An English Mystery
Please note I am writing this with tongue firmly planted in cheek.
Wellham, center of Hartfordshire County, England
Longshank heard the ruckus through three walls, and it bode nothing well for the Chief. The loud yelling was quickly chased by even louder crash and he knew the protestors must have arrived. The University was going through another round of budget cuts and a professor was given the pink slip. Unfortunately, the professor was also the only openly gay faculty member and most of the students believed that was the primary reason why he was given the sack. They promptly began picketing in front of the main building as soon as they got organized. Longshank personally thought they were right, but didn't dwell much further on the sticky topic until he had a ring from the Director of the University. He demanded police involvement because the protestors had taken hold of the whole damn school by seizing its computer center. They also managed to shut down the system, paralyzing almost every aspect of student (not to mention faculty) life on campus.
With great reluctance Longshank sent out couple of his sergeants and a horde of police cadets. The cadets needed the training and he wanted to make it clear to the irate Director that he was no one's puppet and the problem in the University hardly merited a full line, fully armored, riot-geared coppers. His humorous recollection was interrupted by the loudest crash yet and with a large sigh Longshank strolled down to the front of the station.
"What's going on here?" The Chief barked, while the answer was in front of him, screaming and kicking the booking desk, which was already toppled over thanks to the youth's superhuman efforts to destroy every piece of CID furniture he came into contact with. "You, you little tramp, either shut your mouth or I'll call your mum and tell her what her boy's been doing while he should've been studying. And that goes for the whole lot of you, you hear me?"
"We demand our civil rights!" The young man shouted, still struggling mightily against two exhausted police cadets.
"You'll get your civil rights when you get civil. Get that idiot into an isolation cell!" Longshank roared, his pale face now flushed crimson. "And if any of you give my men any more trouble I will personally kick your @rs* clear across the fields, you got that? This isn't some fancy pansy classroom, children. This is the CID and we don't take no orders from spoiled university brats!"
The silence in the front room was as deafening as the noise that echoed to its ceilings only seconds before. Longshank decided it wouldn't be necessary to bully the students any further and marched out of the room.
"Bravo, well done, Adam. Want a whip? That should complete the image." The dry comment that greeted the huffing man elicited a smile from the Chief. His life-long friend and a brilliant forensic pathologist, William Moor, was leaving for the day when he heard his friend do his usual bull routine. The doctor was comfortable enough with Longshank to make such a remark. Anyone else who would have dared would have received a dress down worthy of such miscalculation.
"Stupid kids, what were they thinking?"
"Injustice, unfairness, the usual things in life. Fancy a drink after?"
"Sure, G-d, I should have never taken the job. Being a Chief isn't all it's cracked up to be."
"You can't complain, you knew what foul substance you were stepping into when you took over. But you have my sympathies if that helps the situation any."
"It doesn't, but thanks." A gentle tap on his shoulders made Longshank turn around. "What?" He asked frowning at a cadet looking all of five.
"I think we've got a problem, sir, in room four."
"One of the protestors?"
"No, sir, and I think that's the problem."
"Laddie, you are not making any sense and I am not in the mood to translate your girly tactfulness. What is it?"
"She claims to have been pulled into the sweep when we were removing the students from the building, sir."
"She's lying, book her."
"Sir, I really don't think she was protesting."
"And why are you so sure?"
"Because she's an American."
"Book her for that then. Being American might not be a crime in London, but it is here. And it's been a while since we had a Yank in jail."
"Sir, she's also famous."
"Famous? Why, is she an actress?" Longshank asked, his curiosity now piqued.
"No, sir, she's a writer. I recognized her because I have all her novels. She's Muriel Summers."
"What?" Moor hissed between his teeth. "Hell, she's giving a lecture tonight at the University. You can't arrest her, Longshank, I bought tickets and they didn't come cheap."
"Lead on, let me check out this Miriam Winters."
"Muriel Summers, sir."
"Whatever, the American."
"Longshank, be careful with this one. She knows people in high places." Moor cautioned his friend.
"None of them are here." Longshank quipped and disappeared into the interview room.
