Corona: Part Two

If you would like to begin at part one, click here. If you are already up to speed, then off you go…

Mrs Strutt? Detective Inspector Thorne. I met you when…’

‘When Roger died? Yes, I remember. You were a sergeant then?’ Janice fought back a shudder of memory. This man had been the one who confirmed he was dead. What an awful job. She hated him then, in that moment. Now she felt a surge of compassion.

The policeman nodded, his gingery quiff bouncing with each movement. She remembered that quiff, thinking it made him look younger than he probably was. ‘It’s not about that. Well, not directly.’

How would she describe that expression. Cryptic? Confused? Certainly awkward. ‘Would you like to come in?’ She turned on her heels and headed towards the back and the kitchen. He could close the door. She needed a moment to compose herself. It might have been three years but time hadn’t reduced the power of her recall, finding her husband at his desk, eyes stretched impossibly wide in terror, a grey streak through his hair. The autopsy said it was heart failure. He had a weakness. It might have happened at any time. What they never could explain, certainly not to her satisfaction was the proximate cause. Because the look had to have been triggered by something. Sudden death syndrome didn’t leave time for any sort of realisation of impeding doom so his terror wasn’t a result of his appreciating what was happening to him. And nothing explained the grey streak.

Another memory: they hadn’t believed her when she said he didn’t have a grey streak in his hair. She saw it in their expressions. The if-you-say-so-madam scepticism. The whispers she may or may not have been meant to hear: ‘he probably dyed it’. Thorne – What was his first name? Peter? – he hadn’t been one of them. He was as baffled as her, especially when she showed him a photo of Roger’s father in the year before he died. With the exact same streak.

She busied herself with a kettle while she listened to him settle onto a stool. ‘Tea or coffee?’

‘Coffee thanks. Can I ask how you’ve been?’

She put down a cup and some milk and sugar while she prepared a cafetière. ‘Have I moved on, do you mean? Yes and no. Good and bad. Grief is an indifferent and inconsistent companion.’ She splashed hot water into the jug. ‘Strong or weak?’

‘Strong would be great. Yes, I can imagine.’ He smiled and sipped. ‘I’m sorry if I sounded rather cryptic earlier.’

Yes, cryptic would describe him, she thought. Same as before, holding things back. She nodded for him to carry on and sat opposite him.

‘It’s about your husband’s family home.’

‘Pottinger Cottage? We… I sold that two years ago?’

‘’Nineteen months, yes. To Patricia and Colin Normanby?’

‘That’s right.’

‘They sold it to the present owners, the Humbolts last year. June.’

‘I didn’t know.’

‘No? I suppose there was no reason why you should. I wondered how much you knew about the cottage?’

Janice stared at her coffee, a black ground floating asymmetrically on the surface. ‘I never lived there. His parents inherited from his grandfather, paternal grandfather. I think it may have been in the family for about fifty years?’

‘And it was part of a farm?’

‘Originally yes. His grandfather farmed from Yallop Farm until he became too ill to carry on. Roger’s father took it over. My impression was he didn’t want to but felt some compulsion. He sold off the farm and land but kept the cottage. His parents had preferred living in the cottage so I suppose it was a sentimental decision, but the place gave me the creeps.’

‘Really? How so?’

‘Oh I don’t know. It was cold for a start. I always shivered when we arrived however hot it was outside. And there were the usual range of creaks and moans that go with old buildings that could give you – me anyway – the willies. And there was this odd smell, outside the back door. Sort of drainy even though the drains were on the other side of the building.’

The policeman checked his notes. ‘It was a smell that led to us being involved.’

Janice raised an eyebrow but let him continue.

‘His mother stayed there until she died?’

‘Yes. Stupid really. We told her she should leave, come and live with us but she had this misplaced loyalty to her husband, my father in law, Gerald. She died there. We’d been clearing the place out, ready to sell it when… when… the day Roger died.’

‘I remember. When the place was part of a farm, did they keep pigs?’

Janice looked up sharply. ‘Why?’

‘Did the pigs live near the cottage?’

