writing: the first sentence:

First line:

I know the struggle between advice and your own idea can be like warfare when looking at a blank page.

“The first few words of any writing establishes the tone of the work and its narrative stance”………likely but no gaurantees

“The length of the first sentence is a good gauge of the authors style”…… pretty fair comment.

“The first sentence will hook the reader into the story”………………….ummmm!    It will encourage you to read-on but the first few paragraphs, maybe pages, are needed to convince the reader to stay loyal.    Anyway, writer’s formula or no, it is still the reader that makes the ultimate decision to continue…… or abandon at any stage……

“Readers:  Some you win, some you lose.”

For me the actual process of writing is a cross between having a starting point and an inkling of direction but no real address to end up at; or the opposite in having a final point of disclosure with an annoying twist at the end; but the who and how is a mystery.

The nub for me, start or finish, is a caught word or phrase eavesdropped, ideally from a stranger.   As characters emerge, their voices establishing who they are and indeed where they are enables a story to flow.  Like the proverbial story of a spring of water  finding its way to the sea; you may find attachments and sub-stories, information falling like rain and ideas flooding or suddenly soaking away into nothing.

The first enthusiasm of scratching paper should not be daunting or carved into stone.    This is where basic ideas, plots and characters start to fill the mind rather than just the page.  If complicated it may be time to consider an outline plot:  basic datelines and possibly a ‘hinge’ sentence that has established itself.  Draw a ‘mind-map’.    The noting of key characters and establishing names.   Names to me, like shoes to an actor, establish the character.  Not that the name conforms to a type or any of that old stuff but having a few key people sitting in your mind, on your shoulder, as you write about them builds their reality and it is you that have the important work of making them as alive to the reader as they are to you.

When do you actually write the ‘starting’ sentence that may define your work ?   The lines by which your work lives or dies?

Whenever you like!      But you have to consider it a hook to catch a reader’s interest.  I suppose it should be relevant to the storyline  and likely to resonate sooner rather than later; like a poem that has echoes throughout a series of stanzas, or the nail-biting end of a soap, to be continued; a chapter in the latest thriller or the now ubiquitous series of films.   People are mostly designed to want answers, look for patterns and signs.  It is authors that have the authority to provide those trails no matter what the subject.  To offer a footpath, small or otherwise, to the conclusion.    And that conclusion may well be inconclusive!

If you listen to different authors (actually I first used the word ‘writers’ but  ‘authors’ seems to raise the stakes a little!) who are widely published they will point out the way they start writing.; where research and plot take them and if they construct a chapter-plan or character-chart, or none.  The options are really as many as there are authors and what they offer is in fact proof that the ‘writer’ writes in their most effective manner.  Effective may well be the least efficient but practice and time usually builds technique.

So, are we any closer to a first sentence?     It may well be the last one you write……..in that particular genre/style/article/novel etc. etc……. not ever…….if you are a writer you will be unable to stop.        It is your responsibility to decide!

Ideally you will be your own editor and eventually find the right words for your work, be it short-story through to a never-ending saga, which will satisfy your belief in your work.   Length cannot be defined, nor words describe a style but confidence in yourself is required.

Of course you may be totally wrong!  Despite previous success/es, creative-courses or even text compilers(!!), only actual success and time will prove.   Read, re-read and edit, ask friends to comment but build on comment positively.

Once upon a time publisher’s editors would  “grammatise” and rewrite wherever required to enhance the book sales, unless the author was prestigious, grammatical or of James Joyce in style and status.  Today an author may be more averse to such alterations.   BUT, do listen to advice if offered.

That first sentence?  Assorted authors have said that to start writing you need a blank sheet of paper and to start writing a word:  and another and another.   It may not matter what the words are though perhaps they should be different.  Eventually your  ‘first sentence’ will appear.          If not?   That is another page and we will not accept it here.

This screed may not have helped very much except to proffer that it is you, the ‘author’, that has to make the final decision on that elusive snake: the first sentence.

 

Notes from Whittlestreet Crime Writer’s Circle

Murder for Whittlestreet

Jim, Tom, Dick and Harry.  That’s us, a motley crew of mid-life blokes with ambitions bigger than our brains, no doubt about it.  What annoys me as much as anything is that we all enjoy talking and pretending to be writing seriously but none of us seem to get anywhere.  Except Jim, ex-editor of a local paper and now retired with one crime novel published and another well on the way.  Mind you he has had the practice of writing fiction over the years, but maybe I exaggerate, a little.

I suppose that leaves the three of us.  What was the Famous Four has slipped down to the Threatened Three, at least where the Whittlestreet Crime Writers Circle is concerned.  Maybe the problem is that we still think we live in the Nineties, maybe even the Eighties or earlier in Jim’s case.  It used to be said, or was it just Thomas Hardy said: “the best writers write of their parents and grandparents generation”.   I am not convinced by that for today, it all seems to be high-tech and forensics now.  We are the DNA and Twitter generation, at least the kids are.  That’s me caught out again.  ‘KIds’ means anyone twenty years younger than me which leaves an awful lot of legroom from when I was a ‘kid’.  I am in the grandfather stage, just, and in the usual policeman’s lot of being divorced and driven to renting a small flat.  And still a year away from retiring.  That is unless the ‘cuts’ get me first.  The DCI calls it ‘natural wastage’.  Sounds like something you flush down the toilet.  Mind you, the new coppers have a head start on the job compared to what we had, what with their degrees in police law or forensics or sociology or some such.

They need it, I suppose.

“Let’s get this over with.  Up the stairs.  “Jim! I’m coming in, ready or not!”

He said he would be out most of the night on a ‘recce’ so might stay in bed all day to recover.  Silly bugger, at his age!  Though mid-seventies is neither here nor there, I suppose. But  whats he got buzzin in his head now, to be out all night for?  Probably only insomnia!  Why he should live in a town-house I hate to think.  One flight of stairs is enough but this second one is doing my knees in rotten.  I was a fool to offer to dig him out of his pit if he was still in it.   I have collected him before as he can’t  drive these days but this is the first time I have actually needed to kick him out of bed.  S’pose he did warn me when he gave me his key.”

I used the hand-rail to push myself up the last stairs, pondered leaning on the landing wall for a rest while I registered which of the three doors he would be snoring behind.

“Wakey Wakey,!”   I called out as I pushed the door on the right. Billy Cotton still has his uses, I was about to say to him.  No, not Billy Connolly!, COTTON, he had a ‘Bandshow’ on Sunday’s if I remember rightly, ‘Billy Cotton’s Bandshow’ they called it.

Jim was still in bed.  Exactly as I say.  ‘Still’ in bed.  Me shouting at him caused not a stir.  He may have been pretty blind with his cataracts but never deaf.  He lay there, flat on his back, head slightly to one side. In his pyjamas, one arm on his chest, the hand holding the two sides of the unbuttoned jacket together and the other arm outstretched almost in line with his shoulder, with that hand almost gripping an open book.

I feel my heart sink, you know that sudden skipabeat  that gets down into your stomach somehow?  I hadn’t noticed the smell until I got closer to him.  His body, Jim’s, as was. ”

*******I looked around, everyone was sombre, even the two school kids were taking it all in.********

“I have seen a few bodies over the years, assorted shapes and sizes and conditions, but this was unexpected and a friend.   His head was half on one pillow and there was another beside that, all plumped and with no companionable dent.  I watched where I put me feet and put my fingers to his throat.  No pulse and the skin wrinkled, collapsed-like but not stony cold, nor warm though.  His head looked a bit ruddy coloured, always did mind.  Thank goodness his eyes were closed.

