A pigeon fluttered out of the sky and perched clumsily upon a fire escape ladder that hung from the side of a dull grey building, it cocked its head downwards so that its small, glass-like eye could survey the dark alley below where an unusual level of activity was attracting the bird’s attention. Six men in plain dark clothing and masks covering their faces were hurriedly transferring heavy sacks from a small armoured van into the back of a pristine hearse. The van had clearly been going at speed when it had entered the alleyway for the front right of it was embedded some three feet into the wall of the grey building, and clearly the impact had not been without consequence for one of the men was limping badly. There was a man near the entrance of the alley watching the road furtively, the pigeon shuffled along the ladder as the men below all rushed into the hearse and started the engine; the noise of the exhaust rumbling was too much for the bird so it flapped off noisily into the air in search of a quiet tree.
The Vicar was dazed, his head throbbed with pain and he found that he could not move his arms or feet, shadowy figures loomed over him out of focus, he moaned but his mouth was gagged and he could make no other noise. He felt himself being lifted and then dropped roughly into some sort of box, the dis-jointed sounds of men’s voices added to the pain in his head and he drifted out of consciousness. The vicar awoke again, the world was still muffled in all his senses and the pain was still persistent but he could tell that he was in complete darkness and gentle vibrations told him he was moving, as though the box he was trapped in was being slid over a surface. The last thing that the vicar knew in this world was the smell of burning wood and an intense heat surrounding his paralysed body; there were flickers of orange light then he fainted, never to awaken.
Jonny Watkins was middle aged, unexceptional and single, he insisted that he had simply not met the right person but others thought that perhaps it was something to do with his infatuation with dogs – especially his three Yorkshire terriers that were now springing and snuffling in and out of a thick bramble patch. Jonny loved to take his dogs for an early morning walk before everyone was up and he often chose to walk through the wood that bordered the local crematorium. Today was no exception, yet as he turned past a large oak tree that grew at an angle from the side of a steep ditch Jonny saw something that was not at all normal; his three terriers were standing stock still in front of him staring very intently at the bottom of the ditch and barking almost in unison. Jonny peered over the edge following the hard stares of his dogs and saw that sticking out of the thick vegetation that almost filled the ditch was a naked human foot, oddly pale and quite stiff. Half an hour later Jonny was making the most of what would probably be the only fifteen minutes of fame that he would ever have; by talking animatedly to the policemen, journalists and other onlookers, explaining in slightly exaggerated detail how he and his three dogs had discovered the now bagged up body of a 95 year old man.
“Have you seen the paper this morning Chester?” said the over-eager young intern, peering over the top of the mornings newspaper which he held out in front of him with the front page pointed at his superior. Detective Inspector Chester Hartfield laid down the dull report he had been reading, raised his dull eyes and replied in a dull tone “No, what’s so special about it?” But the lad did not have to reply for as soon as Chester had taken in the headline and the main picture in front of him he had sprung to his feet, grasped the paper in both hands and stared open-mouthed at what he recognised as his recently cremated Grandfather whose funeral he had attended earlier that week, the mug-shot of him emblazoned with the words: ‘MYSTERY DEAD MAN FOUND IN DITCH AFTER VICAR VANISHED’. Chester spluttered then managed to get out the words “That’s my granddad! But… but he was cremated on Tuesday!” the intern shrugged and said “I know sir, you did tell me, I thought it was a bit odd.”
“Well… who’s in charge of the case? Who is it? I need to speak to them right now.”
“That’s the thing sir, its Parker.” Said the intern, raising his eyebrows,
“Parker! Crap, she doesn’t like me, but what’s this about a vanishing vicar?” Chester had sat back down again and was rubbing his forehead in an agitated manner.
“Well the body was found next to the crematorium and the vicar who does the services there has gone missing, been gone three days now sir, was reported missing the same day of your granddad’s funeral.”
“Of course! We had to call in a replacement vicar because the other one didn’t show up; I just thought he was off ill or something.”
“What are you going to do sir? It’s an unusual situation.” Posed the intern,
“It’s impossible, just impossible; I saw the coffin go into the furnace!” Chester had not heard and was frowning so deeply you could hardly see his eyes, the intern repeated the question. “Oh what hmm yes um, Parker won’t let me take over, not in a million years and anyway I’m supposed to be heading up this investigation into the armed robbery of that money van.” The intern pointed out that it was his relative under investigation so he should be allowed access to the facts of the case at least. “But I don’t understand how it can be him! I think I might make a visit to Parkers office, just to test the water, then I need to see the body, they’ll need me to identify it anyway.” said Chester as he rose to his feet and shuffled out of his office, clutching the paper in his hand.
