"Who found him?"
"The postman, Guv. It wasn't fully light and he could see there was a light on in the hall, and for no reason he can think of he looked through the bull's eye and saw the body hanging there."
"Well, it's suicide, Sergeant. Yes, definitely. Get it wrapped up and get back to the station, with half the force tied up on this bloody party conference we've no time to piss about with this. It's suicide, plain and simple, there's the note, now let's have no more discussion, get the poor bugger cut down, and get back to work."
And with that D I Peter Belcher nodded to his sergeant and left.
Sergeant Bunn looked around. Probably, he thought, his governor was right. Certainly about the need to get back to work, he wasn't so sure about the suicide.
Mike loved snow, well, to begin with anyway, but after a few hours, he thought, it palls. The roads melt a bit and the slush turns brown, and then it freezes at night and the ruts are all lumpy and difficult to drive on. But that initial couple of hours was wonderful, especially if it had snowed during the night and the sun was shining in the morning. What he particularly liked was when you got that heavy fall of snow, four or six inches maybe, in late April or early May. It didn't happen often, but when it did the snow was there first thing in the morning, and the sun usually shone on it, and by afternoon it was pretty well gone. That's how it happened on this particular May morning.
He was awake early as usual, and once he saw the snow out of the window he got dressed and grabbed his camera, called the dog, and went out to see what he could find. Good photographs was what he had in mind, but what he found was rather different, rather more interesting, infinitely more useful, and made him love snow even more.
Melcombe Abbas was a fascinating village, and he'd had lived there for about eighteen months when the snow arrived. The village consisted of two rows of thatched cottages, each one apparently identical to the others. They ascended a fairly gentle hill in a wide sweeping curve. Each cottage looked just like a child's drawing, a rectangular façade with two windows either side of the front door, and three windows on the first floor all lined up over the door and windows below. Each house had a hipped, thatched roof with two chimneys, one at either end of the ridge. Looking more closely you began to see minor differences, particularly in the way that they had been extended to make more room. Originally, behind each front door was a lobby, with two front doors facing each other, because originally each cottage was semi-detached. Now, many of them were single dwellings, and many just weekend homes. In the centre of one row stood the church, and opposite the block of four almshouses.
But one of the unique things about the village was the way the houses were numbered. The usual way to do this would be even numbers one side of the road, and odd the other, but here standing at the bottom of the hill you started with number one on your left hand side, followed by number two, all the way up to number thirty. And then back down the right hand side, so that number sixty was opposite number one. The alms houses were numbered one to four.
It looked wonderfully picturesque with the sun shining on the snow, a rural idyll.
Underneath that idyllic picture there was something lurking, He thought he had worked out what it was, and the snow confirmed it. All he had to do now was work out what to do about it.
Mike Blanding had first found the village quite by accident, having taken a wrong turning off the main road, but having found it he just had to buy one of the cottages. There was just him and my his dog, a four year old border collie bitch called Mandy, but nevertheless he bought a house that had been converted into one, giving plenty of space for his library and studio. Mike's wife had left him some time before, and although he had had a number of women since they hadn't lasted long. He really didn't much time for women. Oh, good for cleaning, cooking and fucking, but beyond that they very quickly become tiresome, always wanting something, particularly his time. He was quite keen on the fucking bit of course, and his ideal would have been to have someone come in when he wanted that, and then bugger off.
That morning Mike was alone, apart from Mandy, and whilst loving, she wasn't what he was looking for in any other respect. Alone, with no one else about on a Sunday morning. But other people had been about because there were footprints, trails of footprints in the snow leading from one house to another. He went to the top of the street and started down, noting where each trail of footprints came from, and where they went, and whether they were male or female. Mainly male it turned out, although one set going to one of the almshouses was female. Well, well.
Mike jotted all this down in the sketchbook that he always carried just as numbers and an M or F, so that when he got home he would be able to transcribe this onto a plan of the village and add some names. He was now certain he knew what was lurking under the surface. When he had finished he returned home, stirred up the fire, made himself coffee, and sat down to think about how he could turn that knowledge to his advantage.
It was mid morning when Susie Brown called on her best friend Melissa Watts who was in her kitchen. Susie took a seat at the table.
"D'you have good time last night?" she asked her friend.
"God! That Jimmy Coward is insatiable!" Mel replied.
"Mmm, don't I know it. I had him last time. Makes me tingle to think of it. By the way, did you see that guy from number forty two this morning? I had to get up for a pee and he was walking down the street writing in his book. D'you think he knows anything?"
"I shouldn't think so," said Mel placing two cups of coffee on the table and sitting down. "Mike's an artist, they've always got their sketch books with them. Anyway, I'll see him Tuesday afternoon, I'll ask him about it. Discretely, of course"
"Why're you seeing him?" asked Susie.
"I'm modelling for him," said Mel, blushing.
"You never told me! What, in the altogether?" exclaimed Susie.
"Well, yes, it's all perfectly above board, it's just modelling, and the money's good too."
"I don't think I could do that," said Susie. "Not take all my clothes off in front of a total stranger."
"After what you were doing last night? What were you doing anyway? We were one man short because Ben was called away, so who did you end up with?"
It was Susie turn to blush.
"Carol Blake, from the almshouses," she said.
"She must be sixty if she's a day, but they reckon she's a bit of a go-er. Anyway it must have been a bit boring for you."
Susie's blush deepened and she said nothing.
"Oh! I think I see! You didn't really, did you?"
"Well, she didn't beat about the bush, came straight out with it. 'I'm bi' she told me, 'So if you're game to try, I think we could have some fun'"
"And did you?"
"Fan-bloody-tastic! You ought to try!"
The conversation continued until Susie leapt to her feet saying she'd better get back to get lunch going.
Sergeant Bunn told the undertaker's men to cut the body down and remove it whilst he had another look around. The house seemed very neat and tidy, there was the computer with the suicide note on the screen, and in the studio there was a canvas on the easel, but it hadn't been worked on for some time. They had questioned the neighbours and come up with a blank, no one had seen anything that could possibly be describe as out of the ordinary, let alone suspicious. The suicide victim, one Michael Blanding was, it seemed, well liked, but kept himself much to himself.
They had found some more rope in the garage, and it was apparent that Blanding had owned a boat, so that accounted for that. He had decided the governor was probably right. No need to waste any more time. There was no will, but they had found and notified an ex wife who told them that they had a daughter. She hadn't sounded very grief stricken, but that was the way with ex wives he thought. Anyway, that was all tied up.
He took one last look. The body had gone, and the rope was lying neatly on the stairs. He looked at the beam the rope had been tied around, let out a sigh and decided that his governor was probably right, after all, he knew the village much better than Bunn did. Something still niggled at the back of his brain, but there was a mountain of work to do back at the station and contemplating that, and getting home to his new wife, were what occupied his mind on the drive.
Mike went to his computer and switched it on. When it had gone through its starting routine, he started a graphic programme and a new file. On the blank piece of 'paper' he put two rows of thirty small rectangles in pairs, each separated near the centre by a bigger one. So, sixteen pairs of rectangles, a bigger one and then another fourteen pairs, each pair representing a pair of cottages, and then a mirror image. This gave a graphical representation on the village. He labelled one large rectangle 'Church' and divided the opposite one into four to represent the four almshouses. He then numbered each of the houses, one to thirty on one side, and thirty-one to sixty on the other. Then he typed in the names of the occupiers of each house. The problem here was that he didn't know all of them. First thing Monday morning, he thought, a trip to the county library was in order to look at the electoral role.
.... There is more of this story ...