As the locals gathered around to watch the start of the annual 10k run, Fred Greengrass stood and watched Frank Bassett lunging and stretching beside him.
“What the bloody hell are you doing that for?” Fred grumbled. “Everyone’s looking at you.”
“You must always warm up your muscles before doing any physical activity, Fred,” Frank responded with his head between his knees. “It prevents muscle tears.”
“Don’t know how I let you talk me into this. Bloody stupid this is.” Fred felt a nudge in his back and turned to see a well-built young man performing his own set of acrobatic stretches. “Watch it, mate!”
The young man mouthed an apology and continued with his side stretches. Ahead of him, above the writhing mass of heads and shoulders, Fred could see some unknown dignitary, who was clutching a red flag to his chest, puffing his way up the steps to the little podium that had been erected at the entrance to the playing field.
“Here we go, Fred.” Frank grinned at Fred who glowered back. “Last one back buys the drinks.”
The red flag rose and fell, releasing the many-legged creature that spewed forth from the playing field, its body rippling like waves on a beach. Fred found himself being pushed along by the crowd and he struggled to keep his feet. He was twirled and pulled around until at one point he found that he was actually facing in the opposite direction. Eventually, he managed to gain a position at the back of the pack, alongside the mums with their pushchairs, the walkers with their dogs and the fun-runners with their sweaty banana costumes.
“Bloody waste of time,” he muttered, making sure that he kept a few steps ahead of Mrs Benjamin and her Great Dane.
The climb up The Approach always made Fred puff and today was no exception. The physical effort of putting one foot in front of the other caused his face to redden and his heart to thud. In the end, he was forced to stop and hang over the wall of the railway bridge to catch his breath. The railway line stretched off into the distance like a cool metallic stream that Fred wished he could plunge into. He felt the air vibrate around him as one by one, the mums with their pushchairs, the walkers with their dogs and the fun runners with their sweaty banana costumes passed on by. Fred didn’t care that he was now at the back of the pack, he had already decided upon a course of action. He was going to have a leisurely amble to Millennium Wood where he was going to rest for a while before emerging to rejoin the pack as they made their way back to the finishing line.
The warm sun gently patted Fred on his shoulder as he walked down The Approach, over the river and past the garage. There was very little traffic about and birdsong seemed to fill the air. Luckily, there were no cars at the entrance to Millennium Wood, so Fred squeezed through the gate and plunged into the cool shade of the trees. He could see that the little den, that had been built several weeks before by the local kids, was still standing and decided that it would be the perfect place to rest his head for a while. Fred pushed his way through the branches to the little clearing and dropped to his hands and knees so that he could crawl into the den. He lowered his head under the tiny entrance and stretched out a hand.”
Fred’s head shot up so quickly that twigs scratched his scalp; they clung onto him as he tried to back away. His face reddened and his heart started to thud with the physical exertion of trying to escape from the iron grasp of the den’s branches until finally, free at last, Fred scrambled to feet and ran out of the wood faster that he had ever run in his life.
I stuck another pink post-it note onto the crime-board to remind me to pick up Fi’s dress from the dry-cleaners. I was so glad that I had decided to make the board a permanent fixture in my office as not only did it stop Shepherd and I getting grazed knuckles every time we pulled it up from the basement, but it now served as my very own reminder board. It looked quite attractive too, with its multicoloured collage of notes, reminders and relevant Shakespearian quotations. Whatever the rest of the boys in the station said about it, I tended to think that, in style, it owed a lot to the influence of Jackson Pollock.
In the centre of the board was a pink post-it note with a date on it that was very significant. It was the date that I would make Dr Fiona Davies my wife. After the Robin Jelley murder case had been completed, in my mind unsatisfactorily, and once Shepherd and Cat had returned from their honeymoon, I had whisked Fi away for a romantic break to Venice. There, in a quiet little restaurant on the Grand Canal, with the full moon looking benevolently down upon us, I had proposed to her and presented her with a sapphire and diamond engagement ring to match her sparkling eyes. I’m not ashamed to admit to a few tears when she said ‘yes’. In fact, as I remembered it now, a warm glow spread over me and peace and harmony settled themselves on my shoulders for a spot of sun-bathing. I joined them and lay back in my seat with my hands behind my head. Peace, perfect peace.
My period of calm was abruptly shattered when there was a sharp rapping on my office door and Shepherd entered my office. The last vestiges of his honeymoon tan were still clinging bravely onto his face, and his blond hair was, as usual, flopping over his eyes as he bounced up and down in his toes in excitement.
“A body’s been found in Millennium Wood, Sir.”
I glanced at the crime-board and sighed at the thought of dismantling my masterpiece to make way for gruesome shots of bodies. Such a pity.
“Ok, lad, let’s go.”
The little car-park at the wood was full, the team had beaten us, and so I was forced to park on the roadside. As we approached, I could see a WPC sitting on the little wooden seat at the entrance to the wood beside Fred Greengrass, who I noticed with some amusement, was wearing shorts!
“Fred! I didn’t realise that it was you that found the body.” I patted him on the shoulder.
“He was just lying there. I touched him!” Fred shuddered at the memory and he wiped his hand down his leg several times.
“We’ll just go and see what is going on and then I’ll come back and have a chat with you.” I left Fred, who was still trying to wipe his hand clean and I smiled to myself. Lady Macbeth he certainly was not.
The clearing had already been decorated with blue tape and in its centre I could see a little make-shift den, clumsily constructed with twigs and branches.
