Authors: James R. Vance
James R. Vance
Copyright James R. Vance 2010©
©All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publishers or author, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
This is work of fiction. Any similarity to persons alive or dead is purely coincidental.
Published by: TheEbookSale Publishing Limerick, Ireland
To my children, Simon, Jay & Stephanie and to the memory of my sister-in-law, Jill Roberts (1947-2009)
Some behaviours of humans and animals are instinctive… inbred traits; others are learned behaviours, enabling adaptation to circumstances or environment. Babies cry for attention instinctively, but learn a language to communicate. Dolphins swim instinctively, but can be taught tricks in captivity.
What causes a human to behave like an aggressive animal? Some believe that the cause can be attributed to unfulfilled human needs and desires. Fortunately when most people's needs are not met they do not turn to violence to deal with their frustrations. Nevertheless, self-control sometimes breaks down, resulting in aggression ranging from a basic intention to harm another person to murder.
There is also the theory that instinctive behaviour can build up spontaneously, with or without outside provocation, until it is likely to be discharged with minimal or no provocation from outside stimuli.
How could a normal adult behave like an aggressive animal when suddenly confronted by avision of beauty?
A key feature of Labour Government policy within the United Kingdom during the late 1960's and early 1970's was the shift in population from run-down inner city areas to ‘new towns ‘ or urban areas in need of development and expansion. This migration allowed neglected city neighbourhoods to be revitalised and designated urban districts to receive housing and amenity grants, based on intake quotas.
Winsford, a once thriving Cheshire salt mining town was one such beneficiary under the scheme. The downside emerged when quotas diminished. The knock-on effect was the reduction of government grants and consequently a shortfall in amenities and jobs for the new workforce.
With no work and a history of previous hardships, inevitably some migrants turned to more devious and, in some cases, criminal activities to support their needs.
Newly appointed Detective Inspector Massey stood to one side, brushing debris from his trousers. He trudged back up the slope to where Detective Constable Turner was wafting away a swarm of irritating flies, a stream of expletives emanating from his half-closed lips as he complained about the obnoxious smell.
“Not much to go on, Constable,” remarked Massey, ignoring his partner's obvious distress. “Naked as the day she was born. Pretty girl, though.” He turned to the forensic team doctor. “Apparent cause of death?”
“Difficult to say. There's certainly a heavy bruise to the head and many abrasions about the body that seem to match the numerous cuts in the bin liners, indicating that they were probably inflicted after she was bagged up. If she arrived here via a refuse truck, that would account for them, but if she was dumped here manually.…well your guess is as good as mine. We'll have a better idea after a post mortem.”
“How long d'you reckon she's been here?” asked Turner.
“Recent. No more than a day or two. I should be able to confirm a more accurate time of death later.”
“Can we organise the team to sift through the surrounding waste?” asked Massey. “There's a chance that we may discover items which may indicate the origin of this particular load.” He turned towards his colleague. “You'd better get on to the Cleansing Department at the council. Check the rotas. They must be able to pinpoint the collection area of this lot.” He waved his arm in the general direction of the mountain of rubbish that had partly engulfed the victim's corpse.
“Don't tell me that you've forgotten it's bank holiday weekend. It'll be Tuesday at the earliest.”
“Shite!” muttered Massey, not because of the delay, but because he had other pressing domestic matters on his mind. “Have a word with the two guys who found her. Maybe they can shed some light on it.”
Massey scrambled further up the slope towards the hard standing where forty minutes earlier two council workers had kick-started a chain of events which would turn the lives of several people into a repulsive nightmare.
Brian and Tony worked as a team. They had been together for over four years, originally as dustmen, then refuse collectors and now referred to as waste disposal technicians. Although their job titles had changed, the work itself was much the same, apart from the fact that technology had introduced more automation and the role was effectively somewhat cleaner than in the past.
More recently, the opening of the new infill site had enhanced their routine. Consequently, trips to that riverside area were relatively more pleasant in comparison to the original site alongside the disused railway tracks. They normally took a refreshment break after unloading their cargo of waste material into the former quarry.
