To catch up on the story so far, see my website: http://www.colin-z-smith.com/masm.html for previous chapters, and the other sections of Chapter 5 below.
Monday 4th November 1985: 14.00 – 14.45
DCI Charles Meredith swore; loudly, longly and very explicitly. Slamming shut the top drawer of his leftmost filing cabinet, he appended the expletive with, ‘You’d think the bloody A’s would all be in the same place!’
He yanked open the second drawer. An explosion in a paper factory met his eyes. He counted to one, then hurled that drawer closed as well. ‘I will not – will not – will not – lose my bloody temper!’ he told himself.
A knock sounded at his office door. With a sigh of relief at not having to try the next drawer down, he turned back to his desk and called, ‘Come in.’
The door opened, and the comfortable figure of Ernie Bulstrode barrelled in. ‘Ah, Ernie,’ Meredith said. ‘Come and save me from this bloody filing system, for God’s sake.’
Ernie grinned. ‘Another secretary left you in the lurch, Charlie?’
Meredith slumped into his seat and waved a bad-tempered hand in the direction of the cabinets behind him. ‘It took Sheila Granger two years to build a system I could work with. She retires, and six temps reduce it to rubble in three months flat. Only thing these agency girls know how to file are their nails.’
Ernie, uninvited, plonked himself onto the chair opposite. ‘That bad?’
‘That bad. I’ve just discovered the last one filed everything under “R” for “Report”, God help us.’
Ernie let out a bark of laughter.
‘It’s all right for you,’ Meredith said. ‘You’ve nothing to worry about except when your next tea break’s due.’
‘Oh, dunno about that. The stress I’ve got tryin’ to get Dawson to put the right amount of sugar in.’
‘I feel for you. And how is the young constable getting on?’
‘Fine, Charlie, fine. Definite CID material; which is, of course, his ambition in life, the prat.’
‘Really? You think he’s that good?’
‘Yep. Likes to dig into things; and logical with it. You should see the way he’s organised the caramel wafers.
‘He’ll make a good copper one day,’ the sergeant continued. ‘He just doesn’t know it himself at the moment.’
‘And no doubt you’re encouraging him all the way.’
Ernie leaned back in his chair and gave a beatific smile. ‘The way I see it is, if you give ’em enough bollocks, they develop all the quicker. The lad snapped at me only this mornin’. Good sign.’
‘I’ll tell him you recommended him.’
‘If you do, I’ll deny it to the end of my days.’
Meredith chuckled. ‘All right – I’ll bear him mind when an opportunity arises.’
‘Not before you get me a replacement!’
‘Oh, naturally.’ A thought struck Meredith. ‘Did you say, “organised”?’
‘Uh huh.’ Ernie looked suddenly worried.
‘As in, “could organise a badly mauled filing system”?’
‘Oh, now – hang on, Charlie…’
Meredith smiled triumphantly, and leaned forward. ‘You know you should be calling me “sir”, Sergeant?’
‘What – after all the years we’ve known each other?’
‘Rank counts over friendship.’
‘And I s’pose you’re about to pull it.’
‘I am indeed.’
Meredith sat back again and continued, ‘Right, that’s fixed, then. You tell young Dawson to report to me as soon as you get back to your counter. Shouldn’t take him more than – oh, five days? – to sort out this mess.’
‘Five days! You want me to deal with Joe Public for the rest of the week!’
‘You have it, Ernie. Well deduced.’ His smile widened. ‘Ever thought of applying for CID yourself?’
Ernie’s reply was inaudible and, Meredith assumed, not fit for the ears of a superior officer.
‘Anyway,’ he said, dismissing the subject, ‘I take it it isn’t young Dawson’s future you’ve dropped in to discuss?’
Meredith listened as Ernie described the day’s goings-on. ‘I’d lay a pound to my mortgage that the Chaffords are behind the robbery,’ the sergeant said. ‘But not the murder. Though the way Hampshire went into the interview room it’s a dead cert he wanted to pin both on the black lad.’
‘That wouldn’t surprise me, I admit.’
‘There’s another thing…’
Meredith frowned as Ernie told him about the strange wobble he’d felt in the station’s routine. It didn’t occur to him to doubt what the sergeant was saying. He’d have taken Ernie’s word on anything that happened in Camtown nick.
‘You say Jack only spent five minutes interviewing Makumbo?’
‘According to Dawson.’
‘That’s bizarre. I’ve never known Jack take less than an hour, especially where anybody darker than a gloss white’s involved.’
‘That’s a point, Charlie. Why did you put him in charge of this one?’
Meredith sighed. ‘Nobody else available, Ernie. I’ve left him till last pick; it so happens all the other senior officers are tied up on other cases. Besides – I have to use him, otherwise the Chief Constable gets on my back.’
‘Hampshire’s uncle, isn’t he?’
‘Cousin, Ernie. Either way, I can’t get rid of the pain in the arse. When I finally get slung out myself, I would like a pension to go home to.’
‘Appreciate your problem.’
‘Oh, well.’ Meredith shifted himself in his chair. ‘I suppose I’d better have a word with him. See if I can get the idea through that he might need to look elsewhere.
‘Though God knows,’ he added with another sigh, ‘once he gets something fixed in his head it takes a team of navvies with a JCB to dig it out again.
‘Leave it with me, Ernie.’
The sergeant got up to leave.
‘And don’t forget to send young Dawson in,’ Meredith added. ‘If he’s as good as you say he is, I look forward to him finding where the latest bimbo filed my lunch last Friday.’
Kevin Proctor threw aside the Patagonian shepherdess and rubbed his eyes wearily. Oh God, if he ever had to go through that again…!
He gazed at his slush pile. He knew exactly what it contained. HL Danvers’ latest masterpiece. HL Danvers’ masterpiece-before-last. HL Danvers’ masterpiece-before-that-one…
Oh – and the new one. He lifted it off the pile. Refreshingly thin; and refreshingly not HL Danvers.
He drew it out of its envelope. Interesting title, he thought.
Setting it in front of him, he lifted the frontispiece to turn it over.
The phone rang.
He picked it up. ‘Yes, Sal?’
‘My name’s Sally, Kevin. I have a call for you.’
Kevin’s heart plummeted. ‘Oh, not…’
‘I’m afraid so.’
A click sounded. Reaching into his throat and yanking out his most enthusiastic voice, Kevin said, ‘HL! How lovely to hear from you…’