The woman in question seemed focused on what was in front of her, which was the tape recorder and D.I. Jackson. The tall, stooping man looked rather uncomfortable and that worried Longshank. Nothing ever penetrated Danny's façade, not drug dealers, not pedophiles, not even when Longshank was at his worst. Yet, this slight woman had him visibly fidgeting in his chair.
"I hear you got into this whole mess by accident." Longshank began nonchalantly.
"He's quick and cute, my oh my, I think I finally found G-d's gift to women."
The retort silenced the Chief Superintendent. She smiled broadly when she saw his jaw slacken and sat back in her chair.
"Do you have any idea who you're talking to, lass?"
"Chief Superintendent Longshank. I can read an I.D. badge, you know."
He slowly looked down and saw his name sprawled in black against the white identification card. "Glad to hear Americans can read. We've been told otherwise."
"Charming too, be still my beating heart."
"Continue like this and that might not hold water for long. What happened?"
"I was crossing the lawn when I noticed your men doing their Hitler routine with the protestors. One of them was getting rather rowdy with a girl. I don't know, maybe he got carried away, but he was way out of line. I stepped in, told him to stop beating her on her face and the next thing I know I had these around my wrists."
She raised her hands in order to show off the handcuffs and to make her point.
"Was there such a girl, Danny?" Longshank asked.
"Yes, she's being looked after. We had to drop her off at the hospital because we couldn't stop the bleeding. The doctors think her nose is broken."
Longshank digested this bit of unwelcome information then turned to the writer. "That was a daft thing to do. You should never interfere with police business."
"It was either that or hit the officer from behind, and I never do that to my opponents. I always give them a chance to swing back."
"You box or something?"
"Yes, it's the hot thing to do right now in the U.S."
"You Americans and your fads. Well, you can go. I hear you're scheduled to give a big lecture tonight."
"I still am if that's what you're worried about."
"Good, don't cause any more trouble. Danny, escort the lady out, will you? And welcome to the lovely county of Hartfordshire. I hope you enjoy your stay here."
"It's already been memorable to say the least, sir."
The saucy reply had Longshank grinning all the way back to his office. Jackson uncuffed the author and respectfully led her out of the room.
"Is your boss always that charming?"
"Today's one of his good days." Jackson replied in a deadpan voice, eliciting a smile from Summers.
"You'll be in my prayers. And thank you for checking out my story."
"No problem. Good luck with your lecture tonight."
"Are you coming? It would be nice to see a familiar face in the crowd."
Jackson was taken back by the flattering comment, but his face betraying nothing. In fact, he shouldn't be surprised; she had stared right at him the whole time he was with her. It also wouldn't be outside the realm of possibility if she could sketch him with her eyes closed.
"I can't. By the time I found out about it the tickets were all sold out."
"Liar, you don't have a clue who I am, do you?"
Jackson burst into laughter and shook his head. "No, I know you're a famous writer and critically acclaimed and all that, but your style isn't my cup of tea. I like my stuff mellow and gentle. I hear you write to hurt people."
"That's a popular misconception. I don't write to hurt anyone, just myself."
"Self-flagellation, that's something I don't get to see often, even in here. Ever think about switching vocations?"
Muriel smiled, "No, I'm too good at this one I'm afraid. And it pays the bills."
"Well, take care and good luck tonight."
"Thank you, detective."
Jackson swung open the door and into a melee that made the previous one look like Sunday School. D.S. Thomas managed to catch the housebreaker who had been terrorizing the whole county for nearly three months. The burglar, in half panic and in full rage, was fighting with not only Thomas but also the desk sergeant and a police cadet who was called in for help. Jackson took a deep breath and stepped into the fray. Tall, gangly, his beanpole frame hid surprising amount of strength and resilience.
The thief, realizing his options were now becoming narrower, grabbed hold of a glass vase containing anniversary roses and smashed it against the desk, instantly turning it into a weapon. He slashed across wildly, managing to cut all the officers, wounding them in various degrees. Jackson swore softly and ignored the blood on his forearm as he head-charged the assailant. The thief lost his grip on his weapon and went down. Thomas cuffed the struggling figure and dragged him to his feet.
"You are going to regret what you just did. I promise you, lad." He snarled, checking the cut across his palm.
"Sir?" Jackson turned to the cadet.
"What?" He asked as he followed the cadet's horrified gaze.
