First of all belated thanks to everyone who has invited me to be their friend on Crimespace, in my profile I promised to post one of my short stories on this site, well here goes. I'd love to know what everyone thinks and if there's anyone out there who wants to publish this story or others like it please let me know.
The Royal Hunt of the Wild Goose.
A bitter October wind swept up Broad Street making the two empty hanging baskets outside the Royal Oak swing on their rusty chains like gibbets and bringing with it a handful of grey white snowflakes.
On the opposite side of the road a heavy set man in a grey overcoat locked the door of a light blue Mondaeo and, tucking his head down against the wind crossed the road and made for the doorway of a small newsagents, in which stood a constable who looked young and innocent enough to be on his way to a student fancy dress party.
“Have you got the keys? “, asked Zeph Morris in a tone that suggested asking him to remove his hands from the warmth of his pockets and display a Warrant card would be the young man’s biggest mistake of the day.
“Well get the bloody door open before we both freeze to death.”
The two large windows forming the frontage of the shop were none too clean and covered over with faded posters and little cards offering cheap baby clothes for sale or French lessons for lonely gentlemen.
“Go and find the lights, “snapped Morris as they stepped inside.
Standing alone in the chilly interior of the shop he decided he was going to have to stop snapping at the young Constable, it wasn’t his fault they had both been dragged out in the cold to take part in the royal hunt of the wild goose.
The two fluorescent tubes overhead buzzed into life revealing the cramped interior of the shop, a rack filed with glossy magazines ran down the length of one wall and at the far end of the room stood a glass topped counter, fixed to the wall behind this was a set of plastic shelves designed to hold packets of cigarettes. They were empty and a few stray packets lay on the floor where they had fallen as someone swept their companions into a bag.
“Tell me what happened here? “asked Morris when the young Constable returned from his search for a light switch.
Not a crime to trouble seekers after sensation. At around seven o’clock the previous evening the owner of the shop, one George Chisholm, had been cashing up when an unknown, so he said anyway, person had struck him from behind with a heavy instrument and when he regained consciousness both the till and the display stand of cigarettes were empty.
“How much did he say was taken?”
“About a hundred pounds from the till.”
“Hardly enough to be worth splitting someone’s head open for, is it?”
“There’s the fags, they’d be worth a few quid.”
“Not that much they wouldn’t.”
Anyway, thought Morris, if his lord and master Detective Chief Inspector Henry Tipping was to be believed the crime had nothing to do with the money taken from the till of a seedy backstreet newsagents shop. Earlier that day he had sat in the fat man’s office listening to a potted history of the Chisholm family.
“They’re trouble,” had been his verdict, “My old Sergeant used to say, if you see a Chisholm, lock him up, he’s bound to have done something.”
“When was this?”
“Before you were a wicked glint in the Milkman’s eye, anyway George was the brains of the bunch; they expelled him from school for nicking the eleven plus papers and selling them to his classmates.”
“And now somebody’s robbed him, quite ironic eh?”
“Ironic my behind, it’ll be one of his scams.”
It was at this point, Morris recalled, that the wild geese first began to ruffle their wing feathers. Way back in the lawless long ago the Chisholm family had been in the habit of opening shops in unprofitable locations that would, sooner rather than later be robbed of their stock, giving clever George the opportunity to do the same to the insurance company.
Perhaps he’s turned over a new leaf and really was robbed; people do go straight, even when their name’s Chisholm.”
“And perhaps I’m going to be dancing around at Saddlers Wells in a pink tutu.”
Only, thought Morris, if they’re looking to cast a more than usually daring version of the sugar plumb fairy.
“He pulled that trick seven times before we got onto him and made my old boss look like a proper monkey, I don’t fancy joining him up in the bloody tree.”
This, of course, meant that someone else had to go out and chase after a whole flock of wild geese in the name of saving the fat man’s face.
There was a draughty little storeroom behind the counter, any fingerprints?” asked Morris as he and the constable entered it by passing through a bead curtain.
“Just the owner’s,” came the expected reply.
“Does anyone else work here?”
“A lad by the name of David Hall, I don’t think he’s known to us.”
Judging by the downy look of his cheeks Morris suspected the only person known to the young constable was his dear old mum.
In the corner of the store room stood an old wooden desk the surface of which held a battered looking computer terminal and a snowdrift of paperwork. Morris sat down in the only chair, rank has its privileges, and fiddled with the computer, nothing happened. He scooped up a random handful of papers and, passing them to the constable said, “See what sense you can make out of those.”
Not much if they were anything like the ones he found himself looking at, George Chisholm may have been the ‘brains’ of his family, but he was no genius when it came to managing paperwork.