I always nosed what other people read and looked over to the book.  It was the one he had kept nagging me to read.  Maybe he was the only one to read it, I know I didn’t get passed the first few pages.  He was on page 76. One of those times when you see more than you expect.  When time seems to stand still. Like watching an accident happen, just before the car hits you.  He was seventy five, that’s what I thought, never got past page seventy-six.”

“Was it his own book?  Sounds like it was.”   Said the librarian.

“No.  It was ‘Murder Made Rich'”

She got up from the little group of us sitting round in armchairs.  We were in the library and she went to the computer and tapped away. The tension was broken now and a wave of movement and murmuring to neighbours filled the change of pace.  A biscuit was taken from the plate and snapped.  Another stirred their now cold coffee and drank thoughtfully.  I just sat there.  I was used to crime and talking about it but this felt odd, just explaining how I found Jim, our most regular and questioning member.  He should be there asking for details, making notes or just doodling.  We left his chair there, seemed cruel not to offer him a seat.  Like the man who didn’t come to dinner or whatever it was.

“Found it,” said Marie at the computer, you could see her click and scroll the mouse, “Oh,” not an exclamation more an undertone of surprise.  She walked back to the collection of people called the Whittlestreet Crime Writers Circle.

“It was a book he wrote.  He must have written it ages ago when he was a reporter.  It seems he used a pseudonym then but if he was reading the new edition they have put his real name inside the back cover with his photo. The jacket front has the name he used but the biog. clearly states who he really is”. Slight hesitation, “Was.”

Amy raised her eyes from the tablet she always took notes on.  Or so she said. I don’t know if you can doodle on computers. “Have you got a copy?” She looked at Marie just before she sat.

Marie said, “I’ll look shall I?” and tried not to stalk as she walked to the fiction shelves.

It was passing the time, I thought.  Normally we have discussions on plots or planning or picking holes in someone’s writing.  Once or twice we have all read a dagger-winner’s latest book and dissected it.  The clues are all so blindingly obvious when you get to the end.  My role as a detective is rubbish when it is my turn to lead the group in discussions. I suppose that’s why I have meandered along in the burglary and street-crime division, or subs-desk, at our nick for all these years.

At least Amy sat without her head buried over that computer and waited patiently.  Nice looking girl, sorry woman, which am I supposed to say? Probably neither.   Black hair in a bob with an orange slice across one side. Large black button earrings, two in each lobe and some sort of loop through her nostril.  A bit heavy on the white make-up for me though it sort of suits her tough attitude and leathery clothes.

“Yes, we have a copy”, Marie waved it over our heads and placed it on the table.  Pristine in its shiny library plastic cover. “We should have two but it’s the only one on the shelf.”

Amy stood up and leaned over to scoop up the book from the low tables we sat round.  I wish she hadn’t because she sat opposite me and I couldn’t help but watch the cleavage move closer and away and settle down under her low-necked t-shirt.

She lifted her eyes, met my gaze, “what number page?”  Raised the book to ruffle to the page after I said,  “Erm, seventy-six”.  A little smile and she fingered through to find the page.

Seeing the book in her hands reminded me of the book under Jim’s hand.  I had to wait until a doctor arrived to certify the death.  All I did was let the dog out of the living room where he had been whining and all he did was run to his bed under the kitchen table.   The on-call doc arrived and did the business.  Confirmed there would have to be an autopsy and inquest, that it looked like heart attack but would not assume.   I picked the book up and placed it on his bedside table.  I just saw the title and that it was a library copy by one of those plastic slips over the jacket and it looked new. You could tell it was new because the plastic was still unmarked.  Remembering this brought the image to the forefront.  Not only was the cover very clean but when I put the book, closed, on the table-top I had noticed that the line of the pages from cover to cover was unbroken, unblemished.

I stared intently at Amy.  She had found the page and was reading.  When she looked up I could see that light of excitement in her eyes as she stated “I bet it was murder.”

I kept my eyes on her.  She continued, keeping a finger on the page, almost on the exact line where Jim’s finger had pointed to the name in his book.

“There’s a name on this page.  Seventy-six.”  She lowered her head and I wished we were alone so I could stop her.  I knew she was about to read it out. Shout it out.  “He says here, ‘the police suspected who it was but could never prove it was murder. It remains unsolved.'”  She looked at me again, her white face glinting with excitement now.  I believed I could see the slow swing of the nose loop.  Everything seemed magnified to me at that moment.  That finger pressed on that line, she continued reading, I almost dared her not to:

“From here on I prove the guilt of Richard Hardy.”

I could feel sweat oozing down the sides of my temple as she said my name.  Heads turned and I felt their eyes weighing me.  I tried to remain impassive.  I did remain impassive except for that sweat.

Amy shut the book with a snap. “There,” she almost whispered. “We have a real murderer in our little circle, haven’t we, Richard?”  She raised her eyes as solemnly as a judge, appraising me.

There was no way out, I had to explain. These were my friends. We had explored a lot of plots together.  This one was just a bit colder.

“Yes, I am Richard Hardy, I admit it.   However, in my defence that book was first published thirty years ago and the murder was committed in 1904.  I am not a hundred and twenty years old or anywhere near it.  And I was never a butler.  As far as I know there never has been a butler in our family.”  It was always the butler!  I half snorted. “Anyway, the autopsy on Jim eventually confirmed a chest infection probably weakened him and that a heart attack killed him.”

You could feel the humour spread back into that large room. I had one more thing to say.

“Remember we meet at noon tomorrow for Jim’s funeral.  Until tomorrow.  End of meeting”

I didn’t regret lying about the butler.

 

 

 

Whittlestreet meet again

Tom looked at Harry and back at me, “You’re a dick” and looked back at Harry.  Harry nodded as if in agreement but in reality it was an encouragement to continue, ” and us being two lowly uniformed knobheads, we thought we would ask your opinion.” He paused as if in anticipation of an agreement or denial. I really could not be bothered to ruin their running order of old jokes and waited with a hopefully impassive expression.

Unruffled at the exaggerated pause Harry continued, ” If someone reported the loss of an outboard motor from their boat should we report it to the river police or to the station?”

“Have they?”  I wondered if I was walking into a trap of some kind. Maybe a philosophical discussion on the merits and demerits of river versus land-based police forces.  We had previously spent days considering the communication difficulties between us and the Transport Police if a crime of some sort did, or didn’t, cross over into both our territories. Mainly because of the image of Transport Police always buggering around on trains or hanging around suspiciously at stations.

And before that it was Military Police.  None of us wanted to get involved  with M.Ps as we imagined them uptight and, well, military.  We had never met one so only had the usual preconceived  prejudices against them.  Nothing special, then.

“Yes”

“Where?”

“At the river.”

“Bald statement but short in information,”  I thought.  As a detective I liked to deal in facts, just the facts, ma’am.  As a writer I appreciated the succinct speech of characters which left a sense of mystery or foreboding.  A short sentence eventually leading to a difficult case, an almost miraculous solving with the hidden clues, unspotted by other detectives and of course leading to a long stretch for the culprits.  Preferably with only limited violence. It looks good on screen but I am not good at writing it, I go into such minute detail that even I get bored, or lost.

