed it again.
“Problem?” Grimshaw's voice was strangely curt.
“Well, if you're burning with different materials, then your results won't be accurate.” Wesley waved his hands as if to address the ridiculousness of the situation, but the action only resulted in adding to it.
Grimshaw sighed. “Oh Wesley, you think I am some sort of fool? The suspect burned the victim using a broken-up chair from the victim's home, and doused them in pure ethanol, before setting the pile on fire.”
“How do you know?”
Grimshaw lit up; he loved showing off. “Well, I ran my finger along the burnt out remains, and took a taste: definitely burnt whiskey, I'd know that taste anywhere.”
Wesley's face twisted in disgust and intrigue. “Why?”
“Because the plot demands me to.” Grimshaw nodded to himself. “So, I took another chair from the victim's house, added some whiskey and,” he pointed to the still-crackling bonfire, “voilà!”
Wesley nodded. “I suppose that's fair. I assume we're taking these observations to Scotland Yard?”
“You assume correctly.” Grimshaw picked up a mug, dipped it in the water in the sink and poured it over the fire, which hissed. “Now get changed and ready.” Grimshaw repeated the action.
“Yup.” Wesley said, voice monotonous as he stared at the blackened, now wet, patch of carpet.
Grimshaw waved him away. “Well? Get on with it.”
Wesley tore his eyes away from the patch and trudged back to his bedroom, investigating the lock on the door as he did so; no signs of wherever Grimshaw tampered with it. He tutted and closed the door.
“So, do you have any other leads?” Stangerson asked. “We've got one guy,” Stangerson showed Grimshaw a photograph of a middle-aged man, “who's under suspicion, but that's all right now.”
“Not at the moment, no.” Grimshaw looked sideways at Wesley, who looked confused. “Another look around the crime scene would be appreciated.”
Stangerson sighed, before nodding quickly. “Yes yes.” He muttered, sounding troubled. “I'll get one of the boys to take you there.”
Grimshaw bowed his head. “Thank you.”
Stangerson turned to leave them, before looking back and nodding once. Grimshaw acknowledged this with a smile, before turning to Wesley. “What's wrong?”
“What happened?” Wesley looked around slowly, as if he was dreaming, or in some sort of trance. “I went to my room...and then I'm here.” His head snapped up to look Grimshaw in the eyes. “Did you drug me again?”
“What?” Grimshaw looked genuinely flustered. “No!”
“Then what happened?” Wesley asked.
“You got dressed, we came here, gave Stangerson the evidence and now we're about to go to the crime scene.” Grimshaw said slowly and clearly, annunciating everything clearly, before bending down to whisper in Wesley's ear. “The author used a transition so he didn't have to write all that stuff. Bit lazy really, you'd think he'd document everything in our lives.”
Wesley thought about it for a minute, before nodding. “That is lazy.”
Stangerson's “boy”, a young detective by the name of Joe, led them to the crime scene: a small terraced house in east London, cordoned off by a thin strip of tape, which proclaimed “POLICE DO NOT ENTER”. Joe led Grimshaw and Mortimer to the tape, lifted it for them and watched them duck awkwardly beneath it; Joe was only a short lad. Grimshaw reached for the door, which opened with the lightest touch. He turned to Joe. “Did you not close the door?” The patronising tone had crept back into Grimshaw's voice, and Wesley winced as he turned to see Joe's reaction.
“I'm certain we did, sir.” Joe's voice had a slight Irish twang to it which Wesley hadn't expected.
“Hmmm...” Grimshaw inspected the door closely, whipping his magnifying glass from his pocket. The lock was lined with scratches, and the door-frame was damaged; someone had forced their way in. “Did the murderer get in through the front door?”
“No sir, the back. And we boarded that up.” Joe responded, his voice getting quieter as he realised what Grimshaw was implying. He unclipped his truncheon from his belt and readjusted his helmet.
“Then someone else has been in here...” Grimshaw trailed off, beckoning at Wesley to follow. “Come. But be careful; they could still be here.”
“Do you think it was the murderer?” Wesley whispered to Grimshaw, not wanting to panic the young detective. “Coming back to clear up?”
“Quite possibly.” Grimshaw edged forwards slowly, noting the cobwebs in the corners and the mould on the wall; the victim did not live a good life. “Just be ready.”
Grimshaw pushed a door and opened and entered the...living room, he assumed. He put a hand out to stop Joe and Wesley going any further, protecting them from the worst of the sight. “My god...” He muttered, looking around.
Both the beige wallpaper and carpet were stained with splatters of red, puddles forming on the floor. Grimshaw gulped hard to force the vomit back as slowly entered the room, still holding his hand back to protect the others. Subconsciously, he knew they would be able to see the man hanging from the ceiling in the centre of the room, but at least their view was impaired. They couldn't see his face, which, where not covered in bruises, was stained with streaks of blood, still wet as they ran from six spiky letters carved in his forehead: KILLER. In addition to the words carved into his forehead and being hanged, the victim's wrist's were slit open, still dripping into two puddles beneath each limp arm.
Wesley pushed Grimshaw's hand down and stood next to him in silence as Joe ran outside and a grotesque retching sound followed. “What the frack...” Wesley slowly walked over to the body.
“Don't touch it!” Grimshaw realised that he was more forceful than he needed to be. “Evidence could be lost.” Grimshaw stared at the corpse's face; a middle-aged man, beaten almost beyond recognition. Almost.
Wesley caught Grimshaw looking. “You alright, Lewis?”
Grimshaw nodded. “Yeah...it's not like it's real, anyway.” Wesley cocked his head in vague agreement. “But this man...he was Stangerson's second suspect, the one in the photograph he showed me.”
Wesley looked at the corpse in disgust; maybe he deserved this. “You think we've got a vigilante running around?”
Grimshaw nodded. “That, or just another killer. Either way,” He gestured around the room as Joe re-entered, “I think we're out of our depth here. Scotland Yard should take it further now.” Joe nodded, and left again, presumably to fetch help. “For us, Wesley,” Grimshaw said solemnly, bowing his head, “this case is closed.”
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