The horror started up again as the snowdrops were pushing their way out of the hard earth and endless gray days started to be punctuated by cold, blue ones. As Valentine’s Day cards were being binned and card shops switched their attention to Mother’s Day.
In his cramped, untidy office, Inspector Jack Kernow was finishing off his packed lunch an hour earlier than he’d planned. He was on a diet. This time with some degree of success. It was seven weeks since New Year and he was delighted to have lost 10 pounds. Not that anyone else seemed to have noticed. Normally, he’d have waited stoically until one o’clock before opening the small Tupperware lunch box, were it’s not for the fact that he just taken a phone call from his ex-wife, the formidable Gillian, now living with an plastic surgeon in Lancashire, to tell him that she’d miscarried again and it was his fault. His abject failure to see the logic of this was, apparently, one of the reasons why she’d left him. Not the only one as she still regularly reminded him.
Kernow held the phone to his ear furrowed his brow, sighed and closed his eyes in weary resignation.
He nervously cleared his throat remembering, too late, that it was one of the many things that irritated her.
“Look, I don’t see what it’s got to do with me, that’s all I’m saying.”
He heard her give an exasperated sigh and then there was a crackle in his ear piece as she put her hand over her phone. Not firmly enough as he heard the muffled sound of, “”Bye, darling. See you tonight. Love you.”
She spoke again, ”You still there?”
Kernow licked his lips which had gone dry.
“Yes. Look, I don’t see what it’s got to do with me, that’s all I’m saying..
” Hah ! Well, you wouldn’t, would you?”
“You never wanted us to have kids and now…”
“And now, I’m too old, that’s what and it’s all your bloody fault, you wanker. It’s always about you, isn’t it? Always you. Well, you can just fuck off, you selfish bastard.”
The phone went dead.
He sat there for a few minutes, staring vacantly out into the street below. Shoppers well wrapped up against the cold, going about their business. A lot of kids, he noticed. At this time of morning? Ah, no, half term, wasn’t it?
His own kids, from a previous marriage had grown up and left home. The boy was a chemist in Birmingham, his daughter still at University.
It had begun to cloud over and a shower of hailstone clattered against the windowpanes.
The door to his office opened, after a short knock.
“Would you like a brew, sir?”
Detective Sgt. Penny Fischer, on secondment from Lincolnshire Constabulary and eager, on only her second day, to keep on the guvnor’s good side.
Ambitious, he thought but not offensively so. Young. A whole career ahead of her. Bit of flesh on her too. Most of the ones that turned up these days looked as though they’d stepped out of a TV series.
In the street below, he watched a builders van reverse into a motorbike, knocking it over like a scene in a silent movie.
He turned towards the door, “Sorry?”
She smiled, “Tea, coffee?”
“No chance of a Scotch, I suppose?”
“Funny you should say that, sir. We are right out.”
“Ah, well. In that case, it’ll have to be coffee. Black. That means no milk.”
Fischer gave him a steady look and waited.
“It’s because every time I go in a bloody coffee shop these days, you need a degree in Italian to read the bloody menu and when I ask for a small black Americano, as they’ve taught me to say, whatever spotty student they have on duty says, ever so brightly, “With milk?”
Fischer nodded and shut the door quickly.
Kernow slumped back in his chair, reach below his desk and found the old plastic supermarket shopping bag in which he always brought his lunch. Lying open on his desk, was a copy of the Times newspaper, open at an article on the football pages that he’d been reading before the ex. called. The writer of the article was arguing that football strikers score fewer goals in the winter months than they do at the beginning and the end of the season.
Bit like crime he thought, apart from Christmas when, unlike football, the strike rate went up, a regular feature of the season of goodwill when families sometimes couldn’t stand the sight of each other. All the domestic stuff generally blew over as the New Year dawned. Sometimes it was ugly, generally not. Not like the other thing. Not like last summer. What did the press called him “Jock the Ripper.” ?
“Jock the bloody ripper!!!” Very original. Lazy bastards.
And why? Because one of the local barflies was convinced she’d heard a stranger with a Scottish accent in the bar a few hours before it happened. With the place swarming with holidaymakers, it could’ve been anyone. Besides, the barfly was generally too pissed by lunchtime to be able to remember anything.
His phone rang again.
“That’ll be the lovely Gillian,” he thought, “my number one admirer.”
There was a quick knock on the door and Fisher came in with a mug of coffee. Kernow put his hand over the phone’s mouthpiece, aware of the male voice saying something in his ear. He nodded his head in the direction of his desk for Fischer to put the mug down.
“Sorry,” she whispered, gesturing towards the phone.
He nodded his head as she backed away from the desk, glanced down at the coffee and saw that it was white.
“Sorry. Someone just came in the room. Who is this?”
A strong Cornish accent, “It’s me, Detective Sgt. Renals, sir. Bad news, I’m afraid.”
Kernow could hear the sound of machinery screeching in the background.
He could feel a tightening in his stomach. “Go on.”
“In the woods, sir. Idless, Forestry Commission land. Dog walker found it. Him, I mean.”
“Forensics has just arrived, sir. The dog found what was left of him…”
“I’m on my way.”
He reached for the coffee, decided not to and grabbed his coat from the back of his chair.
The door opened quickly.
“Black coffee doesn’t usually come with milk, Fischer. You work in a coffee shop, or what? Did you have a good breakfast?
“Sorry sir. Yes, sir, why, sir?”
“Get your coat and come with me, you might wish you hadn’t.”