“This might be worth taking a look at boss,” visibly glowing with excitement in a way that made him look all of twelve years old the constable handed Morris a piece of paper. It was an invoice for several thousand pounds worth of cigarettes that had been delivered to the shop the previous day.
“See any of this stuff lying around?,” to his superior officer’s surprise the young constable recognised a rhetorical question when he met one, the store room was almost totally empty.
Perhaps the wild geese weren’t flapping their wings in vain after all.
Outside the wind was still making the hanging baskets over the door of the Royal Oak rattle like gibbets as he pushed it open and stepped into the public bar.
It was a small, overheated room with walls turned a deep yellow colour by decades of cigarette smoke and a grubby flag of St George fixed to the wall behind the bar. In one corner an elderly man who hadn’t bothered to shave for the past week sat clutching a half pint glass and studying the racing pages of a tabloid newspaper. Behind the bar a younger man with a large belly and tattoos on his forearms scowled at the new arrival.
“We’re not open yet,” he growled.
“Looks like it,” replied Morris.
The fat barman dropped his gaze and asked truculently, “What d’you want anyway?”
Morris gave a brief account of what had happened to George Chisholm, he took care to use short sentences and words of no more than one syllable, it never did to over estimate your audience.
When he had finished the fat man behind the bar pulled his unattractive features into a parody of a look of concern and said, “Hope they broke his stupid bloody neck.”
That, as it turned out, was just about the kindest thing anyone had to say about George Chisholm all day.
The general consensus amongst his fellow traders was that he was a nasty little crook, always ready to cheat friends and customers alike. There was little chance of the Post Office being put under undue strain by the sudden rush of people sending him get well soon cards.
“He’s what?,” asked Peter Guard, a young officer wearing a natty suit and no tie who happened to walk into the station canteen at the same time as Zeph Morris.
“Off his food, completely, no fried breakfast, nothing.”
Morris and Guard queued for their food and then joined Henry Tipping at a table with a fine view out over the station car park. True to form the only thing on the table in front of the big man was an untouched cup of tea.
“What about this scam he had going with the pool team?” asked Tipping.
“He used to sell raffle tickets for one that didn’t exist,” replied Morris, “Kept it up for about six months before the landlord twigged and belted him one.”
“They don’t hold the local Mensa meeting in the saloon bar then,” it was one of Guard’s better jokes.
Normally the fat man would have been moved to remind him that the circus had lost a fine clown the day he joined the force, this time though he merely grimaced and looked disconsolately down at the film forming on the surface of his cup of tea.
“What about the neighbours on either side, didn’t they see anything?”
“Just a red van driving away from the shop.”
“Driving away slowly?” Tipping said looking up from the table.
“Like the lead car in a funeral procession one of them said.”
“Very poetic, what colour van does Chisholm own?”
It was a rhetorical question, they all knew that he owned a red one and that it more often than not didn’t have an in date tax disc.
“And I don’t suppose any of his neighbours noticed the registration number.”
“Thought it was Chisholm’s own van and so they took no notice,” Tipping said finishing the sentence for Morris.
“There’s no end of back alleys around there, whoever robbed the shop could have got away down one of them without being seen.”
“They could have done, but I bet they bloody didn’t. Go out and have a word with Chisholm, see if he’s got a few dozen packs of fags lying around his living room,” said Tipping, “And take chuckles with you.”
“So what are we going to do?” asked Guard as they left the ring road and entered the Crowe Hill estate.
“Play it by ear, and hope the piano isn’t out of tune.”
It was late afternoon and all across the Crowe Hill estate lights were coming on in poorly maintained semi-detached houses along streets named after distant oceans and long dead council worthies, every fourth front garden seemed to have a car minus its wheels turning to rust where the architect had planned for a neat lawn to be planted and in the grimy pools of light cast by the streetlamps small knots of youths in hooded tops were already gathering for another busy evening of hanging around.
“Here we are,” said Guard, “The house that crime built,” as they pulled to a halt in Montgomery Crescent.
If it was, thought Morris, then crime wasn’t paying at all well these days. George Chisholm lived at number seventeen, a house that was, if it were possible, in an even worse state of repair than its neighbours.
As they walked up the path past the obligatory wrecked car the blue light of a television screen flickered in the downstairs window and the sound of excited voices shouting over a laughter track could be heard through the cracked glass.
Morris knocked loudly on the front door, the volume of the television rose by several decibels, he knocked again and the television was suddenly snapped off, moments later the door was snatched open on a chain.