Muriel Summers was still standing though Danny couldn't understand how. There was a crimson rip across her lower abdomen, her white T-shirt now dyed red with her blood. Because of the fight, she was forced to move away from her initial position, and into a corner where she didn't have time or space to dodge the broken vase.
"Oh no..." Jackson whispered as she wordlessly fell to her knees. Then it all happened at once. The officers rushed to the woman's side, trying to gently lay her down on the floor. The thief, all but forgotten, sat down on a chair, his face pale. Stealing was one thing, murder was something else.
"Ambulance!" Jackson shouted as he tried to stop the profuse bleeding with his jacket. The writer's eyelashes fluttered closed and her head fell to the side as all of her strength flowed away from her body. Longshank was in his office when he heard the distress call. The pure panic in Danny's voice told him something was very, very wrong and for the first time in nearly a decade Longshank was running down the corridor.
The eyelashes open slowly and Muriel saw the sterile surroundings she was in. It wasn't the white walls, but the smell of bleach and cleaners which told her she was in a hospital. Her dry mouth elicited a cough and she felt dull pain in her stomach resonate through her body. Suddenly she remembered everything, including the blinding pain from the attack.
"Well, look here, Snow White has awakened."
Muriel slowly turned her head to the left and saw a familiar, rather pudgy figure. "Oh, it's G-d's Gift. Don't you have something better to do?"
Longshank allowed her that one, "I do, but this is more fun and I get to flirt with the nurses. You got a pretty one, and I think she's a real blonde."
"There's only one way to find that out and I don't think that's going to happen anytime soon."
"Lass, you're breaking my heart. Shut up, and by the way I finished your grapes."
"Grapes?" Muriel echoed, confused.
"Yeah, Danny Boy brought you grapes." He motioned with a nod to his right. She turned slowly and saw the gangly figure of the detective who was attacked alongside her sitting at a corner, between the door and a wall.
"Good morning, how are you?" He asked softly.
"I've had better days. How's your arm? You were slashed too. In fact, how's everyone? I don't think anyone got out of that fray without stitches."
Jackson smiled cautiously, uncuffed and rolled up his sleeve to show her the bandages. "Fifteen, but you got the worst of the lot. The doctor says you'll be fine though."
"Yeah, he's planning to kick you out tomorrow. Christie says you're strong as a pony. The main reason why your body could withstand such trauma and not go into shock. You lost a lot of blood you know."
She nodded, "I box, remember?"
"Well thank the L-rd for that bad habit." Longshank suddenly became serious. "We have two ambulances in town and one was tied up at the garage. It took the other one nearly twenty minutes to get to the station. I think Danny ruined his whole wardrobe trying to stop you from bleedin' to death."
"Don't worry about it." Jackson interrupted his boss' speech. "The best thing for you is to take things slowly so you can get well."
"She isn't going to get well if you don't get her fresh grapes, Danny boy. And this is all your fault anyway. I ask you to do one simple thing and the next thing I know she's shakin' hands with Jesus and the whole station's in an uproar. I use to think you were a bright sort of lad, but I'm not so sure anymore."
"Tell me this is one of his bad days." Muriel chirped, half panicking that the detective would take his boss' tirade seriously.
"No, this is still a good day." Jackson answered dryly. "And I'll get you more grapes, but make sure he doesn't eat it all. That would be just like him to steal food from the mouth of a convalescent."
"You're a corrupting influence on the sick, get lost."
"One thing before you go, what is this about grapes?" Muriel finally asked.
"It's what the English like to bring to the sick. Suppose to make them feel better." Jackson answered.
"But isn't it expensive?"
"Very. So I expect you to get the best pick of the lot, you hear?" Longshank snapped.
Muriel turned her gaze towards the superior officer, her face a study of incomprehensible surprise. Jackson just gave another smile, rolled his eyes and left the room without sounding off another opinion.
"Do you treat all your subordinates that way?"
"No, only the ugly ones." Longshank replied, grinning and expecting the patient to fire off into a feminist tirade. Muriel gave a long-suffering sigh (the way only women can make) and settled back into her pillows.
"I'm too tired to fight today, Chief." She murmured.
"Good, it's been a long, hellish wait for me too and for Jackson."
"Jackson? Oh, it that his last name? I thought it was Boy."
