Authors: Paul Gitsham
It all seems straightforward. There’s been a tragic accident: the old man fell asleep in his chair, woke up in the dark, fell and hit his head on the mantelpiece. But the Crime Scene Manager isn’t happy. There are just too many details that aren’t quite right and Charles Michaelson’s accident becomes a suspicious death.
And, as DCI Warren Jones investigates, he and his team discover that all is not as it appears to be in the dead man’s caring family when his son-in-law disappears. Then they uncover some dark secrets in Michaelson’s past and a motive for murder.
The Last Straw
No Smoke Without Fire
Silent as the Grave
Blood Is Thicker Than Water
A DCI Warren Jones Short Story
started his career as a biologist, working in such exotic locales as Manchester and Toronto. After stints as the world’s most over-qualified receptionist and a spell making sure that international terrorists and other ne’er do wells hadn’t opened a Junior Savings Account at a major UK bank (a job even less exciting than being a receptionist) he retrained as a science teacher. He now spends his time passing on his bad habits and sloppy lab skills to the next generation of enquiring minds.
Paul has always wanted to be a writer and his final report on leaving primary school predicted he’d be the next Roald Dahl! For the sake of balance it should be pointed out that it also said, “He’ll never get anywhere in life if his handwriting doesn’t improve.” Twenty-five years later and his handwriting is worse than ever but millions of children around the world love him.
Paul writes the DCI Warren Jones series of novels. He is currently spending hours in coffee shops and pubs whilst he plots the next novels in the series. Honest.
This is a lie—just ask any of the students he has taught.
As always, writing is a joint effort. Huge thanks to Dad and Cheryl, my beta-readers for their advice and assistance.
The old man wakes with a start. It’s pitch black and for a moment he’s disoriented. He’s sitting upright; he must have fallen asleep in the chair in front of the TV again. So why isn’t the light on? Has the electricity gone off? A blinking green glow across the room is slowly coming into focus—the clock on the video player. 01:27. So, no power cut but it did explain why the TV was off. It had switched to power-saving mode. Had he turned the light off before snoozing? He didn’t think so.
Bloody eco light bulbs. They were supposed to last for ten years; he’d only fitted it six months ago. He didn’t give a fig about global warming, but his daughter had shown him how much money he would save on his electricity bill and that had convinced him to pay the premium. Had he recouped his investment yet? He didn’t think so.
His legs were stiff. He couldn’t sleep here all night, he decided. Besides he needed the bathroom. The room was still dark; neither the green of the video clock nor the faint glow from the streetlamps through the curtains provided enough illumination for him to make out anything but the darkest of shadows. He thought about waiting for a few more moments to see if his eyes would adjust any more, but now thoughts of the toilet had taken hold and wouldn’t be denied much longer.
Reaching forward he groped for the wheeled trolley. He still resented the contraption. It had a tray and all sorts of useful pockets, allowing him to shuffle around his house unaided, but despite what the brochure and his carers might call it, the damn thing was a Zimmer frame. His fingertips met nothing but empty air. Where was it? Had he kicked it away in his sleep? Some sort of leg spasm that sent it skittering out of his grasp?
He swept the air in front of him with his right hand, his eyes straining uselessly. Where was the bloody thing? The discomfort in his bladder was growing. He’d have to get to the bathroom soon. Time for Plan B he decided, turning in his seat for the wooden cane—he refused to call it a walking stick—that he kept hanging from the back of his armchair. His fingers brushed against the fabric of the wing-backed chair. It must have fallen on the floor he decided.
Reaching down he moved his fingers methodically across the carpet. After a few moments he gave up, his breath ragged from the pressure on his diaphragm, tiny stars sparkling at the edge of his vision. For the first time he started to doubt himself. Had he imagined hanging the cane off the back of his chair? It was something that he did every day—had he just assumed that he had done so last night? A chill ran through him. These little episodes were becoming more frequent. Was he just getting a little forgetful in his old age or was there more to it? Something more sinister? It ran in families sometimes he’d read somewhere. His mother had remained as sharp as a pin into her nineties, but his father had died too young for any of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease to manifest themselves. However, both of his father’s brothers had been showing at least some of the symptoms of dementia before the family curse of heart disease had taken them as well. He’d inherited the heart problems. Had he also inherited something else?
This time of year the sun made an appearance about six. Could he just sit it out until it became light enough for him to see what he’d done with his mobility aids? A rumbling in his bowels joined the pain in his bladder, answering that question. He gritted his teeth. No chance. Old and infirm he may be, but he still had his pride—too much pride, even he could admit at times—and he would not be found sitting in his own piss and shit.
