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6. TOO MUCH SMOKE

6. TOO MUCH SMOKE

A Chapter by Peter Rogerson
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THE BODY IN THE STREAM - 6

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It seems we have work to do, seeing as there can be no doubt that the woman was murdered, and the first thing we’ve simply got to do is confirm her identity,” said Rosie to the still pale and rather self-consciously queasy Constable Bob Short as they made their way back to the police station and their cars.

She’s the spitting image of the woman at Witch Cottage, and seeing her lying there on the slab convinced me they must share quite a lot of genes,” muttered Bob, “and I’m sorry that I nearly passed out,” he added.

Was that your first trip to see Doctor Greaves at work?” asked Rosie, “because if it was I’m sorry that I pushed you in at the deep end.”

Oh, that wasn’t it. It was when the doctor mentioned she’d had sex not long before she died. That brought it home that she was a bit more than a chunk of meat in the path lab but a woman with a life that she probably enjoyed to the full like we living sometimes enjoy our lives to the full, and she had human pleasure in doing things she loved with somebody special.”

Rosie eyed him curiously, then smiled. “You are a sentimental soul, aren’t you? But we’re all like that, people with lives that include sex,” she said, “even single birds like me, though you might find that hard to believe! But back to the job in hand. It’s back to that Witch Cottage for us after we’ve had a bite for lunch, and now we suspect you’ve got to be right we’ve got to get that woman to come and identify our body.”

I don't think I could eat anything,” sighed the Constable.

You will,” she assured him, “and as what you eat feeds your brain and I need that in perfect working order you’d better eat something nourishing!”

Yes, ma’am.”

And while we’re talking away from snooping ears you can stop calling me ma’am. It makes me feel old and matronly. My name’s Rosie, and I’m almost fond of it!”

Yes ma… Rosie,” he said, and sighed, “I’ll get used to it,” he mumbled, “it’s just that I’ve sort of been indoctrinated when I was in uniform and nobody would have thought much of me using Christian names there!”

Neither will I, in the office,” she smiled at him, “it’s just when we’re on our own, in the car maybe, or looking for clues on Swanspottle Bottoms with our magnifying glasses in front of our eyes and our deerstalkers on straight on a bright and cheerful day. But for now, I’m off to my place, and I’ll drop you off at your chosen eatery on my way, if you like.”

I’ll take my car,” he assured her, “I don’t live in the refined world where Inspectors have their castles, and I’d lie to pop in at home, There’s something I’d like to check on.”

Mine’s no castle, just a suburban semi,” she said, “but it’s not where a house is, it’s what hearts beat inside it, and love and all sorts of things like that. But I get your intent, and you take that car of yours. But drive carefully. We don't want old Jake to be distracted by another stiff on his slab!”

I’ll do that,” he said, and grinned, “and thanks ma’a … Rosie,”

That’s a good boy, Bob. Back in an hour, then. I think I might take a look at something before I go.”

When her constable had driven off and was out of sight Rosie made her way to her office and her official computer. She needed to check on Witch Cottage and see what she could find out about it, and that was something she preferred to do on her own at her own keyboard. Half an hour later and frustrated at her own failure she was in the station tea bar with a sandwich and a coffee, wondering how it could be that no matter how hard she searched she could find no reference to any cottage in the ancient woodland off Swanspottle Bottoms. If it was there it can’t be officially invisible. Can it?

It was as if there never was a building there, yet she’d seen it with her own eyes, even knocked its ancient weather-beaten door.

Oo0oo

Well, Bob,” she said when she and the Constable were once again in her car and the engine was ticking over waiting for them to drive off, “I’ve been doing a bit of research of my own and as far as I can make out there’s no such place as Witch Cottage.”

I’ve done the same,” he confessed, “and maybe had a bit more luck. The only reference I can find isn’t online but in a rather tatty old handbook printed by a defunct local history society a century or more ago. My dad’s fond of poking through stuff like that when he’s bored. It might be a slim volume, but it seems pretty comprehensive. The only cottage in the woodland is referred to as a ruin and uninhabited, and that was early in the last century when the handbook was first printed. But a brief note said it was rumoured to be the last home of the Swanspottle Witches, a pair of despised women alive in the seventeenth century when superstition was everywhere and women only had to develop warts to be thought of as witches.”

Now that might come in useful, Bob. Well done: well done indeed! Let’s beetle back to that woodland and accost a latter day witch in her den. And ask about those two kids we saw because there’s something not quite right about them.”

She pulled out of the police station car-park and concentrated on the circuitous route to the Swanspottle Road out of Brumpton.

So there were real witches in Swanspottle, Bob?” asked Rosie, “and to think of it I thought there was still one alive, according to current rumours. But she doesn’t live in the woodland, oh dear me no, because I dared say the trees would get in the way of her broomstick antics!”

Is that for real, ma’… Rosie?” asked constable Short.

Probably not, but rumours abound and you know what rumours are like,” she said with a smile. “So let’s get away from rumour and down to facts. One is the limping man, later called Mr Baker by the woman in the cottage. He was seen by Mr Butcher walking to that gap in the hedge and fencing bordering the old woodland, and passing through it from the Bottoms. I need to speak to him again. And we saw the two could-be twins vanishing into the woods too, and the woman in the cottage said they were good kids, which meant she knew all about them.”

That woman hinted there might be something in Mr Baker’s past,” added Bob Short, “and we know that Mr Butcher was done for possession in the past.”

I’m not worried about that,” Rosie told him, “he appears to have custody of his kids, and that wouldn’t be allowed if he was likely to put them at any risk.”

What about a possible Mrs Butcher, though?” asked Bob.

I got the impression the man was on his own, but I’ve had more than one false impression in my life,” she replied slowly, “that’s good thinking, Bob. Very good. Now here we are, hold on to your hat, we’re on the road to Hell!”

She drove slowly down the unmade track until they arrived within sight of the cottage they’d been led to believe was Witch Cottage.

But they couldn’t see much of it because of the smoke, great billowing clouds of it, and occasionally it cleared enough for them to make out the disorganised and apparently derelict stones of Witch Cottage.

Quick! Get the fire boys!” snapped Rosie, and Bob was quicker than her because he was already barking the details of what he could see and where it was into his phone.

© Peter Rogerson 28.03.20



© 2020 Peter Rogerson


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Added on March 28, 2020
Last Updated on March 28, 2020
Tags: derelict cottage, sisters, sex, smoke


Author

Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Forest Town, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom



About
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..

Writing