"Touché, I'm sure you got few years shaved off from Purgatory for that. But I thought you said you were too tired to fight."
"Tired not dead. What about Jackson?"
"He is a real serious-like fella, if you didn't notice already. How old do you think he is?"
"Forty-six? Maybe forty-seven?"
"You just earned back all the years in Purgatory plus a few. The lad's only thirty-five."
"What?" She gasped in shock then winced when the pain returned.
"Yeah, those gray hairs on top of his head are there because of him. He had a hard life, some of that is his fault but not all. He's taking what happened to you personal. As far as he's concerned, it's because of him you're in here. I haven't seen Danny panic in years, and after yesterday I remember why I made myself forget."
"He couldn't have stopped it from happening."
"Tell him that. The lad, in spite of his easy-going demeanor, doesn't believe in taking it one day at a time, or leaving it to Fate or the Almighty. As far as he's concerned he's the master of his destiny, or something as stupid. It really did get ugly yesterday, and we are glad to see you doing so well."
"Tell everyone I'm doing fine, and I will do the damn lecture even if I have to wheel myself bed and all into the theater."
"Now that I'd pay to see. You got some admirers. There are more flowers for you, but the nurses ran out of space in here so they're decorating the stations. Hope you don't mind." He motioned grandly with his arms.
"No, not at all." She answered drowsily as she checked the voluminous well wishes in her room.
"Get some rest, and I'll torment you tomorrow when Jackson comes back with the grapes."
Longshank heard her soft chuckle as the patient fell back asleep. He waited until the rhythmic breathing appeared and only then did he leave the room. He saw his D.I. waiting for him only two doors away.
"Would you look at this?" Jackson stated softly and in wonder. "Three more vases came while we were in there, and they are not from these parts." The roses were all exotic-colored, not the usual romantic red. And there were flowers in the arrangements that Longshank had never seen in his entire life.
"Looks expensive," Adam commented then snapped off a small lavender-shaded flower to make a buttonir for himself.
"Sir..." Jackson admonished.
"Oh hush, it isn't harming anyone. Here, have one, it might actually make your wardrobe interesting." Longshank said as he snapped off another for his subordinate. Jackson took the flower and placed it cautiously into the buttonhole. "Makes you look positively devilish."
Jackson gave a sardonic look but refrained from making any comment. The pretty blonde nurse Longshank was lusting after came into her post holding a large, beautifully wrapped box.
"What's that? A cake?" Longshank asked.
"I don't know," the nurse confessed. "But it came for the writer. I think it must have some herbal stuff in it because it has a funny scent."
"Probably those New Age candles, they smell atrocious. Let me have a look."
The woman reluctantly handed over the box, "Treat it carefully." She cautioned as Longshank began examining the present.
Jackson stared at the box intensely then slowly took it from his boss' grasp. Longshank didn't struggle and let Danny have it. The detective entered an empty room with Adam at his heels. He undid the bow and opened the wrap only at one end. It took him over a minute to get the box out, but he didn't want to ruin the wrapper because he would need it for evidence. Danny took off the lid and winced as the smell of decay hit the air.
"Oh Christ," Longshank hissed. "Is that what I think it is?"
Jackson nodded and slowly took off the collar from the dead cat. "It had a name - Mac."
"How did you know?"
"My garden, sometimes I find dead birds that my neighbor's cat likes to kill and bury in the strawberry patches."
"Close the lid, I think it's safe to say the cat's dead."
Jackson did and left the room to find a garbage bag to put the box in. He came back but wasn't alone. "Sir, this is Mr. Jonathan Gray, Ms. Summers' agent."
"I just arrived. Oh my G-d, what is that smell?"
"Stupid question, did Ms. Summers have a cat?" Longshank asked through his handkerchief.
"Yes, Mac, an orange tabby. It disappeared right before she left D.C. Why do you ask?"
"Well, we found it."
"It started about a year ago." Gray began, shaken and ashen-faced. "Famous people always attract crackpots and Muriel wasn't an exception to the rule. In fact, I think it's safe to say she got more than her fair share. But this one...psycho really heated things up for her, so much so that we hired a security firm to help her deal with this guy."
"So you know it's a man?" Jackson asked.
