Short Story - 'Friends and Neighbours' by Keith Wright
Updated: Nov 13, 2019
Friends and Neighbours
Coincidentally, Ernie and Mildred Smethurst were both born in June 1943, a year before D day, during the second world war. What seemed like bad luck turned into good fortune when, in 1961, Mildred Simmonds got a puncture on her bike ride to the coast. She and her friend Elsie were struggling to change the tyre. Enter our hero Ernie Smethurst and his friend Charlie Rainham. They too were cycling to Skegness and Ernie, whilst making a bit of a meal of it, managed to change Mildred’s tyre and the four of them set off together on the most exciting bike ride imaginable in those days. They had the most wonderful time. Chatting and laughing in the sun, puffing and panting up the hills and falling into each other’s arms, after a bag of fish and chips on the bench looking out to sea.
Thereafter they were inseparable, and they wed on 23rd May 1963. They had the reception in the local Army Drill Hall, fetching in the beer and bottles form the beer-off, and a friend of theirs played records, which, to appease the older generation included some big band numbers as well as the newer Rock ‘n Roll, and popular tunes of the day. 84 guests attended, a good turn-out. Ernie’s Dad got drunk and fell asleep across two chairs, and Mildred’s Uncle Stan split his trousers doing the hokey-kokey. There was also a terrific argument between Winnie Pendle and her husband Pat. She threw beer over him and he ended up putting her over his knee and spanking her backside. She seemed to like it. It was a great wedding. Thereafter they settled down on Broomhill Road, a Victorian terraced house and they had been there all their lives.
Ernie was a bit unsteady on his feet nowadays and Mildred suffered with blood pressure, which gave her dizzy spells every now and then. Ernie didn’t really expect to live beyond his mid-sixties, so at 76 years old, he felt every day was a bonus. Both his Dad and two uncles had died in their sixties. When asked how old he was, Ernie would say: ‘As old as my eyes and a little older than my teeth.’ It confused the younger ones. In truth he didn’t have false teeth, he still had fourteen left in his skull. He hated the dentist, so he made do. He would smile tight lipped, but five of the front upper set were enough to get him by if pushed at family gatherings. ‘Come on Grandad smile!’
They had one son, Simon, who was something high up in Local Government, a senior management post, which Ernie didn’t really understand. They had two grandchildren, who were grown up now, Kalista, and her younger brother Daniel. Daniel visited them most of all. He was very close to Ernie; they shared the same gentle nature. Ernie was a quiet man, who never bothered anyone; he didn’t judge and tried to see the best in everyone. In all the years together he and Mildred had scarcely had a cross word. Mainly because Ernie did what he was told!
His good nature was reflected when the Turners moved in next door. They were ‘a little rough around the edges’ according to Mildred, but he always gave them a ready smile and a good morning, even though they did not always reciprocate. The Turners were trouble, however. They had three sons in their late teens and early twenties, and they were feral. They drank and smoked drugs in the back garden and played music loudly until all hours. It was getting Ernie down. Not so much for himself, but for Mildred; their neighbour’s activities were getting her agitated and it wasn’t good for her blood pressure. He was going to have to do something about it, but what exactly? He couldn’t tackle them on his own, could he? Often there were ten or more youths and girls hanging around outside and using foul language. He hated confrontation, he just wanted everyone to be kind to each other and get along. He decided that the honourable thing to do would be to speak to them in person before getting in touch with the police. Most people are reasonable, and he felt he ought to politely explain the circumstances before doing anything too drastic. Once they realised the problems, they were causing they would pack it in. They were young and they wouldn’t be thinking about the daft old buggers next door, he thought. Maybe they would be reasonable? They probably didn’t realise the upset they were causing to him and his wife. His grand children would be mortified if they thought they were upsetting an old couple and surely, they would feel the same?
So, when, on Saturday night, the music cranked up again, he got his walking stick and walked uncertainly around to the back garden. He could only walk at a slow pace, with small steps. There were around six youths and two girls outside laughing and fooling around. It was gone 11pm but the summer evening was mild. Mildred had somehow managed to get to sleep but he was worried that they would wake her again and once she woke up, she would never get back to sleep.