“Not a burn on him.” Said the undertaker across the table, Chester was standing in the police mortuary staring down at the face of his granddad, the face that he thought he would never see again in real life. “ A few broken bones though, looks like whoever moved him didn’t have much respect for the dead, must have chucked him in that ditch without a second thought, the world’s gone mad sir.” Chester remained silent; he had never seen much of his mother’s father so he hadn’t been much moved by his death. But seeing his body bruised and broken on the table in front of him, knowing that somebody had desecrated the funeral made him feel very grave indeed – his ire was up and his brain was stirred into action. “I know where the vicar is.” said Chester looking up at the undertaker with a look of enlightenment on his face, “what vicar sir?” queried the undertaker in some confusion, Chester carried on – talking more to himself than to the undertaker; “Why would anyone remove a body from a coffin that was about to be cremated? Because they needed to dispose of a body quickly and without a trace; that’s why.”
Danny Spears was sitting in the corner of a members-only establishment that had been serving men and women of his type for the best part of twenty years with complete discretion. He was in a good mood tonight so had treated himself to the finest malt in the bar and two of the establishments finest ladies, who sat either side of him trying not to look like they had heard it all before as Danny whispered in their ears whilst his hands were elsewhere. After his third whiskey Danny got up and headed for the toilets, as he walked down the blue-lit hallway two men in plain suits followed him and then two more came from the opposite direction. Danny stopped in front of the toilet door and glanced at both pairs of men “Do you gentlemen need the loo as well or is this a family gathering?” he said with a clearly sarcastic tone in his voice, but his left hand was clenched and his right was slipping a small knife from a slot in his belt. The oldest looking man of the group stepped towards him whilst simultaneously producing a police badge and a semi-automatic from his blazer; “Daniel Spears you are under arrest for the murder of vicar Nathaniel Summerton and for grave-robbing – or should I say coffin-robbing – you have the right to remain silent but anything you do say will be taken down and may be used in evidence against you.” Danny felt the barrel of the policeman’s gun staring at him and quickly dropped the knife, one of the men picked it up and handcuffed him, “I haven’t done anything, and you have no evidence against me copper.” Danny said through clenched teeth. “On the contrary son, you most obligingly went and left your fingerprints all over the old man’s ankles; didn’t you – you plonker.” Replied the policeman.
DI Chester Hartfield was sitting at home nibbling a biscuit and staring into space, the golden glow of the late summer sun drifted in through his living-room window and sparkled in the rising steam from his cup of tea. He was trying to think of a possible motive for Danny Spears killing a seemingly random vicar; seeing as the renowned criminal had taken his usual and by now well-known course of defence that involved saying absolutely nothing. Chester had spent all morning thinking it over but had come to no conclusion, so at last he decided to do something else and began slipping the photographs from his granddad’s funeral into the family album, although they had lost some of their meaning since it turned out it was not his granddad they had cremated. He picked up a photo; it was his family standing around the headstone where the poor vicar’s ashes had just been buried. Chester was thinking that Aunt Clarice had made a big mistake with that hat of hers when he saw something that caused him to jump to his feet with a gasp; he had just noticed what was written on the next headstone along.
Chester, Parker, the intern and two gravediggers stood in the dying evening light that stretched in bars across the grass caused by the high iron railings that encircled the crematorium. By their feet lay a plain wooden coffin, freshly dug from the earth and behind that was a headstone with the words ‘Danny Spears, RIP, 1984 – 2014, He took everything with him’. Chester knelt down and levered the lid off of the coffin with a crowbar, the lid cracked and fell onto the grass; instead of the body of Danny Spears (who was alive but not so well in a prison cell) lying in the coffin, there was about a hundred crisp rolls of fifty pound notes crammed in up to the brim. The intern whistled and Chester stood up satisfied at last, “The poor vicar must have done the funeral for Danny and his gang, not knowing what he was getting in to – they probably thought he was too much of a liability.” Parker was conflicted; pleased that the case was wrapped up and they had a solid conviction, but not so pleased that Chester Hartfield had solved it instead of her.