"That much we've been able to gather but nothing else. He might be crazy, but he isn't stupid and so far he's been very, very lucky."
"This stalker, was it common knowledge that Ms. Summers has one?" Jackson's question made the agent squirm.
"Let me guess," Longshank began, "She didn't want it to be public information, but someone blabbed it to the press anyway."
"Yes, three months ago. People and few other popular magazines were doing a multi-article spread about stalkers and Muriel's problem was brought to public attention. She was devastated when it hit the press. That's why she came to England. She wanted the whole mess to die down before she went back."
"That might be good and all, but the mental case followed her here. Jackson, get Hodges to do first watch. I don't want anyone to have access to her room without proper authorization, not even if they're pretty."
"Is that really necessary?" Gray asked weakly. "I don't want her to worry and fret, especially in the state she's in."
"Danny, update our good Mr. Gray on the facts of life." Longshank said impatiently.
"Mr. Gray, whoever this man is, had access to Ms. Summers' home, got hold of her cat, killed the poor creature, and shipped its carcass across the Atlantic. He then picked it up somewhere in England, put it in a box and had the whole hideous mess delivered for her perusal right at the moment when she's at her most vulnerable state. I think Ms. Summers should be very worried right about now."
"But lucky for you, Gray, you've got us. And while she's here we're going to make sure nothing happens to your precious meal-ticket. Danny, get the...package to forensics and make sure Moor calls me as soon as he's done. If he's not available, make him available." Longshank's matter-of-fact statement did little to calm the agent down. Jackson was almost out the doorway when Adam's final command reached him.
"One more thing..." Jackson turned around. "Don't forget the grapes."
"How's she doing, Hodges?"
"Well, sir, considering." The young man replied in a friendly voice. "She's getting a lot of attention I must say. Is she really that good a writer?"
"I haven't a clue," Jackson confessed. "Do you have the list of visitors?"
"Right here." He pulled out a scrap of paper from his jacket pocket.
"Lad, you have got to improve your penmanship. This looks like you had an epileptic attack while you were writing."
"Hard to scribble down when you're facing nothing but air, sir."
"Is this her agent?" Jackson pointed out to an illegible scrawl.
"Yes, sir. He came by four times already and I've been on post for three hours. Nice enough fella, a bit nervous though. Is he her boyfriend, sir?"
"That is a good question..."
"No, he isn't." Muriel piped out from the other side of the door.
"And that's a good answer." Jackson added, embarrassed and amused. "Thanks, Hodges. Boon will relieve you at five."
"And Hodges, don't flirt with the nurses. I can smell their perfume on you."
The young officer went fiery red and managed to give a single nod as the detective entered the room.
"How are you feeling?" Jackson asked the patient. Her eyelids were heavy and her breathing was comfortably slow.
"Good, slightly dopey. I think the nurse upped my pain medication dosage."
"And that's a bad thing?" Jackson asked as he sat down on the bed.
"No, but I hate feeling stupid." Her words were beginning to slur.
"Don't worry, you don't sound a bit out of control. What did the doctor say about your wound?"
"He don't talk to you about it?" Muriel asked frowning. "I thought Christie and Longshank were bosom buddies."
"Football teammates which makes them more than bosom buddies. But Christie is an ethical man, unlike Longshank so he won't divulge patient information."
"Deep muscle laceration, but there isn't any organ damage, thank the L-rd. I'm going to have one nasty scar though and tanning won't make it go away."
"Well, at least you'll live. What are you going to do after the discharge?"
"Don't know. Wait around until they reschedule my lecture, then give the damn talk and go home."
"You realize we will have to forward everything to the D.C. police, don't you?"
Muriel sighed and snuggled deeper into her pillows. "Yes, I know. I guess I can't avoid the issue, can I?"
"No, and it won't go away either so best to deal with it."
"You sound so serious, is that one of the accepted hazards of your profession?"
Jackson grinned, "No, it comes from working under Longshank. He becomes more cantankerous; I become more serious until one of us loses his patience. So far it's 50-50, and I figure since I'm younger I'll wear him down."
"Ah, but Longshank's got more experience." She stated in a wise tone.
"Doesn't matter," Jackson shook his head. "I'll win just by outliving the man."