Ernie could smell the billowing smoke from the cigarettes and a slight funk emanating from the house itself. He slowly made his way towards the tallest lad in the neighbouring garden, his eyes glued to the littered pathway to avoid stumbling. His walking stick helping his slow shuffle. The lad seemed to have a kindly enough expression. Perry was the eldest of the youths, he had previous convictions for GBH, possession of illegal drugs with intent to supply, and for possession of an offensive weapon.
‘Oi, oi, shut up a minute, you lot. Grandad’s come around for a puff of blow.’ He bellowed.
They all laughed and cheered. ‘Wahey, ‘sup Grandad. You got lost?’
Ernie smiled and tried to go along with the joke, but he couldn’t make head nor tail of it, in truth. He managed to get in front of Perry and the others encircled him a little too closely.
‘I hope you don’t mind me coming around, son, but I wondered if you would be good enough to keep the noise down a bit, my wife is trying to get to sleep…’
‘Son? I ain’t your fucking son. Who the fuck do you think you are?’ Perry was playing to the crowd.
‘Sorry, I didn’t mean any offence, at my age, you call everybody son.’ He smiled, a little nervously, his heart was going ten to the dozen. His smile was met with a steely glare from Perry. The mood had changed.
A youth grabbed his walking stick. ‘Eh I need that.’ Ernie tried to keep hold of it, but he was no match for the strong youth.
One of the lads knocked into Ernie and he stumbled. There were further cheers.
‘Are you fucking drunk? How dare you come around here, pissed up and start telling us what to do you old cunt.’ Perry’s spittle landed on Ernie’s face.
‘I’m a bit unsteady on my feet, I’m afraid. I don’t drink. I’m not drunk, honestly.’
One of the girls joined in. ‘Yes, you are. You’re pissed up. You sad old bastard.’
One of the youths knocked his cap off. ‘Eh come on lads, no need for that. I’ll go back. Can I have my stick?’
As he bent down to pick his cap up someone ruffled his thinning white hair, causing it to stand almost on end. Another booted him up the backside and he fell face first into the concrete, grazing his cheek and confusing his mind. A horrible feeling sank through his bones, he knew it had been a huge mistake coming around and he was frightened. He was worried he might urinate as some had slipped out in the tussle for his stick. He had to get out of there and call the police. The problem was he couldn’t get up off the floor unaided. He tried to get enough momentum to roll over. He could hear them all mocking him and laughing. He felt hands clawing over him and his wallet was taken out from his hip pocket.
Perry seemed pleased. ‘What have we here? Jackpot!’ He started to count the large number of bank notes. ‘There’s over five hundred knicker here.’ He laughed. ‘Fucking bonus. Cheers Grandad.’
‘Share it out, Pez.’ One of the others said and was joined by others. ‘Yeah, share it out.’
Ernie rolled onto his side with great effort. His voice was croaky, his mouth dry and his vision blurred, from the effects of the nasty fall. ‘That’s my pension money. Please, don’t take it, we’ll have nothing for the bills.’ Emotion seeped out during the plea.
‘Ah he’s starting to cry.’ Perry mocked. They all laughed.
One of the girls spoke. ‘Help him up Jabber, he reminds me of my old grandad.’
Jabber was a heavy built youth, with a partial beard, which he couldn’t yet grow fully. He had a light brown voice. ‘Fuck him. Silly old cunt.’
‘Come on Shelley, let’s give him a hand.’ She said to her friend.
‘Do we have to?’
‘Yes, we do, come on. He’s hurt himself.’ The two girls pulled Ernie to his feet and he was puffing and panting, blowing his cheeks out, his hair still askew. He was confused and scared.
‘Thank you.’ He mumbled. He was dizzy however, and they hadn’t settled him, before letting go of his arm. His left knee gave way and he stumbled forward putting his arm out to steady himself on the girl’s shoulder but he missed.
