Short story – The Packet
The radio crackled, giving their call sign.
‘No,’ Gooch said. ‘Not now.’
Blake raised an eyebrow. ‘Could be that elusive body,’ he said.
Sal handed Gooch his bap and he bit into it, sending a spurt of hot yolk across his knuckles.
‘Bravo-Mike Six,’ Blake said.
‘Let someone else take it,’ Gooch said.
Phil on Control asked them to respond, confirm their call-sign. ‘Do you know The Limes?’
Gooch jabbed a finger at Blake. His cheeks bulged with food. There was a smear of barbecue sauce on his chin.
‘Yeah, we’ll take it,’ Blake said. ‘One-zero, one-five,’ he said, giving an ETA of 15 minutes.
Gooch bolted his burger, his neck straining. Blake stifled a smile. Even a dead man made better company than Derek Gooch.
The Limes was a drab grey-brick sprawl beneath the ring road. The door was propped open with a mop bucket. The stairwell stank of death and cats.
‘It’s colder in here,’ Blake said, fogging the corridor with breath.‘Imagine what he’d smell like in July.’
Aging Teddy Boy
The caretaker waited for them, foot –tapping to Gene Vincent, on the concrete landing. He was an aging Teddy-Boy puffing and sweating from the stairs. He wore a St Christopher and his hair in an oiled coif. He grunted, turned his keys in the lock and stood back as the stench hit them. Blake coughed, covering his mouth with a gloved hand. A bare 40W bulb swung from a cracked ceiling. Underlay had been slapped down in an effort to cover the cold, bare Marley tiles.
‘Jesus, my eyes are stinging.’
‘What’s his name?’
The caretaker was out on the landing, licking a cigarette paper. He shrugged.
‘It doesn’t matter now, does it?’ Gooch said.
‘Well, the coroner’s funny about stuff like that.’
Blake shone his torch along the hallway. The walls were filthy, with torn paper revealing patches of black mould and patterned chocolate and orange wallpaper.
‘Is there a light in here?’
The caretaker had gone.
‘He was useful,’ Blake said.
Gooch was lingering by the door.
‘What’s keeping you?’
‘No rush, is there?’
Blake sighed, resigned to death duty. He swept his torch across the room. Bottle green cloth had been doubled and nailed across a window.
‘Not a great way to go was it fella?’ he said.
Blake inched forward, scattering tins, sending them rattling across the floor.
‘What a way to end up.’
Empty tins of lager had been stacked waist high throughout the room. Traffic lanes had been made between the piled cans from chair to kitchen and chair to toilet.
‘Oh dear,’ Gooch called, ‘I do believe he’s talking to himself. You have officially lost it.’
Blake shone his torch into the corner of the room. A figure was slumped in a battered armchair. His mouth was set in a gasp, his eyes were black pits.
‘I guess there’s not much point taking his pulse,’ Gooch said.
Blake radioed in, asking for the undertakers. Gooch lit up and for once Blake didn’t complain. Blake shone the torch in the kitchen. The floor was sticky and matted with gravy or soup. There was one rickety cupboard, its shelves lined with floral vinyl wallpaper. Dozens of tins of stewing steak were stacked inside. Three cans were opened, the contents slopped over plates and a gloopy saucepan. Dozens more empties were strewn across the floor. Blake’s radio crackled.
‘ETA of 30 minutes,’ Phil said.
Blake followed Gooch into the corridor and stared at the twinkling lights of Eagle Rise.
‘Have you searched him?’ Gooch said.
‘I’m not searching him.’
Gooch blew smoke at the ceiling. ‘It’s got to be done. You know that.’
Losing property, or not bagging and tagging it right had cost many cops their jobs and pensions.
‘I’ll get Elvis to lock up,’ Blake said.
‘You still need to search matey.’
‘Oh, I need to search him do I?’
Gooch tapped Blake’s shoulder. ‘I’m the driver, bud. I get you there. You deal.’
Blake took a property bag from his belt-pouch. He snapped on surgical gloves. He flicked on his torch and ran the beam over the kitchen worktop. Rummaging around among the tins he found free newspapers, stained with tea and globs of gravy. He searched the cupboard. There was mice shit and spilled sugar. Finally, he found a benefits book on the window ledge. It was rippled with damp. The man’s name was Keith Fordyce. Blake was shocked to see he was only 41.
‘How did you end up here, Keith?’ Blake whispered.
He wore no watch, no rings. Blake closed his eyes, held his breath and patted the dead man’s body. He folded back the dead man’s coat and ran a hand along his chest, shoulders. Blake’s hand squeezed a crumpled package. He shone the torch. The packet was stitched into the filthy woollen overcoat.
‘What’re you doing in there?’ Gooch shouted.
‘I’ll be right there.’
Blake took his pocketknife, slit the lining and took out a brown paper packet, sealed tight with parcel tape.
‘Do I have to come and fetch you?’ Gooch called.
Blake slit the edge of the parcel. He shone the torch onto the packet.
‘I’m locking up,’ Gooch said. He flicked his spent fag into the stairwell. Blake snatched the packet and zipped it up among his statement papers and report forms.
‘What you got?’ Gooch said.
Blake shook his head. ‘A benefits book isn’t much to leave behind, is it?’
When he was alone in the locker room Blake opened his lunchbox and took out the packet. He slid his blade along the taped seam and stared wide-eyed at the contents spilled out.
He drank four coffees before he decided.
Mandy Fyfe had got through her longest day. You’ve hit a low, but you’re on your way back, Carol told her, over steaming tea. The kids were sleeping. Her arms had been bandaged. It had taken her three hours to persuade Carol to go home. She made hot chocolate and sat with her feet tucked beneath her staring vacantly at the shopping channel and all the things she’d never afford, when she heard the bin cupboard door banging in the wind. It was always happening – she’d have to do something about the catch. She poked a hand through the curtains and saw flakes of snow spiralling down. She fastened her dressing gown, worried the bin cupboard door might wake one of the children, and stepped into the porch. She frowned. A Jiffy bag was wedged between the bin and the cupboard wall. She glanced around, but there was no one about. She took the packet inside and inspected it, sipping her hot chocolate. She sat and stared at it for a few minutes. She bit her lip, tore the envelope open.