Inspired by the following Decamot items:
scissors, sailing boat, Mark, apartment block, rook, tea bag, palm tree, paper, activist, Jurassic coast
The first indication that there might be a problem at the upmarket apartment block on the West Bay quayside came with a tentative telephone call to Bridport Police Station, from a resident who would have preferred to remain anonymous. PC Mark Bailey took the call on his way back from the canteen, as the regular receptionist was outside on one of her frequent ciggy breaks.
“I haven’t seen the young man at 16 for a while” explained the anonymous caller “but there is a pint of milk by his front door which I think has been there for at least two weeks”
“Have you knocked on the door?” asked PC Bailey
“No – I didn’t want to seem nosey. There could be a simple explanation of course but at a Neighbourhood Watch meeting recently, we were encouraged to report any unusual event”
“Quite right sir you’ve done the right thing. Do you know the occupant?” enquired PC Bailey innocently
“Only to nod to when coming and going from the building – he’s a young man in his early twenties; he has a sailing boat moored in the harbour, but, come to think of it, I haven’t seen that for a while either”
PC Bailey put down the tray he had been carrying, tucked the phone between his ear and his left shoulder, took a hot tea bag out of an enamel mug but carried on the conversation whilst adding milk to taste
“What sort of bloke are we talking about?” he asked
“He’s about 25 I would say and likes to wear T shirts with ER emblazoned on the front. He might be some kind of activist I suppose but he is always polite”
“ER you say?” replied PC Bailey as he added sugar with a giant ladle to his favourite brew of ‘PG Tips and a dash’. “Extinction Rebellion” or a ‘Royalist’ perhaps, what do you think caller?” he asked rather smugly.
“I’ve no idea” replied the caller, beginning to sound a little impatient “I didn’t know they were mutually exclusive! Look ……. I’m sorry to have bothered you. You are clearly busy with more important matters”
PC Mark Bailey quickly grabbed the initiative back as visions of a PR disaster flashed across his thoughts. He sensed he was dealing with a superior intellect at the other end of the line, possibly even a Cappuccino aficionado or one of those weirdos who regarded PG Tips as a racist brand for having exploited chimps in their advertising campaigns.
“Not at all sir you have done the right thing.” he spluttered, “I will meet you there in 15 minutes and we’ll take a quick look. Quay West Apartments you say? Very smart, it’s the block with a Palm tree in the courtyard as I recall”
“That’s right” replied the caller, momentarily caught off guard by this unexpected offer of professional assistance. “My name is Bob Smart. I will see you at the entrance to the main building”
Smart turned out to be a slim, neatly dressed individual of about 5ft 8 inches in height, with distinctive curly brown hair and overly large horn-rimmed spectacles. PC Bailey thought he was probably in his mid-fifties. He wore a nondescript grey suit over a creme shirt and a regimental tie. It was no surprise when he told PC Bailey that he had taken early retirement from Barclays Bank and was now working from home as a lifestyle consultant.
PC Bailey did wonder how many clients would feel motivated to model themselves on Bob Smart but kept the opinion to himself.
As they made their way up to the fourth floor, Bob Smart made an effort to break the ice having felt slightly guilty at his flippant response to Bailey’s earlier reference to Royalty on the telephone.
“I wouldn’t want you to think I was a Republican” he offered by way of apology “After all, they believe that Elizabeth should lose her Regina”
PC Bailey looked a little perplexed but, anxious to keep on side, replied “I thought she already had”
They found themselves outside the door to number 16 before either could pursue the conversation.
“Ah” said Bob Smart “Soya milk – that might explain a thing or two”
“How so?” said PC Bailey, who was peering through the letter box trying to make out something he could see hanging on a wall just beyond the entrance hall
“It’s the latest manifestation of extreme Veganism,” replied Smart “fanatical followers are obsessed with only eating plant-based food although I could give you ten reasons for never drinking this stuff” he said holding up the bottle between his thumb and forefinger and wrinkling his nose in disapproval.