‘Here, you dirty old bastard. He’s grabbing her tits, fucking paedo.’
The misuse of the word was lost on Jabber. ‘That’s my missus!’ He punched Ernie in the face. The blow sent Ernie flat on his back dislocating his jaw and he was unconscious even before the back of his head struck the stone wall about a foot high. The impact of the blow to the back of his head caused the shock to travel from the rear of the brain to the front. Once there it settled as a clot and killed him outright. It was a contrecoup injury: a common cause of death for ‘one hit’ deaths. It wasn’t the punch that killed them, it was the collision of the back of the head with the concrete floor.
‘You fucking idiot, you’ve killed him!’ Perry observed.
‘Have I fuck, he fell.’ Jabber said alarmed.
‘Right you lot, piss off. Jabber, you stay to help sort out the fucking mess you’ve caused. And keep your gobs shut, or else.’
‘What about the money?’ One of them said.
‘Fuck the money. That’s mine for saving all your arses.’
The others didn’t need telling twice and they disappeared out of the small garden and away. Perry looked around at the gardens and houses which backed onto his. He couldn’t see anyone who might have witnessed the event and alert the authorities.
He grabbed at one of Ernie’s arms. ‘Right, Jabber. You get the other arm, lets drag him inside, sharpish.’
Mildred woke up as normal at a quarter to five. Strange. She couldn’t feel Ernie at the side of her. His side of the bed had not been slept in. She didn’t shout for him as she didn’t want to disturb the neighbours at such an unearthly hour. It took her almost five minutes to get up, as she had to swing her legs to the side of the bed and sit there for a minute or two, to settle her dizziness down. She was stiff at first and needed to get her joints moving to make better progress. A search of the house revealed nothing, other than the back door was unlocked and seemingly had been all night. She had an uneasy feeling in her stomach.
She muttered to herself. ‘Where are you, Ernie?’
It was dawn outside and already felt quite muggy, as the sun started to emerge above the tops of the houses. She could see that the gate at the end of the back garden was open, which should not be the case, as this was one of Ernie’s dutiful checks before he came to bed. ‘Where the hell is he?’ She was worried that he might have fallen, or worse. She went back inside and again checked everywhere, but to no avail. Her mouth was dry and so she put the kettle on and made a mug of tea. She sat at the old square wooden dining table, musing on what had happened and what she should do. Perhaps wait a bit? He may have gone for a walk. He hadn’t before, but it was all she could settle on.
A half an hour passed, and the occasional vehicle could be heard outside, as the world began to wake up. She again went outside the back. She looked over next door’s garden and she thought she could see Ernie’s cap amongst the shrubs. ‘Why is his cap there?’ She slowly made her way around to next door, trying to be quiet, and sure enough it was Ernie’s cap in the bushes, or at least one very much like it. She picked it up. She took a chance and knocked on the door. There was no reply.
Ernie and Mildred weren’t to know that Perry Turner worked for the biggest gangster in the area. Brendon Mulligan. He was the main man. You didn’t cross him. Perry neither. He was someone who you did not challenge if you had any sense.
The Smethurst’s had lived peaceful lives and didn’t really know much about people like Perry Turner or the un-convicted killer and gangland leader, Brendon Mulligan. They always gave people the benefit of the doubt and treated them with courtesy.
Perry and Jabber had been busy overnight. The motorway repairs were well under way and they had a contact who knew of Perry, and his boss’s reputation. If Perry asked for a favour, you did it. No questions asked. The workman didn’t ask too many questions when he was asked to mix five tons of concrete and empty it in the deep foundations as directed by Perry. He didn’t want to know. The weight of the concrete crushed Ernie’s body; flattening it and crushing the bones, pretty much to a pulp inside his suit. The juices of the body splayed out in 360 degrees and his cadaver was as flat as a pancake. He would never be found.
It got to 10am and Mildred was out of her mind with worry. All sorts of imagined scenario’s were tormenting her thoughts. She didn’t have the capacity to even imagine on what had really happened to her beloved husband of 56 years. Why was his cap in the garden? Why wouldn’t the neighbours answer the door after she had been around three times already?