Muriel chuckled and buried herself deeper into the blanket. "It's a miracle someone didn't throttle him to death already."
"Makes you wonder, doesn't it? In spite of his crass attitude Longshank's the best this county ever had. He has more collars in his pocket than anyone else in the history of the Hartfordshire Force. So don't worry, if your madman is patrolling around these parts there's a good chance we'll get him."
"Do you get cases like this often?" Jackson heard the plea behind the question so he lied.
"Enough to know it's nothing you've done. People like this stalker of yours have been twisted up for a long time. You just happen to be convenient for his needs. It could be anyone, but unfortunately he chose you. Remember, you had nothing to do with this."
"You definitely sound like a cop."
"Maybe because I am one."
"How old is Hodges? I feel like I should offer him milk and cookies." She switched the topic; Daniel answered her unspoken question to her satisfaction and Muriel didn't want to chase the subject any further.
"He's old enough to have a pint or two at the local pub with his mates."
"Oh...what is a good pub around here?"
"You shouldn't be drinking, especially with a wound like that. And won't the doctor put you on antibiotics?"
"Now you sound like my dad."
"Sorry, it won't happen again." Jackson apologized lightly and held his hands up in a gesture of defeat. "I'd go with Lion and Gale. It's two blocks from the station and I think it's the best and the safest. Listen, when this whole thing's over I'll take you over for a drink but don't go out alone for now."
Muriel gave a beatific smile for an answer and Jackson realized he stepped neatly into a trap.
"Tricky, even with all the pain meds you have circulating in your system you roped me in for a free drink."
Muriel threw back her head and laughed, then came to an abrupt halt when the pain rose above the medication.
"Serves you right. Get some sleep." Jackson turned off the lights.
"Aye, Aye, Commander Dalgliesh."
"I am only a lowly Detective Inspector, and it's Jackson. Hardly the same romantic feel as Dalgliesh."
Muriel did not respond and Daniel knew she had fallen asleep already. He turned around to leave the room and nearly collided with his supervisor.
"Flirting with witnesses is against CID rules. It's the holiest of the holy canons. You know that, right?"
"Flirting?" Jackson asked innocently.
"Flirting, asking her out for a drink. You're a sly one aren't you?"
"I did not..." Jackson argued with some spirit.
"Save it for later, Casanova. We've got work to do or will you be too preoccupied with Ms. Nobel Prize in there to be any help?"
"I can do my job." Jackson responded defensively. He did not like to have his abilities as a police officer to be questioned, even by the likes of Longshank.
"In more ways than one from what I overheard."
"Then maybe you shouldn't eavesdrop next time."
"But that's how I do my business. How else can one go about solving crimes in a place like this? Anyway, bugger off. Your In-Box is starting to look like my waistline -- overloaded."
"Yes, sir." Jackson responded sarcastically and left Longshank alone with Hodges.
The young officer waited until the D.I. was out of earshot. "Sir, I don't think he was flirting. If anything I think she was flirting with him."
"You're a bit too young to make judgement calls on subjects like the opposite sex."
"And it wouldn't be totally bad for Jackson's reputation if she was flirting with him." Hodges mumbled.
"What?" Longshank asked confused. "What are you talking about?"
"Well, there's talk..."
"Oh, Christ, what about?" Adam groused loudly.
"Well...Jackson doesn't seem to have any girlfriends, sir. And I mean never. So some of the men were wondering if he's..."
"Congratulations, you just won The Idiot of the Day Award. Who else believes in that bit of nonsense?"
"Lot of the men, sir and some of the female officers."
"Well, the truth of the matter is he was sent down from London because of a woman, Hodges. Why do you think a brilliant lad like Jackson got stuck in a hole like Hartfordshire? Because he likes gardening and a bit of fresh air?"
"I didn't know that, sir." Hodges replied quickly, now embarrassed and contrite.
"Well now you do and if I hear any more of that nonsense from you ever again, I'll wrap you ears around your knees, you got that?"
"Just make sure your charge survives the night. And no more of that talk, understood?"
Hodges nodded frantically and watched warily as the irate Chief Superintendent walked away. When Longshank turned the corner Hodges gave a loud sigh of relief and slumped back into the wall. In a span of two minutes he managed to insult both Longshank and Jackson. And Hodges knew Jackson would not easily forgive him if he found out what was said about him behind his back.