“Is that so” murmured PC Bailey vaguely as he screwed up his eyes in an attempt to get a better focus. “What lies beyond this inner hall Mr Smart?”
“The apartments have two bedrooms off the main hall plus a bathroom and a door which would be on the left leading to a spacious open plan lounge/dining area and kitchen.” He explained. “It is a mirror image of mine there being four apartments per floor”
“Ah!” responded PC Bailey “I think I can see a mirror on the wall of the bedroom which is reflecting something hanging on the wall of the lounge – take a look Mr Smart” he said stepping to one side.
Smart confirmed Bailey’s view but couldn’t really understand the Constable’s mounting interest in what he thought he could see and was mightily surprised when Bailey promptly opened the front door, using a little bunch of assorted locksmith’s improvised keys. Smart was even more astonished at what they found in the lounge.
Dominating one wall was an enlarged map of the Jurassic Coast showing the three basic periods of rock evolution over 250 million years; Triassic in brown, Jurassic in blue and cretaceous in green. Pinned to the top of the wall was an enlarged photo of an attractive looking female which had been cut out of a newspaper or magazine.
Three pieces of thin string, one red. one white. and one blue, had been pinned to the picture then stretched down and attached to three separate points on the coastal footpath, a bit like the opening attempts at a patriotic spider’s web.
On a free-standing decorator’s table in the centre of the room was an assortment of items, including a pair of scissors and three 12 bore shotgun cartridges. A double-barrelled shot gun was resting against the railing of the balcony which was accessed via full length sliding doors from the lounge.
The views were truly spectacular. Bailey and Smart stood in silence for several minutes looking into the distance, unable or reluctant to offer a rational explanation.
PC Mark Bailey attempted levity. “I cant imagine the shot gun was for picking off the odd passing rook do you?”
“Agreed” replied Bob Smart nervously “But I’m more interested in those cross marks on the coastal path, which is only a mile or so from here, as a surviving rook might fly. Each has a detailed OS map reference next to it. My fear is that we will find a third of that young lady buried at each spot”
“Lets not jump to conclusions!” insisted PC Bailey “Don’t touch anything Mr Smart whilst I get in touch with HQ. This is obviously a job for CID”
Detective Sergeant Alan Williams sat opposite Dr Oliver Hardy in his study, having arranged an appointment half an hour earlier.
“I’m sorry to spring this on you Dr Hardy, but have you heard from your son William recently?”
“Not for a couple of months – is he alright – not in any trouble I hope? He sometimes disappears for a month or two on Bowerbird; that’s his boat which he keeps down at Quay West. We have an apartment there where you can usually find him most days”
“When was the last time you visited the apartment?” asked DS Williams
Dr Hardy thought for a moment and reached for his diary before replying
“Six weeks ago” he said “My wife and I went there for a meal to celebrate his graduation from Southampton University. He managed a first in Social Sciences. He had invited one of his tutors to make up a foursome, a Professor Helen Royal. I have to say she was quite a stunner”
Before D.S. Williams could respond, the interview was interrupted by the arrival of Maggie Hardy, a smart looking woman in her fifties who could easily have been a local magistrate but was actually a volunteer who attended court as part of a team who escorted newly accused individuals to help them cope with the experience of being in court for the first time.
“Hello Darling – this is Detective Sergeant Williams of Bridport CID. He is asking about the whereabouts of our son William. I’ve just confirmed that the last time we visited Quay West was for William’s special graduation meal.”
DS Williams and Maggie Hardy recognised each other immediately and laughed.