She didn’t want to trouble her son, with it. He would only worry. She decided to ring the police. In fairness they arrived within 40 minutes. The young cop, Steve Catlin, sat on her settee with a scrap of paper and jotted down the answers to his questions. He was in his early twenties, with dark hair and too much stubble for a uniformed officer to get away with.
‘You say you last saw Mr Smethurst…’
‘Ernie, at around 10pm?’
‘Yes, when I went to bed.’
‘Does he suffer with dementia or has he gone ‘walk about’ before?’ The PC asked.
‘No. To both.’ Mildred shifted in her seat.
‘Why was his cap in next door’s garden if he always wears it?’
‘That’s what is adding to my worry, officer. That’s what I’m saying. He has never just gone off like this. I’m worried he’s come to some sort of harm.’
‘Have you checked the hospitals?’ PC Catlin asked.
‘No, I was hoping you would be able to do all that. I don’t have the numbers, and I doubt they will tell me anything over the telephone?’
‘Mmm. I suppose not.’
‘Can’t you check with them on-line or by email?’ he asked.
‘I don’t know how to work all that, I’m afraid, and besides I haven’t got a computer, thingy.’
He sighed. ‘Okay leave that with me.’
‘At least it isn’t the middle of winter. He has a chance if he has fallen down somewhere, he might have survived the night.’
‘I would rather not think about that.’ Mildred said, honestly.
‘I’m afraid that we can’t officially take a missing from home report off you until they have been missing at least 24 hours.’ The officer said.
‘I think it is because ninety-nine percent of the time, missing adults aren’t really missing, and return home within that period. It saves loads of unnecessary work.’
‘That doesn’t really help the one percent who are genuinely missing, though, does it?’
‘True.’ The officer was packing the paper and pen into his leather stationary pouch.
‘Can’t you just ask next door, while you are here? They might know something, with his cap being in their garden, I mean.’ Mildred asked.
The cop looked at his watch. ‘Couldn’t it have blown off?’
‘There’s no wind. And anyway, surely Ernie would have made some effort to get it back. I only had to walk ten paces to retrieve it. I’ve always respected the police, but I worry you aren’t taking this seriously.’ It was a good job Mildred had her wits about her.
The young officer bristled at the suggestion. ‘I assure you we are, Mrs Smethurst. Well, we will at midday tomorrow, when the twenty- four hours is up.’
‘Will you please just knock on next door for me? They might answer the door to you.’
‘I shouldn’t really, but I suppose while I am here, it makes sense to knock on.’
The two got up and Mildred hung back just inside her doorway, out of sight, as she heard the officer knock on next door. It was young Perry Turner who answered.
‘Hi Perry. You all right?’ The officer said. He seemed to know him.
‘I’m cool, Steve. ‘Sup?’
The cop glanced behind him but couldn’t see Mildred. ‘The old bat next door seems to think you might know where her wayward husband is.’
‘Why would we know that?’ Perry lit up a cigarette and puffed the smoke over the officer.
‘She reckons she found his flat cap in your garden and he has been out all night.’
‘I couldn’t tell you mate; I think they are both a bit sketchy, they’re really old. He’s probably wondered off somewhere and croaked.’
‘That’s what I reckon. How’s, Brendon, by the way?’
‘He’s good. I’ll tell him you were asking after him. Anyway, what are you doing still in uniform? Shouldn’t you be on CID?’
‘I keep trying to get in the suits, but it’s not easy, Perry.’
‘I’ll mention it to Brendon, he’s mates with your DI.’
‘Course he is. I’ll put in a good word for you.’
‘Will you? Thanks, Perry. That’s brilliant, thanks, mate.’
‘No worries, Steve.’
‘Okay. Sorry to have bothered you.’
The cop started back to Mildred’s and she scurried as fast as she could back into the ‘scullery’, as she called it. Her heart was heavier than before. Her confidence shattered by the conversation she had just overheard.
‘Hi Mum. Everything okay?’