It was almost nine before Jackson was able to call it a day. However, what Longshank said earlier nagged him even after he finished dinner. It was unusual for any of Adam's remark to dig itself so deep into Daniel's psyche, so the accusation made him wonder if he was indeed flirting with the patient.
She's pretty enough for anyone's taste. Jackson admitted to himself. But that wasn't flirting. Not even close so where's Longshank getting it from? Or was it one of his off-the-cuff remarks? And if it was, why is it bothering me so?
Jackson managed to avoid answering the last question until he found himself unable to sleep at two in the morning.
Because she is pretty. And nice. And funny. And she doesn't have a boyfriend, and she can stand up to Longshank without blowing her fuse. She didn't look at me funny when she first saw me. And she wasn't scared because I came with a badge. But she's short. I have to be at least 30 centimeters taller than her.
The last thought was so ridiculous he laughed at himself.
I must be getting desperate if I am trying to convince myself I don't like her because of her stature. Pretty brown eyes, filled with laughter, even when she was in so much pain. I didn't think she would make it. All that blood, from someone so small...thank you, L-rd. I owe you. I wonder what she does on her time off. Does she write all the time or does she have friends she goes out with? I bet she goes to the fancy places, the ones where there are three waiters for every table. I wonder why she even asked about a pub? Would she know what one is? What does she think about me? Or would she be thinking about me at all? Aren't I an arrogant bast*** believing she even thought about me? Why would she?
He sat up, went to the kitchen, opened the fridge and took out a cold one. Daniel knew he wouldn't be getting any sleep tonight. However, his sleep deprivation didn't matter. The subject that would rob him of his rest was more preferable than his bed, and it's been a while since Jackson allowed himself the chance to fancy a woman. Well over a decade in fact.
"Any chance the maniac left us his phone number?"
"No, sir, we're not that lucky with this case." Jackson muttered dryly as he flipped through the sports pages. However, his frequent glances towards the fax machine told the Chief his D.I. was expecting pertinent information.
"Well, then, why are you sitting on your a**e? Go, interview people!" Longshank grumbled.
"What people, sir? We've canvassed everything and everyone for fifty kilometers radius. Nobody's seen anything out of the ordinary. The only shocking news is that Gwyn's cows have dried up mysteriously and we won't be having fresh milk for the rest of the week."
"As if that isn't weird enough." Longshank countered. "That would certainly qualify as unusual, especially for Wellham, not Gwyn's cows, but that nobody saw anything unusual."
"Strange is not unlawful, sir."
"Yeah, but your face is. Get out of here and do something useful."
"Yes, sir." Jackson answered cheerfully and left his grumpy supervisor. He whistled a bright tune as he started his car. In minutes he was back at the hospital where his favorite patient resided.
"How are you?"
"I'm doing pretty well considering." Muriel answered as she continued typing. "Any updates on Mac's killer?"
"Besides the fact that he's not a cat person?"
"He?" She echoed. "What makes you think the assailant's a he? Maybe it's a she."
"Now that would definitely make the cover of the local rags. However, from the aggressive behavior, we do believe the person's a he. By the way, we buried your cat under a nice tree. When you get better I'll take you to him."
She smiled thinly, "Thank you. What do you think? The doctor says I could be released tomorrow if I promise to behave."
"Then you should leave, but in our protective custody until we think you're safe again."
"I have suddenly become a character in my own novel." She groused.
"Then you'll write with more accuracy from now onwards." The detective shot back smoothly. "This is not an option, Ms. Summers."
"I got that part, detective. When will this be over?" Muriel finally surrendered to her worries. "I can't go on like this."
"Let me ask you something. When did you exactly book your flight to England?"
"I didn't, Jon did it for me. That way it guarantees my privacy."
"Did Mr. Gray also make all the arrangements?"
"Yes, he always does. I have a very short temper when it comes to booking and making reservations. I hate being put on hold."
"Spoilt, aren't you?"
"Nope, sane." She parried back. "And I want to keep myself that way."
"I'll come back later. Hopefully with more good news. Just don't do anything rash, you hear?"