“Sorry Maggie but this is all a bit embarrassing” said DS Williams
“What’s William been up to now?” she replied “He’s always wanted to be a policeman, but I persuaded him – sorry Oliver” she said glancing at her husband “WE - persuaded him to go to university first”
Dr Hardy took up the narrative
“That’s right. The problem is he thinks police work is like it’s depicted on television. His addiction to watching TV detectives started with Inspector Morse but really became an obsession with Silent Witness and the American series CSI when the action focusses on scientific analysis of the crime scene in the pursuit of serious psychopaths. He even embraced Nordic noir with enthusiasm, much to the chagrin of his archaeological tutor whose speciality was the Jurassic coast which is right on our doorstep”
“Is this her by any chance?” said DS Williams handing over a copy of the photo taken off the wall at no 16.
“Yes that’s her” said Maggie. “Lovely girl, we met her at William’s dinner party”
DS Williams shuffled uncomfortably in his seat, not quite sure how to proceed without offending his friend Maggie or her husband who he knew to be a leading criminal psychologist; not that Bridport CID had ever had a case sufficiently serious to refer to him … until now.
Neither Professor Helen Royal nor William Hardy responded to mobile calls although both offered callers the opportunity to leave messages without any indication of where they might be or when they might return. There was no suggestion they were even together.
As far as Bridport CID was concerned, no crime had been committed if you excluded the unauthorised entry to 16 Quay West Apartments by PC Mark Bailey, so DS Alan Williams took the risk of ridicule by inviting Dr Oliver Hardy and Maggie to inspect the scene for themselves.
All three were joined by PC Mark Bailey and Bob Smart and were now in the lounge which had been left more or less untouched except that the three shot gun cartridges had been sent to forensic at the suggestion of Bob Smart who was quietly confident that he had stumbled on an incident of some importance.
Dr Oliver Hardy surveyed the scene with professional intensity before breaking into a smile bordering on a licentious smirk which even hinted at hysterical laughter. He then invited those present to make themselves comfortable whilst he articulated a possible explanation of the situation as he saw it.
“This has all the hallmarks of a human version of the Bowerbird technique. Think of this room as the bower. The female is attracted here with objects which the male knows is irresistible to her. In this case an obsession with archaeology and the Jurassic Coastline in particular. He then puts on a demonstration of his physical prowess designed to mesmerise her. I suspect that the male in this case wanted to link his passionate beliefs in Veganism with those of the female, to show that the two of them would make a perfect match before …. without putting too fine a point on it …. a coupling took place. The points on the map illustrate periods in history when man made significant advances in civilisation but at a cost to the environment as the vegan would see it, farming being just one catastrophic example.”
“Are you saying that that this was simply a successful seduction?” said Bob Smart, impressed with Dr Oliver Hardy’s lucid Poirot style summing up, “And not a prelude to an elaborate homicide attempt”
“I sincerely hope so” replied Dr Hardy “My son is a bit quirky in his beliefs, but I like to think he is otherwise a responsible human being”
At that very moment DS Williams’ mobile phone went off causing everyone to jump
“Yes?” he answered abruptly recognising the call sign of one of his colleagues.
He listened intensely with the occasional “are you sure?” or “are you joking?” or “I don’t believe it” and finally “thanks Susie, I’ll see what Dr Hardy makes of it all”
“That was forensic” he said addressing the room but Dr Hardy in particular. “they unscrewed the shot gun cartridges to analyse the contents. They found each contained a different powder. One was crushed corn flakes, another Weetabix and the third appeared to be a mix of grape nuts and coco pops”
Dr Hardy couldn’t contain himself any longer and laughed out loud.
“He is trying to get someone to focus on the concept of being a cereal killer” he explained. “It’s a bit weak I have to admit but let’s hope she appreciated the attempt.”
William Hardy and Professor Helen Royal entered into a civil partnership six months later when guests were invited to celebrate their union at a Vegan banquet held in a decorated barn near Stonehenge.
It was attended by 150 members of the happy couples’ friends and families, including one Bob Smart who was the original architect behind the strategy. William Hardy had responded to an advertisement placed by Bob seeking clients for his revolutionary new lifestyle consultancy.
Dr Oliver Hardy was able to persuade the Director of Public Prosecutions not to pursue a charge of breaking and entering against PC Mark Bailey.