She had never got on with wireless telephones. She preferred the ones with the cord. You knew where you were with them. ‘Not really.’
‘Why. What’s the matter?’
‘It’s Dad, he’s gone missing.’
‘He’s gone what?’
‘What do you mean gone missing?’
‘He hasn’t been to bed and he’s nowhere to be seen.’
‘I wouldn’t joke about something like that, Simon. I’m worried to death.’
‘That’s not like Dad. Let me come to see you. Have you rung the police?’
‘Yes, but they’re not interested. They’ve got to wait twenty-four hours before they even do anything.’
‘Oh, yes, of course. Look, let me come over and find out the details. He’s not had a funny turn, or anything has he?’
‘No. Not as far as I know. But I’m worried, Simon.’
It was always difficult for the child to hear the parent distressed and Simon was no exception. But he was really busy at work. Any time but today would have been okay.
‘Look I know the police Divisional Commander from my various meetings at the Council. Once I know exactly what’s happened, I’ll see if I can get things moving. It’s not like Dad, this isn’t.’
‘I know. Thanks, Simon. Can you come over as soon as you can? Sorry to be a bother.’
‘Of course. I need to move a few things around, meetings wise…’ He sighed. ‘… but I should be there in the next hour. It’s not the best of days.’
‘Like I say, son, sorry to bother you.’
Detective Sergeant Karen Barnett had been pleased to offer her assistance, when Chief Superintendent Parsons had asked for her to visit the household of Ernie and Mildred Smethurst. Her DI, Pete Spencer, had kicked off about it, saying it broke protocol and they should wait twenty-four hours, like everyone else. The vulnerability of the subject, an elderly gentleman, enabled the protest to be wafted aside.
After the conversation with Mildred, DS Barnett, also visited the Turner’s garden, only this time she had a proper look around, before knocking on the door. Her tweed skirt and jacket were expensive, and she had an immaculate look about her. A handsome woman; with brown hair wrapped around itself in a loose bun with what looked like knitting needles poking through it. She had seen the little white object partially buried in the soil. At first, she thought it was just another nub-end to match the scores of others lying around. As she leaned in closer, she was interrupted. The loud voice made her jump.
‘What the fuck do you think you’re doing?’ It was Perry. He was shirtless and wore dirty sunflower summer shorts and flip-flops.
‘Oh, hello there. I’m Detective Sergeant Karen Barnett from the CID. I’m looking into the disappearance of Ernie Smethurst from next door. Do you know him?’
‘No, we don’t mix. How come I don’t know you?’
‘Any reason you should. You aren’t the Chief Constable by any chance, are you?’
‘No, but me and my mate, Brendon Mulligan have a good relationship with the CID around here. Have you heard the name?’
‘I’m new here, so no I’ve never heard of the geezer.’
Perry laughed. ‘You will soon enough don’t worry. Does DI Spencer know you are here?’
Karen Barnett scratched her head. This was all a bit strange. The youth was clearly a toe-rag and yet seemed to be name dropping CID colleagues to her. She was not impressed. Criminals often played up their part, if they knew detectives, and would fall over themselves to make out they had some sort of influence with them. Maybe that was it.
‘He knows I’m here. What can you tell me about Mr Smethurst? You know his cap was found in your garden.’
‘So she says, next door, but she is a bit, you know.’ He put his outstretched index finger close to his temple and moved it in a circular fashion.
‘No, I don’t know. A bit what?’
‘A bit loop-de-loop, confused, you know.’
‘Is she? Are you sure? She seemed fine to me.’
‘Yes, they’re always going walk about, or talking bollocks all the time. You can’t believe a word she says.’
‘I didn’t get that impression. Anyway, can I come in and have a brief chat?’
Perry walked up to her and invaded her personal space. ‘I don’t think you realise who you are talking to, Detective Sergeant…?’
‘I know exactly who I’m talking to. A youth in flowery shorts and flip-flops, who seems to think he’s something he isn’t. DS Barnett, pleased to make your acquaintance.’