The sky was hazy blue and the air quite warm for April as Tony parked the twenty-ton vehicle on the hardcore standing area above the tip. They always worked the Saturday morning shift, partly because it was quieter than a normal weekday, but mostly because it paid overtime. Today was especially lucrative because it was Easter Saturday. Brian poured coffee from a vacuum flask. His partner unfolded his crumpled copy of the Sun newspaper.
“Dying for a piss,” muttered Brian as he placed his steaming mug on the bulkhead in front of his seat.
“Down the club again last night, then?” inquired Tony.
“Too much ale as usual. Have you seen the size of your belly?” teased Tony, putting his feet up and spreading the newspaper across his knees.
“It's the cold weather,” retorted Brian.
“Today's roasting. It's your weak bladder.”
“Bollocks,” shouted Brian, as he descended from the cab.
“If you say so, but it's more likely to be your bladder,” said Tony, chuckling.
The door slammed shut, preventing further repartee. The noise of a J.C.B. shovelling waste material down the slopes of the former quarry drowned the sound of Brian splashing against the front wheel of the vehicle. Tony was still on page three when his mate clambered back on board.
Brian picked up his mug of coffee and slurped a mouthful. “There's a black bin bag down there with an arm sticking out,” he said casually.
“Look at the knockers on that.” Tony pushed the newspaper in front of Brian's face.
“You didn't listen.”
“Something about an arm. Me, I'm a tit man.”
“Put your bloody paper down. Look, over there, just below that old mattress. It's definitely an arm. Even my eyes can see that.”
Tony realised that the joking had finished. He lowered both the newspaper and his legs, leaned forwards and peered through the windscreen in the direction indicated by his companion. He spotted the mattress and fixed his gaze on the black bin-liner, which partly protruded from below the pile of refuse.
Yes, that's an arm, he thought. Unwilling to accept the macabre possibilities, he offered an alternative suggestion. “It's probably one of those tailor's dummies.”
“Expect so,” said Brian, dismissively.
They finished the remainder of the coffee and Tony re-started the engine. He drove in a sweeping arc across the hardcore towards the site exit and, stopping short of the junction with the main road, suddenly braked.
“Maybe we should check it out, just in case,” he remarked.
The local authority council chamber where the planning committee sat on the evening of the first Tuesday of each month was a daunting venue for persons of an intrepid nature. The mahogany panelled walls coupled with the lofty stucco ceiling emitted an authoritarian air. For the occasional visitor the combination of musty antiquity and modern fragrant furniture polish created a sickly atmosphere in which to observe predominantly routine melodrama.
The room was rectangular. Along one of the longer walls, there rose the towering structure of the council chairperson's podium. The other members of the council sat opposite this raised area behind a semi-circular arrangement of interlinked tables. Salaried officials sat between these two distinct zones, occasionally adopting the role of arbiters during some of the more heated discussions that ensued.
Visitors and the local press sat to one side of the room, adjacent to the occasionally draughty entrance doors. The Chronicle editor maintained that it was a deliberate ploy to give the press the ‘cold shoulder’.
Chair of the council was Ms. Jessica French, a formidable experienced councillor and local magistrate of several years standing. Though aged sixty-nine years, she carried an aura, which demanded respect and, in some cases, evoked a degree of fear when in her presence. Her appearance was ageless. From a distance, one could have perceived her to be in her thirties; so evident was her overall demeanour and erect stature. This good posture and the resolute expression, which dominated her countenance on most occasions, compensated her frail build.
At close quarters, however, one may have been tempted to assess her to be well into her seventies or beyond…a reasonable conclusion based on the wrinkly condition of her skin. One newspaper reporter, whilst covering the local carnival over which she had presided, compared her pleated grey skirt to her pleated granite face. He was swiftly moved on to pastures new following his remarks.
Her petite oval face was a map of age-lines set around a pair of cold, blue eyes, which, though deep-set, were projected forwards by the pince-nez spectacles, which she always wore in public. Her steel-grey hair was neatly swept back from her face in a tight bun. She was a woman who had dedicated her life to the legal profession from which she had reluctantly retired several years previously. Now devoted to serving her local community, she sat impassively at the head of the council, the central figure in the chamber.