“Off a boat?” Not such a silly question after all.

“Yes but the boat was in the boat yard.  See my problem?”

“Not really. It will have to go to the station.” I paused for dramatic effect. “We don’t have river police this far inland. There is no port or sailing marina for miles. No tidal flow. For that matter the boar-yard is so small I am impressed it had a boat with an outboard, let alone an engine.”

Tom was a bit sheepish when he said, “It was a dinghy, not a boat. It was removed and the yard owner reported it missing. Plus a can of fuel.”  We had spoken all this on the corner of the street, almost outside the pub. In fact under the old lamp-post that was a remnant of 1930s’ street architecture but with its green paint weathered off leaving the grey undercoat on the ridges and thin strips of remnant green in the hollows.  And we stood, a group of raincoated, trilby hatted men with the heavy rain and the yellow glare from the light falling all around us.

From across the road, the mannequins in the shop windows would have seen us like a Hopper painting. I felt like it was a scene from Sin City but wetter.

“Keep walking!” I said under my breath.  Tom and Harry looked round suspiciously.

“Why?”

“I’m gettin’ bloody wet!”  They nodded understandingly and we all moved on.

As the author I have to say I didn’t know where this was going at the time but the mood was okay. Problem was that the theft of a small outboard motor, one of those tiny stick-insect types seemed a bit minimal for a full-blown crime saga-story.  I sat around in the office for a few days, went up the allotment, had a few beers, back home and some aspirin but couldn’t really be bothered to change tack (note: nautical term came naturally!) as I don’t re-write easily.  By that I mean that once I start I am liable to ramble and lose what basic plot and substance I had and find I have something totally different on my hands, as it were.  But back to the story:

After a few days of nothing happening, except a few beers up the allotment, away from the wife and a blinding headache after staring into that blasted lamp in the shed.  It might have been the paraffin smell from it rather than the light that did my head in. I did no writing, nor made any progress on the case.

After the weekend I went back to work and got the usual ribbing for having the good luck to have both a Saturday and Sunday off without any call-ins or punch-ups to go to.

“Had to live with a headache all weekend.”  I grouched over a coffee in the canteen.

“The wife was there then?”  Okay it was sexist but that happens in a semi-secret society.

“Actually, it was paraffin, the smell of.”  I parried the allusion.

“Cannabis, more like.”  That was Harry as he stood up to go back out on the beat.

I didn’t think it smelt anything like cannabis, in fact it would probably cover any smell for miles around, or at least quite a way.  Anyway I put my mug at the ‘collection point’  and went back to the office and my paper-strewn desk.  The afternoon was spent shuffling paper, shuffling reports and cross-checking statements. There must be a better way of passing the time, doing the work and re-typing reports. Even the telephone was mostly silent.  Just the one ring, I was desperate for an excuse to leave the paperwork. It was Tom, from his beat.  He was phoning from the garage. They had a cage for old parts waiting for the scrap-man to collect.  “That outboard motor is in it. Dumped. At least thats what Ron says. Ron’s the owner.”

“I’ll come round. Ten minutes.”

Ten minutes to the dot, I didn’t even need to hurry.   They had opened the cage and lifted it out and it was on the ground covered in sacking. It looked a morbid shape, the sacking, hiding what knows who, with a small stain soaking into the hessian where the head might be. The liquid seeped onto the concrete of the yard and soaked in darkly.

Tom stood over it, the garage owner, Ron, a few feet away.  Both heads looked to me as I came through the gate.

“We lifted it out on the sack. In case of finger prints, y’know.”  Said the garage owner. “And I didn’t  want me suit stained.”

“Have you identified it?” I had to ask. “Have you phoned the boatyard?”

“Yes, he’s going to ring the owner.”

I looked into the cage of lost and broken parts. It had bent and broken bumpers, their chrome shooting off elements of the sun where they weren’t rusted. “Small accidents that stopped waiting to happen.” I murmured to myself hoping to remember that line to use again sometime.  I also recognised the assorted pipes and bits of broken mufflers and a couple of crumpled wheels, un-tyred.

I looked around. Was it a crime scene or just the aftermath?   By my feet lay the sack-clothed ‘thing’, I didn’t need to look again, I knew what it was.  My eyes scanned the yard, at the piles of old tyres, the mobile ramp for emergencies and the dilapidated truck with its rusty hook dangling dangerously from the crane jib.  I hope they didn’t still use it on the road, it looked incapable of being driven let alone towing.

“Do you use that?”  I asked, nodding towards the truck that had the words ‘We Rescue You” fading on the side of the half-cabin like a side-show from the 1940s.  “Is it roadworthy?”

“We’re a garage ain’t we?”  The language didn’t fit with Ron’s suit. ” Matey took it out one night last week.”

“Can you get the driver here, please.”     The phone started to ring, the bell tones rattling round the yard from the loudspeakers placed strategically to annoy.  “Jees that’s loud.”

“So we can hear it.  I’ll send him out and get the phone while I’m there.”  He went into the service bay and sent an overalled man by pointing and waving at me and Tom, Tom and me. His mouth was shouting against the reverberations of the ringtone and his words were lost.

The man walked over, looking from one face to another. We two policemen, one in uniform and one in civvies.  I studied his features. Grey at the temples, a forehead nearly hidden by black hair that collapsed into eyebrows that were heroically sprouting in curls up into his fringe.  Ruddy complexion, nose a little redder than just spending time bending into engines, or outside in the weather. I thought.  He seemed a little hesitant in walking over but stopped within talking distance and looked down at the sad hessian monument at our feet.  I noticed he sidled away from us as he spoke. Getting nearer to the open gate, I suspected.

“What do you know about this?” I asked, kicking away the top layer of sacking. I didn’t want to get my hands sticky and stepped back. Tom took a step back and so did the man, all automatic responses to my shifting position.

“What about it?”

“I think you put this in there,” Pointing from the object and sweeping my hand in the direction of that cage.  “Trying to get rid of it, eh?” I kicked the hessian making sure I missed the liquid still seeping out.

“Yes” He admitted, almost non committaly, certainly with no sense of relief or injustice at being accused.

Tom moved a step nearer to the man anticipating a scuffle or at least having to put a hand on a shoulder to make an official arrest.

“How did you know it was me?” He asked with what I took to be a sense of defeat though it sounded more like surprised amusement.  People react in different ways.  Thank god that blasted phone had stopped ringing.

“Yes,” said Tom, what set you onto him?” Spoken as the Ron the garage owner came strolling across from the bay.

“It’s over there, by the front wheel of the tow-truck.” We all turned slowly.  I love this sort of quiet, efficient denouement, much better than inviting everyone to the equivalent of a tea-party in the vicar’s drawing room or wherever.  This was real-life, detective work in action.  The garage owner in his white chalk-striped charcoal suit reached our little group, stopped and turned with us to look at the small petrol can sitting on the ground by the truck.

“It’s too small to belong to the truck, or even the garage here.” I continued, ” They would use the big three gallon size at least. That one is very small, it could hold no more than one gallon. It is big enough to be stored on a small boat or dinghy. And it is red, like the one that went missing.”

I did that pause we all do at the critical point. “And it’s got the word ‘outboard’ painted on the side.”

I turned and stepped closer to the increasingly stained wet cloth and ground.  Accidentally put my toe-cap into the now blue/green/yellow and silver mosaic of evaporating liquid on the concrete and removed it again quickly.

