Thursday, 24 November 2016

The Village Tales of Fekenham Swarberry - Book 4 and a bit - Hand In Glove (Chapter 8)


Something was niggling Adam Lazarus, something locked deep within his head that he simply couldn’t get at. The ‘Hand in Glove’ case was now the top of his priorities even though it shouldn’t be. It was, oddly for such a case, consuming his working day. He sipped at another mug of coffee then again went over the facts as he had them. He ran through the names of those that lived around the Birchtickle pond: Hertlasp, Nosebag, Tickpant, Grimstain, the Trimeots, the Goslings and the two boys. There were no others, no other suspects. He had checked the remaining residents who lived in or around the tiny hamlet. There were only two and they were both very elderly. Both were female and both were in their nineties: Petunia Crinkle and Edith Highfield. He dismissed both as being far too old but more importantly as having no discernible motive.
His headache wasn’t helping matters. He hadn’t had such a bad one since the ‘Waterboy’ serial killings some four years ago, it had been then when he had first had an anxiety attack. He swallowed two tablets then turned over another sheet of paper.
At the top of the leaf was typed the name Hertlasp. He considered the man, his mannerisms and the irritatingly regimented precise way he kept his home. Hertlasp had secrets but then again so did everyone. The question was this: did those secrets have anything to do with the severed hand? The answer eluded Lazarus but his gut instinct said very possibly.
He turned over another sheet which had similar information typed on its front page, the age of person, their address, any other pertinent detail and of course the individuals name: Agatha Nosebag. The woman also had her share of secrets but more than that she was a thoroughly unpleasant person. Was she capable of murder, of dismembering the corpse? He thought not. A liar, a snoop, a busy body and probably much, much more but not, he thought, someone capable of killing another human being. Of course he was racing ahead of himself. He had no hard evidence that the hand came from a murder victim. He was convinced it had but he still needed proof.
The next sheet had Jean Grimstain’s name upon it. Murder? Highly unlikely. She had secrets though, that much was evident. Both he and Hilary had seen and overheard the row she had with Martin Tickpant. What had that been about? Tickpant had said he had once owned the land Jean lived on but then again, as Lazarus had discovered, Tickpant had owned all the land around the pond. The fact was the pond had once, twenty years ago, been his. He had sold the land off along with the tied cottages that had once housed the estate’s farm workers. What was it apart from a property feud that linked Jean Grimstain and Martin Tickpant?
He turned over the fourth sheet of paper: Tim Trimeot; a man who liked having his bottom plundered with a sink plunger. The man was a joke but was he a killer?
The next sheet revealed the name of Tim’s wife, Tracey. He smiled then laid the sheet down on top of the others. He was chasing smoke. This must be the twentieth time had looked at the notes he had typed. No matter how many times he perused them they still did not reveal anything he hadn’t already seen. He needed that one clue, the link that would fit the entire puzzle neatly together. He picked up his coffee then drained it,
Vesper Highlot appeared at his shoulder.
“The suicide, the bloke who jumped from the Wessex Tower.”
“What about him?”
“I had Hilary Leatherbarrow take a look at him but apart from a mysterious tattoo, she found nothing. Just another depressed man, I guess. I am going to close the file.”
“What was the tattoo?”
“A bulldog in a bowler standing in front of the English flag.”
Lazarus looked up.
“Do you have a photo of the tattoo?”
“Leatherbarrow does. Do you want another coffee?”
Lazarus scraped his chair back then stood up.
“Would you mind?”
“I was going to have one myself.”
Lazarus turned and looked out of the window, pressing his hand against the glass. Penny Farthing looked at him then carried on working when he returned her gaze. As he did, his telephone rang.
Hilary Leatherbarrow had re-examined Kevin Migham’s corpse. Apart from the lesions she had already identified and the tattoo, she found nothing new. She then took another look at the body of Cooper Kloot. He too had the self-same tattoo but it was what she found imbedded in his scalp, hidden by his hair: traces of metallic paint. It was paint from a car which meant it could possibly be traced.
The more Hilary studied the facts, the evidence before her, the more convinced she became that the two bodies were somehow linked. The tattoos could be coincidental, she knew that, but both men had been murdered. The cuts and abrasions on Migham’s body had been inflicted violently. They had probably killed him. Throwing the corpse off the top of the Wessex Tower had been an elaborate way to hide that fact. (The “fact” is not grammatically clear.) Kloot too had been assassinated of that she was certain. Proving it might be more of a challenge.
She phoned Penny Farthing.
“Hello, Penny. I was hoping you might be able to help me?”
