A Chapter by Peter Rogerson



Rosie parked as close to the billowing clouds of smoke or steam or whatever it was as she could, but the way the stuff drifted and swirled in the breeze meant she ended up not as close as she would have liked to be.

At least it’s not the cottage, ma’am,” put in Bob as they surveyed the source of all that smoke. Someone had gone to great pains to create the sort of fire that was more likely to smoke and steam than flame. “They must have something to hide,” he added.

Or advertise. Even with this being in the middle of an old woodland the smoke must be visible for miles, and I’ll bet you a penny to a pound it’s got something to do with our earlier visit,” said Rosie, “come on, let’s see what they’re up to, and hope that we’re not too late.”

They started walking towards the source of all the smoke and steam when a harsh male voice cut through the clouded air.

That’s far enough, coppers,” it said, “else I might have to do something you’ll regret and anyway I don’t want to be done for killing a couple of coppers, so help me, so keep back!”

The speaker limped into sight, a rusty old kitchen knife in his hand threateningly, and Rosie put her hand out to caution the constable against doing anything hasty.

Is that Mr Baker?” she asked, “the brave man who discovers dead bodies and doesn’t report them? Or is Mr Baker the man who goes around with a syringe filled with morphine? Which Mr Baker are you?”

I never hurt her!” protested the man referred to as Baker by the woman in the cottage, “I wouldn’t hurt a soul, that I wouldn’t. I loved her! I really did. Loved her.”

I’ve heard murder and love used in the same sentence more than once,” said Rosie quietly. “You might never want to hurt the one you love, and a syringe filled with morphine doesn’t hurt anyone, does it? But it does send a soul on a dreadfully long sleep...”

It weren’t me, I tell you!”

Then who, then, might it have been?” asked Bob, needing to take part in what was a grimly grotesque conversation.

I dunno, but it weren’t me, I swear it, honest I do.”

Right,” said Rosie quietly, “but while you’re holding that knife we might be forgiven if we got the idea that it was you, don’t you think?”

He might have replied but there came the unmistakable sound of a fire engine rushing down a lane that shouldn’t be rushed down, and it was followed by a flickering blue light as the fire engine’s blues found their way through the trees.

What’s that?” shouted the man called Baker.

Why, man, you’ve made a lot of smoke and it seems to be a fire engine come to investigate,” replied Rosie, “and fire engines have crews of, I think, eight strong men, so maybe if you thought twice about where you were pointing that knife you’d end up in a great deal less trouble.”

I ain’t done nowt!”

Threatening to murder two police officers?” asked Rosie, “with a rusty knife,” she added.

By this time the air was filled by the noise of the fire engine, which was rumbling to a standstill.

What do you reckon they’ll think is going on?” asked Bob, “when they see two detectives having a blade poked towards them? They won’t think we’re having a cosy chat, you know. They’ll see a desperado needing to flee from justice and not bothered who he hurts while he’s doing it. And to think, we only came here to make enquiries about the two children who were on the Bottoms when you spotted the dead woman. I mean, are they well? You haven’t hurt them, have you? It wouldn’t be good if you’d hurt them...”

By that time the crew from the fire engine had dismounted and were gazing with a mixture of anger and bewilderment at the scene in front of them. The fire was still filling the air with fumes and smoke and a hosepipe was being connected to the pump ready to extinguish it.

I would never touch a hair on their heads!” he shouted, “I love ‘em! Why would I want to hurt such wonderful kids as them?”

It might help us understand better if you explained where they were,” said Rosie, stepping slowly towards him and, to Bob’s eyes, bravely relieving him of the knife. She looked at it and frowned. “Not such a pleasant thing, this, is it?” she asked, “it might do a soul a lot of damage, and goodness knows how many nasty germs are clinging to it ready to infect those who get just a little bit scratched by it.”

Are you alright, Rosie?” asked one of the firemen. She glanced behind her and smiled at him. “Why, Tom, so good to see you!” she said, her voice sounding delighted, “I was just trying to explain to Mr Baker here how dangerous it can be handling rusty knives. How’s the misses? Still in the peak?”

Ready to drop our second in a couple of weeks,” he said, “we’re having another girl, you know.”

That’s good news! Now, Tom, do you think your men could do something about all this smoke? It’s getting in my eyes and I dared say it’ll be good practice for them, aiming straight and all that. I know some men are not so hot when it comes to aiming straight...”

He grinned at her and issued a quiet order to a couple of his men, and the hosepipe was unrolled and aimed at the source of all the smoke.

It didn’t take long for what was in essence a smouldering mattress piled on top of lumpy sacks and a few smoking smouldering clothes to be drenched.

Getting some new bedding are we, Mr Baker?” asked Rosie, “by the look of it that one had done some service. But why today? A lovely bit of sunshine spoiled by all this smoke! Now those children, sir, the two you were telling me how much you loved them … where might they be? I believe you were about to tell me.”

They’re about,” he grunted in reply.

That’s not a precise enough answer for my liking,” she said, her voice getting an edge to it that those who knew her would have found familiar and feared. “The kids, Mr Baker? Where are they?”

Just a minute,” hissed Bob Short, spotting something in the still steaming ashes of the fire, “what’s this?”

He stepped forwards as if to tread on the periphery of the fire, but Tom, the fireman, warned him to stay back.

It’s still hot enough to burn your skin off,” he shouted, “what is it? Let me see if I can help.”

Look. Down there.” pointed Bob, his voice wavering as he indicated something that must have started the day under the burnt mattress.

And when the fireman looked at where Bob was pointing he turned pale.

Why bugger me,” he whispered, “it’s a head! It’s somebody’s head...”

© Peter Rogerson, 29.03.20

© 2020 Peter Rogerson

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Added on March 29, 2020
Last Updated on March 29, 2020
Tags: fire, smoke, steam, skull


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..