“Yes,” said the man.

“Gotcha!” Said Tom and moved closer to the man and put an arresting hand on his shoulder.

“It’s his.” Shouted the garage owner as he got within six feet of us. ” That was the boatyard,  asked me to tell Clive that the police had found his outboard motor.  He’s Clive.”  We looked at Clive expectantly.

“I put it there!” Said Clive, brushing Toms hand off his shoulder. “It was busted so I picked it up from the boatyard last week when I was passing, late at night.   Knew it was rubbish so binned it in the cage when I got back here.   I kept the can because it still had some petrol in it. Emptied it into the truck and left it ’cause it was so late.” He kicked the outboard. “Then me and the wife went to our canal boat for the weekend. I use the dinghy for fishing but it needs caulking.”

Tom and I looked at each other. “Good, glad it’s all settled then. We’ll go back to the Yard and put it in the ‘Closed’ file.”    I offered a hand to the man in the suit and to the man we now knew as Clive. We shook hands all round and walked confidently away, without looking back.

“Shit” I stopped suddenly when we got to the other side of the road.

“What?” Said Tom, waiting for some sudden enlightenment.

“It’s Clive!  I’ve got grease all over my hand. Have you got a hanky?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tom looked at Harry and back at me, “You’re a dick” and looked back at Harry.  Harry nodded as if in agreement but in reality it was an encouragement to continue, ” and us being two lowly uniformed knobheads, we thought we would ask your opinion.” He paused as if in anticipation of an agreement or denial. I really could not be bothered to ruin their running order of old jokes and waited with a hopefully impassive expression.

 

Unruffled at the exaggerated pause Harry continued, ” If someone reported the loss of an outboard motor from their boat should we report it to the river police or to the station?”

 

“Have they?”  I wondered if I was walking into a trap of some kind. Maybe a philosophical discussion on the merits and demerits of river versus land-based police forces.  We had previously spent days considering the communication difficulties between us and the Transport Police if a crime of some sort did, or didn’t, cross over into both our territories. Mainly because of the image of Transport Police always buggering around on trains or hanging around suspiciously at stations.

And before that it was Military Police.  None of us wanted to get involved  with M.Ps as we imagined them uptight and, well, military.  We had never met one so only had the usual preconceived  prejudices against them.  Nothing special, then.

 

“Yes”

 

“Where?”

 

“At the river.”

 

“Bald statement but short in information,”  I thought.  As a detective I liked to deal in facts, just the facts, ma’am.  As a writer I appreciated the succinct speech of characters which left a sense of mystery or foreboding.  A short sentence eventually leading to a difficult case, an almost miraculous solving with the hidden clues, unspotted by other detectives and of course leading to a long stretch for the culprits.  Preferably with only limited violence. It looks good on screen but I am not good at writing it, I go into such minute detail that even I get bored, or lost.

 

“Off a boat?” Not such a silly question after all.

“Yes but the boat was in the boat yard.  See my problem?”

“Not really. It will have to go to the station.” I paused for dramatic effect. “We don’t have river police this far inland. There is no port or sailing marina for miles. No tidal flow. For that matter the boar-yard is so small I am impressed it had a boat with an outboard, let alone an engine.”

 

Tom was a bit sheepish when he said, “It was a dinghy, not a boat. It was removed and the yard owner reported it missing. Plus a can of fuel.”  We had spoken all this on the corner of the street, almost outside the pub. In fact under the old lamp-post that was a remnant of 1930s’ street architecture but with its green paint weathered off leaving the grey undercoat on the ridges and thin strips of remnant green in the hollows.  And we stood, a group of raincoated, trilby hatted men with the heavy rain and the yellow glare from the light falling all around us.

From across the road, the mannequins in the shop windows would have seen us like a Hopper painting. I felt like it was a scene from Sin City but wetter.

 

“Keep walking!” I said under my breath.  Tom and Harry looked round suspiciously.

“Why?”

“I’m gettin’ bloody wet!”  They nodded understandingly and we all moved on.

 

As the author I have to say I didn’t know where this was going at the time but the mood was okay. Problem was that the theft of a small outboard motor, one of those tiny stick-insect types seemed a bit minimal for a full-blown crime saga-story.  I sat around in the office for a few days, went up the allotment, had a few beers, back home and some aspirin but couldn’t really be bothered to change tack (note: nautical term came naturally!) as I don’t re-write easily.  By that I mean that once I start I am liable to ramble and lose what basic plot and substance I had and find I have something totally different on my hands, as it were.  But back to the story:

 

 

After a few days of nothing happening, except a few beers up the allotment, away from the wife and a blinding headache after staring into that blasted lamp in the shed.  It might have been the paraffin smell from it rather than the light that did my head in. I did no writing, nor made any progress on the case.

After the weekend I went back to work and got the usual ribbing for having the good luck to have both a Saturday and Sunday off without any call-ins or punch-ups to go to.

“Had to live with a headache all weekend.”  I grouched over a coffee in the canteen.

“The wife was there then?”  Okay it was sexist but that happens in a semi-secret society.

“Actually, it was paraffin, the smell of.”  I parried the allusion.

“Cannabis, more like.”  That was Harry as he stood up to go back out on the beat.

 

I didn’t think it smelt anything like cannabis, in fact it would probably cover any smell for miles around, or at least quite a way.  Anyway I put my mug at the ‘collection point’  and went back to the office and my paper-strewn desk.  The afternoon was spent shuffling paper, shuffling reports and cross-checking statements. There must be a better way of passing the time, doing the work and re-typing reports. Even the telephone was mostly silent.  Just the one ring, I was desperate for an excuse to leave the paperwork. It was Tom, from his beat.  He was phoning from the garage. They had a cage for old parts waiting for the scrap-man to collect.  “That outboard motor is in it. Dumped. At least thats what Ron says. Ron’s the owner.”

 

“I’ll come round. Ten minutes.”

 

Ten minutes to the dot, I didn’t even need to hurry.   They had opened the cage and lifted it out and it was on the ground covered in sacking. It looked a morbid shape, the sacking, hiding what knows who, with a small stain soaking into the hessian where the head might be. The liquid seeped onto the concrete of the yard and soaked in darkly.

 

Tom stood over it, the garage owner, Ron, a few feet away.  Both heads looked to me as I came through the gate.

“We lifted it out on the sack. In case of finger prints, y’know.”  Said the garage owner. “And I didn’t  want me suit stained.”

 

“Have you identified it?” I had to ask. “Have you phoned the boatyard?”

“Yes, he’s going to ring the owner.”

 

I looked into the cage of lost and broken parts. It had bent and broken bumpers, their chrome shooting off elements of the sun where they weren’t rusted. “Small accidents that stopped waiting to happen.” I murmured to myself hoping to remember that line to use again sometime.  I also recognised the assorted pipes and bits of broken mufflers and a couple of rusted wheels, un-tyred.

 

I looked around. Was it a crime scene or just the aftermath?   By my feet lay the sack-clothed ‘thing’, I didn’t need to look again, I knew what it was.  My eyes scanned the yard, at the piles of old tyres, the mobile ramp for emergencies and the dilapidated truck with its rusty hook dangling dangerously from the crane jib.  I hope they didn’t still use it on the road, it looked incapable of being driven let alone towing.

