I was asked for a sequel to my Halloween story, so here is the first part. I hope you enjoy it. 🙂
Old Joe muttered and grumbled profusely as he dug up his potatoes. He’d always grumbled and muttered and people had generally not taken any notice, but this time he had an audience. Not necessarily an appreciative one – in fact his audience had muttered something quite rude about the muddiness of the ground just before stepping onto it from the path, in his shiny black shoes, to find Joe.
After the events of Halloween the weather had started to change into the more usual for Autumn. It had got much colder very quickly, and there had been wind, thunder, lightning and rain. Lots and lots of rain – hence the mud and Joe’s muttering and his audience.
The local police had got nowhere fast investigating the disappearance of the Smiths and Scotland Yard, in its usual contempt for rural policing, had assumed that this was down to yokel incompetence rather than lack of evidence, and had sent down a London Detective to take over and ‘do the job properly, be a good chap, can’t let these local police let the side down, can we?
As soon as he’d arrived the London Detective had been fully briefed by the local investigating team. He’d discovered that there was no DNA evidence, no footprints or car tracks other than those of the Smiths arriving, no scraps of clothing, no dropped jewellery, nothing. There had been no leads whatsoever, and having satisfied himself that the local coppers had been using all the most up-to-date forensic techniques, actually, Sir, because we do know how to use ground-surveying equipment to look for buried bodies, amongst other things, Sir – he had turned his attention to Joe.
Joe was the only thing approaching a scrap of information the local police had. His muttered warnings about not going out after dark that night had been remembered. Mainly because he’d been saying, ‘I told you so’ to anyone who would listen, including the police who were crawling all over the neighbourhood from the morning after the disappearance had been discovered.
He’d also added that the weather would start returning to normal, that we could expect storms to come as the world righted itself, that we had only ourselves to blame, and if we didn’t change our ways this would happen again a lot sooner than 150 years’ time.
All of which, naturally, caught the attention of the police, but didn’t help them solve the case. Joe had been tucked into the bar of his local from well before sundown, and had pleaded so hard that no-one should leave until morning that there had been an impromptu lock-in. Money had been put in a kitty, the doors had been locked and alarmed, and everyone drank cider until eventually falling asleep. Since the CCTV showed Joe not leaving until after the disappearances had been discovered it was felt that his ramblings, while interesting, were not a sign of any guilt and so the police were no closer to finding out who was responsible.
The ramblings, however, were the closest thing to a clue that they had, and had been duly reported to the London Detective when he arrived. He was ashamed now to think that he’d laughed in their faces as they’d told him, but having found nothing else to follow up he too was visiting Joe, to see if he could glean any insight at all into this frustrating case. He really didn’t relish the thought of returning to London empty-handed.
The fact that the weather had done exactly as Joe had predicted was intriguing, and as he picked his way along the little grassy allotment paths he made a mental note to consult the Meteorological Office to find out just how unusual these weather patterns had been for the time of year.
He could hear Joe as he got closer; not enough to hear individual words, but there was a low, intermittent, rumble of speech. He’d been warned not to ask too many questions as Joe tended to give one-word answers then clam up. If you just set him off then he would talk as long as you liked – you would have to listen to a lot that was probably irrelevant, but if you let him talk he would answer all your questions (and a lot of questions you hadn’t asked) eventually. If he did clam up then the trick was to ask him about cricket, apparently. That little gem was courtesy of the local Police Community Support Officer who seemed to be very on the ball and have her ear to the ground.
The Detective rounded the corner of Joe’s shed and saw his back bending as he dug potatoes, as predicted. His subject seemed to be how claggy the soil was, moaning that he hadn’t been able to get all his crop in before the weather turned because his wife had dragged him up to the Lake District for her grand-niece’s wedding, and all the time wasted talking to daft police constables instead of working on his allotment.
Oh great, the Detective thought, I’m on to a winner here. Nevertheless he coughed politely, held out his arm to shake hands and began to introduce himself as Joe turned to face him.
‘Good morning, I’m Detective Inspector Japp from Scotland Yard.’
This got the expected response of slightly affronted disbelief, which pretty much amounted to being asked if he was taking the piss and did he think he’d walked into an Agatha Christie novel?
It wasn’t like this hadn’t happened before, so as soon as Joe would let him he launched into his usual speech that, unlike James Japp, he was not a fictional policeman and Japp was not that unusual a name, in fact there was a chocolate bar called Japp sold in Scandinavia with a wrapper that looked uncommonly like Mars Bars.
This last was a useful gambit as people were usually so intrigued that they dropped their guard and started to be interested in spite of themselves, and so it proved today.
‘What, really, just like Mars Bar wrappers?’
‘Very similar, yes, look I’ll show you on my phone…’
Japp couldn’t understand why Joe had collapsed into guffaws until he tried to use his phone browser. Of course. No signal. He was still getting used to the fact that this part of the South East, just an hour from London, had about as much signal as you’d expect to find half way up Everest. Maybe less. He wouldn’t be surprised if phone companies had put relays up there so intrepid mountaineers could phone home with their progress. It would make a certain kind of sense, more kudos than serving a rural corner in what was seen as a prosperous part of the country.
Oh well, time to move on. After Joe had stopped laughing Japp tried to start again, but Joe was way ahead of him.
‘You’ll be down here from That London to ask about the Smiths, no doubt. Well, I’ll tell you what I told the local bobbies….’
And it had gone from there. Over two hours later Japp had left the allotments with his head reeling from all Joe had said. They’d adjourned to his shed and had drunk tea brewed on the oldest, blackest primus stove that Japp had ever seen, but the whistling kettle had been sparkling and so had the mugs, and he’d been grateful for the refreshment. Then they’d gone back out again, because London Detectives or not Joe, was determined to get his spuds in before nightfall, and so Japp had stood in the mud, in his impractical London shoes, and listened to all Joe had had to tell him.
Once back at the local police station – where he’d been given a desk, a phone, and several boxes of files full of paperwork from the investigation – Japp started to try and put all he’d been told in some usable form. After all, he could hardly go back to his superiors and tell them that vampires had delayed the start of autumn weather because they were angry over bats being evicted from a small farm in Kent, and that after they’d taken revenge the weather was returning to normal. He’d sound daft, and Japp wasn’t daft. Far from it.
He wandered down the corridor to find more tea, then settled down to think. It was going to be a long night.