‘Barnett. I’ll remember the name.’
She smiled. ‘Good, make sure you do. Do you want me to spell it for you?’
‘No, I fucking don’t, clever cunt. Anyway, I would be most grateful if you would get your ‘acquaintance’ off my property, you are trespassing.’
‘I have a right to be here if I am investigating a crime and this property is a crime scene.’ She was quick to respond.
‘The fact that he has dropped his cap in my fucking garden doesn’t make it a crime scene, now does it?’
Karen bent down and picked up the small white object from the soil. It was a tooth. ‘What have we here? A tooth. A human tooth.’
‘That could have been there years; who the fuck are you, the frigging tooth fairy?’
‘No. I’m a Detective Sergeant who is investigating the disappearance of an elderly gentleman and your garden has his cap in it, a human tooth and some idiot who is pretending that the missing man and his wife suffer with dementia, when they clearly don’t. I find that a little odd. Why would you do that I wonder? I think it is time for me to declare your garden a crime scene so, in case you don’t realise what that means, I won’t be going anywhere.’
She reached into her bag and pulled out a radio. ‘DS Barnett to control…’
Scenes of Crime discovered what they believed to be human tissue on the concrete in the garden and some hairs, which, along with the tooth, were proven to be those of Ernest Smethurst by DNA testing. An investigation led to the arrest of Perry Turner who of course had a solicitor and no commented throughout his interviews. There were evidential problems. DS Barnett could not connect Perry directly to an attack on Ernie, just the garden, and subsequently his kitchen, where a hair had also been found, and discovered to be Ernie’s, but five people lived there. It wasn’t just Perry. He didn’t even have responsibility for the house; his Mother was the legal tenant. A full murder enquiry could not be launched as there was no body and the first point to prove in a murder is that somebody has been murdered. Habeus Corpus is the legal term. ‘Show me the body.’
What seemed like an obvious case, started to dismantle, and the Detective Inspector made a point of bringing Perry’s next remand hearing forward, and not opposing bail, just under a week later. All of this without the knowledge of DS Karen Barnett.
Karen smelt a rat and started to make noises and protest, but she was hitting a blank wall. The case was slipping away from her and she knew the job well enough to realise that she wasn’t going to get it home, as it stood. She had made an appointment to see the Independent Office for Police Conduct. She hadn’t stipulated why. DI Spencer knew she had made the call, because he had a covert camera situated in the CID office. This was how he accumulated pieces of dirt on his detectives, which he held over them, and this gave him the power to bend the rules when he had to, without their objecting too loudly. It worked well. Public humiliation, dismissal, and even prison was a strong motivator for people, particularly police officers, to keep their mouths shut. DI Spencer knew this worked well, because that was how Brendon Mulligan got him onside, after filming him with a prostitute in a honey trap several years ago. DI Spencer had been in his pocket ever since. Somehow Ernie and Mildred Smethurst had become mired in all this dirt and filth. Two quiet people who had been living their lives without the first incline that such a world existed.
Karen sat at the same dining table that Mildred had sat at that first morning. They both had cups of tea, and Karen was holding Mildred’s trembling hands across the tabletop.
‘What are you saying, Karen, that you can’t do anything?’ Mildred didn’t understand.
‘No, Mildred, I am just saying that it’s been complicated by other matters.’
‘What other matters?’
‘I can’t say, I’m afraid, but don’t worry. I’m not going to let it get in the way. I’ll get to the bottom of it. I promise you.’
‘Thank you, Karen. I don’t understand all this legal mumbo-jumbo. All I know is that I don’t know what I would have done without you. I’m still not sleeping. I think I’ve lost him.’ A tear fell from her cheek.
‘I know. I don’t think I would be able to sleep, either, if my husband or child was missing, under such circumstances. I’m so sorry.’
‘I can’t get any closure. Karen. If we’ve lost him, I need to know for definite. I’m going out my mind with worry. He deserves a decent burial, for Heavens sake. That is what is bothering me the most. He believed in God and we haven’t given him the right send off.’