She waved good-bye and returned to her typing. Jackson wondered if she was indeed writing a book based on her experiences in England, and if he would be a character in the novel. The thought made him pause and he had to force himself to leave the building without returning to the writer and asking her exactly what she was so eagerly recording into the computer.
"You're here late, Jackson. Any breaks?" Longshank asked curiously. He caught the shaft of light drifting from under Danny's office door.
"What is the simplest method to solving a case? Any case?"
"Check, recheck evidence until your eyeballs fall off."
"I have all this information from the U.S. and the travel agency in London, and I can say right now something doesn't make sense."
"But...you have a theory, yes?"
"Our Mr. Gray, he made all the arrangements for her, no one else, just him."
Longshank sat down, "So besides our skanky agent, only our famous writer knew about her travel plans. Hence, it stands to reason..."
"Our nutcase is Mr. Gray."
"You have evidence to back it up?"
"A year ago, our Mr. Gray divorced from his wife. It was the Mrs. who filed for the dissolution. From what I've gathered it was a rough time for him and Ms. Summers, being the Good Samaritan that she is, took care of him. Until recently. Wait, that's the fax. I requested information on his bank account."
Jackson gathered the numerous sheets and flipped through them. "Everything, everything's tied down to her. She's his biggest money maker."
"That doesn't make sense. Why would he want to hurt her then if she's his cash cow?"
"Because she's insured to the hilt. And if she dies, then her older works, which I count to be eleven, will probably be republished."
"Does he get a cut?"
"The usual fifteen percent. And whatever else, probably movie and television rights included."
"Handsome payoff, but..."
"I don't think this is motivated by financial gain, sir. I think this guy's really nuts. I think he got attached to her and when she pushed him away finally...he pulled this stunt in order to get her to depend on him."
"How do we put him behind bars?"
"Well, my guess is take away what he needs most and he will probably do something very stupid."
"My instinct tells me that sly mind of yours have something up the sleeve."
"No, no sleeve, just an exhumation of her cat."
"You have such a nasty mind, I love it."
"We need your permission to dig up your cat."
"What?" Muriel responded, her shock to Longshank's request equal to her agent's. "Why?"
"The collar, we need to check its collar. Chances are there might be prints on the fabric."
"But Mac's been dead for days and he's buried now."
"That's why we need to dig it up tomorrow when we have daylight. May we?"
"Of course, go ahead and good luck."
"Thank you, Ms. Summers and nice to see you again, Mr. Gray. We hope to bring you better news soon." Longshank politely exited the room, chuckling silently.
"No, sir. Brians?" Jackson whispered into the mike.
"None, sir." The young officer responded. "Wait, there's a car coming up the road. I think it's our man, sir."
"Keep an eye on him lad. And if you see a firearm, tell us."
"Yes, sir. Yep, it's our boy and he's coming up your path...with a shovel."
"We need to grab him after he finishes digging. So everyone wait until he's done." Jackson cautioned.
Longshank saw the familiar figure and heard the noise as the shovel hit the freshly dug earth. Gray pulled out the box and opened it. And out popped party favor snakes. Jonathan screamed and threw everything into the air, stumbling over the tree roots and falling flat on his behind.
"Hello, psycho man." Chief Superintendent's voice cut through the cloaking night. "And don't you run, we've got you surrounded."
"Fine, but what do you have exactly, Longshank? Me digging up..."
"We've got your travel records, boyo, and we also have your London address. I'm guessing Jackson will have everything tied up before the sun comes up."
"Count on it, sir."
"I love that boy, I truly do. Take him Brians, and make sure you put him in an integrated cell."
"Got that, Chief."
Longshank stared at the disappearing group then turned to his favorite D.I. "So, do you want to play the hero and tell the lady she can finally sleep?"
"She won't like this one bit. She's got a tender heart."
"It'll mend. Is she writing another book? That should keep her busy for a while."
"As a matter of fact, she is, sir."
"Well, tell me what she's writing about. I've got an inkling you'll see the first draft before anyone else does."
Jackson didn't respond. Instead he threw a glorious smile and briskly walked towards his car. Longshank took a deep breath of the sharp air and chuckled in absolute contentment. Even in the near dark he could see Danny Boy's happiness etched into that pale face. It was good to have all of Jackson back, finally.
© 2000 Copyright held by the author.