‘I’m sorry, I don’t know.’ She stopped to swallow and take a sip of coffee. Another shudder, like the first one when he arrived, ran down her spine and she fought to keep her voice even. ‘From memory the only animals Gerald kept by the time Roger and I started going out were some goats. He had this thing about his garden and used goats to keep the grass on the left side shorn.’

‘The garden is strange, isn’t it?’

‘I never understood why they didn’t dig it up or lay it to grass. There was this patch outside the dining room where the only thing that ever grew were brambles, you know blackberries but the fruit was disgusting, really bitter.’

Another knowing nod. ‘You remember nothing about when they stopped keeping the pigs and why? What happened to the herd?’

‘No, I don’t think it was ever mentioned.’

He sighed.

‘What’s this about?’

The Inspector took a moment and then pulled out a plastic envelope. Inside was another envelope and a sheet of A4 paper. Janice stared at it, unable to move.

‘The Humbolts were disturbed by the smell and had plans to landscape the garden. They had a contractor come in to investigate – they wondered if there may be an old cesspit under the garden. When the contractor reached the bramble patch he found a pit. At first it looked like it just contained animal bones.’

Janice’s voice was barely a whisper. ‘Pigs?’

He nodded. ‘It was when they started pulling them out they found this envelope.’ He tapped the plastic evidence pouch. ‘Intriguing, isn’t it?’

Janice has already seen the addressee on the envelope. Her name, including, as if to make sure there was no confusion, her maiden name. But that wasn’t the main thing that stopped her breath. It was the A4 sheet. Every spare inch comprised one word. ‘Help.’

She looked at the Inspector. Yes, it was Peter. He smiled sympathetically. ‘This must come as a tremendous shock, Mrs Strutt. Given the decomposition of the animals it is decades since that pit was dug and filled in.’

‘The letter was buried a long time ago?’

‘That’s the odd thing. We are doing some tests but it looks like the paper is the sort that was developed from computer printers so unlikely to be more than five or six years old.’

‘That’s… how can it be there?’

‘We don’t know. We’d like to understand that ourselves.’

Janice began to feel calmer. ‘How strange. Though why are the police involved? Dead pigs aren’t criminal, are they?’

‘No. Ordinarily we wouldn’t have anything to do with this. It was the fact that there were also human remains in the pit that has us interested.’

‘Human remains?’

He finished his coffee. ‘Oh yes, this is one strange hole. Pigs, a human hand, a letter addressed to you and, perhaps most bizarrely, an old typewriter. A Corona.’

Janice’s voice wobbled. ‘A typewriter?’

‘Yes we ran a check for fingerprints. If you recall we took yours for elimination purposes when we investigated your husband’s death. His are on it. As are yours. I don’t suppose you can explain that?’

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published several books: a four book series following Harry Spittle as he grows from hapless student to hapless partner in a London law firm; four others in different genres; a book of poetry; four anthologies of short fiction; and a memoir of my mother. I have several more in the pipeline. I have been blogging regularly since 2014, on topic as diverse as: poetry based on famous poems; memories from my life; my garden; my dog; a whole variety of short fiction; my attempts at baking and food; travel and the consequent disasters; theatre, film and book reviews; and the occasional thought piece. Mostly it is whatever takes my fancy. I avoid politics, mostly, and religion, always. I don't mean to upset anyone but if I do, well, sorry and I suggest you go elsewhere. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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21 Responses to Corona: Part Two

  1. I’m hooked……………………….

    Liked by 1 person

  2. willowdot21 says:

    I like this will there be more. I find the story very reminiscent of Ray Bradbury 💜💜

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ooer. Cruel, yes, but clever

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Elizabeth says:

    You better keep writing this one. You have me as hooked as Pete did with his demon typewriter.


  5. Jennie says:

    Oooo… this is good!! I am completely hooked.


  6. George says:

    Deliciously macabre!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Corona: Part Four | TanGental

  8. Gary says:

    Ahh, now the haunted typewriter strikes! No doubt help was the last missive possible before greeting the hideous death scene involving dying in a cess pit outside a cottage. Not sure I’d be too willing to accept said Corona if I were Janice…it seems to already know her if fingerprints be true.

    Top drawer Geoff. I’m sensing this months prompt might suit Janice too…. definitely un-STABLE after these revelations!

    Liked by 1 person

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