She called this particular meeting to order with a sharp rap from her gavel. The main item on the agenda concerned a proposal to turn a parcel of land into an infill site for waste disposal. The tract of terrain in question lay close to the town centre and extended westwards alongside the river. It had been quarried some years previously to provide ballast for the town by-pass and had since fallen into neglect, becoming a niggling eyesore with a doubtful future.
Acceptance of the proposal depended upon the projected landscaping appropriate for the planned country park development between the landfill site and the river. The local council, using government grants, was due to fund the outline plan, but one specific project by a private developer was earmarked to be an individually financed development within the scheme. Planning permission was needed before work could begin. The chief surveyor outlined the general detail of this proposal, copies of which had been distributed to each member of the committee.
As the meeting progressed, supporters and objectors raised issues and expressed their opinions and points of view. Various experts employed by the council in specialist areas dealt with questions on the technical and legal implications. At various junctures in the proceedings, Madame Chairman interjected and commented on the finer points within the overall discussion.
Though serious in nature, there were always lighter moments during such debates.
“What are these green blobs on my drawing, here?” demanded Ms. French at one point.
“Trees, Madame Chairman,” replied the surveyor wearily, leaning across and explaining the sketch-plan.
This prompted a snigger amongst the audience and the representatives of the local press, causing her to glower at the assembly over her pince-nez. On sensitive matters discussed in the chamber, it was quite natural for the more indecisive and less experienced councillors to take their cues from Ms. French. This approach allowed them to contribute to the overall debate quite assertively in the assumption that they would be allowed their
providing it supported the views of Madame Chairman. They could remain in their comfort zone in the knowledge that they would either finish on the winning side or find favour with her whatever the outcome.
This debate was no exception. The pendulum was swinging against the proposal as Jessica became more embroiled in battle with two salaried experts who were seemingly trying her patience with their prolonged rhetoric. Following one such heated exchange, the chamber fell unusually silent. Jessica was momentarily hidden from view whilst she raised her copy of the plans in scrutiny.
Suddenly the legs of a chair squeaked sharply against the polished parquet floor creating that awful sound like fingernails on a blackboard. All heads turned towards a smartly dressed young man who stood up and coughed nervously. Jessica's pince-nez appeared above the edge of her documentation and her head turned towards the source of the disturbance. He represented one of the developers involved in the scheme and, with his client's interests at stake, doubtless considered the moment opportune to arrest the swing of the pendulum. He spread a large multi-coloured plan on the table before him.
“Madame Chairman, councillors and officers of the council,” he began, “I would like you to imagine the scene when the infill site has been screened by the phased landscaping projects. Observe in particular the evergreen tree and shrub-planting programme, especially on the town by-pass side of the scheme. I do appreciate your concern over the river frontage and the effect on the leisure facilities that will eventually extend outwards from the town centre to the site of my client's mill and beyond.
Nevertheless, I want you to imagine the overall picture. Close your eyes if necessary. Relax in your seats and envisage the scene as you row along the river, courtesy of the council boat hire amenities of course. You are gently rowing along the river. Your eyes are drawn like magnets towards the magnificent splendour of my client's renovated mill.”
The young solicitor paused and glanced in the direction of the podium. Jessica was resting her chin on the apex formed by her fingers, which now pointed upwards in an almost prayer-like gesture. Her head was tilted backwards giving the impression that her eyes were closed behind the impenetrable reflection from the lenses of her pince-nez spectacles.
Gotcha, he thought inwardly with some relief. The chamber descended once more into silence as the majority of the assembly took the opportunity to ‘take five’. He sensed that all eyes open or closed were focussed in his direction. This was the moment. He interrupted the silence for the second time.
“As you approach this particular part of the river where it winds gently away on the left of the mill, you will behold the majestic millwheel which my client has promised to restore to its former working capacity. As the tributary from the river gushes through the paddles, it flows into a vast pool before re-joining the river.
Rising beyond this exquisite expanse of sparkling water is the landfill site, perceived from this perspective only as a grassy green backdrop speckled with daffodils and designated wild flowers. Beyond this floral panorama rises a screen of evergreens. There, in the foreground giving further animation to this idyllic scene, you will be able to observe families of ducks and their chicks gracing the surface of the pool.”
“Ducks!” exclaimed Jessica, her pince-nez almost taking flight as she exploded from her reverie. “There's been no mention of ducks before!”