‘Have you spoken to the vicar? Maybe he or she can arrange some sort of memorial? I don’t know, but it might be worth having the conversation.’
‘I will. I just keep hoping you will get to the bottom of it for us, or that he will walk back through that door.’
‘I’m doing my best. I think I’m going to have to take extreme measures.’
‘I don’t understand, what you are saying?’
‘It doesn’t matter, Mildred. Just leave it with me. I’ll call around at the same time on Thursday, about 10am, and I should have some news by then.’
‘Thanks, Karen. I’m forever grateful.’
Mildred was getting more and more agitated. She just existed. Waiting for her next meeting with Karen. Praying and hoping that there would be a break-through.
It wasn’t like Karen to be late. She always made it on time and she knew how much stock Mildred put in their meetings; she would have let her know if something had come up surely?
10 am became 11am, and then 12midday. The letterbox rattled. It was the early edition of the local newspaper. Mildred wearily went to collect it and returned to her table. She made a drink and tried her best to gather her thoughts about what to do next. Should she ring the police station? She unfolded the newspaper to try to pass the time. The headlines made her gasp with shock and horror.
DETECTIVE SERGEANT ARRESTED ON POSSESSION OF ILLEGAL DRUGS.
Detective Sergeant Karen Barnett has been arrested on suspicion of possession of illegal drugs. Her Detective Inspector Tony Spencer conducted a spot-check on the officer as she was about to leave work. Two grams of cocaine were found in her jacket pocket and she was detained. DI Spencer said, ‘I cannot comment on individual cases, but police officers must not only have the utmost integrity but be seen to demonstrate integrity, both at work and in their private lives.’
Mildred put her hand to her mouth. ‘Oh no! How could she? That’s disgraceful. And I thought she was nice. What a fool I am.’
There was a knock on the door. Mildred felt shaky and stumbled to the door, her head spinning at the news. She was met by a man in a suit. ‘Hi I’m Detective Catlin. I’ve been asked to take over the case from DS Karen Barnett.’
‘Aren’t you the young uniformed officer who came to see me at the start?’
‘Yes, Mrs Smethurst. I made it on to the CID. My DI, Mr Spencer, has asked for me to get to the bottom of your husband’s disappearance.’
DI Spencer sat at his desk, in the high-backed leather chair, with his feet on top. He had a weathered look about him and appeared older than 43. He wore a gold sovereign ring and his hair was overly long at the back. He might have been mistaken for a secondhand car dealer rather than a Detective Inspector. He was feeling a somewhat pleased with himself. He shouldn’t be feeling so pleased, he was well aware of that, but it had been a close shave. He was happy with the outcome, even though he had put an innocent hardworking officer behind bars. That was sad. That was how far he had come over recent years. He had changed. He used to be a brilliant detective. Now he was a puppet. Held hostage by Brendon Mulligan. He had aged in the five years since Mulligan dropped the bomb; showed him the footage of him with the prostitute. There was no getting away from it. He was finished. An accord with the gangster seemed the only way out. Since then it had been one long slog. Trying to find ways to protect Mulligan and his empire from the law and working backwards to get his cohorts off charges wherever possible. He was in so deep he was at the foot of a well that was too high to climb out of. The best thing he ever did was to put in his own covert camera. Within weeks he had collected muck on pretty much all the detectives working for him. Even those that did not partake in racist or sexist comments were complicit, as they did not report the incidents. He only ever used it as an extreme, if the chips were down and he needed a favour, or someone to turn a blind eye.
It was unfortunate that Karen Barnett had to take a tumble. He actually liked her, but she wouldn’t stop digging and with her being new, he didn’t have enough dirt on her from his hidden camera. That meant he had to create some and quickly. Mulligan had got him a couple of grams of coke within the half hour. He didn’t need to remove it from the property store. Karen always put her jacket on the back of her chair and he was able to drop it in her pocket just before the search.
It was a close-run thing and now he really needed things to settle down for a while. The Independent Office for Police Conduct were crawling all over the place with Karen’s investigation, which paradoxically he had triggered. That was never a good thing.