 

“Do you use that?”  I asked, nodding towards the truck that had the words ‘We Rescue You” fading on the side of the half-cabin like a side-show from the 1940s.  “Is it roadworthy?”

 

“We’re a garage ain’t we?”  The language didn’t fit with Ron’s suit. ” Matey took it out one night last week.”

 

“Can you get the driver here, please.”     The phone started to ring, the bell tones rattling round the yard from its loudspeakers.  “Jees that’s loud.”

“So we can hear it.  I’ll send him out and get the phone while I’m there.”  He went into the service bay and sent an overalled man by pointing and waving at me and Tom, Tom and me. His mouth was shouting against the reverberations of the ringtone so his words were lost.

 

The man walked over, looking from one face to another. We two policemen, one in uniform and one in civvies.  I studied his features. Grey at the temples, a forehead nearly hidden by black hair that collapsed into eyebrows that were heroically sprouting in curls up into his fringe.  Ruddy complexion, nose a little redder than just spending time bending into engines, or outside in the weather. I thought.  He seemed a little hesitant in walking over but stopped within talking distance and looked down at the sad hessian monument at our feet.  I noticed he sidled away from us as he spoke. Getting nearer to the open gate, I suspected.

 

“What do you know about this?” I asked, kicking away the top layer of sacking. I didn’t want to get my hands sticky and stepped back. Tom took a step back and so did the man, all automatic responses to my shifting position.

 

“What about it?”

 

“I think you put this in there,” Pointing from the object and sweeping my hand in the direction of that cage.  “Trying to get rid of it, eh?” I kicked the hessian making sure I missed the liquid still seeping out.

 

“Yes” He admitted, almost non committaly, certainly with no sense of relief or injustice at being accused.

Tom moved a step nearer to the man anticipating a scuffle or at least having to put a hand on a shoulder to make an official arrest.

“How did you know it was me?” He asked with what I took to be a sense of defeat though it sounded more like surprised amusement.  People react in different ways.  Thank god that blasted phone had stopped ringing.

“Yes,” said Tom, what set you onto him?” Spoken as the Ron the garage owner came strolling across from the bay.

 

“It’s over there, by the front wheel of the tow-truck.” We all turned slowly.  I love this sort of quiet, efficient denouement, much better than inviting everyone to the equivalent of a tea-party in the vicar’s drawing room or wherever.  This was real-life, detective work in action.  The garage owner in his white chalk-striped charcoal suit reached our little group, stopped and turned with us to look at the small petrol can sitting on the ground by the truck.

 

“It’s too small to belong to the truck, or even the garage here.” I continued, ” They would use the big three gallon size at least. That one is very small, it could hold no more than one gallon. It is big enough to be stored on a small boat or dinghy. And it is red, like the one that went missing.”

 

I did that pause we all do at the critical point. “And it’s got the word ‘outboard’ painted on the side.”

 

I turned and stepped closer to the increasingly stained wet cloth and ground.  Accidentally put my toe-cap into the now blue/green/yellow and silver mosaic of evaporating liquid on the concrete and removed it again quickly.

 

“Yes” said the man.

“Gotcha!” Said Tom and moved close to the man and put an arresting hand on his shoulder.

 

“It’s his.” Said the garage owner. ” That was the boatyard,  asked me to tell Clive that the police had found his outboard motor.  He’s Clive.”  We looked at Clive expectantly.

 

” I put it there!” Said Clive, brushing Toms hand off his shoulder. “It was busted so I picked it up from the boatyard last week when I was passing, late at night.   Knew it was rubbish so binned it in the cage when I got back here.   I kept the can because it still had some petrol in it. Emptied it into the truck and left it ’cause it was so late.” He kicked the outboard. “Then me and the wife went to our canal boat for the weekend. I use the dinghy for fishing but it needs caulking.”

 

Tom and I looked at each other. “Good, glad it’s all settled then. We’ll go back to the Yard and put it in the ‘Closed’ file.”    I offered a hand to the man in the suit and to the man we now knew as Clive. We shook hands all round and walked confidently away, without looking back.

 

“Shit” I stopped suddenly when we got to the other side of the road.

“What?” Said Tom, waiting for some sudden enlightenment.

“It’s Clive! I’ve got grease all over my hand. Have you got a hanky?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tom looked at Harry and back at me, “You’re a dick” and looked back at Harry.  Harry nodded as if in agreement but in reality it was an encouragement to continue, ” and us being two lowly uniformed knobheads, we thought we would ask your opinion.” He paused as if in anticipation of an agreement or denial. I really could not be bothered to ruin their running order of old jokes and waited with a hopefully impassive expression.

 

Unruffled at the exaggerated pause Harry continued, ” If someone reported the loss of an outboard motor from their boat should we report it to the river police or to the station?”

 

“Have they?”  I wondered if I was walking into a trap of some kind. Maybe a philosophical discussion on the merits and demerits of river versus land-based police forces.  We had previously spent days considering the communication difficulties between us and the Transport Police if a crime of some sort did, or didn’t, cross over into both our territories. Mainly because of the image of Transport Police always buggering around on trains or hanging around suspiciously at stations.

And before that it was Military Police.  None of us wanted to get involved  with M.Ps as we imagined them uptight and, well, military.  We had never met one so only had the usual preconceived  prejudices against them.  Nothing special, then.

 

“Yes”

 

“Where?”

 

“At the river.”

 

“Bald statement but short in information,”  I thought.  As a detective I liked to deal in facts, just the facts, ma’am.  As a writer I appreciated the succinct speech of characters which left a sense of mystery or foreboding.  A short sentence eventually leading to a difficult case, an almost miraculous solving with the hidden clues, unspotted by other detectives and of course leading to a long stretch for the culprits.  Preferably with only limited violence. It looks good on screen but I am not good at writing it, I go into such minute detail that even I get bored, or lost.

 

“Off a boat?” Not such a silly question after all.

“Yes but the boat was in the boat yard.  See my problem?”

“Not really. It will have to go to the station.” I paused for dramatic effect. “We don’t have river police this far inland. There is no port or sailing marina for miles. No tidal flow. For that matter the boar-yard is so small I am impressed it had a boat with an outboard, let alone an engine.”

 

Tom was a bit sheepish when he said, “It was a dinghy, not a boat. It was removed and the yard owner reported it missing. Plus a can of fuel.”  We had spoken all this on the corner of the street, almost outside the pub. In fact under the old lamp-post that was a remnant of 1930s’ street architecture but with its green paint weathered off leaving the grey undercoat on the ridges and thin strips of remnant green in the hollows.  And we stood, a group of raincoated, trilby hatted men with the heavy rain and the yellow glare from the light falling all around us.

From across the road, the mannequins in the shop windows would have seen us like a Hopper painting. I felt like it was a scene from Sin City but wetter.

 

“Keep walking!” I said under my breath.  Tom and Harry looked round suspiciously.

“Why?”

“I’m gettin’ bloody wet!”  They nodded understandingly and we all moved on.

 

As the author I have to say I didn’t know where this was going at the time but the mood was okay. Problem was that the theft of a small outboard motor, one of those tiny stick-insect types seemed a bit minimal for a full-blown crime saga-story.  I sat around in the office for a few days, went up the allotment, had a few beers, back home and some aspirin but couldn’t really be bothered to change tack (note: nautical term came naturally!) as I don’t re-write easily.  By that I mean that once I start I am liable to ramble and lose what basic plot and substance I had and find I have something totally different on my hands, as it were.  But back to the story:

 

 

After a few days of nothing happening, except a few beers up the allotment, away from the wife and a blinding headache after staring into that blasted lamp in the shed.  It might have been the paraffin smell from it rather than the light that did my head in. I did no writing, nor made any progress on the case.

