A Chapter by Peter Rogerson



Inspector Rosie Baur was about to return to the two uncooperative children and her constable when a stranger came towards her, nervously. He was dressed as if for work, maybe labouring.

Excuse me,” he said awkwardly, “but are you in charge here?”

Rosie nodded. “Detective Inspector Baur of Brumpton CID,” she said, “can I help you?”

Them kids. It weren’t them as found the body first,” he said, “I was down there, watching out for my own kids going the short way to school, Swanspottle Juniors if you must know which, and I couldn’t help noticing them walking along because, well, they don’t look right. Not right at all, in them blazers.”

We realise that,” put in Rosie, “what some might call an anachronism.”.

Exactly. Well, there was a bloke in front of them down by the stream where they were walking, an awkward sort of cove with a bit of a limp, and he came along first, and stopped and looked to see what the lump in the stream was. Then he turned towards the woods, them woods over there that stretched past what they call the Witch Cottage towards Brumpton. He saw the poor woman before the kids did, and I’ve been trying to rack my brains but couldn’t even swear that her body was there before he came along. That’s when I phoned you lot on my mobile.”

Ah, Mr…?” queried Rosie.

Butcher,” he replied, “Aaron Butcher.”

And you’re sure of what you saw? The two children in what you believe to be wrong school clothes coming upon the body in the stream soon after a limping stranger? And that stranger, he limped off into the woods? And you don’t think the body was there before he came along?”

Mr Butcher shrugged his shoulders. “I wasn’t what you’d call paying much attention,” he said nervously, “you see, I was watching my kids down the path that leads off the Bottoms to their school. You have to be careful with kids these days. Nobody knows who’s about. But I did see the bloke limping ‘cause I see him quite a few times when I’m waving my nippers off, down here, just wanderin’ about. It was the same bloke all right, and he scuttled off sharply, and then I saw the woman in the stream, quite clearly, and phoned the rozzers, begging your pardon.”

And you didn’t feel like checking that it was a body? That she was really dead and not just sleeping?” asked Rosie, frowning.

Mr Butcher shuddered. “She were dead in the water. That’s what I thought, so I phoned you lot. Now if I can go I’d like to get to work before the boss gives me the sack!”

You can go now, but I’ll need a written statement later today,” said Rosie, clearly disliking the man. “Please call in at the Brumpton police station at six o’clock or thereabouts. I suppose you can do that?”

And those kids over there are in the clear? He asked, “I wouldn’t like to think of young ‘uns like that being questioned about what they know nowt about.”

She nodded. “See you later then, Mr Butcher,” she said, and watched him as he wandered hurriedly off.

What do you make of that?” she asked the uniformed Sergeant Johnson who had been listening to the exchange with growing interest.

Do you know that man?” she asked.

Aye, I do, ma’am,” he replied, “Air-headed Aaron he’s called. Got two kids, sees them off to school like ‘e said, been in and out of the nick for not very much, smoking the odd joint, possession, that sort of thing, I don’t know him personally but they say at the nick that he’s okay. One of the lads uses him as a snout, says he don’t know much but can occasionally be useful.”

So he’s just an ordinary enough guy living an ordinary life. Married?”

Divorced, I reckon. Either that or permanently separated.”

Thanks sergeant. That may be useful,” she said slowly, then: “the limping man? Did you recognise him?”

Sergeant Johnson shook his head. “Nah,” he said, “but if he was off into those woods he could be anyone on the dark side of life. It’s said to be ancient woodland and nobody knows everything there is to know about it And they say as there’s an old cottage in there, Witch Cottage it’s called, with more old tales about it than I’ve had hot dinners, beggin’ your pardon, but I ain’t ever been called to go to it.”

Well, thank you, sergeant,” she said, “I think I might take a peek at that Witch Cottage myself some time. But first of all, I’ve got to work out what to do about those two kids.”

Seems they’ve not much to do with it,” murmured the Sergeant, “walking to school, finding a body, shock to the system…?”

But what school, sergeant? If the school associated with that uniform’s been closed above thirty years, pulled down even, turned into a housing estate. What school?”

He shrugged. “It’s my guess that it’ll all come out in the wash,” he said.

Maybe it will, Sergeant, maybe it will,” she murmured, and made her way back towards the two children and her DC.

Anyone had the wit to say anything?” she asked.

Detective Constable Short shook his head. “Not a squeak,” he murmured, “I’ve met gnats that are more talkative than these two, and that’s a fact.”

I’ve learned a few interesting things that may or may not turn out to be useful. Apparently these two weren’t the first to discover the body. There was a man described as having a pronounced limp who came along first,” explained Rosie, and she thought that the two children, still hand in hand, seemed to react slightly as she said it. Or was it in her imagination when she noticed a flicker across their faces, the clenching and unclenching of the two hands that were still grasped together? She decided to push the point, test reactions.

I’d like to find that individual,” she said, “because he might know a little bit more about who the woman was, what she’s doing there and why she’s dead. We’d best put out a call to apprehend that guy and pull him in when we’ve got our hands on him. After all, if nothing more he’s a witness to what may or may not be a crime.”

And that worked. It worked better than she’d expected.

The girl pulled her hands free from the boy, possibly her twin brother, they weren’t at all sure yet thiough the similarity was uncanny, and shouted “We’ve got to warn him, Ernie, we’ve got to warn him now!”

Come on then, Alice!” shouted the boy, and suddenly, unexpectedly and therefore not watched closely enough to prevent it, the two youngsters pulled free from each other and raced, side by side, across the morning grass of Swanspottle Bottoms towards the fencing that prevented a dark and shadowy woodland from encroaching any further onto the green meadow grass of the Bottoms

After them, Bob!” shouted Rosie, and the two of them, she and Constable Short, rather belatedly set out in pursuit of two fleeing children, who, being young, outpaced them and disappeared through a gap in the fencing, vanishing like ghosts into the woodland. But the officers were much too slow, and Bob Short, though he was the younger of the two by quite a margin, breathlessly pulled up to a standstill when it was clear he couldn’t see where the two youngsters had gone.

Damn and blast!” he muttered, “Where in the name of goodness … there’s no sign of them!”

Calm down, Constable,” sighed Rosie, “because, in all honesty, I can’t see what we want them for anyway. They didn’t discover our dead lady, a man with a severe limp may have done that, and that’s got to be our priority for the time being.”

But they seemed to know who he was,” grunted Bob Short, “and they also demonstrated that they understand English. They could tell us one hell of a lot if we could only get our hands on them.”

Put your hands on them, Constable, and you’ll be up before the beak for molesting them before you could say Jack Robinson,” sighed Rosie Baum, “but come on. We’ve got one other thing to chase up. That cottage in the woods, Witch Cottage the Sergeant called it, that might hold a clue or two if it actually exists and we can find it.”

© Peter Rogerson, 25.03.20

© 2020 Peter Rogerson

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Added on March 25, 2020
Last Updated on March 25, 2020
Tags: forest, woodland, children, escape


Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Forest Town, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom

I am 77 years old, but as a single dad with four children that I had sole responsibility for I found myself driving insanity away by writing. At first it was short stories (all lost now, unfortunately.. more..