“Sure, what do you need?”
“You were right about the Wessex Tower suicide; it wasn’t.”
A long silence followed and Hilary could hear the clatter of people in the background and their voices as they spoke to each other.
“Wasn’t what?” asked Penny.
“Suicide. The man was dead before he hit the ground.”
A deep sigh drifted down the phone line.
“It really doesn’t matter Doctor, my boss has closed the case.”
“Adam Lazarus?”
“No, Sergeant Highlot. She said it was a waste of time and money. The man took his own life.”
“Nonsense, and besides, he isn’t the only one. Another man with the same tattoo as Kevin Migham’s was run over. I have his body here. I think it is suspicious.”
Hilary could hear the resigned tone of Detective Farthing’s voice as she replied.
“With respect Doctor Leatherbarrow, my boss says it’s closed so what else can I do. Just forget it. She’s probably right anyway.”
The receiver Hilary was holding went dead as the police woman put the phone down. Undeterred, Hilary dialed another number.
“Adam, its Hilary, how are you?”
As Adam answered the phone call, so Vesper Highlot returned with his coffee. He indicated she should put the mug onto his desk.
“Hilary! Good to hear from you again. How are you, how can I help?”
“I was wondering if you could come over to see a couple of unusual deaths I have been examining for Winchester police. One’s a suicide and the other a hit and run.”
Lazarus took a sip of his coffee as he waved Sergeant Highlot to sit down.
“Not the Wessex Tower jumper?”
“That’s one of them. The other is equally odd but what really is too coincidental for words is that both men bear the same tattoo. Would you please come over?”
Lazarus took another sip of coffee as he sat down at his desk. Highlot was staring at him as if a little peeved.
“That case has been closed, I’m afraid. Kevin Migham took his own life.”
As he spoke to Hilary so Vesper Highlot was mouthing words at him.
“Why is she sticking her nose in?”
Lazarus waved a hand at his number two. Hilary responded to his last statement.
“Kevin Migham categorically did not take his own life. He was badly beaten then thrown from the top of the Tower. He was dead before he hit the ground.”
Lazarus placed the mug down on his desk in front of him.
“Can you prove that?”
“Okay. I’ll be over as soon as I can.”
They stood next to each other looking down at the cold body of Kevin Migham. Lazarus had seen sights like this many times and was accustomed to it: dead bodies, even those after an autopsy, no longer fazed him. Detective Penny Farthing though was still coming to terms with the whole process. It wasn’t the dead that bothered her but the thought of what had been done to them. A “Y” shaped incision ran down the deceased’s torso showing precisely where Hilary Leatherbarrow had opened the dead man up.
Adam Lazarus looked at his detective constable. She seemed disconcerted but holding her own. He looked away and focused again on the corpse.
“You get used to it,” was all he said.
Hilary moved in front of the Winchester C.I.D police officers. She paid particular attention to Penny whose ashen face showed a stoicism the doctor admired.
“The marks you see on the body have two possible causes. The first set appears to have been made by a blunt instrument beaten against the victim’s body prior to death. The second are the marks made from the body upon impact with the floor.
“There was little blood to be found at the scene of impact. However, there were signs of blood that had sprayed from the body as it fell across the outer walls of the building. Normally, bodies found at the bottom of tall buildings following a fall show little sign of blood even though they have suffered evident trauma. What makes this case interesting is that there was blood, most of it from the torso but also some from the thighs but only on the walss and widows outside.. In short, I would have expected to find a corpse displaying signs of damage from the fall but without so much blood being sprayed during descent.
“I believe the victim was beaten to death before then being pushed or thrown from the top of Wessex Tower. There is little evidence of any blows to the head other than those you would expect to find after such a fall which indicates that whoever did this had a sound working knowledge of the human anatomy. Basically he was skilled in beating someone to death leaving few signs of abuse, or at least of being able to disguise the beating so it would be hard to spot. There are, as you can see, multiple contusions all over the victim’s body but it is hard to prove if they happened before or on impact after the fall. I would suggest that these contusions, here and here, were made some minutes before the time of death, at least ten at a guess.
“Whoever did this to Kevin Migham was skilled in applying the right blows to the parts of the body that showed the least easily identifiable damage. It is very hard to tell after a suicide whether or not the broken bones and bruises were caused during or before the fall. However, having said that, the fact that blood had spiralled out from the neck wound during the fall indicates the heart may still have been beating. I am confident that this man was beaten, possibly to death but certainly made unconscious, before being pushed from the building.”
Adam Lazarus ran his hand through his hair in the way Hilary had seen him do before. He appeared to be deep in thought. He looked at Hilary and thanked her before turning to Penny Farthing.