After the weekend I went back to work and got the usual ribbing for having the good luck to have both a Saturday and Sunday off without any call-ins or punch-ups to go to.

“Had to live with a headache all weekend.”  I grouched over a coffee in the canteen.

“The wife was there then?”  Okay it was sexist but that happens in a semi-secret society.

“Actually, it was paraffin, the smell of.”  I parried the allusion.

“Cannabis, more like.”  That was Harry as he stood up to go back out on the beat.

 

I didn’t think it smelt anything like cannabis, in fact it would probably cover any smell for miles around, or at least quite a way.  Anyway I put my mug at the ‘collection point’  and went back to the office and my paper-strewn desk.  The afternoon was spent shuffling paper, shuffling reports and cross-checking statements. There must be a better way of passing the time, doing the work and re-typing reports. Even the telephone was mostly silent.  Just the one ring, I was desperate for an excuse to leave the paperwork. It was Tom, from his beat.  He was phoning from the garage. They had a cage for old parts waiting for the scrap-man to collect.  “That outboard motor is in it. Dumped. At least thats what Ron says. Ron’s the owner.”

 

“I’ll come round. Ten minutes.”

 

Ten minutes to the dot, I didn’t even need to hurry.   They had opened the cage and lifted it out and it was on the ground covered in sacking. It looked a morbid shape, the sacking, hiding what knows who, with a small stain soaking into the hessian where the head might be. The liquid seeped onto the concrete of the yard and soaked in darkly.

 

Tom stood over it, the garage owner, Ron, a few feet away.  Both heads looked to me as I came through the gate.

“We lifted it out on the sack. In case of finger prints, y’know.”  Said the garage owner. “And I didn’t  want me suit stained.”

 

“Have you identified it?” I had to ask. “Have you phoned the boatyard?”

“Yes, he’s going to ring the owner.”

 

I looked into the cage of lost and broken parts. It had bent and broken bumpers, their chrome shooting off elements of the sun where they weren’t rusted. “Small accidents that stopped waiting to happen.” I murmured to myself hoping to remember that line to use again sometime.  I also recognised the assorted pipes and bits of broken mufflers and a couple of rusted wheels, un-tyred.

 

I looked around. Was it a crime scene or just the aftermath?   By my feet lay the sack-clothed ‘thing’, I didn’t need to look again, I knew what it was.  My eyes scanned the yard, at the piles of old tyres, the mobile ramp for emergencies and the dilapidated truck with its rusty hook dangling dangerously from the crane jib.  I hope they didn’t still use it on the road, it looked incapable of being driven let alone towing.

 

“Do you use that?”  I asked, nodding towards the truck that had the words ‘We Rescue You” fading on the side of the half-cabin like a side-show from the 1940s.  “Is it roadworthy?”

 

“We’re a garage ain’t we?”  The language didn’t fit with Ron’s suit. ” Matey took it out one night last week.”

 

“Can you get the driver here, please.”     The phone started to ring, the bell tones rattling round the yard from its loudspeakers.  “Jees that’s loud.”

“So we can hear it.  I’ll send him out and get the phone while I’m there.”  He went into the service bay and sent an overalled man by pointing and waving at me and Tom, Tom and me. His mouth was shouting against the reverberations of the ringtone so his words were lost.

 

The man walked over, looking from one face to another. We two policemen, one in uniform and one in civvies.  I studied his features. Grey at the temples, a forehead nearly hidden by black hair that collapsed into eyebrows that were heroically sprouting in curls up into his fringe.  Ruddy complexion, nose a little redder than just spending time bending into engines, or outside in the weather. I thought.  He seemed a little hesitant in walking over but stopped within talking distance and looked down at the sad hessian monument at our feet.  I noticed he sidled away from us as he spoke. Getting nearer to the open gate, I suspected.

 

“What do you know about this?” I asked, kicking away the top layer of sacking. I didn’t want to get my hands sticky and stepped back. Tom took a step back and so did the man, all automatic responses to my shifting position.

 

“What about it?”

 

“I think you put this in there,” Pointing from the object and sweeping my hand in the direction of that cage.  “Trying to get rid of it, eh?” I kicked the hessian making sure I missed the liquid still seeping out.

 

“Yes” He admitted, almost non committaly, certainly with no sense of relief or injustice at being accused.

Tom moved a step nearer to the man anticipating a scuffle or at least having to put a hand on a shoulder to make an official arrest.

“How did you know it was me?” He asked with what I took to be a sense of defeat though it sounded more like surprised amusement.  People react in different ways.  Thank god that blasted phone had stopped ringing.

“Yes,” said Tom, what set you onto him?” Spoken as the Ron the garage owner came strolling across from the bay.

 

“It’s over there, by the front wheel of the tow-truck.” We all turned slowly.  I love this sort of quiet, efficient denouement, much better than inviting everyone to the equivalent of a tea-party in the vicar’s drawing room or wherever.  This was real-life, detective work in action.  The garage owner in his white chalk-striped charcoal suit reached our little group, stopped and turned with us to look at the small petrol can sitting on the ground by the truck.

 

“It’s too small to belong to the truck, or even the garage here.” I continued, ” They would use the big three gallon size at least. That one is very small, it could hold no more than one gallon. It is big enough to be stored on a small boat or dinghy. And it is red, like the one that went missing.”

 

I did that pause we all do at the critical point. “And it’s got the word ‘outboard’ painted on the side.”

 

I turned and stepped closer to the increasingly stained wet cloth and ground.  Accidentally put my toe-cap into the now blue/green/yellow and silver mosaic of evaporating liquid on the concrete and removed it again quickly.

 

“Yes” said the man.

“Gotcha!” Said Tom and moved close to the man and put an arresting hand on his shoulder.

 

“It’s his.” Said the garage owner. ” That was the boatyard,  asked me to tell Clive that the police had found his outboard motor.  He’s Clive.”  We looked at Clive expectantly.

 

” I put it there!” Said Clive, brushing Toms hand off his shoulder. “It was busted so I picked it up from the boatyard last week when I was passing, late at night.   Knew it was rubbish so binned it in the cage when I got back here.   I kept the can because it still had some petrol in it. Emptied it into the truck and left it ’cause it was so late.” He kicked the outboard. “Then me and the wife went to our canal boat for the weekend. I use the dinghy for fishing but it needs caulking.”

 

Tom and I looked at each other. “Good, glad it’s all settled then. We’ll go back to the Yard and put it in the ‘Closed’ file.”    I offered a hand to the man in the suit and to the man we now knew as Clive. We shook hands all round and walked confidently away, without looking back.

 

“Shit” I stopped suddenly when we got to the other side of the road.

“What?” Said Tom, waiting for some sudden enlightenment.

“It’s Clive! I’ve got grease all over my hand. Have you got a hanky?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tom looked at Harry and back at me, “You’re a dick” and looked back at Harry.  Harry nodded as if in agreement but in reality it was an encouragement to continue, ” and us being two lowly uniformed knobheads, we thought we would ask your opinion.” He paused as if in anticipation of an agreement or denial. I really could not be bothered to ruin their running order of old jokes and waited with a hopefully impassive expression.