Taking a deep breath, he shuffled to the end of the chair. He’d finally accepted the logic of a stairlift—it was either that or be confined to the ground floor of his own home, suffering the ignominy of bathing in the kitchen or downstairs loo and sleeping in the dining room, with a twice weekly trip to the upstairs bathroom to wash properly. He had, though, drawn the line at one of those tilting armchairs that delivered you to your feet. Not least because of the price. Eight hundred pounds for a chair! He regretted that now. Gripping the armrest with his right hand he pushed down, struggling to clamber to his feet. The chair rocked alarmingly as his full weight resting on one side threatened to topple it.
Finally he stood precariously upright, feeling a flash of pride in his accomplishment, followed immediately by a sense of shame at being proud of such a minor achievement. Maintaining a grip on the side of the chair, he shuffled his feet until he stood more firmly. His left leg was weaker than his right—not as useless as his left arm, fortunately, but it still made crossing the darkened room a time-consuming process.
The rug in front of the fire was an old, shaggy affair nearing the end of its fifth decade. It had been lying there since he’d moved into the house and had been the first piece of “luxury furnishing” his wife had bought. It had cost her a week’s wages—not that she’d earned much back then, not compared to him—but it had been important for her. Her income had been little more than pocket money really. He’d been the breadwinner but it had been important that she felt she was contributing.
He was fortunate that it was his weaker left foot that caught the fold; it left his stronger right leg to help him regain his balance. He breathed out shakily. That had been too close.
And then he was falling. Time seemed to slow and then the stars were back, an explosion of light before his eyes from the sudden contact with the mantelpiece. They were beautiful in their own way, he supposed. He felt weightless, even as he continued downwards. There was no pain; there hadn’t been time.
Then it was all over. A final crack as he met the stone hearth of the fireplace and that was it.
“Charles Michaelson, seventy-eight years old, lived alone,” the young constable greeted Detective Chief Inspector Warren Jones as he stepped out of his car. He nodded in the direction of a middle-aged woman dressed in a plain skirt and woollen cardigan, talking to another uniformed officer. “That’s his daughter over there. She discovered the body this morning when she came by to help the deceased get ready for the day.”
“Anything suspicious at the scene?”
The policeman shook his head. “Nothing obvious. It looks as though he fell and cracked his head. Apparently he was unsteady on his feet after a stroke a few years ago.”
The daughter was sitting on the steps of the ambulance’s loading bay, her hands wrapped around a steaming mug. Warren decided to head into the house to see the scene for himself before speaking to her.
It was nine a.m. on a Tuesday and the morning rush hour was well underway. In Warren’s experience, the flashing lights of an ambulance elicited a curiousness that was usually tempered by respect. Nobody felt comfortable slowing down to stare as some poor soul was taken out of their home. However, the presence of a police car elevated the scene to an “incident” and all such restraint melted away. He turned back to the constable who had greeted him.
“Go and ask those kids why they aren’t in school yet and tell them to stop filming or I’ll confiscate their phones as evidence.”
Leaving his empty threat to be passed on to the gaggle of gawking teenagers, Warren walked up the short garden path, towards the door. The house was a neat, terraced affair. The faint scent of air freshener and furniture polish spoke of a well-cared-for property, although he noticed that the paintwork on the windowsills and the front door was slightly faded, suggesting that the occupant was more interested in the interior than the outside. A glance back at the front garden confirmed his impression; the grass on the tiny lawn was recently cut, but small weeds poked their heads between the untidy rosebushes.
Another constable stood guard inside the narrow, dark hallway with a copy of the scene log attached to a clipboard. Behind him, Warren could see through an open doorway into the living room beyond, the bottom of a right leg encased in grey corduroy trousers with a bright red slipper just visible. Warren signed his name, noting that aside from the two officers he’d already met and a couple of paramedics, he was the first on the scene.
“The daughter found him this morning when she let herself in to make him breakfast.”
“Did she disturb the body?”
“She says that she saw he wasn’t breathing and touched his neck, but she couldn’t find a pulse, so she called 999.”
“What about the paramedics?”
“They came in, but they could see he was dead, so they backed out and called us in.”
Warren nodded his thanks. The chances were that it was nothing more than natural causes, an old man collapsing of a heart attack or stumbling. Nevertheless an unexplained death was an unexplained death and Warren was the senior on-call officer this week. Reaching down, he slipped a pair of sterile booties over his work shoes and snapped on a pair of latex gloves.
The living room was old-fashioned. Aside from the large flat screen TV at the far end of the room, the décor probably hadn’t been updated in the last forty years. The carpet, though clean, was faded, the three-piece suite slightly shiny from decades of use. Thick, dark curtains were still drawn, the electric light providing the only illumination.
The body of an elderly man lay face down in the fireplace. It had been a warm night and Warren was relieved to see that the fire hadn’t been lit. Past experience told him that the smell of burnt flesh and the sight of charred features would linger in his dreams for weeks afterwards. Unfortunately, the man had soiled himself and the odour was starting to fill the room.