The knock on the door startled him from his troubled thoughts.
‘Hi Pete.’ Detective Chief Inspector Tennant from IOPC came in without waiting to be invited.
‘Hello, Brian. Is there anything else we can do for you?’
‘No, I think you’ve done enough already, Pete.’
Spencer shivered, was that sarcasm? His heartbeat raised slightly. ‘Just trying to get the other side of pretty awful circumstances.’ He said.
‘Quite.’ DCI Tennant sat down. ‘There was something I wanted to ask about, actually.’
Spencer shifted in his seat, his smile was broad. ‘Oh yes, what’s that? Anything to help, you know that.’
‘When we spoke with Karen Barnett, she has made quite a few allegations about you.’
He laughed. ‘That’s no surprise, now, is it. It will be all bollocks, trust me.’
‘There was one thing that she said that interested me.’
‘Oh yes?’ He swallowed hard.
‘She suggested that there was a rumour that you had installed your own covert camera in the ceiling tiles in the CID office.’
Pete was starting to sweat. ‘Weird.’
‘That’s what I thought, until we found this.’ He fished into his suit jacket pocket and produced a small lens with some wire behind it.’
‘Eh? Where was that?’
‘You know where it was Pete.’
‘Hold on a minute, I don’t think so.’
‘You did Pete.’ Another man walked in the office; DI Terry Walker also form IOPC. He nodded at Pete as a welcome.
‘I’m sorry, but if you are insinuating...’
‘Stop it Pete. When you install a camera or change the batteries, the damned camera records you doing it, you prat.’ The Chief Inspector said succinctly.
Pete didn’t respond.
‘Have you ever heard the expression “hoist by your own petard?”
‘Well. Pete, that’s you my friend. Do you know what else this covert camera shows? It shows when people drop drugs in the jackets of a policewoman to frame them. It shows a false search and bent cops who should know better. DI Spencer I am arresting you on suspicion of possession of illegal drugs, perverting the course of justice, and corruption in a public office.’
Mildred heard a noise, bangs and shouts coming from next door. She had heard little from the young Detective and clearly there was no progress being made. She made her way to the back door and was startled to see police officers in combat gear and with shields and guns and a battering ram. All the Turners were taken away, Perry making the most noise.
What completely blew Mildred’s mind was that at the head of the group was DS Karen Barnett. What the hell was going on? Whilst the searching continued at the house, after the occupants had been taken away, Karen called around to see her.
She explained everything as best she could. Mildred couldn’t believe what she was hearing. How Ernie had gone around to speak to them and how it had quickly descended into him being knocked to the floor by this kid called Jabber. She said that Ernie wouldn’t have known much about it. That he wouldn’t have been in pain.
‘DI Spencer spilled the beans about Brendon Mulligan and Perry Turner. It was the final piece of the jig-saw, to get Perry and his friend for the murder of your husband.’
‘So we have definitely lost him. He...he's dead.’
Karen nodded. ‘I’m afraid so.’
Mildred broke down. All the emotion she had pent up over recent days and weeks spilled from her. Karen moved her chair around next to Mildred and held her as she sobbed.
‘Where is he?’
‘We are working on getting him back for you.’ Was all Karen would say.
‘I need to see him.’
‘I’m afraid that won’t be possible.’
‘Why? I have a right to see him, surely.’
‘I’m afraid he will not be in a fit condition to view, Mildred.’
‘I can’t take all of this in.’
‘I know. All will become clear, but the main thing is, he can have a decent burial and be given the proper respect he deserves.’
‘That means a lot. That is something, I suppose.’
‘I’m so sorry, Mildred.’
‘I know. But at least we can say goodbye, not just me, but the family, and all of those that have known him throughout his life, all his friends and neighbours.’
@Copyright Keith Wright 2019
Keith Wright is the author of The Inspector Stark series. ‘One Oblique One’, ‘Trace and Eliminate’ and ‘Addressed To Kill. They are out now on Amazon Paperback, Kindle and Kindle Unlimited.
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