 

Unruffled at the exaggerated pause Harry continued, ” If someone reported the loss of an outboard motor from their boat should we report it to the river police or to the station?”

 

“Have they?”  I wondered if I was walking into a trap of some kind. Maybe a philosophical discussion on the merits and demerits of river versus land-based police forces.  We had previously spent days considering the communication difficulties between us and the Transport Police if a crime of some sort did, or didn’t, cross over into both our territories. Mainly because of the image of Transport Police always buggering around on trains or hanging around suspiciously at stations.

And before that it was Military Police.  None of us wanted to get involved  with M.Ps as we imagined them uptight and, well, military.  We had never met one so only had the usual preconceived  prejudices against them.  Nothing special, then.

 

“Yes”

 

“Where?”

 

“At the river.”

 

“Bald statement but short in information,”  I thought.  As a detective I liked to deal in facts, just the facts, ma’am.  As a writer I appreciated the succinct speech of characters which left a sense of mystery or foreboding.  A short sentence eventually leading to a difficult case, an almost miraculous solving with the hidden clues, unspotted by other detectives and of course leading to a long stretch for the culprits.  Preferably with only limited violence. It looks good on screen but I am not good at writing it, I go into such minute detail that even I get bored, or lost.

 

“Off a boat?” Not such a silly question after all.

“Yes but the boat was in the boat yard.  See my problem?”

“Not really. It will have to go to the station.” I paused for dramatic effect. “We don’t have river police this far inland. There is no port or sailing marina for miles. No tidal flow. For that matter the boar-yard is so small I am impressed it had a boat with an outboard, let alone an engine.”

 

Tom was a bit sheepish when he said, “It was a dinghy, not a boat. It was removed and the yard owner reported it missing. Plus a can of fuel.”  We had spoken all this on the corner of the street, almost outside the pub. In fact under the old lamp-post that was a remnant of 1930s’ street architecture but with its green paint weathered off leaving the grey undercoat on the ridges and thin strips of remnant green in the hollows.  And we stood, a group of raincoated, trilby hatted men with the heavy rain and the yellow glare from the light falling all around us.

From across the road, the mannequins in the shop windows would have seen us like a Hopper painting. I felt like it was a scene from Sin City but wetter.

 

“Keep walking!” I said under my breath.  Tom and Harry looked round suspiciously.

“Why?”

“I’m gettin’ bloody wet!”  They nodded understandingly and we all moved on.

 

As the author I have to say I didn’t know where this was going at the time but the mood was okay. Problem was that the theft of a small outboard motor, one of those tiny stick-insect types seemed a bit minimal for a full-blown crime saga-story.  I sat around in the office for a few days, went up the allotment, had a few beers, back home and some aspirin but couldn’t really be bothered to change tack (note: nautical term came naturally!) as I don’t re-write easily.  By that I mean that once I start I am liable to ramble and lose what basic plot and substance I had and find I have something totally different on my hands, as it were.  But back to the story:

 

 

After a few days of nothing happening, except a few beers up the allotment, away from the wife and a blinding headache after staring into that blasted lamp in the shed.  It might have been the paraffin smell from it rather than the light that did my head in. I did no writing, nor made any progress on the case.

After the weekend I went back to work and got the usual ribbing for having the good luck to have both a Saturday and Sunday off without any call-ins or punch-ups to go to.

“Had to live with a headache all weekend.”  I grouched over a coffee in the canteen.

“The wife was there then?”  Okay it was sexist but that happens in a semi-secret society.

“Actually, it was paraffin, the smell of.”  I parried the allusion.

“Cannabis, more like.”  That was Harry as he stood up to go back out on the beat.

 

I didn’t think it smelt anything like cannabis, in fact it would probably cover any smell for miles around, or at least quite a way.  Anyway I put my mug at the ‘collection point’  and went back to the office and my paper-strewn desk.  The afternoon was spent shuffling paper, shuffling reports and cross-checking statements. There must be a better way of passing the time, doing the work and re-typing reports. Even the telephone was mostly silent.  Just the one ring, I was desperate for an excuse to leave the paperwork. It was Tom, from his beat.  He was phoning from the garage. They had a cage for old parts waiting for the scrap-man to collect.  “That outboard motor is in it. Dumped. At least thats what Ron says. Ron’s the owner.”

 

“I’ll come round. Ten minutes.”

 

Ten minutes to the dot, I didn’t even need to hurry.   They had opened the cage and lifted it out and it was on the ground covered in sacking. It looked a morbid shape, the sacking, hiding what knows who, with a small stain soaking into the hessian where the head might be. The liquid seeped onto the concrete of the yard and soaked in darkly.

 

Tom stood over it, the garage owner, Ron, a few feet away.  Both heads looked to me as I came through the gate.

“We lifted it out on the sack. In case of finger prints, y’know.”  Said the garage owner. “And I didn’t  want me suit stained.”

 

“Have you identified it?” I had to ask. “Have you phoned the boatyard?”

“Yes, he’s going to ring the owner.”

 

I looked into the cage of lost and broken parts. It had bent and broken bumpers, their chrome shooting off elements of the sun where they weren’t rusted. “Small accidents that stopped waiting to happen.” I murmured to myself hoping to remember that line to use again sometime.  I also recognised the assorted pipes and bits of broken mufflers and a couple of rusted wheels, un-tyred.

 

I looked around. Was it a crime scene or just the aftermath?   By my feet lay the sack-clothed ‘thing’, I didn’t need to look again, I knew what it was.  My eyes scanned the yard, at the piles of old tyres, the mobile ramp for emergencies and the dilapidated truck with its rusty hook dangling dangerously from the crane jib.  I hope they didn’t still use it on the road, it looked incapable of being driven let alone towing.

 

“Do you use that?”  I asked, nodding towards the truck that had the words ‘We Rescue You” fading on the side of the half-cabin like a side-show from the 1940s.  “Is it roadworthy?”

 

“We’re a garage ain’t we?”  The language didn’t fit with Ron’s suit. ” Matey took it out one night last week.”

 

“Can you get the driver here, please.”     The phone started to ring, the bell tones rattling round the yard from its loudspeakers.  “Jees that’s loud.”

“So we can hear it.  I’ll send him out and get the phone while I’m there.”  He went into the service bay and sent an overalled man by pointing and waving at me and Tom, Tom and me. His mouth was shouting against the reverberations of the ringtone so his words were lost.

 

The man walked over, looking from one face to another. We two policemen, one in uniform and one in civvies.  I studied his features. Grey at the temples, a forehead nearly hidden by black hair that collapsed into eyebrows that were heroically sprouting in curls up into his fringe.  Ruddy complexion, nose a little redder than just spending time bending into engines, or outside in the weather. I thought.  He seemed a little hesitant in walking over but stopped within talking distance and looked down at the sad hessian monument at our feet.  I noticed he sidled away from us as he spoke. Getting nearer to the open gate, I suspected.

 

“What do you know about this?” I asked, kicking away the top layer of sacking. I didn’t want to get my hands sticky and stepped back. Tom took a step back and so did the man, all automatic responses to my shifting position.

 

“What about it?”

 

“I think you put this in there,” Pointing from the object and sweeping my hand in the direction of that cage.  “Trying to get rid of it, eh?” I kicked the hessian making sure I missed the liquid still seeping out.