“You were assigned this case along with Sergeant Highlot. Were you aware of this development?”
“Yes, sir but…”
“And was DS Highlot also aware?”
“She sort of dismissed it, sir. I don’t think she thought it significant.”
Lazarus grunted.
“No one thought to run it past me?”
“I thought she had, sir.”
A solid, almost tangible force seemed to emanate from the police inspector, an anger that boiled within him but which he controlled with some effort. He turned again to Hilary.
“You indicate there was something more, something that linked Migham’s death to that of a hit-and-run victim.”
Hilary nodded. She indicated as she lifted the arm of Kevin Migham to expose the tattoo
“I didn’t see this at first and even when I had I didn’t see any significance in it until I examined the hit-and-run victim.”
Hilary laid the deceased’s arm back against the body then walked around to where Cooper Kloot’s body laid. Again she lifted the arm of the dead man revealing the same tattoo as on Migham.
“I have never seen such an image before so it had no resonance with me. What does strike me as odd though is having two men killed, both by suspicious circumstances and both bearing the same tattoo under their arms. As I said, the image of the bulldog with the flag means nothing to me but there is a definite connection here.”
Lazarus nodded in agreement. Farthing looked from her boss to the doctor.
“Did you take any photos of the tattoos?”
“Yes, I did. Do you recognize them then?”
“Yes. They are the symbol used by a secret organization.”
“You mean the Brethren. I was telling Doctor Leatherbarrow about them,” interjected Penny Farthing.
“Yes, I am not referring to the the daft gang who have been such outrage in Fekenham. They are nothing but a bunch of idiots who share the same warped views. This bunch, the people who wear these tattoos, are dangerous,” replied Lazarus.
Hilary had started to wheel the bodies back into cold storage. Having completed her examinations she would now have the cadavers removed to the morgue where they would be prepared for the funeral. Lazarus looked at her. She felt his gaze and returned it with a smile.
“How are you getting on with that other case?” she asked.
“The severed hand?”
“That’s the one.”
Lazarus considered her question, ruminating on what his priorities were.
“I need to instruct my team regarding this latest evidence you have uncovered and get them to reinvestigate. Once that is done I intend to revisit Birchtickle. You are welcome to come. I’d be glad of the company.”
The thought obviously had appeal to the forensic scientist for she allowed a large grin to light her face.
Lazarus smiled back, a broad, warm smile that made his eyes sparkle.
“Tomorrow at ten.”
“I’ll meet you there,” said Hilary.
The drive back was filled with an uncomfortable silence. Penny Farthing sat beside her boss, feeling his mood had changed and fearing the rollicking he would undoubtedly give to both D.S. Highlot and herself. She felt this to be a little unfair as she had tried to dissuade Vesper but her superior officer had dismissed her fears, telling her not to waste valuable time and effort as both equated to money the force could ill afford to spend. The argument seemed sound for after all they hadn’t known about the tattoos. It was their discovery that had really added a new imperative to the closed case. The obvious questions to ask was did the deceased men know each other? Had someone killed them both? Was it some form of rival organisation that had killed them and why had Lazarus been so bloody mysterious? Whatever the truth, and they were a long way from discovering that, the manner in which such vitally important detail had been summarily dismissed was worthy of discussion. Penny did not so much see much discussion ahead but rather a heated diatribe from her boss.
The feared dressing down was as bad as she feared. In fact it was worse. Lazarus flew at both Highlot and Farthing then rounded on two other junior members of his team. He accused them of a lack of professionalism, of not being methodical enough, of not utilising fully the splendid resource of a forensic expert. He issued a series of instructions that he expected to be followed to the letter: an investigation into both men; who they were; where they came from; what they had done for a living. Lazarus also enjoined the team to look for any association between the two, either through work or during leisure time. He said he needed to know if the men had been friends or colleagues but, more pertinently, to see if there was any evidence linking them to any high-ranking officials in Winchester. If there was then they needed to find out who such people were and where they could be found. Lazarus concluded by suggesting they should leave no stone unturned but suggested that the Brethren were nothing more than a local joke and were not to be considered of regional concern. Be careful, he advised but be vigilant and be sure to dig up all that could be uncovered. The team, primed and pre-warned, now prepared for the following day.
From the sanctuary of his office, Obadiah Pearight observed all. As the senior officer he was reluctant to intrude but nonetheless he could see how stress was beginning to affect Adam Lazarus. Pearight did not want another episode to afflict one of his most promising officers as it had before. For now he was content to let matter ride.

Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

No comments: