Men Walking Dogs
Men Walking Dogs
It’s an almost invariable fact that ‘men walking dogs’ are responsible for the recovery of bodies throughout the United Kingdom. If it weren’t for ‘men walking dogs’ the countryside would be littered with corpses and skeletons, and there would be considerable delay in life assurance payouts. That the police force don’t suspect ‘men walking dogs’ are actually ‘men who have killed while walking dogs’ is almost certainly an issue of government funding and police training failures. Nonetheless, it was one of those ‘men walking dogs’ who found the body of Officer Valentine a little after eight in the morning…
“Hello?” said Derek Regis, who was more than a little spooked to have his morning stroll interrupted in such a manner. His Yorkshire terrier, Winston, stood still at his feet, sniffing the air and looking worried.
“Are you okay?” asked Derek, ever hopeful.
The corpse didn’t respond. It just lay there, oblivious to the dilemma Derek faced on reporting his find; he well knew that something like this would bring national publicity, and with three wives around the country, that wasn’t good news by any means.
“Crikey,” said Derek, his face flushed and mind racing. “What to do?”
The easiest thing would have been just to walk away and pretend this didn’t happen, but he wasn’t a man to shirk his responsibilities, and they were many - three wives, seven children, two grandchildren and three Yorkshire terriers, all called Winston. It was the dog’s fault, he suddenly realized. If it wasn’t for the dog’s toilet needs, he’d still be wrapped up in his warm bed with wife number two.
Winston lowered his ears and sulked.
At that moment, the corpse spasmed and let out a rattling sigh. Winston bounded away in fright and Derek nearly dropped his breakfast. He was a good ten leaps away himself when his senses reassured him that an injured policeman wasn’t half as newsworthy as a dead one. Heart bouncing in his chest, he hurried back to the officer and knelt at his side.
“Hey fella! Can you hear me?”
Valentine’s eyelids opened, revealing bloodshot, unfocussed eyes. He lifted his arm and grabbed on to Derek’s shoulder. “Help… me…”
“I’m here, don’t worry. Are you hurt?”
Valentine gulped and looked agitated. His grip on Derek’s shoulder tightened. “Shhh…” he said, rolling his eyes from side to side. “Maeglems!”
The officer’s arm dropped limply, and his head lolled to one side, eyes sliding shut. With relief, Derek saw he was still breathing, though not without some effort. He took off his coat and draped it over the policeman’s shoulders.
“I’m going to phone an ambulance. I’ll be right back!” said Derek, before lurching into a jog, his sizable midriff wobbling out of sync with the rest of his body. Winston raced from the bushes he’d taken refuge in, and fell into step along side his master, yapping at the excitement of it all.
The jog had turned into an urgent walk by the time he cleared the woods, and he reached the phone at the bottom of Cairn Close in a state of utter exhaustion. His face was almost as red as the old telephone box the local residents had successfully petitioned to save years back, which he cursed now as the tight spring arm on the door resisted the urgency of his pull – something ‘popped’ in his shoulder and he cried out in pain. It took a moment to think past it, then he changed arms, pulling the door more patiently this time, until it gave enough for him to squeeze inside.
“You’ve got to be kidding me?” said Derek as he picked up the handset, to find the lead which should have been attached to it was hanging from the side of the console. “I’ll swing for those bloody kids!”
He replaced the handset and went outside, then wandered up the crescent to look for signs of life. Winston trotted behind him.
Derek rapped on the door of the first house he found with open curtains. His anticipation turned to annoyance as the seconds ticked by, until he realised it was old Mrs. Arnold’s house… he’d seen her last week, sort of, when the Hearse she was traveling in made a stop outside the pub for one last half of Guinness.
Hopping over the hedge to the next house, he knocked hard on the living-room window as he passed, then again on the front door.
Winston yelped, unable to jump so high, then growled to himself as he was forced to take the long way round. As he pushed the gate, into the garden, the bathroom window directly above Derek opened abruptly and an even more abrupt head poked through.
“What the..?” said the head, which belonged to Sammy Crabtree, or ‘Crabby Samtree’ to those who had no intention of being his friend. He was wiping shaving foam from under his chin with a flannel. “Can you knock a bit harder next time?”
“Call an ambulance,” shouted Derek.
“What?” said Sammy. “Why?”
“Just send it to Three Corner Woods, pronto,” said Derek, making his way out of the garden. “And call the police, too!”
“Why?” asked Sammy again; intrigued now, rather than annoyed.
“That new copper…” puffed Derek, over his shoulder, as he started back towards the woods, “… looks like someone’s had a go… he’s bad.”
“Heavens,” said Sammy. He watched the fat man and his dog waddle off down the street, then pulled the window shut and went to make the telephone call.
* * * * *
Chris woke with a start, sat up in his bed and looked around the caravan. Pox was lying fast asleep on the chair. Nothing out of the ordinary. Everything was silent, except for the twittering of birds from outside. He scratched his beard, wondering what it was that had taken him from his dreams: one moment, he’d been exchanging hilarious anecdotes with a beautiful young French girl; the next, she was opening fire with a machine gun… and then he was back here, surprised and confused, and in need of a cup of coffee.
He pulled on his trousers and stood up, still with the creepy feeling that things weren’t quite right. Pox raised an eyelid to check what was going on, then closed it with a sigh and went back to sleep.
Lighting the gas jet, Chris put the filled kettle on to boil. He put the coffee, sugar and milk in his mug, then opened the curtains to let the morning in. It was half past eight, just gone. Young Barry was due at nine.
Chris jumped at the loud banging.
He took a moment to allow his heart to find its normal rhythm again, then unlocked and pushed open the caravan door.
“Good morning!” chirped Barry.
“Speak of the devil… and who should appear?” said Chris, catching his breath.
“Mr. Wise?” began Chris, “Are you planning on a vocation in the business of repossession?”
Chris shook his head, then smiled. “Never mind. Do come in.”
“Thanks,” said Barry, stepping up into the caravan. “Hey, there are police cars and an ambulance parked near the woods. What do you think has happened?”
“Yeah, do you think somebody’s been murdered?” grinned Barry.
“I do hope not,” said Chris. He picked up Pox and transferred him to the bed, still sleeping, then gestured for Barry to sit. “Killing is a terrible, terrible thing. Not to be enthused about.”
“Oh, well… I was only saying.”
“That you were.”
Barry sat down in the chair as Chris prepared another mug. “So, what do you think has happened?”
“I really wouldn’t know,” said Chris, as the kettle began to whistle.
“But we’ll still be able to find my key?”
Chris poured the boiling water into both mugs, stirred them and handed one to Barry. “I’m sure we will. Oh, and the vicar has a metal-detector, so I’ll ask him for a short loan of it, I think. That should make our job some easier, yes?”
“Great!” said Barry. “I’ll have to be home by noon, though, with the key, or I’m in poop park without a scooper.”
Chris chuckled and swigged on his coffee. “You’re a funny boy.”
“So, did that policeman turn up at your house?”
“Nope,” said Barry, before blowing on the surface of his drink. “And nobody even knocked on the door, or I would have heard.”
“That makes me curious. Why would he check here and not there?”
“Maybe he checked before? I don’t care, really. I’m glad he didn’t, or I’d probably get sent to the asylum.”
“Yep. Mother said so. That’s why I mustn’t answer the door to anyone when she’s out, or they’ll take me away.”
Chris stared in disbelief. “Young boys don’t get sent to any asylums because their parents abandon them, Barry.”
“Pff… I’m not abandoned. And yes they do, anyway. There was a boy from town who was sent to an asylum last year. He answered the door to a stranger and that’s what happened to him. Don’t you read the newspapers?”
“Oh, I do recall reading something like that. But I seem to remember that it was a truant officer who knocked on his door, and the lad attacked him with a lump hammer. And he was sent to a Young Offender’s Institute, not an asylum. It’s not quite the same. Your mother should stop scaring you like that, the rotten thing.”
“Don’t call my Mother rotten!”
Chris poked out his tongue and smiled.
“Okay, then she’s a mischief. She shouldn’t be saying to you about asylums or laboratories when it’s her who’s in the wrong for leaving you alone like that. It’s true that she could get in a lot of trouble, but you, my boy, would not. You’d probably be put with some family who would look after you better.”
“I don’t want that! You’d better not tell anyone, either, or I’ll… I’ll get you.” Barry raised an accusing finger and pointed it like a pistol.
“Hehe. You do have some spirit, young Mr. Wise. I’m not sure I’d like to be on the wrong side of you again, so you have my word as a gentleman – I won’t tell anyone.”
Barry drank his coffee and the look in his eyes cleared of suspicion. “Does the vicar like you? Will he lend you the metal-detector?”
“Ah, he’s a nice fella. I do some weeding and whatnot in the grave-yard now and again, to say thank you for him letting me stay on the church land and he sometimes pops round for coffee and a game of cards. I’m sure he’ll have no objections to lending it.”
“Ace. I’ve always wanted a metal-detector. Can I have a go?”
“Of course,” said Chris, finishing his coffee. He took the empty mug from Barry and set them in the sink, then moved to the door.
Barry shivered, looking at the mugs. “Aren’t you going to wash them?”
Chris looked around. “Um, when I come back, aye.”
“That’s grotty. I’ll wash them for you?”
Chris gave a look of concern. “You’re a strange one. I’ll wash them up later, or do you want us to waste more minutes that we could be using to get that key of yours?”
“I suppose not. I just don’t like mess.”
“It will be a mess to clear up later. Don’t you trouble yourself over it.”
“But Mother says…”
“That people who don’t wash their cups and plates get sent to the abbotoir?” said Chris, with a wink.
Barry slit his eyes. “No. She says that we should always tidy up after ourselves.”
Chris opened the door and stepped outside into the cool morning air. “Good point, but we have more important things to do right now, don’t you agree?”
“Then come along. Let me go see the vicar, and let’s find that confounded key.”
* * * * *
The ambulance arrived a few minutes before the police, and a reporter from the local paper followed a short while later, with a photographer in tow. After leading the paramedics to his find, Derek had tried to make an exit, but one of the police officers asked him to stick around for some questions. There was quite a swarm of excitement now, with a scenes-of-crime team foraging around in the undergrowth for any evidence, and even the Chief Constable had made an appearance. The woods had been cordoned off and a group of villagers were gathered, trying to look through the trees for a glimpse of strewn body parts, but the injured officer had already been taken away, lights flashing, to the hospital.
“Right, er, Mr. Regis..?” said the young policeman, who looked like he might have to start shaving soon. He had his notebook out, pen poised.
Derek noticed the reporter point across to him and his photographer companion lifted his camera, so he took a step to his side, putting the policeman in the line of fire.
“Mr. Regis?” said the policeman again. “Are you okay?”
“I'm fine,” said Derek, rubbing his shoulder. “Can we hurry up please? My wife will be frantic.”
“I just need to get a few more details from you. Shouldn't take a minute.”
The photographer was skirting around the cordon tape, to set up a better shot. Derek grimaced, a sick feeling rising in his stomach.
“Did you see anything unusual this morning, before you found PC Valentine?” asked the policeman. “Anybody else in or around the woods?”
“Did PC Valentine give you any indication who attacked him?”
“No,” said Derek, aware of the photographer edging closer. "I think I might have left the cooker on."
“Huh?” said the policeman, looking up from his notebook.
“I really need to use the toilet.”
“Are you okay, Mr. Regis?” said the officer, with concern. “Maybe we should get you checked out by a doctor?”
“You seem a little disturbed. I'm sure things have been upsetting for you.”
“Is he supposed to be there?” said Derek, pointing out the photographer, who had crossed over the yellow tape.
The policeman looked around. “Hiya, Dave,” he said. “What are you doing sneaking up on us? Anything I can do for you?”
“Just wondered if I could get a photo of your man there?”
“No,” said Derek, putting his hand up against his face. “I'm very sensitive to flashes. I'm think I’m epileptic.”
“No worries,” said the photographer. “There's enough light.”
“I'd really prefer not to...”
“Give the guy a break, Dave,” said the policeman.
“Just a quick snap? I heard you're a lifesaver.”
“I didn't do anything. I just took the bloody dog for a walk.”
Winston cocked an ear and whined.
“Well,” said the photographer, “that's not what I heard. You're quite a hero, you know?”
“A hero? Nonsense,” said Derek.
“Well, that's big of you. Just one…”
“Bigamy?” shouted Derek, his cheeks crimson. “That's a damn lie!”
The photographer raised his eyebrows and took a step back, quickly lifting the camera to take Derek's picture.
“No!” shrieked Derek, reaching for the camera, just before he clutched his chest and fell to the ground.
* * * * *
The doctor opened one of Valentine’s eyes with his thumb and forefinger and shone a sharp beam of light into the pupil. The patient’s face grimaced and his iris tightened, but he remained unconscious.
Doctor Taylor replaced the penlight to his breast pocket and turned to Detective Inspector Harris with a shrug of his shoulders. “He seems okay, physically. His body temperature is beginning to return to normal and there are no external injuries other than a few scratches and some bruising. His X-rays are clear; nothing broken and no bleeding.”
DI Harris’s face was tight. “How long before he can talk to us?”
“That’s a toughie,” replied the Doctor. “He’s had a shock to the system. The hypothermia isn’t serious, but it can take it out of a guy. Just have to play it by ear. I’d be surprised if he’s not up and about by this evening, though.”
Banks covered his mouth with the palm of one hand and thought hard.
“I’ve got to get on,” excused the Doctor.
“Right,” said Harris, snapping out of his deliberations. “Thanks.”
Doctor Taylor left the cubicle with a swish of curtain and, immediately, Detective Constable Bragg entered. He looked at the patient, then to his superior. “Valentine was looking into the disappearance of a young lad by the name of Barry Wise before he finished his shift last night. Couldn’t locate him. He said he was going to check the boy’s house and last location – the woods he was found in - before he headed home himself. If he didn’t live in the constabulary house, we would have known he was missing earlier. ”
Bragg looked down at the deathly pale Valentine, wrapped up like a turkey in a silver, thermal blanket. “Going to pull through?”
“It seems so.”
“Any idea what happened?”
Harris blinked, then put on his overcoat. “I’m going to see what forensics have. I need you to go to that boy’s house – find out if he’s turned up yet.”
* * * * *
Barry swept the metal detector from side to side, just as Chris had shown him, but he was increasingly frustrated that it didn’t bleep.
“Are you sure this stupid thing is working?” he said, shaking it a little.
“It’s fine,” said Chris, scanning the ground with his eyes.
“I don’t think it is. I think it’s broken.”
“Look,” said Chris, taking his own keys from his pocket and dropping them in the undergrowth. “See if you can find them?”
Barry moved the head of the metal-detector over the spot where the keys fell and, immediately, there came a high-pitched squeal, like guineapigs mating.
Chris leant down and recovered his keys. “See? It works. Now we just have to find the place where you dropped yours, and we’re in business.”
Barry sniffed and surveyed the woods. It all looked the same. Each large tree seemed familiar and promising, but each one he searched brought further disappointment as the metal-detector failed to react. To make matters worse, they were getting closer and closer to the police cordon.
“I wish they’d go away,” said Barry, nodding to the two remaining police officers who were guarding the perimeter line of yellow tape, further into the woods.
Chris followed his gaze. “Don’t concern yourself with them, Barry. There are a lot more trees outside that tape than in.”
“But what if the key is inside? What do we do then?”
“We’ll cross that bridge if and when we come to it. There’s no need to panic.”
“Yes there is!” said Barry, checking his watch. “It’s nearly eleven o’clock now. I’ve only got an hour before I have to be at home, and I have to have my key.”
“Then we should concentrate on looking, not worrying. Do you want me to take over for a little while?” said Chris, putting his hand out for the metal-detector.
Barry moved it from his reach. “No, I can do it.”
“Okay, then. Now, let’s think again where you would have been last night?”
* * * * *
There seemed to be nobody at home when DC Bragg knocked on the front door of the Wise residence. He walked around the side of the semi-detached house, down a path overgrown with a thick, twisting thorn bush. An angry branch clawed against his trousers, cutting into his thigh. With a toothy hiss, he gingerly pulled the branch to free himself from the shark teeth of the plant. As it sprang back, he noticed a short length of ripped cloth hanging from the thorns. The frayed fabric on the edges was white and clean; it was recently torn. With a tease, he pulled at the rag and placed it in one of the small plastic envelopes he always kept about himself, then he put the envelope in his pocket and carried on down the path.
The back door was locked tight. He knocked, but again there was no response. Peering through the kitchen window, all he saw was a dim emptiness and absence of life.
Of interest, though, was the window itself. The white, wooden framework held a depression he’d seen often. Flecks of paint had cracked, showing a slight splintering of the timber beneath, and the pale yellow wood was freshly exposed. Pressing his fingers against the underside of the frame, he pulled. The window juddered open.
Pulling it wide, he leant into the kitchen and listened. Not a sound.
“Hello? Police!” he shouted. “Is there anyone in there?”
Nothing but silence.
Withdrawing, he took his mobile phone from his jacket pocket and phoned the station. The call was answered almost immediately.
“Simon? Tom here. This spate of burglaries... have a check if 14 Willow Way is on the list, will you? Got signs of a break in.”
Bragg rested the mobile between his shoulder and ear, retrieving the rag in the bag. He held the envelope up, inspecting the cloth carefully.
“No?” he said into the phone, frowned in thought. “You want to send a scenes-of-crime down here anyway? It’s new. Looks like someone’s forced entry with a screwdriver. Could be some dabs. It’s that missing kid’s home. Yeah. I’ll hang around until he gets here. Send a uniform too? I need to be getting on. Right. Catch you later.”
As he looked down to end the call, he saw something else. Kneeling, he brushed back a clump of dandylion leaves growing under the window. The concrete had crumbled around the kitchen drain, filling with mud, and imprinted in the mud was a footprint – the toe of a boot.
(To be continued...)