 

“Yes” He admitted, almost non committaly, certainly with no sense of relief or injustice at being accused.

Tom moved a step nearer to the man anticipating a scuffle or at least having to put a hand on a shoulder to make an official arrest.

“How did you know it was me?” He asked with what I took to be a sense of defeat though it sounded more like surprised amusement.  People react in different ways.  Thank god that blasted phone had stopped ringing.

“Yes,” said Tom, what set you onto him?” Spoken as the Ron the garage owner came strolling across from the bay.

 

“It’s over there, by the front wheel of the tow-truck.” We all turned slowly.  I love this sort of quiet, efficient denouement, much better than inviting everyone to the equivalent of a tea-party in the vicar’s drawing room or wherever.  This was real-life, detective work in action.  The garage owner in his white chalk-striped charcoal suit reached our little group, stopped and turned with us to look at the small petrol can sitting on the ground by the truck.

 

“It’s too small to belong to the truck, or even the garage here.” I continued, ” They would use the big three gallon size at least. That one is very small, it could hold no more than one gallon. It is big enough to be stored on a small boat or dinghy. And it is red, like the one that went missing.”

 

I did that pause we all do at the critical point. “And it’s got the word ‘outboard’ painted on the side.”

 

I turned and stepped closer to the increasingly stained wet cloth and ground.  Accidentally put my toe-cap into the now blue/green/yellow and silver mosaic of evaporating liquid on the concrete and removed it again quickly.

 

“Yes” said the man.

“Gotcha!” Said Tom and moved close to the man and put an arresting hand on his shoulder.

 

“It’s his.” Said the garage owner. ” That was the boatyard,  asked me to tell Clive that the police had found his outboard motor.  He’s Clive.”  We looked at Clive expectantly.

 

” I put it there!” Said Clive, brushing Toms hand off his shoulder. “It was busted so I picked it up from the boatyard last week when I was passing, late at night.   Knew it was rubbish so binned it in the cage when I got back here.   I kept the can because it still had some petrol in it. Emptied it into the truck and left it ’cause it was so late.” He kicked the outboard. “Then me and the wife went to our canal boat for the weekend. I use the dinghy for fishing but it needs caulking.”

 

Tom and I looked at each other. “Good, glad it’s all settled then. We’ll go back to the Yard and put it in the ‘Closed’ file.”    I offered a hand to the man in the suit and to the man we now knew as Clive. We shook hands all round and walked confidently away, without looking back.

 

“Shit” I stopped suddenly when we got to the other side of the road.

“What?” Said Tom, waiting for some sudden enlightenment.

“It’s Clive! I’ve got grease all over my hand. Have you got a hanky?”

 

 

 

 

 

The Whittlestreet Crime Writing Circle

Here we are sitting round in our little circle of chairs.  Strictly speaking it’s quite a big circle in the local political club house.  At the moment we meet in a different building every month. I mean political club venue, don’t I.  Labour, Liberal or Conservative and then the British Legion.  Why so many?  Lost in the mists of time.  Actually we tried to be supportive and magnanimous by giving them all a go; after that none of us had any good reason not to carry on being different every month.

So much for Crime Writers.  Well, wannabe Crime Writers.  Even worse, wannabe published crime writers.  That is except for Jimbo!   Ex-editor of the local weekly got  published a few years ago.  Claimed a success but always ready to give a copy away to the first person who recognised him in his local pub.  All the regulars must have a copy by now, even then you can’t sell it on Amazon for more than a penny or two.  Well, that’s success for you, I guess.

Theme for tonight is ‘characters that work’: Policemen, or women.  Though in this day of enthusiastic scribblers the label is more on ‘people that solve crimes, in or out of public service, maybe as criminals or even odd persons, just by accident’.      Well our little group was concentrating on police.  The proper police, not Transport or MIlitary, not forensic nor retired.

Of course this boxed us all into a corner!

The conversation, over several pints of beer, glasses of whisky or what have you, starts at eight p.m. and carries on as long as the bar was open and the last scribes who had refused to stop talking, do, and leave.   And here we are, the last three, well-oiled machines of writers trying to hold three thoughts in our heads and still talk sensibly whilst not spilling the remains of whisky we were waving about in our cups/glasses.  Who knows what sense we were really making but it seemed so at the time.

“They have all been written up. Every sodden writer has written every sodden variation of a detective.  Especially these days.  We have moved totally away from the ordinary bloke doing a job, goodly or badly but usually getting the answers for the reader.”

“Yep.  Book, film, tele. You name it, they’ve all been done.”

“All been done, good and proper!”

“And forensics don’t help.  Everything has to be scraped and photo-ed, put into bags and waved around and sent to the lab.  To that so and so an or woman in a white coat.  Why is it always white?”

“It would be a crime to give you the answer to that, my man. Just holding my tongue.”

“But we have been here all night and got no further.  What can we do with a new copper or an old copper, even a middlin’ blessed copper, that’s a bit different to the others?”

“That’s the trouble, they are all different, every bleedin’ one!  They are even showin’ their ages by not smoking anymore but having signs of dementia instead!”

“It’s the writers tagging onto a popular theme… wish I was quick enough to spot a runner before everone else..”

“Could we put lots of the odd bits into one copper?  Make him deaf and blind but have paranormal tendencies.”

“Or paraplegic.  And he could wear one of those new hydraulic body-frames they’ve just invented.”

“Not very PC though. Got to have a PC PC!”

“Anyway, the whole point is to find someone who would actually be working officially in the force.  Even the worst copper has to be a bit fit these days with all the running round and car chasing they have to do.”

“A Philosophical policeman”

“Aren’t they all.  Been done. We’ve already run the gamut.!”

“How about a rubbish detective?”

“One who writes crime novels!”

“We all do that, except Jimbo.  On the force, that is.  You would have thought that between us at least one could have come up with a decent copper to write about.”

“How about secret crime-fighters? A force within a force. The three musketeers in blue.”

“Taking on cold cases.  Bent copper turning good at the end.

“already been and gone, or as good as.”

“An American in London?   A Brit in America.?”

I drained the glass, too muzzy, too weary to even think anymore.  Round and round and still getting nowhere. I really couldn’t be bothered with all this. Three policemen sitting round pretending to be writers, trying to find a new angle and failing totally. As good as drunk, as usual at these meetings, and about to be chucked out of the club.  The table was a bit higher than I remembered and the tumbler made a heavy clunk as it hit the glass covered surface.

The barman came over and picked up my empty glass and the others. “Time to chuck you out, guys”. He hovered briefly waiting for us to show signs of movement.  Which we did, as we always did, albeit slowly.  This was almost a regular place as it was close to the station and we never took advantage.  Unless we were drunk, or partying.

We stood, we three,  “Meeting closed.”  Said Tom, “Better be goin’ then.”  And started humming a tune as we rolled slowly to the exit, barman studiously behind us.

“Singing detective” muttered Harry into the silent fresh air over the door step.

“Alcoholic  detectives,” said Tom shaking his head slowly.

“Poetry loving detective, ”  I said having to get my penny’s worth.

We started off towards the taxi rank. Three old blokes shrugging towards their ride home.

“Good night gents!” Shouted the barman as he closed the door on us and then more quietly, “Always the bloody last detectives.”

“Been done!” We all called back in unison.