“I used to make dens like that, Sir,” Shepherd confided, “although mine were much better constructed.”
“I’m sure they were, lad. Have a sniff around, will you?”
Shepherd left my side to start his own finger-tip search. When Shepherd had first started his finger-tip searches of crime scenes, dropping to his hands and knees and meticulously turning over very speck of dust, the lads at the station had thought it all a bit of a joke, he had taken quite a bit of stick for it. However, as his methods had time and time again turned up vital clues, the sniggers had slowly become murmurs of admiration.
Adrian O’Brien shuffled backwards out of the den to greet me. He pushed his glasses back up his nose and got to his feet.
“Young man, late teens to early twenties. Naked. Single stab-wound to the heart. I think he has been dead about eighteen hours, but I’ll let you know definitely. And he wasn’t killed here. Anything else you want to know, Mike?” He grinned at me.
“His name and who did it, perhaps.”
“I don’t want to make your job too easy.” Adrian paused. “Oh, and I think he’d had sex recently as well.”
“How…?” I was amazed sometimes at the information Adrian could glean just be looking at a body in situ.
“I’m only guessing, but he’s got fresh scratches over his chest and both of his shoulders. I’m guessing that they were inflicted by a woman.” Adrian grinned again. “Ride’em, cowboy!”
“I think it’s time that I had a look at this body myself.” I knelt down and peered into the den.
The structure of the den was very good, the kids who built it had evidently put a lot of work into it, whatever Shepherd thought. They had even covered the floor in leaves and grass in an attempt to make the ground more comfortable to sit on. I was impressed. However, the young man lying in front of me did not impress me, he made me feel very sad at the waste of a life. Adrian had been right about his age, he was very young. The fact that he was curled up in the foetal position just served, in my mind, to emphasise his youth. It wasn’t a lad I recognised, but maybe Shepherd knew him. I studied him carefully, trying to get an understanding of his life from the empty shell that was left. His long blonde hair looked as if it had just been washed, his body also looked clean, almost too clean. Even the soles of his feet were pink. He looked like a perfect, sleeping angel, his face was at peace. In fact, the only flaws on this perfect creation were the neat stab wound to the heart and some recent scratches on his chest and shoulders. I leaned in closer, the stab wound looked clean, as if someone had staunched the blood flow and cleaned the wound. It was very strange. I shuffled out again.
“The body looks as if it has been washed, Adrian. You never mentioned that.”
“Ten out of ten, Mike. I thought I’d see if you could spot that and you did.” Adrian grinned again. “But you’re right, it looks as if whoever killed him, washed him clean before bringing him here. Even his hair has been neatly combed. Now, can I take him?”
“Just let Shepherd take a couple of photographs and he’s all yours.” I was still unnerved by the sight of this angelic being curled up in the den.
While Shepherd was busy taking photographs and concluding his search, I went over to join Fred who seemed a lot calmer.
“How are you doing, Fred?” I sat in the seat vacated by the young WPC who had gone to join her colleague; she was now questioning the workers in the factory opposite the wood.
“Not good, Mr Malone, not good. I just keep seeing him there. I touched him, I touched a dead body.” Fred’s voice had been rising slowly as he had been speaking and I saw that once again, he was frantically wiping his hand on his
“Right, Fred.” I was going to get nothing out of him today. “I’m going to get one of the lads to drive you home. You’ve had a huge shock. I’ll talk to you later, maybe this evening, ok?”
Fred nodded in agreement and I went off to find Shepherd who was still on his knees around the den which was now empty. I looked around, surprised to see that Adrian and his team had already left, I hadn’t seen them go.
“Yes and no, Sir.” Shepherd got to his knees, brushed down his trousers and came over to me. “There is a lot of evidence of scraping and dragging on the ground around the den, but it is difficult to work out if it is from the kids dragging branches over or someone dragging a body. However, there was something in the den that was odd.”
Shepherd removed a small plastic bag from his pocket and handed it to me.
“What am I looking at?” I was turning the bag around but all I could see was a piece of wood shaving.
“It’s from a pencil, Sir. You can see a thin line of blue around the edge. Someone has been sharpening a blue pencil.”
“Where was it? Under the body?”
“No, it was at the edge of the den, just outside it.”
“Ok, it might be significant. It might have come from where he was killed, or it might just be kids doing some drawing in the den.”
“Drawing?” Shepherd looked at me in astonishment. “What on earth did you get up to when you were a lad, Sir. The last thing I thought about doing in a den was drawing. I used to take cigarettes, not pencils.”
“You smoked?” This was a revelation.
“Yes and no. We all had crafty cigarettes at that age, it was fun because we weren’t supposed to. But, to be honest, I hated it. Couldn’t stand the taste and I would always end up coughing and spluttering. My habit didn’t even last the length of a school holiday.”
“Glad to hear it. Anyway, take it back, we’ll put it on the crime-board. Are you ready to come back now?”
“Not yet, Sir. I’ll get a lift back with the others when they have finished talking to the guys in the factory.”
He dropped to his knees again and it was as I started to return to my car
that I realised that I had not asked Shepherd the most important question of all. I turned around again.
“Did you recognise him, lad?”
“No, Sir. Never seen him before.”
It was the answer that I hadn’t wanted. Now my job was not only to solve the young man’s murder but to also try and track down his identity. I hated cases like this because I knew that somewhere, someone would be missing him and I also knew that for each day it took me to identify him, their anguish would be increased tenfold. With a feeling of despondency, I turned around again to go to find my car.