Peering through the resulting gap George Chisholm didn’t look much like the brains behind any kind of enterprise, criminal or otherwise. He was fat, past fifty and hadn’t bothered to shave, the cigarette lodged in the corner of his mouth bobbed up and down as he snapped,
“What do you lot want?”
“It’s about the break in at your shop,” said Morris as they followed George Chisholm into the cluttered and overheated living room.
“Have you got the little sod that whacked me?” he asked, settling himself into a sagging armchair with a full ashtray parked on its arm.
“We’re following up a number of leads,” replied Guard, using the approved tone for official evasion of awkward issues, most of which, he thought, have got feathers on them.
“Meaning that you’re doing nowt, as usual,” snapped Chisholm as he turned the television back on with the volume turned all the way up. A sudden burst of moronic laughter followed by wild applause filled the room.
“Meaning,” said Morris firmly as he reached over and switched the set off, “We’d like a little cooperation from the injured party, you.”
“I told the other copper everything, what’s it got to do with your bloody lot anyway?” there was a note of childish petulance in Chisholm’s voice, any moment now, thought Morris, he’s going to give us a well rehearsed speech about knowing his rights.
“I’d have thought an honest businessman such as yourself would have welcomed a little proactive policing from his local CID.”
Chisholm didn’t like that remark one little bit and bared the broken fence posts of his teeth at them.
“We’re particularly interested in what happened immediately before you were attacked,” said Guard as he opened his notebook.
“Some of the neighbours mentioned seeing a red van driving away from your shop; did you see one parked in the area before the attack?”
“I never saw any red van,” replied Chisholm
“You must have seen at least one red van,” said Morris, keeping his voice perfectly neutral.
“I never saw any red van, “Chisholm’s voice rose irritably as he answered, “Because I was too busy lying on the floor with half my bloody head bashed in.”
“Isn’t your van a red one George? You must have seen that one on the day of the attack,” again Morris kept his tone neutral.
“What’s my van got to do with it!” shouted Chisholm jumping to his feet knocking the ashtray off the arm of his chair, “I know what this is, bloody entrapment, you’re trying to…”
He was interrupted by the entry into the room of a skinny girl of about seven years of age. She had matted dark hair and was wearing a grimy white t-shirt, her pale face was already well on the way to setting into a permanent expression of anxiety.
“Out of it!” snapped Chisholm without even looking at her.
“But Granddad, I wanted to…” she said in a thin little voice.
“I said out of it, or do you want a belt?” snapped Chisholm raising his hand menacingly towards the child, instantly her face crumpled and she began to make a low whining noise.
“That wasn’t very nice Granddad,” said Morris, Chisholm didn’t meet his gaze and instead scowled down at the filthy carpet.
“What did you want to show us love?” he said in a softer tone of voice turning to the still sniffling child.
“Fairy gold,” her voice was little more than a whisper.
“Fairy gold,” Morris and Guard exchanged a look over the child’s head, “We’d like to see that very much, will you show us?”
The child nodded shyly, then gave a startled yelp as Chisholm jumped up shouting, “You cant’ do this, I know my..”
His outburst was cut short by a vicelike hand gripping his arm, “Now then Granddad, don’t lets keep the fairies waiting,” said Morris.
Following the child they passed through a filthy kitchen with unwashed plates growing mould in the sink and an unpleasant smell of spoilt food hanging in the air and out in the ruin of a garden.
Against the overgrown hedge stood a ramshackle shed with peeling felt on its roof and a door that hung in its frame at a crazy angle.
“Is that where the fairies live?” Morris asked the girl in a surprisingly gentle voice, again she nodded shyly, “In you go then,” said inclining his head towards Guard.
Rank, thought Peter Guard as he pushed the door open to reveal the dark and none too clean interior of the shed, brings no end of privileges, most of them connected to being able to make someone else ruin a new suit for no good reason.
Standing outside in the cold evening air Morris listened as several sounds connected to the lifting and dragging of unwieldy objects in a confined space came from inside the shed along with several not very muffled curses. Then, after what felt like an eternity the door opened and a dishevelled looking Peter Guard emerged carrying a bin liner filled with packets of cigarettes and several bags of small change.
“Look what the fairies have left Granddad,” he said.
Chisholm scowled at him through a cloud of cigarette smoke and snarled, “I’m saying nowt.”
“Until you’ve phoned your lawyer,” Morris finished the sentence for him, “Wise man considering the name of the creek you’re sailing up without a paddle.”
Then, turning to Guard he said, “Get on to Social Services about having the kiddie picked up, then ring for a take away, I know someone who’s about to get his appetite back and it looks like he’s going to be having Granddad here as a starter.”